Life at dBs Music only started last year for Alex Madsen, but in that time she has displayed an incredible level of creative output and is already fostering some fantastic connections in the wider music industry.
With the recent release of her new album 'Cotton Skies' we felt it high time to learn more about where this reservoir of inspiration comes from and how her working style has opened up an array of collaborative opportunities.
Could you tell us a little about your journey into music production, how you first got into making music and what led to where you are now?
So, I originally started learning drums at the age of 8 or so, which then transitioned into music production through my wonderful teacher, who showed me the basics of GarageBand. This was around 2012, so producers like Skrillex and Deadmau5 were at the forefront of my mind when starting to develop my sound. I continued producing on and off until the age of 14, when I had purchased Ableton Live 9.
At this point, writing music had become a big hobby for me, alongside teaching myself instruments. Lessons had never really been beneficial nor fun for me, which led me to playing around first with piano, then bass, then moving onto guitar. All of this ended up coming in handy down the road, as now live instruments are a definitive part of my sound.
For the past few years, I’ve just been working up my technique, soaking up as much information as I can from various sources like online tutorials and friends in the industry, and networking through sites such as Discord.
At what point did you realise that the next step for you was music education and why did you choose dBs Music?
Education within fields I wasn’t necessarily interested in was always tough, as the motivation to work dwindled as time went on. I personally find it very tough to learn and focus on something if I’m not invested, and as such I realised that standard education wasn’t really for me.
Around 2017 I had found dBs through their Culprate masterclass, which led me to do a bit more research on the university. Having set my sights on the campus in Berlin, I contacted dBs initially wondering if I could join the college program despite being 16 and not having graduated with a high school diploma. This wasn’t possible, however, after another two years of high school and barely hanging on by the skin of my teeth, I set my sights on joining the access course.
This proved to be one of the best decisions of my life, as dBs has expanded my horizons and allowed me to fully commit myself to the craft. My next step is to graduate with a masters at dBs, and in the meantime apply for a teaching position. I’d love to continue to be part of the family as an alumna, which currently seems most possible through teaching.
You recently released your new album, ‘Cotton Skies’, which you’ve been working on for some time now. How does it feel to finally have it out in the world?
Cotton Skies has been a longterm project spanning almost two years, as a few of the tracks initially began back in 2018.
Having started creating it just after being diagnosed with dysthymia and anxiety, Cotton Skies has gone through a lot.
Some tracks definitely show their age, for example I’m not entirely happy with the production on Cats Sleep, Cities Don’t, however I thought it important to release them despite this.
Keeping the amateur yet raw sound of the songs intact was important as it made for a nice contrast with the highly produced tracks like Final Exposure and Bleach.
It’s a real exploration of a variety of electronic genres, which really keeps the momentum up from start to finish. Was it always your intention to create something that didn’t sit still stylistically?
As with most of my releases thus far, it’s a bit like a melting pot of genres I’ve wanted to explore throughout the past few years. Although I think I’m prone to jumping around between styles and such, I’ve done my best on my next few albums to make for a more coherent storyline.
For example, the EP after my next album titled 'The Offerings' definitely has more thought put into how each track relates to one another. Following a mix between edit-heavy IDM and thick halftime beats, it has more of a stylistically coherent personality.
You were also one of three students to have their remix of Paper Dragon’s ‘New Religion’ chosen by Grafix, which was also recently released. How did it feel hearing such great feedback on your work?
I personally thrive on feedback, no matter how harsh, as it allows me to improve on my work and possibly make way for a new learning experience. I was thoroughly ecstatic to learn I had been chosen by Grafix, and the experience of listening to the other submissions compared to my own was definitely gratifying. Had I been given a tad longer, I would’ve liked to refine the track a tad, but I’m generally happy with the overall outcome.
On top of all this, you were also featured on Billegal Beats Vol.0, a new label formed by Mr. Bill to showcase left-field glitch music. How did that all happen?
I’ve actually been a friend of Bill’s for quite some time now. First meeting him through his production livestreams on Twitch.tv, I became a moderator on his discord and Facebook group when that was launched.
His growing community resulted in a few projects, which we had worked side-by-side on, such as collaborations, mixes, and sample packs.
My tune with Morgan Prevost (aka Premo) caught Bill’s attention, and we were asked to release it on the first compilation album.
Can we expect to see you on concurrent releases on Billegal Beats?
Certainly! As of writing this, I’m working on a sample pack for Billegal Sounds - a new branch of Billegal Beats focused on sample packs for Splice - which focuses on the sounds I’d find most useful when writing my style. Kicks, snares, basses, effects, and anything else I’ve made over the years. Along with this, I’m sure an EP, album, or collaboration will be coming down the road sooner rather than later.
You’ve previously mentioned a huge backlog of material that’s yet to be released. Where are you soaking up all your inspiration from?
I’d say my back catalogue comes from my working style. I draw a lot of inspiration from the music which I’m currently listening to, which can range from jazz pianists like McCoy Tyner, all the way to the IDM gods like Datach’i or µ-Ziq.
What’ll usually happen is that I’ll get inspiration from something I’ve just discovered, and then I’ll try and sketch it out as an 8 or 16-bar loop. However, when I’m feeling inspired to do something musical, but don’t have the motivation to come up with anything, I’ll do sound design sessions. Picking a synth or an effect to focus on, then hitting record and messing with it.
I have a folder on my hard drive dedicated to these sessions, totalling up to almost 300 hours worth of sounds. Then I can put them to use at a later date when I find the time. Some of these will actually be in that previously mentioned sample pack, so look out for that!
Artwork taken from Alex's debut album 'Contact Light', released on Culprate's label Open Outlets
Since joining dBs Music, what one lesson has resonated with you the most so far?
Most of the Access course so far has been spent networking rather than learning. I went into the course to get qualifications more than to gain new knowledge, as I had already learned a lot of what was being taught through experimentation or research.
However, I’m still very grateful for having gone through the course, as there are little nuggets of knowledge that you could only ever know if someone pointed them out. Coming from a background of electronic music knowledge in both mixing and mastering, these bits of information were most prominent in the live aspects of the course.
Recording techniques, mic choice and placement, and other such things that I would’ve never encountered otherwise. Although I may not strictly put this info to use in a traditional sense, it allows me to broaden my horizons and inadvertently teach me new techniques I can use within my field.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
As previously mentioned, I’d like to continue at dBs for the foreseeable future; either as a student or on the staff. However, I’m personally trying to develop my sound through unique avenues.
Experimental sound design has always been fascinating to me, and has led me to all sorts of other hobbies such as eurorack, shortwave radio receivers, Max MSP programming, and speaker design. These are all in search of new sounds to sample or use within my music, which’ll be seen as I continue to put out albums.
I’m currently pursuing a few different labels to release music on, and plan a return to Culprate’s label, Open Outlets, where I initially released my debut album.
Finally, what advice has proved invaluable for your development as an artist?
Experiment. Break the norm. There are plenty of good pieces of advice and knowledge on the internet and in books, however they were all discovered one way or another.
Developing a sound comes down to putting your personality and thoughts into your music, which I argue is most prominent through how you approach the creation process.
Although a specific preset or patch might sound good on it’s own, don’t be afraid to tweak it to your liking. That’s what makes your sound different and unique!
Where can people find out more about you and your music?
I’m on most platforms as either ‘silent-science’ or ‘totallysilent’, and all my releases are on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, and Tidal! I’ve put a linktree to my social media platforms below. Thanks so much for having me!
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