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Backed up by Mad Decent off-shoot Jeffrees, Baauer is bringing his Brooklyn bounce to bear on the new wave of hip-hop inspired bass and beats, snaring a Kanye collab into the

bargain... Words: DREW MILLARD Photos: MAXIME QUOILIN

get called, but crunk’s still here. It’s no longer a rowdy antithesis to the thoughtful soul of Southern Hip-Hop, but yeah. It’s still here. Take Baauer, for one. His single ‘Harlem Shake’ exploded upon the scene earlier this year, first finding buzz as an unreleased track in Rustie’s arsenal, one he dropped on his stunning Essential mix for UK flagship station BBC Radio 1 in April. It’s easy to see why Rustie would be drawn to such a song. It’s got the sort of pounding basslines the Glaswegian producer loves, with siren-y synth stabs layered with drums that sound tribal, primal even.


It’s a track that was created on a whim, the Brooklyn producer says, one that sprung to life, “Like most of my tracks do. Just throwing out random ideas into Ableton Live. I wanted to hear what it would be like to put a Dutch House synth over a hip-hop beat, and one thing led to another,” he says, speaking over email while prepping for a show. And a fortuitous experiment it was. He started sending the track around completely cold, eventually hearing back from Mad Decent A&R man Paul Devry, who offered to put the song out on the label, founded by the professional genre dilettante and all around EDM wunderkind Diplo.

runk ain’t dead. It’s important to remember that. Sure, it’s been a minute since Bone Crusher was heaving his hulking frame at the bouncers outside of a seedy Atlanta strip club screaming he was never scared, the bass of Lil Jon et al still at an audible thump as the cops

Pitchfork took notice, bestowing ‘Harlem Shake’ with the prestigious ‘Best New Track’ tag, and from here on out it seems that Baauer is destined for great things.

Hip-hop nerd Raised in both London and Connecticut, Baauer’s original goal was to become a turntablist. “I got my first pair of decks when I was 13, and I sucked pretty bad at the whole ‘scratching’ thing,” he says. His dreams of technical wizardry on the level of his early hero DJ Qbert were deferred by a DJ friend who played house and got him hooked on beat-matching. It is Baauer’s love of hip-hop that gives him his distinct style, citing such producers as Madlib, Dilla, Dan The Automator, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Bangladesh as musical influences. “I’ve always been a hip-hop nerd. I love to break down beats when I listen, and think about what each producer did to put their personal touch on the music,” he says.

Indeed, the sound of ‘Harlem Shake’ finds its true lineage not in house but in hip-hop. Sampling a song by the Philadelphia rapper Plastic Little, the track is all thunder in the best way possible. There’s nary a bit of negative space throughout the song: starting with a flurry of noises, Baauer shows a mastery of tension and release as the drum hits fly past your head, and the only thing you can do is sit back and marvel at its winning chaos. That, or dance. “I love putting in random non-musical sounds and vocal chops in. It makes the beat into kind of an audible cartoon,” he says of his style. Such noises pepper ‘Harlem Shake’. Lions roar. A pitched-up voice says, “Oh!” a lot. A pitched-down one commands the listener to, “Do the Harlem Shake.” But while the song’s lone vocal points to New York, it is to the South that we must look to find the track’s roots.

The rolling snares and hi-hats of the song’s drum line position it in the tradition of trap music, a style borne of Atlanta with an interesting history of its own. The term ‘trap’ refers loosely to the inner-city ghetto, rife with crime and poverty. It’s inescapable, the very definition of trap. Listen to the track ‘Trap Muzik,’ the title song from T.I.’s 2003 album. Those same hi-hats are there, but more in tune with crunk’s minimalism, not yet as rigidly and brutally positioned as they are on ‘Harlem Shake’. The idea of trap music came into its own on the backs of such rappers as Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy, their producers Zaytoven, Drumma Boy and Shawty Redd using the snares to bring an overtly ominous feel to

their early work. It was Gucci protégé Waka Flocka, however, who discovered a Virginia producer named Lex Luger and inadvertently changed the sound of hip-hop. Luger’s idea was simple: make everything sound as intense as the drums. Luger took tinny, funhouse synths and instilled them with the energy of a Lil Jon production, and Flocka proved to be the only rapper intense enough to ride the ensuing storm. Luger’s big breakthrough came with Rick Ross’s ‘B.M.F.,’ which proved to be a Michael Bay-sized smash, Ross simply serving as window dressing, a heavily bearded eye of the hurricane. Now one of the dominant sounds in hip-hop, Luger’s style has been co-opted by beatsmiths abound.

Anything good with a beat In the land of pure dance music, things were also changing. DJs were rubbing styles up against each other that had never seen the lasers of the dancefloor before. Diplo himself was one of the guys who pushed this ethos most heavily, and ended up having a profound influence upon a young Baauer. “I remember buying his FabricLive mix before I knew who he was, just because I liked the cover art,” he says. “I had never heard someone mix so many different styles of music together like that.”

This willingness to play new sounds weighs heavily upon the dance music scene. Producers such as Rustie are peppering their high-energy, bass-heavy sets with songs not only from Baauer but also the rappers 2 Chainz and New York’s A$AP Mob, sounding less like a conventional DJ set and more like a survey of anything good with a beat. Consider the TNGHT project from Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, which is equally influenced by Southern Rap — as ‘Harlem Shake’ is. Suddenly, up is down, left is right, cats and dogs are living together and we’re fucking loving it.

As for the man himself, Baauer has big things in store. He’s set to work with Kanye West, for one. “I played a couple parties with some of his crew in New York, and shortly after that I got hit up by his assistant. He’s an incredible producer, especially for how high-profile he is.” While that might be the biggest news on the horizon for the rising producer, it’s not the only news. He’s got an EP coming out on the Glaswegian label LuckyMe soon, and he’s set to embark upon a European tour. Crunk’s gone global, and Baauer’s helping keep it there. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t figure out how to scratch.


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