Bobby Obsy on his new ‘Robo Boy’ EP, Boom Bap & Design (Interview)
Bobby Obsy is a London-based music producer and designer. His beats are grounded in sample-based sounds, made with the help of vintage samplers, synthesizers & bass guitar. On his new Robo Boy EP, he seems to let go of loops. Taking boom bap to a galaxy not so far away.
Bobby Obsy’s debut album Rusty Gate was released digitally in 2018 via Vinyl Digital. This led to setting up a successful vinyl campaign on Qrates on his own, with since then vinyl copies available at HHV, Vinylism, and Jet Set Records in Kyoto & Tokyo. His debut release led to live sets in Amsterdam, London, the Reworks Festival in Greece, and to another vinyl feature on The Find Mag’s Jazzvolution Chapter Two.
It’s been over a year since your Rusty Gate. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from releasing your debut vinyl record?
When I make music, I’m in my room, completely in the zone, out of this world. That’s how it always starts. It’s all in your head until it becomes art. When I first decided to put the effort and take my productions seriously, I had to figure out everything. What is mixing? What is mastering? How do you create a theme? Who is my music for? How do you approach a label? What about the promotion and marketing strategy? All these things were unknown to me.
The process of releasing Rusty Gate, professionally, took me out of my cave into the real world. There, I realized that when you make music in that cave, it’s not only for you. It’s for the people. I realized through this process, that when artists release an album, they leave a mark in the history and evolution of music. That being said: I believe releasing music professionally is an essential step on an artist’s path.
The boom bap on Robo Boy is quite unconventional. Less loop-based, with more progression in the beats. Is this a project-specific approach, or is this an overall new direction for you?
I’m still trying to find my own place in the industry. With Rusty Gate, I got introduced into this vast world of the music industry by presenting a pure boom-bap album. I soon realized my need as an artist to contribute somehow in the genre of hip hop and not just make music for the sake of expressing myself. Boom bap has been on the map for the last, what, 20-30 years? Executed amazingly by legendary artists.
There is always room for more boom bap, but there is no innovation in boom bap anymore. Today it’s trap music. Trap is dominating the music industry and me personally, I don’t want to be part of that scene. I don’t believe trap is the true descendant of what started on 1520 Sedwick Avenue, in the 70s. I have the need as an artist to find that new music signature sound and establish myself in the industry. Robo Boy is an experiment towards a new path for me and my experience with hip-hop. This EP is a personal statement. Hopefully I will be able to show you what I mean with results.
“I even used Japanese harmony techniques to come up with that melody. I see ‘Astral Venture’ as the Robo Boy theme song.”
Well, tell me! What’s the result of that approach?
There are three tracks on Robo Boy. What I love the most about opening track “Starclimber” is the drum pattern: complex and solid. The track is full of atmospheric synth, metallic Rhodes and groovy sound effects. It really takes me to space. That is why I named it “Starclimber.”
Then there’s “Astral Venture,” the happy track of the EP. There’s a small intro influenced by Japanese anime intros. I even used Japanese harmony techniques to come up with that melody. I see it as the Robo Boy theme song. It’s a song full of hope, including sharp piano melodies to lead the track and old school sampled repetitive trumpets.
“Electric Serenade” is the heavier track. This is the most boombap-y track of all three. I focused mostly on the drums. I wanted to create a grounded feeling, focused on the groove and mid to low frequencies.
One of the blogs that featured the EP on the day of its release described the opening track as “Bob James-influenced.” Is Bob James an inspiration for you? If so, what have you learned from studying his music?
I prefer not to reveal my studies on that new path I’m willing to take. Studying Bob James has to do with that. Describing my EP as “Bob James-influenced” is the biggest compliment I could receive and I feel grateful. One thing I can say though is that there is sophistication in Bob James’ discography. There is a certain type of balance in musical harmonies and song arrangements. The same goes for Charles Mingus. Both of these legends are huge inspirations for Robo Boy and my upcoming projects.
You just mentioned that this release is “a statement.” What do you mean with that?
My statement for this EP does not only involve the beat scene. I see the world becoming faster and faster nowadays. People’s attention span is that of a goldfish. And if anything is not as easy as tapping it with your finger, it’s not worthy of extra efforts. The same goes for this mood music approach and all of those lo-fi microwave beats. Beatmakers now make one beat in ten minutes, the loop takes over, no signature sound, an anime screenshot as the cover, no mixing or mastering, and uploaded on Spotify via DistroKid within a few days… The worst part is that there is a following to this trend. And all these beats sound the same.
For Robo Boy, it took me WEEKS to finalize the arrangement of only one of the tracks. I gave all tracks a professional mixing treatment, done by Feedmyego of 2 Cats Studio in Greece, who has done an incredible job! I highly recommend his services to any beatmaker out there. And then, of course, a proper mastering treatment. Done by Ivo Statinski from the Netherlands, who is a well-established mastering engineer.
I came up with a whole aesthetic theme which included sound design and the cover art. I illustrated the cover myself: I introduced a new character and a new world. I’m not saying that you can’t make iconic music in a week. In the end, it’s the outcome that matters, not the effort.
I would like to see more people taking that extra step in releasing innovative fresh sounds and taking care of mixing and mastering quality. This will benefit hip-hop history more than just having a bunch of same-sounding sad piano loops.
“I use an AKAI S950 and an Ensoniq EPS 16+, a Yamaha DX11 synth and, of course, my trusty MPC2000 classic. Yes, I love working with floppies too.”
Your EP is only € 2.99 on Bandcamp. That’s pocket change. Why not include a free download for promotional purposes?
The price is part of the same statement I just explained. A mere three bucks means that I value my music and the effort I put in it. And so should every artist out there. There is a lot of thinking behind this project and many people worked on these three tracks. Not just myself, but also the mixing and mastering engineers as well as the new label, Rucksack Records. Giving away music for free is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to state as an artist.
You’ve recently moved to a new apartment. How has your new setup impacted your workflow?
My setup mainly involves hardware. I started making music on my laptop with Ableton. I always wanted to get my hands on an MPC. When I did about four years ago, I knew that this is the kind of workflow I want to build on. I love rack samplers, too. I use an AKAI S950 and an Ensoniq EPS 16+, a Yamaha DX11 synth and, of course, my trusty MPC2000 classic. Yes, I love working with floppies too. And then there’s a Technics SL-1200 for my vinyl expeditions and an SP-404, mostly for the effects and live performances every now and then. Big fan of those, they are cute.
Here in your apartment, there are quite a lot of comic figures. And Rusty Gate featured a vinyl-hunting superhero as the album’s protagonist. And now there’s Robo Boy, a character on a quest to save our planet. What are some of your favorite comics, and how do they influence your work as a beatmaker-slash-designer?
I can talk about comic books all day! When it comes to fantasy, comics & video games, I’m a hell of a nerd. The number 1 spot belongs to Spiderman. Period. The number 2 spot goes to Spawn comics. Number 3 goes to One Piece, which is a manga/anime which I’ve been hooked on since I was a kid. Honestly, when the One Piece story ends, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life.
With Robo Boy I wanted to create a new world. A similar idea to Rusty Gate but more colorful and charismatic. First, I needed to introduce the main character and then I plan on introducing more aspects to this new world. I’m already working on Robo Boy comic strips and spin-offs. I plan on investing more time on this new world that I’m trying to build. The same goes for Rusty Gate, too. I also plan on illustrating the mysterious world of Vinyl Hunter.
My goal as an artist is to be able to somehow combine my music passion with my design passion. I hope these ideas will eventually lead me to the video games industry. But first things first. Let’s see what Robo Boy is up to! He has to save humanity by finding a new habitable planet, and he is just a little kid…