March 4, 2013
This article was originally published in DJ Mag’s February Issue.
For those extremely sheltered from bass music’s reign over popular culture, Excision is a bass music all star based out of Kelowna, B.C. He is considered by many to be one of the originators of the North American dubstep scene. On top of pushing the envelope both musically with his production, and visually with his elaborate and imaginative stage setups, he is also known for his combative and heavy bass label, Rottun Records. Starting his career while he was definitely under the legal drinking age, Excision has left his mark on the bass music community and has already achieved legend status. He’s had numerous tracks in the Beatport top ten, as well as embarked and completed a massive North American bus Tour. His new projects, another North American Tour and a new production side project; Destroid, are once again setting the bar for high quality and innovation in bass-driven electronic music.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Excision. It was Shambhala Music Festival 2008, and I had no idea who he was. This younger kid showed up wearing a black hoodie, and just tore the place apart. People were easily disproving the stigma that a dubstep dancefloor doesn’t move, and were losing it, turning into ravenous bass freaks. My basic thoughts were “where the hell did this guy come from?” At the end of that set, Excision got on the mic and asked the crowd to make some noise if they wanted to see him again next year, and the Village stage erupted in screams. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he had already been producing for quite a while, had already started up Rottun Records, and had already built a loyal fan base of heavy dubstep fanatics and grimy bass ogres. “I started producing and DJing in 2005, dropped out of the business degree program I was taking at the University of British Columbia and decided that this was what I needed to do,” said Excision. “My parents weren’t too impressed, but they had some level of faith when they saw I was putting in 12 hours a day to get better.”
Circa 2005 in Kelowna, Excision didn’t know any other DJs or burgeoning producers, and in fact didn’t meet any until touring in 2007. Starting Rottun came out of necessity, as other labels weren’t interested in this heavier sound. “Once I had songs that I knew were at a ‘pro’ level, I started shopping them around to the dubstep labels that existed at the time,” said Excision. “There were only about seven or eight of them at this point. Four of them replied and said that the tunes were great, but they were too hard for their label. I spoke with the other guys I knew online making the hard stuff and they were running into the same problem. So I decided to start Rottun.”
What followed the inception of Rottun Records was a constant barrage of self-professed dubstep “haters” sporting Rottun Records t-shirts, and Excision’s rise to the top. Since 2008, the year of that fateful Village set, things have changed quite a bit for Excision. He saw his first North American bus tour to completion in 2012, The X Tour. At the time of the X Tour, there weren’t many bass artists who had incorporated lights, video and specially fabricated settings into their tours to make them a multi-sensory experience. X-Vision, and the few video mapped stage set ups that had come before it, elevated the bar of the road show, pushing electronic music producers even closer to rockstar status. Many stories emerged from the X Tour, from tales of the 100 000 watt PK Sound rig literally breaking venues (and thus making a no PK rule for artists to follow such as Datsik), to crazed fans getting X-Vision tattoos, to antics on the road from the crew. “Our 100,000 watt PK system is really dialed in for dubstep with 40 subwoofers putting out pure bass. It can do serious damage to venues, especially the smaller ones,” said Excision. “On many occasions on a Monday or Tuesday night, we would explode thousands of dollars of alcohol bottles. Venues also don’t like it when huge chunks of drywall fall from their ceiling at every drop, or when all their light bulbs explode.” In addition to the tales of sound system destruction, Excision also confirmed the tattoo stories. “Yeah, someone got an X Vision tattoo done, with glow in the dark ink too! Not sure how healthy that is, but I’ve seen a fair few Rottun/Excision tattoos of varying quality now. I think it’s great that people are so committed to this sound that they want it on their body forever.”
It was on the X Tour when the gears began turning, and Excision, his personal “Mr. Fixit Guy” Justin Dixon, and the rest of the team began to conceptualize the next big tour idea. How could they raise the bar yet again? How could they turn heads and push the envelope even further? On the road the team began to see what projection mapping is truly capable of, and began brainstorming sessions during travel. Upon returning home from the X Tour they got to work designing and scheming, plotting ways to inspire minds to be blown. After 66 revisions on the stage design with Ben Leonard from Beama Visual Environments, it was time to begin fabrication on the Executioner.
I was invited to Heavy Industries in Calgary, Alberta to see the fabrication process taking place. In a welding shop with no lights, no sound and no video, the Executioner stage was still wildly impressive. It was obviously going to blow some minds on the road. I met Excision’s “Mr. Fixit,” Justin Dixon at Heavy Industries for a walk through on the stage’s elements, and a first eye account of the detail going on in this project. “The set consists of a composite material which the surface is created with, and is then supported by an aluminum structure made up of about 40 pieces,” said Justin. “The set itself is only one component. The second component is that we have moving parts. We have holes for lights that have automatic pneumatic openers. It’s all air powered and 12 volt. You can trigger the moving parts from the lighting desk. So then the next part is the window structure, which consists of an aluminum frame with pneumatic actuators, and it goes up and down. It’s a three panel glass window that’s “smart glass,” so when you hit the window with 110 volts it goes clear. When clear you can see Excision. When it’s frosted, you can project onto it from the lighting desk.” On top of the Executioner set being technically advanced, it is also huge. In the end the team made the stage 16 feet high, and 29 feet wide – so that is could fit on a 30 foot stage, the standard theater stage size. On top of the moving parts, there are a few other hidden gems in this set up. “There are lasers within the stage,” said Excision. “But on top of that there are low-lying fog machines, and even snow machines! A Canadian crew can’t put on a high production value show without snow,” said Excision.
With a stage so visually stunning, it is imperative that there is music to match. Not only has Excision been working on a super special set to go with his world-class animations, but also he has put the focus on actually being able to DJ rather than just relying on his laptop. “We ran into trouble creating a fully synced lighting show,” said Excision. “We had to bridge Ableton to Serato and hack a bunch of things in order to get time code sent out to the lighting desk and trigger all the cues. The result is a system that gives me full freedom to cater to the crowd and still be a real DJ, but at the same time gives a fully synced audio-visual show. You might think this has been done before but every artist I’ve seen – and I’ve seen nearly all of them, have a 100% pre-planned set that they literally just press a play button at the beginning of the show and fake it for 90 minutes. Fuck that!” In addition to working on a top-notch act for himself, Excision took great care in choosing the openers for this tour, Paper Diamond and Vaski. “Paper Diamond and Vaski were both at the top of my list for openers this year and I’m very happy that we got both of them,” said Excision. “Vaski has been Rottun since the early days, and has made a huge contribution to the shaping of dubstep. Paper Diamond is the perfect guy to play right before me as he has such a good vibe to his tunes with a strong energy to them, but not quite as over the top as my sets usually are.”
It’s pretty difficult to fathom Excision having time for anything else right now, but as well as spearheading the Executioner Tour, he has started another groundbreaking musical project. Destroid is made up of masterminds Excision, Downlink and KJ Sawka. For those unaware of the magnitude of this project, Downlink is another Kelowna bass prodigy with massive talent in the studio, while KJ Sawka is the drummer for Siamese and Pendulum, and has graced the cover of Drummer Magazine. “I’ve spent over 3 years getting this project ready and I really believe that the way we are putting together Destroid sets down a new path for electronic music performers,” said Excision “Yes, it uses computers, but you’d never know it, nor will you see them on stage! We will use two custom midi guitars and a fully custom digital drum kit. We’ll be playing our songs, covers of other tracks, as well as songs shared with us by our friends. With intricate alien/robot costumes with tons of crazy technology embedded, and the freedom to play each song differently each night, every set will be truly unique. We’ve gone so deep into the storyline of this project with viral videos and a graphic novel series that all tie in with the storyline in the tunes. We have our album nearly finished and are looking at a March/April release! We have our first gigs booked at festivals this summer across North America and can’t wait to show the world everything we have in store.” At the time of writing this, the trio is already sitting at number six on the Beatport dubstep chart, an excellent marker of things to come.
Excision is a true innovator in the world of electronic music. With these new projects, it is clear to see how he stays on the top of the pecking order. The Executioner Tour will be making stops in Toronto and Ottawa so far, with more Canadian dates to be added at a later time. Don’t sleep on this one; it’s what legends are made of. Also make sure to hit up Beatport for the newest Destroid tracks, and check out the graphic novel on Excision’s site. This group is going to be huge!
Words by K Lea
Photos By Novus Photography and Oh Dag Yo