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Label Feature: DJ Slyngshot and DJ Neewt - Yappin

Click here to listen to the DJ Slyngshot and DJ Neewt radio show. 

Since 2014, Frankfurt- and Offenbach-based label Yappin has been twisting and distorting the conventions of club music. Managed by DJ Slyngshot and DJ Neewt – who are also the label’s main artistic protagonists – the duo’s work sees them attempt to break with tradition – eschewing typical club-label signatures, that often see artists and labels such as theirs, pigeonholed. Instead, they employ a multi-dimensional stylistic output. You get house grooves with an old-school attitude; instrumental beatmaker nuances; progressive, rattling breakbeats; and otherworldly bass-laden electronics.

For Carhartt WIP Radio DJ Slyngshot and DJ Neewt prepared a mix that showcases their label’s work, with some released and unreleased Yappin material by DJ Slyngshot’s new outfit N.F.O, Neewt productions, and the new Yappin artist Babydawg. There’s also music by artists such as Issa LKXS; DJ Lost and TMO from Australia; Glenn Astro (aka Delta Rain Dance) and his buddy Nauker from Berlin; Bufiman from Düsseldorf; and Leipzig’s Credit 00, whose music aligns with the all-consuming Yappin spirit.

As well as putting together this mix for Carhartt WIP Radio, the two DJs and producers were also kind enough to give us an extended interview, shedding some light on their work ethos, their views on the digital age, and their unique musical vision.

Since releasing the first tape in 2014, through to the recent You Still Can’t Grasp It 12-inch, how has your opinion evolved regarding the perfect medium for your output – will Yappin ever be available digitally?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: We think that vinyl and audio cassettes as the main vehicles for our music have been quite a good fit for our rather old-school-ish aesthetic and production process and we’ve always been into the high-quality sound and the sonic warmth that comes with the medium, too. We both own a few thousand records – still somewhat fetishizing wax and it’s sound. Also, the record shelves are still like bookshelves in a library to us, if you need a specific sample you can just go through the crates and find something suitable. Almost everything you like and appreciate is archived, right there at your fingertips.

Nonetheless, we’re living in 2020 now, in times of digitalization and globalization, where the legal market, as well as the black market for digital music, are both flourishing. Many people – including the two of us – can’t really afford to buy records anymore. And if you’re a DJ, wax is freakin’ heavy and can be a pain in the ass to carry around – so why not just buy your music straight off of Bandcamp and the likes, where it’s fun to dig through label and artist pages?

We’ve already started to put our releases on Spotify too as we both have been using this platform extensively for our daily music and podcast consumerism, especially on the fly. Also, we don’t want to exclude potential listeners and would rather provide our releases recorded from vinyl in the best possible digital quality for just a few bucks than having DJs ripping 256 kbps MP3s from Soulseek all the time and playing those crappy, compressed files in clubs.

With all due respect to vinyl, its history and how important it has been for the electronic music scene and club culture, these days vinyl can sometimes appear pretty patriarchal. Either diehard music lovers can’t afford to listen to an LP, or labels press only 100 copies without any digital release just to create hype, or a sad bunch of hobbyist DJ Boomers regularly hate on other (particularly female) DJs for having played digital-only on some Boiler Room, because they think it’s “less of a craft, less professional and less real” than playing vinyl.

You both have a background in rock and playing in bands, in what ways do you find the process similar to working with electronic music and producing records for clubs?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: Well, the social aspect is pretty similar. Back in the day, we used to meet with our bandmates in a cellar to jam with guitars, drums, and some mics, today we would meet in the studio and jam with synths, samplers and other electronic gear. During the production process, we would be drawn naturally to band-like themes and methods, which we would then just transfer to electronic sound generators instead of actual “band instruments.” This is then also reflected in sound design and mixing. Aesthetically we always tend to sculpt synthetic sounds so that they sound rather organic in the end. We both started out by playing instruments in bands and we’ll probably never be able to get rid of that energy no matter what kind of music we make.

What were your favorite bands from back in the days?

DJ Neewt: When I played in a stoner band Black Sabbath and Kyuss were the two holy bands. Later I got into Portishead. For me, that’s the perfect music for when your heart is deadly broken but it still feels ok. And of course, Brian Jonestown Massacre for those moments where you need the soundtrack to smoke a cigarette in a really cool way.

DJ Slyngshot: I used to listen A LOT to Massive Attack, Blur, Nine Inch Nails, Kyuss, Tool, Atari Teenage Riot and the likes. I would regularly go to concerts of two local bands (one called Mareefield and the other one called Creature) in my hometown when I was a teenager. They both made freakin’ amazing alternative/2000s Prog rock – quite thrash-y, dystopian and trippy, but unfortunately at some point Creature replaced their drummer and started to become a Pop-rock band. Man, was I disappointed back then.

What can you tell us about your production techniques? I heard you’ve started using more and more software these days, is it true?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: Yeah true, we had never used a computer for Yappin music until just over a year ago. Our setup used to be hardware only and mostly analog, except a few effect units, samplers, and wavetable/FM synths. We used to have a huge Tascam desk in Slyngshot’s tiny bedroom in a shared flat. The annoying thing with analog desks is that you can’t mix two or more tracks responsively. The current jam would have to be 100% wrapped until you’d be able to start to engineer and jam the next one. This can really slow down the productive process and kill the creative energy and fun.

When Slyngshot moved houses, we decided to start tracking our gear with a multi-channel audio interface and Cubase instead of a console and a tape machine. It was funny to experience how freakin easy and fast it is to record and mix a track digitally. If you’ve learned mixing on a desk, working with a plugin like the Fabfilter Pro Q (with a frequency analyzer and where you can add more than three bands to get your instruments EQ’d to get the mix cleaned up) is almost as easy as brushing your teeth. In the beginning, we still used outboard compressors and effects to color and to saturate the sound but meanwhile we usually just record through nice sounding analog preamps, use only a few selected hardware effect units and then do the summing with outboard. Everything else is done in the box. In terms of sound source, we still use only hardware synths and samplers for Yappin stuff but on a few of our side projects, we’ve even worked with coding and DSP development engines for sound synthesis, audio processing, and sampling.

Who takes care of your designs and what are visual inspirations for you?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: Slyngshot is responsible for art direction, he made the Yappin logo for instance, [and] does all the graphic design and the layouts. For artwork we usually ask one of our friends to help us out. We’ve had contributions from local graffiti legend Eriks, Australian Balcony Boys and the artist Niklas J. Pagen, who also does the artwork for the amazing OCP record label which is run by our friend Ramone. When we get someone involved with the label it’s always born out of mutual respect and being inspired by the creative output of each other. Another good example is the artwork on the B-side of the Deesigner record which was contributed by Sven, the brother of Slyngshot’s girlfriend. He used to be quite active during the 1990s, DJing himself, setting up raves in the suburban area of Frankfurt and doing graffiti. He has also got this incredible record collection with all the really good stuff from back in the day. Even before Slyngshot had started Yappin, Sven would show him some of the gems in his music collection and Slyng would leave the place being all inspired and motivated to start a label. It was really nice seeing Sven enjoying the label’s music when it all came together in 2014 and it was a true honor getting to pick one of his sketches from his old sketchbooks about six years later. It has been amazing to bring something almost forgotten – from an important era in terms of local music culture that we never got to experience ourselves – back to the present and to give the culture something back in return.

Due to your very discreet internet presence and minimal social media use, Yappin has a great standing among DJs and producers around the world yet very few festival appearances, no constantly growing tours, or hype. Do you think today you can only participate properly in the “club scene” when you play by the rules of Instagram, Residentadvisor and so on?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: Instagram has undeniably become an essential tool for self-promotion, an important platform for creative business, social interaction, and communication. Most producers and DJs have got more photos of themselves and insights into their private lives up there than they have tracks released or gigs played. People tend to glorify artists and their personas and that’s totally fine, don’t get us wrong – we just don’t see ourselves there. We don’t participate too much in social media really and if so we try to focus on actual music-related content on our socials, similar to a newsletter. Producing visual social media content just consumes too much time and energy for us. We would rather invest our resources in making sound, and for creative and cultural production in real life – like setting up events or making sound design for art performances.

We have neither the desire nor the skills to keep up with the current online content machinery, we don’t really care about hype or how our personal music careers are going, we definitely prefer real-life and first-person communication and interaction. But we still observe and study all these technological and cultural shifts from a phenomenological and from a liberal arts perspective. We could answer the question with an entire essay but that would go way beyond the constraints of this interview. For those who’re interested, there’s an amazing paper called Athletic Aesthetics from 2013 by artist Brad Troemel that perfectly sums up what’s been happening in creative culture within the past few years. In his essay, he focuses on the art scene but it’s still applicable to other creative cultures. For German readers, we can also recommend the book “Die Produktivität von Musikkulturen” (The Productivity Of Music Cultures) by Holger Schwetter, Hendrik Neubauer, and Dennis Mathei. The book investigates the terms of creative capital and musical productivity from a sociological, cultural-economic, socio-cultural and musicological point of view. One chapter, for example, deals with the diversification of activities through digitalization and also digitalization’s general impact on productivity in the electronic music scene. Another one deals with collective production and creativity in music subcultures.

Objectively speaking, do you see your DIY spirit as an obstacle or a blessing?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: A blessing. We’ve never focused on the product or the record sales to be honest, the way is the reward for us. No need to outsource tasks that are fun to do just because it would be faster or more cost-efficient. The most important part and the sense of making music for us is the actual process of making it. It’s fun to work on designs as well. By doing all the office stuff we’ve definitely learned one or two useful things, too, so even that part is enjoyable for us. Everything beyond the creative process is still only optional though. Even getting records pressed and released is primarily a way of archiving and closing down projects, and about sharing it with the few heads who’re really interested – not to gain global attention, to earn money, or to push our music careers forward.

What is success to you and why do you make music?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: In our opinion success is quite an elastic term. Referring to musical success for us is when we have fun during the creative process and when we feel creatively or intellectually challenged or inspired. It’s not really about being able to sell music, being famous or getting hyped, but rather about the actual process of working with sound, the dialogue you can have with other musicians and the social contacts and creative interactions that come with it. We’re still happy about people buying our releases of course because that’s how we fund our creative output. There’s no actual reason why we make music, we just have to. If either of us can’t work with sound for a couple of days we start to feel unbalanced. Maybe music is a resort for us, a way of meditation and therapy, a way to escape from stress, chaotic thoughts and to clear the mind.

What was the last record that surprised you in a positive or negative way?

DJ Neewt: There are two recent tracks which really surprised me. A track by Bufiman and Credit 00 which is also featured as the 4th track in our mix. Deep-Sea psych vibes on an electro like arp, a crazy good combination. The last track in the mix is by Babydawg and initially, it seemed to me like a typical breakbeat electro track – but the moving, guitar-sounding synths morph it into a warm trip!

DJ Slyngshot: Seitō: In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun has definitely been a highlight for me. It’s a compilation with experimental, electronic tracks by female Japanese artists produced between 2017 and 2019. Gain and Lose by Kiki Hitomi has been a standout track for me, but all the pieces on this compilation are truly amazing really. Honestly, I was super close to crying when I listened to this record for the first time – I didn’t see that coming at all. It’s been a while since listening to a record last became such an emotional thing for me. So, definitely a positive surprise.

What is music in 2020, and what makes music stand out for you today?

DJ Neewt: Music is always interesting for me, as long as it has been made and is meant in an artistic sense and not just there for entertainment or service purposes, when there’s a certain tension without ruining the aesthetic of it. For example, if you mix Memphis rap with stoner guitar riffs and it still sounds cohesive and still makes sense – JPEG Mafia grinds this combination.

What can you tell us about the Frankfurt and Offenbach scenes? What’s happening right now that you didn’t see coming a few years back?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: Different promoters and cultural producers in and around Frankfurt have been constantly setting up a solid range of events, ever since the 90s actually. The Robert Johnson club has been playing an important role, especially in the past few years. They’ve been maintaining a very high level of quality and most locals who’re involved in the electronic music scene can somewhat identify with the club and it’s programming.

Another huge pool of cultural contributors come with the art school in Offenbach (HfG) and the arts academy of Frankfurt (Städelschule). Some Art and Design students regularly initiate alternative, queer and experimental events, concerts, club nights or exhibitions, and many others are keen on getting involved or participate. Having two art schools in Frankfurt/Offenbach also brings a constant stream of new, mostly young, keen and often progressive-thinking people to the area, many of them being musicians, producers or artists.

On the other hand, the city’s appearance, its politics, and its infrastructure are changing a lot, especially since Brexit. That’s something we didn’t see coming at all like ten years ago, at least not that things would be changing as dramatically as they are today. There are many young and creative people who are moving to Frankfurt at the moment, but also many bankers and upper working-class people are looking for a new home in Europe’s second financial center. Over the past few years, beautiful, culturally important buildings (often abandoned industrial ones) have been torn down, while cubistic, sealed-off, so-called “quartiers” with “sophisticated features” (and fences) have been built. Rent prices for private places and studios are constantly going up and it is becoming hard for culturally-productive people or groups to find affordable and interesting spaces to set up events or to create room for social, artistic or cultural production and interaction.

What is Frankfurt/Offenbach missing?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: The Frankfurt and Offenbach scenes are great, but a few things are still missing or could be improved. It would be nice if all the different creative collectives were more interconnected, if there were less “group things” and more of an overall city mentality, in terms of music and cultural production. If there were more politically-intended music or art projects that would be a great thing, too. A few projects in that regard have been evolving, but there’s still room for improvement, our projects and platforms included. By political we don’t mean that projects have to be scream, “Hey we’re doing politics!” but rather focusing on cohesion, on discussing differences, on starting dialogues.

Tell us about upcoming projects, what is happening with your live project Orbyt and what is coming out next on Yappin?

DJ Slyngshot & DJ Neewt: Well, the Orbyt project is going really great! We don’t play much, we just had our third gig the other month, but we rehearse, experiment and talk a lot and everything is totally at ease. It feels like being in a band in our early days again. No pressure to release music, no pressure to play gigs, the joy of performing live – track after track, jam after jam, with a short refreshing break in between the tracks, no DJ-like transitions to keep people dancing. You can play without thinking about what the people would like to hear or caring about whether they feel like dancing or just like listening – or maybe like leaving [Laughs]. Most of the music is quite slow, dub-infused, trippy and psychedelic and we both find ourselves melting into it when rehearsing or performing. It has also been really interesting for us not to sample anything from records or from acoustic instruments on this project. Working with modular synths, physical modeling synthesis, and even speech synthesis, all sounds we create for Orbyt are of synthetic origin, yet the result still sounds very organic. Orbyt has become a pretty important, inspirational playground for us and also a sort of path to musical self-discovery.

As for Yappin, we’ve got more than five records pretty much wrapped. Neewt has been working on a rather breaksy, electro-influenced project with another producer and friend of ours from Offenbach, and we’ve got a whole bunch of Slyngshot tracks from the past few years ready which have been sitting somewhere on a hard drive, waiting to see the light of day. Some tracks might get reissued as well and some of the old, limited-run cassettes might finally get a proper release. As we only have very limited financial capital it will take some time to get all that music mastered and pressed through. The keen ones should definitely keep their eyes and ears open – usually, once a record has sold out on Clone and we’ve got the money from the sales, the next EP is gonna go off to mastering immediately. Some of the label’s music might also pop up on Spotify and Bandcamp.

Besides that, we’ve had the homie DJ Plead in the studio twice and are now making the final tweaks on a nice 4-tracker. Working with him has been sick: instant flow as if we’d been making music together for years. We’re really looking forward to that one. Last but not least, after a prolonged creative process, a bit of back and forth (it took more than a year, almost two actually), Slyngshot has also just finished an EP for Workshop which is at the mastering studio right now and will finally be released this spring.

Yappin discography