Interview: AJ Beats

Werk Space is a new video series presented by fellow Dutch music site MOOVMNT. The idea behind the project is to put together different producers from the lowlands on a compilation, by letting them produce one track within one day at Red Bull Studios, a state-of-the-art recording and production facility in Amsterdam. After Moods and Singularis, the latest edition is with Dutch beatmaker AJ Beats and vocalist Gerson Rafael. AJ is busy making stuff for Soulection, and even though his Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages are still relatively empty, we’re pretty sure he’s one to watch. We had the pleasure to catch up with AJ to talk about his werk.

Let’s kick off with the most unoriginal question imaginable. For those who don’t know, who is AJ Beats?

I’m a 22 year old beat maker born and raised in Enschede, in the very east of the Netherlands. I’ve been making beats for like four years now. I started out producing hip hop beats in particular, but after some years I started to try to shape my own sound. Now I pretty much make music that inspires me.

How do you strive to stay original in an already oversaturated world of beatmakers?

I think that the main focus is to try and create your own sound. For example by setting up your own library with sounds that inspire you. I also think it’s good to listen to what other beatmakers are creating. However, you should never copy a certain style.

Which skill would you like to improve still as a beatmaker?

That would be my mixing and mastering game. I feel like I still need to step that up. Currently I’m studying from different sources all by myself, and I learn a lot each day. I do really notice improvements, so that’s positive.

We spotted some vinyl records on your Instagram page. Do you consider yourself to be a crate digger? What are your most prized possessions?

Yeah, definitely! When I started making hip hop beats, I always listened to Dilla, Madlib, Flying Lotus and similar artists. Especially the way that they flipped samples was just completely new to me. That really drove me to use samples in my beats, and at that time I started listening to LPs from my dad’s collection. He had Funk and Soul records by James Brown, M.J, Al Green, Barry white and Rick James. Later on I started buying my own vinyl in record stores and now I love digging. My most prized possession would have to be Deodato’s “Night Cruiser”, whic was the very first record I bought. The record contains a sample from Biggie’s track “Nasty Girl”, which I really dig.

We also spotted a drum on your Instagram (yes, we’re creeping). Do you do your own drums/percussion?

I did own a drum set with two snare drums for a few years. A few years ago my mom said she needed some space in the room, so my drum set was the first thing to go. I actually sold it about a year ago, but kinda miss them…

Listening to your work, I think it’s safe to say Dilla is a big influence to you, right? How exactly did he ‘change your life’?

Dilla did have a big influence on me, because when I was 15 and just started making beats, a homie in school put me onto cats like Dilla, Madlib and Flying Lotus. Ever since I heard their music, I really got inspired by them and it turned me into a beat freak. That was the beginning for me.

What’s your favourite production gear to work with?

That would be my Maschine, because the thing is just damn accurate. For example, if I want to play a live percussion part it allows me to really give that live feel to my production. It almost sounds like the drums were played live, know what I mean? So yeah, that’s where I’m headed. That live instrumentation feel in my music.

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