Gramatik talks back stage at Red Rocks: "I think the praise that we get should go to scientists"
Gramatik (aka Denis Jasarevic) had played master of ceremonies for a long night of music. It started at 6 p.m. and included some of his friends and heroes: BRANX and Gibbz and Exmag were there, and legendary funk band Lettuce dropped a bravura performance in the middle of the show. Gramatik himself closed out the night with a two hour tour-de-force of diverse musical styles within and without the canon of current EDM.
And after seven hours of that, at close to 1 a.m., we met him in the bowels of Red Rocks. If he was fatigued, we couldn't tell. Gramatik's manager made introductions and, following an impromptu Polaroid session, we sat down to speak privately in the room that often serves as the meet-and-greet area.
On this night, it looked like it held a buffet earlier, and Japanese paper lanterns lined one side of the room. The food was gone, and the crew moved purposefully in and out while tearing down the night's elaborate set. Jasarevic looked relaxed in his hoodie, sunglasses and baseball cap. He has an easy humor about him and tapped his lighter on the table in cadence to accent certain words. On occasion, he conferred with his manager. Jasarevic is bright and observant and not so in love with his own work that he takes himself too seriously.
Fans at Gramatik's Red Rocks show. All photos taken on Saturday by Brandon Marshall
Westword: Was this a bigger production show for you?
Denis Jasarevic: Yes, because we actually premiered Coil 2.0 today. We call it "The Tower." My previous stage design was Tesla coil-inspired. This one was inspired by the Tesla tower that he built in Long Island, New York. Tesla had planned to use that tower to electrify the ionosphere.
Another way of transferring electricity than what we're used to today.
Yes. So he claimed that our entire planet could be amplified into becoming a big AC motor with electromagnetic energy. That tower was supposed to make that happen. J.P. Morgan found out and destroyed the tower and Tesla's life.
Right, because Tesla's method was essentially free or very inexpensive.
Exactly. Tesla had to get in bed with them in order for his AC current to win over Edison's DC. But then he paid a price for making a deal with the Devil. So my current Coil 2.0, The Tower, is based upon that tower. You noticed that tower on stage? That is supposed to be an artistic representation of the original tower.
The two "Gs" on stage with the base upon which were resting instruments there was a base with twelve lit squares, it looked like a face with eyes and a grin. Was that intentional?
Yes, probably. Devon [Brown] and Ian [Davis] -- my light designers -- designed the whole thing. What they do is just as difficult as making a good song. It's really amazing what they're able to do with lights, especially if they have a good sense of rhythm. You can't really be a good light guy if you don't have a good sense of rhythm.
Tell us about your new label, Lowtemp.
Lowtemp came from the idea that, if the temperature is low you know it's got to be cool. I started my own label, I run it, I control everything and I release my friends on it. Six or seven different artists, musicians, producers and DJs. We're distributed through INgrooves.
All of our music is primarily free, but you can obviously donate or buy it on Beatport, iTunes or everywhere. We stick to the philosophy that music should be primarily free, because it's to the benefit of mankind's evolution. We need to pass this along to anyone without any restrictions or forcing anyone to buy a record or calling them cybercriminals if they pirate it. That is not why we started making music. We started making music to inspire people to do good things in the world.
Way more noble than what I'm doing is being a physicist or other scientist. I think those guys are heroes: Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking. Neil deGrasse Tyson with the new Cosmos is amazing. I'm addicted. I look up to those people more than musicians, actors or artists, you know? Even though art is a vital part of our culture and society. It keeps us sane and somehow tame, still.
Did you ever want to be a scientist when you were a kid?
Definitely. I wanted to be an architect for a while. Then I wanted to be a physicist. An astronomer. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Did you pursue that path at any point in your life?
No. I went to audio engineering college and I learned a lot about the physics of sound, which is very awesome to know. I already knew how to produce before I went to college, but I wanted to know the actual physics. I wanted a professor to explain to me what happens with sound. What is sound. My brain perceives things in a very abstract way. That's why my music is what it is.
Did you grow up in Slovenia?
Of course. I moved to the U.S. three years ago. I was born on October 19, 1984.
What kind of access did you have to music growing up?
Slovenia is in central Europe, so we're like a hub to everything. We're in between Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia. My hometown is one hour away from Venice. We were exposed to everything: American music, European pop, whatever. It was coming straight for us from all sides. Slovenia is so small, with only two million people, and people feel more comfortable adopting foreign culture rather than with perpetuating their own. Because we're so small, we feel a need to belong to something bigger. That reflects in the nation.
But I think this will change with time. So we just adopted every kind of scene and there's a small space for it in that tiny little country. With two million people, let's say four hundred thousand are twenty-five to thirty [years old]. That's one semi-big city in America. We haven't been really re-producing that well. The consensus has been showing that Slovenians need to do more fucking. We're barely able to keep at two million.
Were you able to become a part of a musical community of some kind there?
Yeah, definitely. I started as an MC and I was part of the Slovenian rap scene. We released an album in 2006. [The project was called] Peti Element. It's still one of the most critically acclaimed Slovenian hip-hop albums. Which means absolutely nothing because, like I said, there's four hundred thousand young people in Slovenia. How many of those do you think actually listen to Slovenian hip-hop? That's when I figured out I wasn't going to be able to be financially stable if I'm going to be a Slovenian rapper.
It was me seeing the patterns and realizing that being a rapper who only raps in Slovenian -- because it would obviously stupid to rap in any other language because it wouldn't be real and I take rap as a serious thing -- and I realized I could get into making beats, because beats can go for anybody. I could maybe sell them to Nas. That's what I was thinking when I was younger. Now the tables have turned. I always thought my ticket up was going to be making beats for some famous rapper. I never thought it would turn the other way around and it would be like, "No, we don't want to hear a rap on your songs, we just want to hear your beats." And I'm like, "That's really fucking awesome because I think they're boring."
Why do you think your beats are boring?
That's just the nature of creating art. By the time you're done making it, you're already bored with it, and you want to go on to the next thing that's going to sound better than that song. I've been doing that pattern since day one and I'll probably be doing that until I die. Trying to top that last song. My music is so subjective to me that it's hard for me not to feel annoyed by it sometimes. Especially as you hear imperfections. As you evolve as a producer and as a musician and as an artist, you hate hearing those things. It's kind of vain and lame but at the same time, that's just how I am. I can't fight it.
How Gramatik got into production is on the next page.