Preamble | Hagan

Hagan shares with the CDR team an insight into his early producing days, a comprehensive list of dancefloor essentials, his collaboration process and a few tips for budding producers.

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Category
Profile
Published By
Yewande Adeniran
Location
London
Theme
Preamble
Published On
March 3, 2023
Category
Profile
Theme
Preamble
Published By
Yewande Adeniran
Published On
May 9, 2023
Location
London

You’ve been producing for over a decade but where did it all begin?

I was exposed to music at an early age through following my mum to church. I remember going to church on one occasion and it was time for Sunday school where the children would proceed into another room to not disrupt the service. I wanted to stay and cast my eyes on the all-black shiny Drum Kit and percussion section that started to play caught my attention.

I remember just standing there listening and dancing. From that moment, I was captivated by rhythm. As I grew up I started playing percussion at school and church and was influenced by Ghanaian music - Hiplife, Highlife and Gospel - as well as UK Garage. The Ghanaian rhythms were very similar to the grooves played at church during Praise and Worship processions. 

Regular production came later on during University. I was based at the University of Kent but a friend of mine was based in the midlands and DJ’d regularly there. It was during the time Funky / UK Funky had just reached its peak but was starting to decline. However, there was a constant demand for new instrumentals. So my friend asked me to create some instrumentals he could play up there which led to my first Funky track ‘God Bless House.’ Within the underground Uni Funky scene that track did the rounds and that encouraged me to continue producing.

Your music draws from your British-Ghanaian heritage, with gritty heavy percussion taking the forefront. What have been your key influences in developing this hybrid sound?

There’s a particular rhythm in Ghana called Kpanlogo, originating from the Ga ethnic group, that I’ve heard throughout my childhood. As I started to broaden my listening palette during my school years, I was introduced to UK Funky and Afrohouse and found those styles were reminiscent of the Kpanlogo groove. Those genres were rich in percussion and felt tribal in nature, reminding me of some of the core elements you’d hear in Ghanaian music. 

West and South African dance music has finally hit the mainstream here in the U.K., what key shift has happened in the last 5 or so years that has allowed it to break through?

A combination of the dancefloor searching for a new sound for the peak of the night, COVID and the spread of African and African diasporic sounds finally meeting through simply sharing a common groove.  

These things tend to not happen in isolation. As Afrobeats emerged as a mainstream genre, we saw how that sound took over the peak times of the dance floor. Simultaneously, the Afrohouse scene within the UK underground circuit has always offered those that wanted to take in more of the tribal and tech sound. 

I think what we’ve seen in the last 5 years is that COVID played a big part in the sense that individuals had the time to refine their ears to emerging sounds. One of those sounds was Amapiano which was gradually making its way to the forefront from 2018. Our inability to attend live events meant we had to resort to live streams and Major League DJ’s along with many others, were able to bring the Amapiano sound to our households. Once clubs started to reopen, we had a situation where there was a backlog of 2+ years worth of music ready to be played and enjoyed.

Amapiano felt like an entry point to south african dance music because it offered the percussive elements, structured song and vocal arrangement, heavy bass lines and in some cases, chord progressions that were easy to follow. It shared a BPM that would suit Afrobeats DJs who were looking to pick up the pace of the dance so the two genres worked well together.  

For those who aren’t familiar with the different scenes, what are tracks you’ve had on repeat recently?

You have a fine ear for drum sequencing and sound design, what is your go to VST plug in? 

This is a tough one but the Arturia suite is what I’ve been using lately for my pads and leads. The majority of the time I’d start off with a blank patch and create sounds for the pads using the Jun - 6V and Prophet 5. For Bass I use Serum, the Mini V and Massive quite a lot to create my own patches. 

Your collaborations transcends borders, how do you approach working with artists and producers based abroad? 

I’ve been a huge fan of some of these artists for a long time and I dedicate quite a lot of time listening carefully to their material, paying particular attention to their lyrical content if they’re vocalists and their tone. If it’s a producer I would do the same but focus on their sound selection and seeing what synergies could be created if we were to work together. As stated, these artists are based around the world. Artists featured on my album were based in Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, US, Brazil and more. Therefore I had to establish an effective way of working remotely with them. This usually entailed working with collaborative tools to make sending audio easier, many emails and whatsapp exchanges to give details in the project goal / brief and setting deadlines.

For the producers I collaborated with, I’d start a skeleton idea and send over the stems for them to add their layers. Once I received those, I’d gain an understanding for the direction of the track and add further revisions such as live instruments or begin to form a working arrangement. We’d go back and forth between each other until I was happy. For the vocalists, I’d produce the track with a rough song arrangement that could be given to the artist to brainstorm some ideas. The artist would then record from wherever they’re based a demo for me to give my feedback. We would maybe jump on a call to discuss some changes and eventually, how we could finish the track. I did this for my track “Heart” featuring Oladapo from Nigeria. 

For some of the live instrumentation recordings, a good proportion of that was done on my trip to Ghana in 2021. Those sessions stamped down the vintage Afrobeat and Jazz infused sound you hear on my album. I was lucky enough to work with a Music Director who was the head of the band I collaborated with. Planning for those recordings involved exchanging my ideas, again, through whatsapp and building out a plan before I reached Ghana.

It was important to give these artists time to work on their parts and not feel the pressure of being rushed. We already had to battle with the fact that we weren’t in the same room to work. So I had to take on a more relaxed approach when it came to certain deadlines.  

What is the collaboration you’re most proud of and why?

Every collaboration is an opportunity to learn so I’m grateful that I’ve been able to collaborate with so many artists. My first ever collaboration project was with Sango and that was such an honour to be featured on his album “Da Rochina 4”. He’s been a long time inspiration of mine because of his love for percussion and fusing different cultures through music. It’s been a blessing to work with him on multiple projects and his work has encouraged me to tap in further to Brazilian music. The full circle moment happened when he and Luedji Luna featured on my album. I’m also proud of the face to face collaborations I’ve had where I’ve actually worked with artists in a studio setting. This has helped with building my confidence and given me the opportunity to direct my ideas to the artist whilst hearing the artists’ opinions. 

As a producer, are you a software or hardware geezer or a bit of both? 

I’m a bit of both but started off as fully in the box. When I get the chance and I’m in a studio with hardware I can use, then I don’t hold back in using them. The arpeggio you hear in my track Volta and My Love is from the Juno 60, the JX-8P was used across my Yenkyi EP, and the Waldolf Wave has some silky pads that I used for a track that’s forthcoming. I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Devon Analogue Studio; that place felt like I was in a spaceship!

I remember being a big fan of one of your early releases “Foot Stomper”, how do you think you’ve changed as a producer over the years? 

Foot Stomper will always be the release I look back on and feel like I produced without any personal constraints. Early stages of releasing music felt like there was a sense of freedom with my ideas and thinking when it came to arrangement decisions, sound selection and mixdowns. I tend to think about those components a lot more which is arguably a hindrance when I allow it to withhold my creativity and workflow fluidity. On the other hand, there have been some things I’ve learnt along the journey that have helped to refine my sound. I’ve been influenced by a lot more music and opened my ears to more multiple styles of music.

“Textures” is an incredible album. There’s a wide array of beautiful sounds and hard rhythmic drums as well as stand out features. How did working with artists such as Oladapo, Griffit Vigo and Bryte come about?

Thank you! As mentioned previously, many of the features on the album are a consequence of me being a fan of their music beforehand. I’ve established great relationships even before approaching them to work so it was a matter of timing and understanding which tracks I thought worked with those featured on the project. More importantly, I was confident that those artists could help me deliver the message and feeling of the tracks. “Welcome To Ghana” featuring Bryte is an attempt to highlight some of what Ghana has to offer as a great country - from our food, to the music and diverse languages. Bryte is a great storyteller and talented Ghanaian artist so it was only right I reached out to him to set the scene for the track. Oladapo has an emotional tone to his voice which was needed for a track like “Heart”.

Lastly, I see Griffit Vigo as one of the Gqom pioneers. It reminds me about staying true to your groove. He’s actually the voice you hear straight after “Welcome To Ghana” finishes. After bouncing ideas for the album over to him, one day he sent a voice note to me expressing how I should revert from trying to copy a Gqom sound that’s already existing and continue making a groove that’s true to myself. That reminder was truly needed!

Talk us through the track you last [cmd] ‘S’d ? ([ctrl] ‘S’ to PC users)?

It’s a remix I’ve been working on for some time and for a label that helped to shape my club music sound. I decided to revisit some elements of the “Waves” EP I released in 2020 so the pads used are gloomy but the drums hit that spot in your chest.

What can the CDR audiences expect from your time with us?

I’ll try to break down one of my tracks from my album where I’ll go through my process of creating my drum layers, adding textures to some of the synths I used and dive deeper into what the collaborative activities looked like. Most importantly, I’ll just try and have fun with it!

And finally, for those just getting to grips with producing and keen to get their Works In Progress out there, what advice do you have for them?

Listen to as many different styles as possible to help your ideation and creative process. Get to know the little equipment you may have very well. Invest your time in understanding how the native plugins in your DAW work without feeling the need to spend too much on software instruments right at the start. Rather, invest in trying to learn an instrument or play in a band. When you pair that with listening to your favourite styles of music and listening to other genres outside of that, I’m a big believer in that helping you to generate ideas a lot quicker. 

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