Medasin

Born and bred in Texas, Medasin is known for his hip-hop production and unique perspective on electronic music. He and I had an in-depth talk about the challenges and expectations of being a modern-day producer, and the struggle to build one’s creative legacy.

Tell me a little bit about yourself: how you got started and what you got into producing. 

I got into producing because of my older brother, he got Fruity Loops on the family computer when I was 12, and the whole thing was pretty organic. I was just obsessed with it. And when you’re young, you know, it’s a lot more pure. Not like, oh, I’m gonna try and make a career out of it. And that was when I was like 12, and, I’m 19 now, and here we are.

Ugh, I feel really old now.

Nah, you’re not old, I’m young.

No, I think I’m old. I mean I’m not THAT old. I’m turning 24, but it starts to feel old, the more—

Yeah, I already feel old, I feel like a boring old man most places I go.

I think that for me personally, and you’re much more in it than I am, but going out to shows… I look at the kids there, and they’re so excited and so happy to see someone, and—

Dude, I already know. Trust me.

I love to see the enthusiasm, but when I see the people messed up out of their minds, I feel like, “meh, I’m too old for that.”

Totally, I’ve BEEN too old for that. That’s part of why I feel old. It’s weird, like when I go to play a show or festival, and the crowd is kids a little bit older than me, and I feel like… I don’t know, this is ridiculous. I like to play the show and go to sleep. I don’t really like to stick around and party or anything… I’m an old man, dude!

Old man is good! It means you get your work done, and you focus, and that’s how you get to where you are!

Yeah! That’s true.

I couldn’t do it [hanging out after every show], it would require so much emotional energy and you have to be so “on”, I would be like… ugh, I don’t care. I’m never gonna see any of these people again, just… no.

I’m usually pretty nervous before I perform, like the hour leading up to it, and once it’s over with, I’m just so relieved. I like to relax and hang around a little bit but I never stick around too long.

How long have you been performing on a large-scale level?

Dude, not that long. I was talking to – do you know Adam?

Yeah, I know of him. He was based in Chicago for a long time, wasn’t he? I think.

Yeah. I was talking to Adam the other day about this… wait, I’m having a brain fart. What did you just ask me?

How long have you been performing on a larger level?

Oh yeah. Anyway, I was talking to him the other day, and it’s funny… just probably 5 years ago, if you wanted to play shows and be in electronic music, you had to bust your ass and play small, shitty shows, and go on horrible van tours making no money. You had to really grind and learn how to DJ, you know what I mean?

Yeah, totally.

And nowadays, with the internet, you don’t have to really do any of that anymore. And you have all these kids, including me, that get so much attention online with their music, and we get to skip all the learning and grinding DJ phase. We get to go straight to the shows, which is cool, but you don’t have that experience, you know? I guess that’s one of the benefits of busting your ass like that is that you’ll definitely be a great DJ and performer by the time you’re getting somewhere. But with us… I mean, I’ve probably played like, 15 actual shows. That’s not a lot at all.

What have been some of the things you’ve picked up that you wish you’d known before you started performing? Do you have to go into a different headspace to perform?

Yeah, I mean sometimes I kind of have to force myself to get hype. Because the crowd relies on you—if you’re not hype, they won’t get hype. And sometimes you just don’t want to get hype, you’re just tired, you don’t wanna do it. But you have to force yourself to do it sometimes. There’s a lot that I wish I’d known before going into this. I like playing shows that go really well, but I can always identify what could’ve gone better, and learn from that.

That’s a good thing, to take that away and be present, and analyze your performance. I think it’s interesting you say that about electronic producers, especially now. I can see some of that, but I think in a way there are a very specific set of challenges coming for people trying to break into the industry now. There’s so much accessibility, you can jump in and get noticed, but it’s finding a way to… not only to get noticed, but to have longevity as well.

Oh yeah, because dude, it’s so saturated right now. There’s people doing their thing, and you know I’d never hate on anyone doing their thing, but if they’re not trying to push…. there’s two kinds of people. There’s people who push culture forward and pioneer new sounds, and then there’s the people that profit off of what other people have pioneered for them. I try to stay away from anyone that remotely resembles that.

You’re doing a lot, you’re producing for so many artists, and because of that, I think that can only mean good things for you and your career. Whereas there are other artists that I hear on Soundcloud and I think, “This sounds like every single song I’ve heard for five years.”

Thank you. I’m never trying to sound pretentious, but… at least I try. I fuck with anyone that tries to be original. It’s like you were saying about longevity—longevity is like, Porter Robinson, or Flume. They could disappear for 10 years and come back and everyone would still be waiting for them.

Yeah, I think about that a lot actually. Like, who will be our… rockstars, for lack of a better term, in electronic music? There’s really very few. And there’s not that many true rockstars from the past, but I would say there’s a lot of people who are just mid-level, marginally famous within a certain subgroup of electronic music. I was just at a show, and all the performers were really good, but I don’t really think that in another five years, they will have advanced very much in terms of venue, or what they’re doing.

YUUUUP. It all starts with the music.

It does! Yeah!

There’s so many people who were poppin’ off, like when trap was a thing, and 5% of those people actually evolved, and like you said, the other ones are still playing the same size venues and making the same subpar 2010 trap.

Yeah, it can be a little… sad sometimes? You know that they’re working hard—

Oh, oh yeah.

But they just don’t get it.

Yeah, and that’s why you can never really knock them. Because these people work so hard… I mean, Martin Garrix, for example. No offense at all, but his music is not necessarily boundary-pushing or anything to me, but that doesn’t matter because he works so fucking hard. He plays so many shows and lugs around $200,000 of stage production, it’s crazy. I couldn’t do that.

Never say never!

Hopefully I’ll have to do that at some point.

It’s a lot to take on too. Martin Garrix is pretty young, you’re also young, but you’re both managing a business. You’re being creative but you have to work with your manager, you have to think about the way you present yourself… is that ever challenging?

For me, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges. My job is to be as creative and free as possible musically, and when you’re doing that, you can’t bias your music to be too business-minded. But then again, you have to if you want to thrive.

Is it hard to balance what you continue to learn and observe about the music industry, like business trends you see?

Exactly, yeah. You have to figure out how you’re going to fit in, in a business model, without sacrificing any creative integrity. If you could just be creative all the time and not have to brand yourself, then that’d be amazing, but unfortunately that’s never been the case. It just comes down to good management. You have to have good managers who understand art and… are cool, are cultured people who will steer you in the right direction.

That’s so true. Is Adam your first manager?

I had one, but it wasn’t working out. I was a noob, a lost noob and it was a learning experience. Now I’m working with Adam and Benito and their whole team.

They’re doing a great job.

They crush it.

We discuss living in Texas, where Medasin is from, and the question of moving to Los Angeles.

LA is appealing in some ways, but I think that if I was more involved in the industry or an artist, I think it would be exhausting too.

Oh yeah. I mean, I know firsthand so many people that were good, amazing people who just lost their fuckin’ minds in LA.

Yup, yup.

There’s too much going on, there’s too much drama, there’s too much… drugs. I don’t know, it’s just crazy. But then again, anyone that knows me knows I’d probably just sit in my room and play video games no matter where I lived. I could live in the middle of Vegas and still be in my room playing video games.

That’s a good thing! Do that!

I mean not really, it’s a blessing and a curse.

Yeah, I guess. LA, I lived out there for a summer when I was 21, turning 22, and it was my first time really being that… involved in the industry. I was doing an internship at the time, and it was really exciting, and really fun, and there was always something going on. But the best way to describe it would be: imagine you went back to 8th grade, but you could drink alcohol.

Yup! That’s a great analogy.

There was so much drama all the time, and I left, and I felt like, “oh, my God.” I needed to take some time away. But I think if I ever moved back there… I think everyone kind of loses their mind at first, and then you either find your niche and say, “okay, well now I know how to be a functioning adult human,” or… you don’t!

Yeah.

So Texas, is there a presence for electronic music?

Oh fuck no, dude. Absolutely not. I’ve had like one writeup on the Dallas Observer like, two years ago, and it was only because I knew a guy who knew a guy. Other than that, there’s just no publication out here for really any new, young musician. All of the outlets for music and art are just behind, all of the promoters are behind. And it’s not really their fault, the listeners are behind too. It’s just not a good place to be. It wouldn’t even make sense for them to write about what’s going on because none of the people in Dallas give a shit. The people on the Internet on the other side of the world give a shit. It’s not that important where you live if you have the Internet.

That’s a good point. Where do you feel most of your fans are? Do you feel they’re in coastal cities, or in the UK…

Definitely Los Angeles. I mean, I can literally look at analytics that show me most of my fans are in Los Angeles. Just like the basics: Los Angeles, New York….

Have you done any shows abroad yet?

Not yet. I’ve actually never even left the country at all.

Oh really!

I don’t even have a passport! I have an appointment to go get my passport in like a week. I’ve got to do that because we’re doing three festivals in Canada in August, and that’ll be my first time.

That should be fun, and then you’ll have a passport, so it’s a win-win.

Yup—it’s going to be weird though. The way they’re all spaced out, it made the most financial sense for me to not fly out back and forth each time, so I’m just going to stay out there for half a month.

I would imagine you could work with a bunch of people out there.

Hopefully I’ll find something to get into. It’ll be a learning experience, for sure.

You were saying that in Dallas, the promoters are behind and the fans are behind, but—why are fans behind? I went to university in Scotland, and the town I was in, everybody was super behind by a solid three years. But then you go to two of the major cities in Scotland, and they were so advanced. It makes me wonder: why are some fans not noticing, despite having access to larger cities and the Internet?

I think it has to do with heritage and passed down culture. Out here in Texas, you would be pretty surprised by the people I grew up around. They’re all in frats and sororities now, wearing board shorts and Sperry’s, and they’re not really raised to question much or seek culture. That’s why they all wear the same thing, they all listen to the same stuff, they all talk about the same things. But if you go out to LA, people… they literally live to seek culture. They want new culture, and new ideas. They wear weird shit and they listen to weird shit because it stimulates them. They thrive off that. I think it’s just about how people grew up, in suburban Texas. That’s how their parents grew up, and their parents’ parents. It’s very fratty, uncultured white people down here. That’s kind of the majority of the listeners, so it makes total sense why they don’t seek or give a shit about what’s going on. It’s not their fault, it’s not like it’s a problem, it’s just how it goes.

I think you have a good point. I believe that in a city like LA, there’s so much industry there that everyone’s looking for the new, hot thing because they also have to keep making money. Whereas in suburban Texas, or where I was in St Andrews, or a number of other places, I think that like you said, a lot of it is just the way people were raised. It’s what they were told was cool, and what’s been passed down to them, but I also think that they’re not naturally curious in the way that I think a lot of artists are. Like they see Pitchfork is cool, so they’ll listen to that and think they’re cool now too, and be like, “have you heard Mac DeMarco?” [disclaimer: I love Mac DeMarco, this is not shade] 

Yeah, like the Mac DeMarco listeners and stuff… they get depressed out here, because if you come to your frat bros and say, “hey, have you listened to Mac DeMarco,” they’ll be like, “what the fuck, this is weird, put on The Chainsmokers.”

And then three years later, it’ll be cool in the mainstream, and they’ll say, “remember when I told you about that guy….”

Yeah, and it’s sad because I’m friends with all the people who are cool – I don’t want to say cool, like I’m knocking everyone else, but the people who are up on stuff in Dallas. There’s not near enough of them to make enough impact, really. The best bet is to get on the Internet or… get the fuck out of Dallas.

Do you think you’ll move out to LA eventually, or do you want to stay in Texas?

I don’t know. I hardly care at this point, because like I said, I spend so much time secluded. I’m a really introverted person—I’m not really shy, but if I have the option to have some alone time, then I always take it. I’m sure I’ll probably move to LA at some point, but I’m not even sure how much of a difference that will make. I guess I’ll be slightly more accessible to just go to a studio session or something, but that’s about it. I might even do better if I’m far away from everything, where I have more time to recharge the inspiration juices.

I think that’s completely true. Because like you said… I mean, I have some friends that moved out there, and I felt like they were doing better work before they moved to LA.

Yeah, exactly. Everyone wants to move to LA, everyone thinks they need to move to LA at some point. But I’ve never felt pressured. I can get on a plane and be there in two and a half hours.

You can go and network for a week, and then you have the Internet. You don’t really have to be there. Which I think is great, because hopefully that means the industry will start to spread out to other cities, beyond New York and LA.

Another thing I’ve noticed as far as working with other artists is that personally, I’m not that much of a studio, in-person guy. A lot of people aren’t. I have this whole project with an artist named Masego, called Pink Polo, and that was part of what really put me on the map. The whole thing was made remotely. I think the reason you can make such good music remotely is because I’m here in my comfort zone, I can do what I want to the song without any interference. Then I can send it on to your comfort zone and you can do your own thing. When you’re in person, it can be kind of awkward. You might not be on the same page.

I think in terms of collaboration, it makes more sense to work remotely. I would imagine it makes it easier to make creative decisions and be more solid on your choices.

Exactly. When you’re in the studio with someone, there’s so much going through each person’s head, and you’re not close enough with each other to say it out loud. You might not like something, but you don’t have the balls to say it, because you’re not that close to this guy. Or he might not like something. It’s a recipe for making a song that you’re both not really that happy with. I like doing it over the Internet.

Doing it over the Internet seems like a good idea. What do you look for in a collaborator?

I’m really picky. I’ve not worked with a lot of people thus far. I like music that feels genuine and like it’s coming from a raw place that’s not influenced by trying to be a popstar, or something. I have a song with my friend Joba, from Brockhampton, and that’s what drew me to him—he’s so real. Same with Masego, Masego’s super real.

Those are good qualities to look for. It goes back to what we were first talking about: if you continue to seek that out of people, that means you’re probably going to have more of a lasting effect in terms of your music, instead of gravitating towards a trend.

If you look at some of the longest and most successful careers, a lot of it has to do with what you DON’T do, rather than what you DO do. I mean, there are certain moves I could potentially make—I could get the poppiest, lamest feature right now, and it’s tempting, a lot of the time. It’s tempting for everyone. You think, “damn, I could get this big, poppy feature and have a big song right now.” But what reason would I do that for? Is that going to fulfill me?

I know I would certainly be tempted to try and go for something that’s going to play on the radio and make money in that way, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll have another song like that. There’s lots of tough calls.

Yeah, definitely.

Tell me about your creative process—what do you look to in order to get inspired? Is there any way that you like to start off a project?

No, and I’m possibly like, slightly stoned. It’s normally really quick, for the process. If I’m inspired, I just pull something out of my ass. I’ve been recharging and I get it all out, then I spend the next week recharging again. I don’t really have much of a process, it’s super sporadic, and random. I just know that in theory, I could make ten songs a day that are good. But I don’t really bother until I’m feeling something a lot to really work on it, to make one song I’m happy with each month.

That’s better than no songs! And I think that nitpicking obsessively isn’t good for your work either, you can nitpick something to death, you just have to decide you’re happy with it.

Yeah! I’ve never worked on the same song for more than a week. I’ll go back and make tiny little changes but… basically my creative process is this. I open my computer and I try to make something every day. Some days I’m just not feeling it. But if you try every day, mathematically it would only make sense that once a month, you’re going to make something amazing. It’s trial and error.

That’s a healthy approach to it, honestly. It sounds like you have a healthy sense of self-criticism as well. You can recognize when something is good, but you’re not going to beat yourself up over not getting something done.

Oh, not at all. I mean, everyone does it sometimes, to varying degrees, but most of the time I’m pretty confident in what I know or what I think is cool.

Are there any artists that inspire you on a regular basis?

I say this all the time, to anyone who asks, but I think the number one person who inspired me the most is Galimatias. Once I found his music, I was like, “Whoa.” I’d never heard anything like it, and that was what put me on this kick to learn and get better and understand what’s cool. A lot of people inspire me; he’s the one that sticks out the most, but I take little bits of inspiration from everything I listen to that I enjoy.

What’s a genre that you listen to that might surprise me?

I never really think in terms of genre, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Tame Impala, and Neon Indian.

Oh my God, yes! I love Neon Indian.

I love that psychedelic pop, weird, lo-fi shit. I listen to a bunch of random stuff.

You’re on the lineup for the Made in America festival, which is a huge deal. What do you hope to bring to your set?

Honestly, I don’t think about it that much. I’m confirmed for so many festivals and shows coming up that I don’t know much about Made in America. Another thing that’s funny is that I never attended festivals or shows very much until I started playing them. I’d been to one show ever, before I’d played a show, and it was Never Shout Never in 7th grade or something. My performance is, right now, pretty straightforward. I just play music that I really enjoy, and I have my live edits, and a cool intro. It’s just a DJ set, a fun Medasin DJ set. I plan to get more intricate in the future when I learn how to incorporate new things that make sense. I don’t want to overcrowd it or look like I’m trying too hard—I just want the crowd to have fun. That’s the most important thing. Whatever it takes to achieve that, no matter how simple or how complex, whatever’s going to connect the most and help me have the most fun as well.

Do you have a go-to skeleton of a set you play at festivals, or do you go in and just try to read the crowd?

I have CDJs at home and I’ll rehearse a little, but I’ll mainly just freestyle. Because I can rehearse at home what feels like the perfect set, and then I’m playing that set live, and it might not be the perfect set anymore because the crowd isn’t feeling it. So yeah, it’s mostly freestyling. And learning how to be good enough on the CDJs that I don’t have a shitty transition.

My fear is totally fucking up a transition so badly that there’s no way you couldn’t notice it

Yeah, like it’s so bad that you HAVE to address it, almost. Like, “Oh, sorry.” Oh my God, you have no idea. I’ve literally had straight nightmares about that. It’s normally when I have an important show coming up, and it’s obviously subconsciously on my mind. I was having these dreams about that exact situation where something goes so horribly wrong with the equipment that the music just stops, and it’s like, what the fuck am I going to do? Tell jokes? Oh man, I hope I never have to live through that, that’d be the worst.

I have a friend who DJs a lot in Glasgow, and he’s told me his horror stories of his equipment shutting down, and then the backup equipment shutting down, and just having to stand there and fix something while making fun of yourself in the microphone… I know I don’t have the skill set for that.

That’s one of the biggest skill sets. That’s kind of what we were talking about, like back in the day people would just bust their ass and play so many shows, and gain that experience. That’s one of the biggest things that makes me feel vulnerable on stage, if something doesn’t go right, I’m not that likely to know how to properly solve it or make the show not go to shit.

It’s hard, and I think that mic work is a challenge too. I’ve only had to do it twice in my life, and I just kind of mumble then groan at the end.

Dude, I’m still a huge pussy on the mic. I’m just now getting comfortable on the mic. It just goes back to what I said earlier—so many people like me never had to learn, we just got thrown onto these big stages because of the Internet, and now we have to figure things out and learn as we go.

Have you been working with more rappers lately?

Actually, yeah I have. I think that there’s a new wave of hip hop happening right now. I like people like Kaiydo—I love Kaiydo, I’ve been working on some stuff with him. I like hip hop because there’s so much room to make it more interesting. It’s just a beat and a rapper. That’s the standard of what’s accepted: a good beat and a good rapper. There’s so much room to make it more interesting than it already is, you know? I guess kind of fusing electronic music—some form of a drop, whatever that means—with hip hop is cool.

When you’re working with a rapper, do you rework your beats to fit with their lyrics better, or do you ever weigh in on the lyrical content of the music?

Yes and no. Like I said earlier, I’m really picky, so I don’t bother to start working with something that I don’t think is going to be cool on the song. If I ever hear a verse that I feel is disingenuous, like it’s not them being them, then I’ll weigh in on that. But I would never tell an artist what to do, I want them to do their own thing, as long as they’re actually doing their own thing. I’ve worked with people and sometimes we have to completely start over because the verse doesn’t feel real, or genuine. I’m always learning more and more, I’m an eternal student. But, that’s the number one thing for me. Artists normally appreciate that if you’re brutally honest and say, “Yo, I don’t fuck with this, I don’t think you’re being the best version of yourself, so we should try again.” It takes a lot of balls to say that, too. To straight up tell someone that about a piece of art they made. But I would hope that they’d tell me that too.

It’s all coming from a really good place, too. You seem very genuine, and I appreciate that you’re receptive to learning from others. That’s a great quality and it’s going to only help you. There’s a difference between being degrading and giving constructive criticism, and it sounds like that’s what you do when you collaborate.

Oh yeah, absolutely.

What projects have you been working on?

I’ve been working on an EP for a long time, and it’s all original music. It’s not really going to drop as one EP all at the same time—we’re going to be rapid-firing singles that are all under the same project name. I’m super excited. It seems like I’ve done a good amount of stuff so far, but people don’t really take you seriously until you have a concept, or a project out. I’m excited to put out all this original music I’ve been making, because I’ve been working on it for so long. I think the one thing that holds it up is… I always want to make the best music I can make. Most of the time, that requires a feature to make a full-on record. So now you’re working with other people’s time schedules, and it’s a long process to make one good song. But we’ve got a lot of them right now.

I’ll be here listening for them!