Written by Alan K. Mandel
During my travels across Europe this past summer, I spent a completely insane and outlandish weekend at Q-Dance’s iconic DefQon.1 Festival in Biddinghuizen, The Netherlands. Throughout this crazy weekend, I had the chance to meet the Psyko Punkz, whose music I had been promoting through The EDM Network’s Hardstyle Channel for the past several months. Their new label, Shadowmask, has two very successful releases so far, the most recent being "Drunken Masta," an extremely energetic track that is killing it in the Hardstyle scene right now.
You may know the Psyko Punkz from the first Sound of Q-Dance event in Los Angeles, or perhaps from some of their hit tracks like “Bassboom”, “Dirty Sounds (Ra-ta-ta)”, “After MF”, or perhaps their Qlimax anthem “Fate or Fortune.” These guys have had a steady rise in the Hardstyle scene for the past several years, and show no signs of stopping! Their extensive production history contains collaborations with artists such as Headhunterz, Noisecontrollers, Coone, Chris Willis, Dope D.O.D. and many more, as well as remixes for successful acts including Hardwell and Technoboy. Needless to say, these guys have marked their territory in the EDM scene as a whole.
I decided to interview these two guys for EDM.com, and go a bit more in-depth than many other interviews in the Hardstyle world do. In the following interview, I discuss with the duo what Psyko Punkz stands for, their history, crazy moments, and for all the producers out there, we go into their processes behind making Hardstyle kicks & leads, mixing, and other production tips.
(EDM.com = Alan Mandel; PP = Psyko Punkz)
EDM.com: Starting off, what makes you guys the Psyko Punkz? Tell us a little about your image and fans.
PP: Psyko Punkz as an image represents the true Psyko side of the Hardstyle scene. If you ever go to a Hardstyle event you’ll notice that it’s high-energy music, which comes along with a lot of dancing and jumping, just acting super turn’t up.
In a Psyko world, our sound, our scene is just crazy. We don’t care about what people think when we’re on stage, we just give the fans 110% with a twist of Psyko-ness.
It’s a punk lifestyle and approach towards making music, and our personal life so Psyko Punkz clearly represents who we are, either it’s on stage, our in the studio.
Our fans are a clear representation of that. That’s why we call them the Psyko Soldiers; because together with us, the music and our fans, we’re an army that can’t be stopped.
EDM: What other styles of music did you make/perform before Hardstyle? Why did you ultimately choose to enter the Hardstyle scene?
PP: Since we both came in touch with harder dance music. ‘Jumpstyle’ was actually really growing into a scene here in Holland, Belgium and France. So by the time we started producing our self, we kind of went into a Jumpstyle direction. Not long after that, the Hardstyle you hear nowadays, started taking over as we felt like that was more our type of sound. At that point we knew we wanted to make that type of music, it also felt like this was more what was close to us because we truly loved the sound. This all was way before Psyko Punkz existed though, so basically this was the early early early beginning of us as a production team.
EDM.com: How did your career start out? What were the first steps you took as an artist group to succeed?
PP: In 2003 we met each other through a mutual friend in one of Holland’s biggest nightclubs. Since then we found out that we both shared a serious passion for Hardstyle music and both had just started producing it for our self’s. The vibe together in the studio was amazing! So that’s basically when we started producing together.
By the end of 2007, we contacted some labels and event organizations who we sent out some demos that we produced. It was actually our good friend Coone who gave us the opportunity to officially release our first two tracks with his label. Coone was impressed by our music and signed us to his label. At that time, we we’re basically the only ones who made Hardstyle with his label and a amazing experience and we’re still forever thankful for.
EDM.com: How long has it taken you to find yourselves as artists?
PP: We started off playing in parts of Europe like Belgium and some parts of Holland. Our start was super smooth because we already had a lot of hits in a row. In the end of 2009 we created "Bassboom," what was the mega hit at that time. This is what took our gigs to the highest level in Holland as well. That’s when we quit our day jobs and work as professional artists.
EDM.com: Where do you see yourselves going as artists?
PP: As artists, we want the core Hardstyle lovers to dig everything we make.But we also like to see what happens if we change up some elements in our music.We want the whole world to go wild about hardstyle, and introduce people who are not familiar to hardstyleby creating a bridge to the music they already know and life.
For instance: If we create a hip hop vocal and recognizable chords, or maybe just a remix of a familiar track, makes hardstyle easier and faster to introduce to the rest of the world.
We also see the biggest artists in the house scene closing their sets with banging Hardstyle tracks, like for example Tiesto and Hardwell on Tomorrowland this year, which is a good progression as well.
We just finished a remix of ‘Arcadia’ by Hardwell & Joey Dale feat. Luciana. We're really about the end product and the response we’re getting on it.
EDM.com: Do you have any crazy stories from gigs in the past you’d like to share?
PP: The craziest story comes from Scotland. We love that place! Those Scottish people are fantastic and characteristic people, but maybe a bit reckless sometimes. One of the funniest stories we have is about this Scottish guy who brought his mom to the party. A mid-40, bigger lady who was introduced to us by her son, wearing black-light sticks and bunny ears, had asked us with no hesitation: "Do you guys want to go back to the hotel for a good shag?" while her son was standing next to her, approvingly putting his thumbs up. The only thing we could do is just laughed 'till we cried and never forget that line.
EDM.com: What do you feel your music conveys?
PP: Our music conveys what we feel as producers. Our music has no boundaries. That’s the influences behind our sound. We don’t overthink it; we just do what we feel. We think if it makes you want to make a "bass face," then it’s Psyko enough. We want people to feel Joy, energy, unity and enjoy partying with their friends.
The freedom of just doing you and not giving a fuck what other people think.
EDM.com: Of course, we have to ask, what is your kick creation process? What plugins do you use? How do you tune your kicks?
PP: Technical talk? For some non/hardstyle producers it may sound easy to make a Hardstyle kick if they listen to it.Sadly enough it's probably the most difficult process in music production, which makes it harder for new producers to get it to sound good.Why? Because it's a handmade sound design that doesn't just come from one layer, or one synthesizer.
Some hardstyle producers already made some tutorials about the basics of making a kick, which to be found on YouTube.That’s the way how everyone basically does it.Load a plain 909 kick with a bass tail and make a follow up of plug-ins to edit the sound.
The basic growing sound is somehow created by the combination of eq and the right distortion algorithm. When using low-cut on an equalizer before the distortion, gives the other harmonic tones in the lower part, the freedom to resonate in the distortion panel.
In our opinion it doesn't "really" matter what brand of plugins you use actually, they all have the same basics.The clip distortion from Logic is probably the best distortion for us creating a clean Hardstyle-sound.The camel crusher from camel audio is comparable but misses out some good elements that the clip distortion has.
After creating the sound it all needs a lot of layering and band-splits to get the right flow, phase and drive. This final tweaking takes too much time and make some producers go crazy including our self’s sometimes.It’s very hard to control and we hope there soon will be a Hardstyle kick system that makes it easier for everyone. The good thing is, if the results are good it will pay off all the hard work you did.
Tuning the kick is easy. The only part of the kick that needs to be pitched is the tail. That's where in other music the baseline is pitched.The only thing that's really important when pitching these tails is using the right stretch algorithm. For instance, by pitching up, the file will get shorter and it will change the flow, which we don't want. By using a pitch and stretch combination it will stay the same length and won't change the flow or get to short to fit in the grid of your tempo. For this you can use "Audition" or the pitch tool in Cubase.
Make very sure this is always set to the algorithm mpex-4 Solo-musical in Cubase, otherwise it will destroy your original kick sound.
EDM.com: How do you keep the meat of a lead with a kick going at the same time?
PP: Most of the times we use a lot of verb to make it sound bigger. That will also create a bit more space for dynamics at the upper side. The kick is super fat and uses up all your space in the mix. So most of the times you wouldn't even notice that we cut off the low part of the whole mixwhen the kick drops in.When the kick is out, the low part of the mix automatically comes back. Also using side chaining can help giving it more space, and it can lead to more different creations.For this we use the "LFO Tool" which is a genius plugin.
EDM.com: What is the key to creating a fat Hardstyle lead?
PP: Just a lot of "saws" combined together.They have to be detuned, spread and filled over the whole "stereo" spectrum. Also "LFO" can be used to make the whole package move a bit more and make it even more detuned. Sometimes layering comes in handy with this process as well.
EDM.com: How do you start your tracks? Do you find melodies or sounds more inspirational?
PP: We always start with the core of the track. This is the epic or most important thing that makes the track recognizable. It can be a very good sound to a vocal or just a melody by playing the keyboard for a few hours. The rest of the track has to be derived to the part of what the track is all about, to make a good build-up that fits the rest.
EDM.com: How many unreleased projects do you have for every track that comes out of the studio as a final release?
PP: For the countless unreleased projects we have, we never know for sure if it will be released. We always decide what's best in the end when it’s really finished.
EDM.com: How do you organize your projects?
PP: To be really honest, it gets unorganized sometimes because we start a lot of new things every time there is some new inspiration. Also these projects doesn't have a final name yet, so the unfinished try-outs are getting unorganized. But for the time we don't have any inspiration, we just easily skip through all the small ideas we did in the past.For the main active projects we never have more than 2 or 3 to work on at once.
EDM.com: Do you believe that analogue/digital matters in EDM?
PP: A lot of well-known producers and especially the ones who where already professional in the 90s are used to working with analogue systems which produces a more real and maybe stronger sound.However, today the digital software is that far developed, that some of them hit up to 95% of the analog value. The big plus side of digital/software, is that you can duplicate and use this as much as you want in one project. Also, some of these plugins are free, and come in handy for starting producers. The best Hardstyle leads are still made by the Access Virus tough, which is a hardware device. Maybe just because of the extra needed features that this device has.Producing a good Hardstyle lead is also possible with a software instrument like the "Lush" for instance.
EDM.com: What does your studio setup look like? For producers, what do you believe is the most essential studio equipment for a producer to succeed?
PP: Our studio is just a room where we feel comfortable in, and won't get distracted. In the end, the love for music is all in the creation, the mix-down comes after that priority. For a good image of how your mix sounds, you need studio monitors. The acoustics in your room are important as well but if the room is not to big it will not be the biggest problem. By placing some simple isolation, will make your room less resonant.In time you will get used to how the music is supposed to sound in "your" room. And we think that is the key. A triangle position between your position and the two speakers is recommended. The more professional your acoustics are, the more it refines the original image, which is good, but not necessarily the key to a musical breakthrough.
EDM.com: What DAW did you choose? Which ones (if any) did you use in the past?
PP: We both started off using Reason in 2003, which was really limited. After that we switched to "Steinberg Nuendo" and then "Steinberg Cubase." 2 years ago we made the switch to "Studio One" which we still use. For us, some sort of genius combination between Cubase and Logic in workflow. In the end, all DAWs do the same thing and are not as limited anymore today.
We don't think that using different DAWs will change your quality or sound that much. By using the DAW that is used by people in your surroundings, it will give you the chance to give each other updates and share the new discovered things.
EDM.com: We also have some reader-submitted questions from Twitter.
1. How do you guys feel about Hard Dance getting more popular in the US? From @wavfile
PP: For us, it's great to see that Hardstyle is getting more popular. Our experience with the US has always been great.
In 2009, we did our first Psyko Punkz show in Phoenix, which was crazy and many gigs followed. For instance, 420 FEST and the Sound of Q-dance in Los Angeles. Those gigs are still fresh in our memory cause of the energetic crowd we always get in the States. That's why we just can't wait to be back. In September, we will rock Tomorrowworld, which will be followed by some more gigs in October, including The Sound Of Q-dance Los Angeles.
2. Most Generic Hardstyle Question: How do you make your hardstyle drum, bruh? From @bloodychapel
PP: We already explained this one in the interview. All the tips we can give!
3. Why don’t you come more often to Switerzerland? I’ll organize a homeparty with free beer. From @giannirugeegg
PP: *laughs* You don't even know, we do love Switzerland, and we love to get back there heaps. But of course we can only go when clubs and events book us. The hardstyle scene in Switzerland isn't that big at the moment, so for now, we come usually 2 or 3 times a year. *laughs* Home party with beer? Better be an AFTERPARTY!
4. When do Psyko Punkz go to Paris or Lille on France? From @eliotheace
PP: At the moment we don't have any bookings on the row for France. Hope to be back soon!
Thanks again to these two awesome guys, Sven and Wietse of Psyko Punkz! Be sure to catch them at their upcoming performance in Los Angeles at the Sound of Q-Dance Part 3 on November 15th.
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