Toronto based producer Jermaine “Astro Mega” Clarke is one of the leading voices in the lo-fi scene in the northern city. With over 20 releases to his name, his consistent output of music shows an evolution on each release. Between releases he has performed in the UK and US while also being a co-founder of the Toronto artist showcase The Build. Speaking to Native Instruments, Clarke spoke about his workflow, his inspirations and his views on record digging with new technology.
You call your style ‘abstract boom-bap’ but others might call it lo-fi. How did you get into this style of music?
I got shown GodsConnect’s YouTube channel through a friend. That’s how I really got introduced to lo-fi. I already knew about legends like Dibia$e and Eloquent, but GodsConnect introduced me to a lot more producers in the scene.
How has the music you look to for inspiration changed over the years?
Nowadays it really really makes me think outside the box when approaching a sample. It opened up my ears to sampling different genres outside of soul, funk, and jazz. It has also made me experiment more when it comes to sampling drum breaks and percussions or creating my own unique drum patterns.
What would you call your biggest influence outside of music?
Comic books and b-rated movies from the 70s and 80s. I’m a huge Marvel fan and been reading comic books since the early 90s. I sampled a lot of cheesy films and even anime movies as well.
What is your workflow when starting a new track?
Grab a record and listen to it until I come across a song that catches my attention. I listen to the entire track. Once I find a part I really like I’ll loop it up and slice away. Then I’ll apply some drums and a bassline. Depending on the vibe I’ll throw on some vocals. After all of that, I’ll apply some EQ, saturation and a compressor. Also, I like to challenge myself and create something entirely different out of the same sample. You know, work with it on a different BPM or apply effects from my SP-404SX while I’m recording the sample off the record.
You’ve been using the new MASCHINE MIKRO for a few weeks now. How have you implemented the new features into this workflow?
The Perform FX Function I’ve been using a lot lately. Doing effects on the fly while recording is really fun and has been giving me a different approach on sequencing my beats lately.
With your music being heavily based around sampling, how do you implement the audio unit for time stretching?
That’s another of my favorite features. I love how I can stretch the sample and stay to whatever BPM I want. This definitely gives me more freedom and ideas when it comes to sampling and creating really weird and funky loops.
You also use Reason for some of your mixing. How do you use this with the MASCHINE software?
I do most of my mixing in MASCHINE and use whatever Native Instruments plug-in or third-party plug-in. I like to use Reason to make more final arrangements to my beats, especially when it comes to remixing and giving it a master.
With the likes of YouTube and sample digging services, have you changed how you dig for samples?
Most of my sampling comes from vinyl. I have a nice collection from all genres. I mean, my crates aren’t deep like Madlib’s or Questlove’s, but its deep enough to get lost in. I don’t really have anything against sampling off YouTube, I’ve done it before myself but it’s not really digging. I like spending my day at a record shop and getting my hands dusty. On top of that, the amount of knowledge that these record store owners have and are willing to share with you is priceless. When you sample off YouTube you don’t know much of what you are sampling. Things like the year and other musicians on the record are very important to me.
Toronto has a strong lo-fi community with regular events like Subtle Blend and your own event The Build. What advice would you give to people who want to build a similar community in their city?
That it’s not about you and that it’s really a community thing. Toronto [artists] has had a long history of not supporting each other, but I really feel that Subtle Blend really changed that a lot lately. They not only have had lo-fi producers performing but they have put on a lot of house, techno, future soul, jazz and even trap producers on too. As for The Build, run by myself and Gillian Mapp, we just wanted to add more to what Subtle Blend was doing but expose it to a wider audience through YouTube and show them that Toronto is not just about the OVO and trap sound. So yeah, if you can be the change in your community then do it.
YouTube radio stations playing lo-fi music are bigger than ever with tens of thousands of viewers at any one time. How do you see this increase in attention as both an artist but also a fan?
That not everybody wants to turn up all the time and that a lot of people really enjoy listening to experimental stuff more than the watered-down music you hear on commercial radio.
Who are the artists you think people should be checking out right now?
Man, there’s so many so I like to apologies to anyone that I may have forgotten. Max Melanin, CY, Josh Grant, Furozh, Eahwee, Hann 11, 2nd Son, Futurewave, Obuxum, aummaah and Bombay.
photo credtis: Michael Libis