Fast forward to 2020, Kardon is headlining massive venues like Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Echostage in Washington D.C. and Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. Coming full circle, he also has a track with Excision in the works.
What did Kardon do over the years to go from a kid in the crowd to a wildly popular bass music DJ/producer?
Collaborations with bass music mainstays like American dubstep duo Zeds Dead, classic U.K. dubstep icon Rusko, and recent fan favorites like Snails and Kayzo come to mind. Plus, a hit mix series, carefully-curated live sets, and of course, his distinct “angry robot noise” brand of dubstep.
We wanted to hear straight from Kardon how he’s kept the fire burning, however. Last month we caught up with him to discuss his forthcoming Scream Saver EP, meteoric trajectory, dream collaborations, riddim’s polarity in the world of bass music, and whether SoundCloud has a place in today’s music culture.
Given the dynamic, all-encompassing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kardon also looped back with EDM.com to share how the outbreak is affecting the music industry and what those of us in the electronic music community can do to support each other throughout it.
EDM.com: A lot of people would argue that you were dubstep’s biggest breakout artist in 2019. What do you think contributed to your swift momentum over the past year?
Subtronics: Aw, well first off that's a very nice thing to say, I’m honored some people feel that way. There are so many insanely talented established as well as up-and-coming bass music producers right now that I’m just grateful to be a part of the community.
I think the progress I have made in the past year can be largely attributed to a bunch of different things: key festival sets that I worked hours on (Electric Forest and Lost Lands for example), my Now That's What I Call Riddim mixes that get millions of streams, a sold-out 2019 tour, and also releasing a ridiculous amount of music in a very short period of time. It wasn't even on purpose. I probably make about a song a week and just the way things worked out release schedule wise everything came together around the same three months.
Obviously “Griztronics” [with GRiZ] was a big thing that happened over the summer, which is insane because neither Grant nor I had any idea it was going to blow up like that. We are both at heart big nerds who love tinkering with goofy noises so the wideness of its reception took us by surprise. We are immensely proud and excited that so many people enjoyed it. It's just crazy how viral it went on TikTok - millions and millions of plays.
There is also a large organic community that has formed around my Facebook fan group, Cyclops Army, and my online fan base in general. I am a pretty sensitive person and I really wanted to make sure people who are a part of things I’m related to, be it online in my Facebook group or at any of my events, be as nice as possible to others and feel welcomed. I think that warmth and an “all in this together” kind of mentality has literally brought people from all over together and it's been an overwhelmingly beautiful and surreal thing to watch happen.
Your Scream Saver EP drops this Friday. What was your creative process like producing the 4 songs on it?
I generally start by obsessively tweaking the kick and clap for a few hours. Then, I start sound designing until something interesting happens via trial and error. Once I have a rough idea of a bassline down, I’ll start adding loads and loads of layers to make the sounds more interesting and detailed, and give more movement and more depth.
When I’m happy with a solid 8 or 16 bar loop, I’ll start an intro. It can sometimes take 2 or 3 tries to make something that actually fits in key. Once the rough intro, drop and build are in place, I’ll obsessively tweak everything and add attention to detail everywhere I can.
With “Scream Saver” and “Blow Stuff Up,” I got stuck at one point for a few days then had major breakthroughs when I added the top layers in each song. I was super inspired and finished out a second drop and build. Honestly, with both of those songs, the original first drop was actually the second, the top lines were added while writing the second drop and I ended up liking the second drop more and switching them.
“Lullaby” was a far more straightforward process: I got way more involved with the intro and Virus Syndicate sent a verse that ended up fitting perfectly.
"Discotek” was me and akeos bouncing a 16 bar WIP back and forth like 80 times making tiny tweaks obsessively, haha.
You have a collab with Excision in the works. How did you guys decide on working together? Will we see it out anytime soon?
I think I asked him totally out of the blue a super long time ago. We have both been quite busy but when we have found moments of spare time we pass back and forth various ideas. It's legit one of the most surreal things ever for me because I saw his tour as a fan 5-10+ times before I was even seriously producing. I have no clue what the plan is for the release but I'd love to soon, we are super close to having it done.
Are there still any dream collaborations you want to make a reality?
Skrillex, Flume, and Porter Robinson are knee jerk reactions. I legit do not feel worthy, haha. They make my favorite electronic music. G Jones would be awesome as well considering he's one of my favorites right now. But, he is more forward-thinking god-tier experimental bass music.
Excision, Zeds Dead and Rusko all took a really long time for me to wrap my head around. The entire time I was working on those collabs I was just thinking to myself “holy actual f**k, I’m collabing with these guys right now.” Very large moments of “what the f**k, is this real life?” the entire time. Same with GRiZ.
I reminisced over all of the anthems these guys put out that shaped me as a fan and a producer and, big wow.
You’ve said that your mix series Now That’s What I Call Riddim was never riddim, despite the title. What is your definition of riddim, and why do you think it’s so polarizing in dubstep right now?
Oh boy, here we go!
Okay, so yeah, it’s for sure not “riddim” even though there is a load of actual riddim tunes included. The first one was more riddim than the most recent, volume 5. There's a progressive nature to how I have developed and evolved the idea of what the mix is over the years. At this point, my goal is to just be Girl Talk but with all corners of dubstep.
This is a vaguely loaded question and I say that because it can be answered in so many different ways and it's all stuff that has been said before.
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Five or six years ago there was a really tight-knit scene growing fast of, I’d say, non-commercial or just kind of underground, repetitive, internet dubstep kids. We were all heavily inspired by the more U.K. side of dubstep, so many were going for a vibe that was more wonky and groovy as opposed to the American sounding mid-range style at the time. When I became a fan of that scene way back then it was so small and really easy to make friends with the producers within it online. It also wasn't necessarily referred to as riddim. People were calling it “swamp,” “tear out,” and at one point Getter tried inciting the word “trench” kind of ironically. We were just internet dubstep kids that felt underground.
There were some tags used to identify where the influence was coming from and also different sub pockets of people aiming for different vibes. Tear out comes to mind first with pioneers like 12 Gauge, Sadhu, D-jahsta, TrollPhace, Midnight Tyrannosaurus, Algo, Rekoil, Barron (rest in peace), and many others. Collectives like Savage Society, producers from the U.K. like the Gentlemen's Club boys, and a bunch of young kids from all over the U.S. were influenced by all of this at once - like Ubur, Ripple, XaeboR, Haunta, Invictus, Aweminus, Phiso, Bommer, Subject 31, HE$H, and too many others to count. They were contributing to this kind of internet underground world of SoundCloud dubstep.
Getting into the scene and becoming homies with all of these people who I had looked up to was basically my entire life back then. We would just sit on Skype or Google Hangouts for literally 30 hours at a time exchanging ideas, WIPs and shit posts. I have made many lifelong, borderline family member-type friends as a result. It's also beyond amazing to watch others from the same group pave massive roads in the music industry. SVDDEN DEATH in my mind is the best example of someone who came from that same world, and we have all known each other for probably at least five to six years, way before anyone blew up in any real capacity. The subgenre was too small for there to even be real shows.
Not only that, but dancehall riddim is and has been a massive entire genre of its own separate from dubstep for many many years, long before dubstep was ever a thing.
There has been so much controversy since the word riddim popped up because loads of people were like “hey, uh yeah that's already the name for another genre.” It's only called riddim in our world because a website where kids used to leak dubplates, Clubland, used “riddim” as a hashtag to find us.
Dubstep “riddim” is far more minimal, repetitive and wonky sounding, with kicks on every quarter note and claps on the off beats as opposed to really huge snare drums. The drums are also far more hip-hop kind of inspired, with more low pass-filtered kick drums, Lex Luger-style trap high hats, and a lot of chants. Not really as much anymore; it has continued to evolve and progress for years. Now, there is a large theme of off-grid delayed kind of basses. Another key identifying factor is a kind of lack of intro or build up. Most of the original riddim anthems literally only had quarter note high hats and the occasional bleeps in the intro, and that was the vibe. In contrast, in my productions I go way overboard and get complex with hundreds of layers of bass sounds and excessive overly dramatic intros. My dubstep productions do come from that same underground scene, though. It isn't by any means really textbook riddim, but the drops have that repetitive, quarter note, easy-to-double-with-other-songs characteristic.
On Now That's What I Call Riddim, parts of it get so heavy and so overly complicated that there's just no way to consider it riddim. A lot of the puzzle pieces that make that mix are riddim, technically speaking. But, played all together at once, it's just too busy and too much going on to be considered “real riddim,”
I think this is especially polarizing now because there's an absolutely massive amount of new fans, a lot of not very well defined lines, and so much word of mouth information that it's incredibly easy for things to be confused and misrepresented. The idea for the name actually came about as a joke between me and Ubur one night on a Skype call. The mix was way smaller then, not really much of a thing. So we were not concerned about confusing fans because I just flat out didn't have many fans, and the ones I did have were also in the scene so they would understand the vague sense of irony. Now it's frankly kind of backfired, haha. A huge number of people think it's textbook riddim when that's for sure not at all the case. It's just heavily inspired by riddim and contains a lot of riddim songs.
Also, everything I just said is really only from my perspective as a fan and member of that underground community for the past five to six years. I by absolutely no means invented anything; I just saw a small niche community of something really cool and unique and I wanted to contribute my best towards it. A lot, if not most of us were heavily inspired by the dubstep gods that came long before our little internet underground came together. Artists like Coki, Benga, Jakes, and Skream. All of them were putting out minimal, repetitive, dark-sounding dubstep way back in the day. I think that the current state of underground dubstep continues to be heavily inspired by that vibe, as opposed to the more American, commercial side of things.
Your career has its roots in SoundCloud. Last we spoke, you mentioned that you discover new music primarily through the platform. Do you think SoundCloud still has a role to play in helping bedroom producers break out?
SoundCloud has dramatically gone downhill over the last few years, largely due to spammy repost chains that clog up everyone's feed with mostly objectively bad songs.
Not to mention the awful system of flagging and taking down copyrighted content. One of the most iconic actual riddim songs ever, "Yasuo," was taken down because SoundCloud claimed it to be copying literally itself. So many people have uploaded music correctly then suddenly had their tracks removed due to the system flagging their own song on the day of release because it couldn't figure out distro.
The old days of SoundCloud clips and the community centering around it, at least from my point of view, seem to be dramatically diminished. But, there is for sure still a massive group of new talent and up-and-coming kids posting great content on there. I think the attention has largely focused more towards Twitter, really just word of mouth, and kids playing those tracks at shows or big-name artists getting their hands on them. Maybe that's always been the case and I only thought it was SoundCloud because I used to live on that website and now I don't as much - it's really just my perspective.
I honestly have to give a huge amount of thanks to SoundCloud because it’s the only place that can host my mixes and a lot of my highest reaching content lives on the platform.
At this point, though, it's more of an extra step to include it as opposed to songs releasing on Spotify and other major streaming platforms. Especially since damn near everyone has had a few of their own horror stories of their original music getting flagged for literally no reason.
SoundCloud can help up-and-comers. But it is by no means the only way to make waves in the community. I always say we all have different paths in succeeding and achieving our goals. Everyone has different avenues to take and different platforms help different people in different ways. I feel like Cyclops Army at this point is my literal only reason for ever even opening Facebook, but other people have made massive careers off of it. For some reason I have a TikTok account now - I never really use it - just to keep tabs on one of my songs, haha. However people find the most effective way to share their creations with others is the best way to grow their career. For a lot, its SoundCloud, for others its playing shows. I know a handful of people who pay their rent via selling Bandcamp subscriptions.
You launched your Twitch channel and it's been a massive success. How has Cyclops Army TV been going and what can we expect from you on there?
I'm floored and super thankful for how large the Twitch response has been. We had the first two streams hit over 13,000 viewers. I have been focusing on improving my streaming setup and establishing a solid Twitch following that will see the channel as a source for way more than just live sets. I want to teach and educate as many people as possible on production, and I love giving feedback to new and upcoming producers.
I’ve been working on upgrading my PC so the streams run smoother. We are working with Hit Command who represents me and GRVDNCR now on all things streaming to create some really cool things. We’re going to continuously up the production value of the channel overall. I’d love for it to grow into something that almost feels like a TV station that dubstep fans of all sonic preferences can come and enjoy, learn, and get production help. I’m going to be adding more “shows” so to speak to make the schedule more interesting. Always open to new ideas and lots of brainstorming to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the music industry to a screeching halt. How has the coronavirus affected you, your team, and the electronic music industry in general?
Before I dive in, let me start off saying all of this absolutely pales in comparison to the hardships and tragedies that are taking place way outside the music industry. People are losing loved ones, people are losing jobs, people don’t know how they’re going to care for their families. It's just heartbreaking.
The virus stopped my tour 14 shows early but I am unbelievably grateful we were able to play most of the 50 plus cities. There's an enormous undertaking of logistics going down between promoters, venues and agents to sort everything out, along with every team in the industry right now. I’m really bummed we missed out on a few remaining bigger shows like Avant Gardner’s Great Hall in Brooklyn and Mtelus in Montreal, but I’ll be back soon. When we return the energy level is going to be through the roof. Everyone needs to practice social distancing right now and stay safe. That's our number one priority.
But, it's sentimental. Like when you had an amazing time at summer camp and now you have to go home. My tour family are people I miss dearly and returning to regular life with or without coronavirus is an adjustment. The suddenness of the tour being over made that just a little bit harsher. My heart goes out to the insane amount of homies who also had to pack up early. Brock [Boogie T] literally played one show of his 30+ date tour. I would be f**king heartbroken. I know Minnesota and Ekali both invested so much into their tours. I feel so much pain for everyone impacted by this.
Not only that, but a lot of your favorite promoters are at large risk of being put out of business. Everyone needs a small business loan to try and stay afloat. It’s a cycle that has fucked over everyone. Bookings and dates are held six months out to a year in advance. Tons of shit that hasn’t even been announced yet is getting moved and changed because suddenly fall and winter have to accommodate everyone, even stuff outside electronic. The virus basically hit shuffle on calendars for the next 18 months.
What can the electronic music community do to support each other through this trying time?
For a lot of touring artists, they live show by show, paycheck to paycheck. I did for a long time. It looks like we need to get behind new ways to make a living, especially ones that don’t require anyone to leave the house, as both artists and fans.
Researching the most effective charities that give to causes alleviating some of the coronavirus issues would be the best option. It's honestly such a new crisis. Just finding organizations that can help all levels, maybe there's a way to secure respirators for certain places, or face masks for various medical communities, and family assistance. The real issues right now are way outside of music but as a community we are naturally coming together.
I can see loads of live streams on all platforms, a lot more video content, more interactive fan bases on Twitter and Instagram. We are all in the same boat now, whether you’re a festival headliner or a bedroom producer, just trying to navigate this. We are going to see a lot of fresh talent pop up that deserves recognition.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.