Bass Kleph on making his DJ sets pop with finger-drummed beats on his drum machine
Bass Kleph drummed in Loki, a rock-focused band that achieved modest success in Australia several years back, before turning his focus toward electronic music. The electro virtuoso incorporates some elements of house in his sound and is well-known for blending live drum-machine components into his DJ sets, resulting in a level of improvisation and crowd-pleasing energy that's hard to find elsewhere. We caught up with him to talk about how that live aspect of his shows developed, how playing in a band and spinning records solo each have their perks and how much he enjoyed his last show at Beta.
Westword: Can you tell me a little bit about your live act? How do you put together a DJ and live performance?
Bass Kleph: It's a bit of a mix. I've done normal deejaying, so I'm set up with three turntables, and on my fourth channel, I've got my drum machine. I can lay things down with the records, put it in sync and layer melodies with the turntables -- or play live and improvise, too. Sometimes I'll pull down all the records and play something that's all drum machine, finger drumming.
What led you to this combination? What do you think were the experiences that caused you to land on what you're doing now?
It was suggested to me to try out some stuff that incorporated my roots in drumming, incorporate it into my DJ performance, and I was hesitant at first because I didn't want it to be some gimmicky thing. I wanted it to be musical and cool and make sense. The drum machine seemed to be the easiest way to do that.
At first it was baby steps, but it's grown and evolved over three years. I wouldn't want to DJ without it now. You can't improvise deejaying as much, unless you were a turntablist.
Bands do that, too; they have a setlist, as well, so they don't often have a choice of what song they're playing next: You play the song the way it goes. But something like this, I can do the band equivalent of a solo, have a little improvised section where even I don't know what I'm going to do next, and I think the crowd feeds on that, too.
Do you think playing instruments is more difficult than mixing tracks, in terms of reading an audience and throwing down something they'll enjoy -- or is it the other way around? Or do they both have advantages and disadvantages?
Both, for sure. It gets a lot of great reaction doing the live stuff. It's really fun when I start doing it; you see everyone pull their phones out to record. But it might be a bit too much: There's not a lot of contrast, where I like to do a few things here and there and play a few records, do some mixing.
And at the end of the day, you're there to have a good time and dance. Deejaying is a winning formula for that; there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. I like putting the two of them together. I love deejaying; I've been doing it for twelve years. Combining the two passions is the best.
Do you miss playing with a band?
Sometimes. It's a really amazing moment when you're really locked into a band. The best moments are when you're improvising: You have to connect and play with the other person, look at their body language and know whether you're going to break down or build up or stop, and the longer you've worked with other people, the easier that is. You get those special moments that you can't do by yourself.
But playing solo, nobody turns up late for rehearsal; nobody turns up late for the studio; everything gets done; touring costs are way lower -- one hotel room, one flight. It's more viable. A lot of bands get into deejaying on the side because it means they can play more shows, too.
I think that's something we'll see more and more of, where people have a mini-version of their show and the full production, too. It's a fun thing for me to dabble in. I'd be into the idea of doing something with more players in the future, the right kind of show, where it makes sense to bring in singers and more players.
How did you come up with the name Bass Kleph?
Do you know the musical symbol bass clef? You use that in notations on sheet music to represent all the really low register instruments. The first thing that attracted me to dance music was the power in the bottom end, the drums and the bass lines. You can feel it all through your body, and that's what got me really pumped for it and excited. You can really feel the music. And someone said the phrase one day, and I thought "Oh, my God, it's everything about the low register."
You recently sang vocals on a track you produced -- what was that like for you?
I often put down guide vocals on tracks and send it to a real singer, and "Make Me Forget" was a really personal song for me about a tough breakup. And everyone I work with came back and said, "We really like your voice on it; maybe we should just leave the guide vocals." And after a few people said it was a good idea, I decided to go for it.
Did that make you nervous?
Hell, yeah. I'm not a singer!
Are there any other barriers you want to cross or instruments you haven't yet tackled that you'd like to?
I always just try to learn just enough of everything to do what I need to do. I can play just enough keyboard, just enough guitar, write just enough vocals. I'm all about the end result, the big picture. As much as I'd love to completely learn piano so I could sit down and rock out a solo on cue, it's probably not going to happen. I'd rather build it in slowly, try ten different chords and see what happens. I don't think that component will stop -- but with the live stuff, maybe.
I like the setup now with drum machines and decks, but I wouldn't mind doing stuff where I'm doing more live sampling: my voice and things from the crowd, and things like that. I used to do that years ago, but I haven't figured out how to do that with my equipment.
And I really want to find a way to combine this with great visuals, as well. I've got just kind of standard visuals. I want to have something that's interactive, where as I play, it creates the visuals, as well. DJ Shadow does that really well.
What's coming up for you that you want people to know about?
The single out now, "Less Is More," is on the Beatport chart, and I have two new tracks coming up, one called "I Want More," and the other one called "Back to Funk." And there's my radio show that's every month, Klephtomania.
I can't wait to get back to Beta. I had such an awesome time last time. That venue rocks, and everyone there had so much fun!
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