Lizzie Davis speaks with the German drum & bass artist about working in obscurity, reacting to sudden hype, and the generally "weird and isolating" existence of a hermit producer.
De Babalon isn't one for run-of-the-mill production chat—"I have the most standard equipment you could imagine," he told me—but there is much to be gained from his insights on the psychological side of making music. He spent many years making music for a largely indifferent public, an experience he described as "shouting into space and nothing comes back." Now, he's faced with the opposite situation. Following his 2018 comeback, de Babalon had a ream of offers from popular labels wanting to release his work—the kind of pressure that can lead artists to compromise their sound, consciously or otherwise. These themes dominated our conversation, which also covered the struggles of working with DATs, recovering from a hard drive crash and the sacrifices of dedicating yourself to the creative process.
What were you doing before you got into electronic music?
I played in a noise rock band. It was very pure and there were no electronics involved, just guitars, drums and vocals. Our average age was about 14. I was doing the singing but it was basically just screaming. We played pretty slow, but we'd still make it really, really annoying for the audience.
How'd you get from there to electronic stuff? Were you hearing it on the radio or at parties?
I'm not from the party context. Definitely not! I was pretty much a rock and metal kid. There were a couple of other things I was in to, like Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, mostly stuff that came out on Def Jam. But I think I always wanted something more extreme.
Later, I really loved the early releases from a Nottingham label called Earache. They put out thrash, punk, hardcore, really fast stuff. They released a lot of early Napalm Death. Probably the same could be said of a lot of rock kids, but I think Godflesh helped me to start thinking more about electronics because they were using a drum machine and a lot of samples. That's the same reason we were into Ministry, Revolting Cocks and stuff like that.
I had a friend in class who was into the same sort of metal as me, but once we got to Def Jam it became a deciding point: are you going to be into hip-hop or metal? My friend went in the hip-hop direction and eventually became an MC who'd rap in English. He had a great producer making beats for them called DJ Sleepwalker.