Marcus Ezra - The Road Less Traveled…

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I grew up in a time not at all like that of the younger generation we have today. I grew up in the age of dial up internet, CDs and FM radio. It was a time when 2 or at the very most 3 radio stations existed, a time when top 40 Hiphop & Rnb solely ruled the airwaves. There was no ‘Edm’, no vibrant club culture, sponsored events & festivals or producer/Dj collectives. Not an inkling of a future for a dance music scene in Kenya, or even greater East Africa.

I remember hearing the very first dance tunes trickling on to local radio in the mid-90s; even though at the time nobody had a clue as to what it was and that it would eventually be known as House music; the music that would 10 years later go on to dominate pop music. House consisted of a heavy 4/4 kick drum, huge piano chords, deep bass lines and the quintessential afro power vocals. Even the drive time shows on KBC (probably THE only radio station at the time) pumped out the likes of Jamie Principle, Robin S, Inner City, The Nightcrawlers & David Morales to name just a few. This was probably the first time I was exposed to house music.

No doubt the generation who were at the club going age as the late 80s went into the 90s, experienced the best of the short lived House boom that made its way down onto the radio and few nightclubs such as the infamous New Florida & Carnivore.

New Florida Nightclub in the heart of Nairobi circa 1990

One of the first House singles to take the sound to the top of the radio charts.

Another prolific tune that came later in the 90s and still continues being remixed till date

I recently bumped into a Kenyan of Asian descent who’d just moved back to Kenya after almost 15 years in the U.K. He happened to be quite well acquainted with the club scene in Europe. As we chatted, he was utterly surprised & became increasingly inquisitive when I told him of my adventures in music and the kind that I wrote. “How is this even possible?” he asked and “didn’t you feel alienated to be listening let alone writing styles of music that were pretty much nonexistent here where you were growing up?”

 As the East – West Rap wars of 1994-1996 ensued, Rap music took center stage. Hip Hop went on to influence a great number of the youth and create its own little sub culture that was to remain the current de-facto sound amongst youth of inner city Nairobi for a while to come. I guess the idea that the choice of a particular musical genre is driven mostly by our social identity and  need to fit in to it, for the most part is true - and that’s  just what I did…conformed…until 1997 when I heard this…

Chicane’s ‘Offshore’ came on the afternoon drive time radio show. From the first listen, I was enchanted with electronic music all over again. Dance music had matured and squarely made is place in the global music industry with pop superstars the likes of Madonna, Bryan Adams, Tom Jones etc doing entire albums rich in electronic tones (Madonna – Ray of Light).

As we went into the early 2000’s, we now had local FM music stations with musically well-versed DJs who were playing different styles of music. House music started slowly re-emerging.  Local radio stations such as Citizen, Nation FM & Capital FM had shows specifically playing all styles of Dance music. One of note was the Dance express on Nation FM that aired on Sunday nights with James Mwai - which went on to spawn its own monthly exclusive events at Black Cotton – a club located in Karen – one of Nairobi’s Suburbs.

Rui Di Silva’s ‘Touch Me’ A tune synonymous with this period

Sooner or later I began exploring deeper as to what else was out there and to my surprise found there existed a rich underground electronic scene with a wealth of musical genres from deeper styles of House to Techno, Trance & Drum and Bass. By 2002, it was clear what kind of music I was sticking with and further to that what kind I wanted to explore creating.

My own take on the old house sound

Propelled by technology and the ease with which you can create sounds today, globally we now have a wealth of artists creating and experimenting with different styles and sub genres of electronic dance music. All in all this is a fantastic thing and can only go towards developing artists and a platform for them to grow, especially locally. I however will still miss the early days – when there was no internet, no software…just an old dusty studio filled with drum machines, samplers and Technics turntables, when people went out to the club to hear  records because only the Dj played them – THAT was the golden age of dance music.

Marcus Ezra: New Retro: The Future Sound of the Past

Despite the ongoing so-called democratization of electronic music, I tend to believe that every generation, be it that of the by-gone era or that of today, both had their contemporary and underground music scenes.  In the same way we today have the contemporary mass-market radio sound of EDM/mainstream house, so do we have their underground counterparts; in the various  forms of Deep House, Techno, Nu-Disco & Drum and Bass to name a few.

This is also true of the electronic sounds of the 70s and 80s. With the emergence of Synthesizers like the Moog, ARP 2600 and Prophet5, synthesizer-based music became more prolific not only in the mainstream charts toppers but also became the de-facto sound of what was to become the essence of 80s pop culture that continued to influence music through the 90s till date. The sound of the synthesizer became responsible for the emergence of music genres such as New Wave, synth-pop, dreamwave.  It also featured heavily in film music of that era.

Alphaville, the mainstream German synth group popular for their 1984 hit “Big in Japan”

Concurrently more underground instrumental electronic-based music also shared in popularity as synth music based acts such as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Shulze, Jan Hammer and Keith Emerson also began to emerge.

Jan Hammer’s Crocketts Theme off the Cult-80s Tv series ” Miami Vice’

The virtuoso synth player Klaus Shulze, one of my favorite composers of ambient soundscapes music (dreamwave)

I recall tuning into one of those Saturday night soul radio shows that used to air on local FM radio and always feeling a sense of nostalgia..or waking up to The Car’s Drive playing on the all night long show. There was something indescribable about the sound. It sounded old, timeless.  As though it belonged to another era, which it did and yet I felt strangely connected to it in some way. There’s a sense of ‘specialness’ that came from it: ‘good music’ most would say, a musical escape I’d call it. .

The recent emergence of the new retro movement aims to do just that. An effort is being made by some modern electronic music artists to reproduce the eighties sound to a certain degree and they have created a stunning new genre of music all together.

Kavinsky gained fame with his ‘Out Run Electro’ style after featuring heavily in the 2011 Movie ‘Drive’ 

Dynatron’s Excellerator

Lazer Hawk’s Star Hustler

The 2012 track from ‘Electric Youth’ a retro inspired Band from Toronto, Canada.

The specific name of this genre is still relatively sketchy though all kinds of names have been thrown around such as New Retro, Dreamwave, OutRun Electro and ofcourse the already established Synth-Pop. Artists and Bands such as Kavinsky (off movie, Drive fame), Lazerhawk, Dynatron, Mitch Murder, Trevor Something, Electric Youth, Com Truise, Blastromen and Lifelike to name a few have come to light as the vanguard of this new revival genre. 

A Record Label worth noting is German Retro outfit :Dominance Electricity. A Label at the fore-front of keeping the *80’s eletrofunk/breakdance sound still alive and kicking.

14 MUSIC PRODUCTION TIPS FROM MARCUS EZRA

 1.       Do your research. Don’t try and get into production just cause your friend brought over the latest copy of FLStudio. Find out what you’re in for. Even with the best software money can buy, creating good music is and will always be DIFFICULT. Make sure you’re in for the long haul or else you’ll be hauling ass.

2.       Music Knowledge. Contrary to popular belief, the computer doesn’t actually write the music. You do. A bit of music knowledge (Scales, Chords etc) will go a long way to aid us against passing out from unbearable cacophony.

3.       Gear. At least acquire a decent pair of studio monitors and an audio interface. How the audio signal translates from your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to your ears is undoubtedly very important. I don’t care what people say, analog hardware will always sound better than software. Software is a decent enough alternative if you of course can’t afford a $3000 Access Virus or Moog Voyager.

4.       Sounds. Construct your track choosing your sounds carefully and sparingly keeping in mind that those 10 big, phat, lush synth sounds won’t exactly sound as good layered once they’re all running the master into the RED. Less is more – You only have one frequency spectrum to work with.

5.       Samples. Its OK to use samples. As long as you use them sparingly. Samples can be a good way of giving a track a musical ‘bed’ to start with and can also be an inspiring basis to write ideas on. Just as long as you don’t do a Will.I.Steal…which you’d probably be doing.

6.       Effects. Learn how to use your compressor and EQ and for the sake of our ears, spare us and DON’T use them at all if you don’t know what you’re doing. Start with subtle compression and subtractive EQ instead of boosting.

7.       Vocals. No matter how cute the girl next door is, the fact of the matter is that – SHE CANT SING. No amount of pitch correction will help her. Find another way to get laid and get a proper vocalist.

8.       Programming. Programming of the melodies in your sequencer with the use of the mouse for hours? but you just cannot get the hold of the right sequence that could suit your project? Grab a hold of a midi keyboard. A more intuitive approach is by playing the melody on a MIDI-keyboard (and recording the result), can enhance your creativity even if you’re no Jordan Rudess.

9.       Creative Effects. Don’t just go preset hunting. A little bit of chorus/delay/flanger will go a long way in changing the character an already existing sound making it more interesting.

10.    Instruments. Don’t be a VST whore (like me) It is a lot more useful to have only a few plug-ins that you know well, than to have a huge list of VSTs that you cannot use to full extent.

 11.    Copy Cating. Don’t try too hard to sound like your Beatport top 40 idols. Just because you don’t, it doesn’t mean your sound is bad, it’s just different.

12.    Breaks. Take regular breaks every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid brain-fry and cloth-ears, especially when mixing. This will save your ears, give you more perspective and boost your output.

13.    Too Early. You started producing, recorded a tune of your own and you are proud of it – a great achievement. It is one of your first productions, yet you already feel very confident about the quality of your work. Your friends and family have listened to the track and told you that you did very well too. Now you might possibly be tempted to send a demo of your early productions to your favorite label, but you should always remember: the first impression counts, as it may determine how people are going to judge you and your future productions. So criticize yourself and set your goals high.

14.    Perseverance and determination are attributes that the aspiring producer has to show. Making your own music is easier than ever thanks to modern computer software, yet the beginning may be difficult and decent results may not come over night. I guess the question you should be asking yourself isn’t ‘what do I have to do?’ but rather ‘what am I willing to give up?’ Pain and Practice, Sacrifice and Time.

 

 

Marcus Ezra production tips nairobi Kenya electronic music

The Decisions Ep

African vibes come to Germany with Kenya’s multi talent Marcus Ezra and another high quality EP on Soul Bros. Records! The “Decisions EP” contains warm, melancholic, bouncy as well as lovely tunes – just the right food for your soul, especially for the dark European Autumn days. The track “No One Else” features a nice male vocal and orchestral vibes, “Decision” is a gentle tune with a sweetish female vocal and mellow sounds, “Captivated” drives forward with a solid beat and a lush Rhodes loop, while the last tune “Memories” has wonderful and captivating spoken words by Tyzar. Attentive sounds leave you in a thoughtful but balanced mood! By the way this beautiful cover artwork is done by Marcus Ezra himself…

Junodownload Review

The Life at 175 BPM Ep Marcus Ezra Electronic Liquid Dram & Bass Alternative.