For our first interview here at Soul Digital we caught up with Terry Tester – a talented producer and DJ based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Terry’s soulful, sample-based instrumental hip hop has previously been featured here on the site because quite frankly we dig his style.
So far he has released two solo projects, had placements on compilations such as Brownswood Bubblers and contributed to Nobody Beats The Beats – a respected Danish hip hop collective who have worked with the likes of Madlib, Erick Sermon and Guru. I spoke to Terry about his musical background, his creative process and what’s happening on the Danish beats-scene
How long have you been doing music?
For about 13 years. I’ve been buying records for a long time, so eventually I started doing a little music on other peoples gear, finding samples, looping stuff up etc. But it wasn’t until 2001 that I bought my own sampler. That’s when it really started.
Were you always into hip hop and black music?
Yes pretty much. It started with Michael Jackson. And when I was about nine or ten I started listening to the radio a lot and they were playing things like Public Enemy and other successful late 80’s hip hop stuff. That’s the rap music I was first exposed to and I thought it was really cool and it kind of took over.
And I understand you also DJ. Do you mainly spin vinyl?
Yeah, I’ve DJ’ed a lot. Especially when I was younger. And yeah, I got on the whole Serato trend pretty late. I have Serato now, but I mostly use it to play my own stuff when I’m out gigging. I’ve scratched and beat juggled a lot and I wanted to be a battle DJ when I was younger, but gradually that gave way to beat making.
You were a part of Nobody Beats The Beats?
I became a part of it just as it was fading out actually. They made two albums and were supposed to make a third, but it never came out. So I only did one track for them. This was with a rapper named Jahi on a record called “Soul Hop”. It had the American soul singer Dwele on the hook which was really cool. It was my first ever release with my own production so it was pretty awesome having such a cool and established soul voice on there.
DJ Typhoon, who was behind the project, actually did some more songs with some of my beats. He had people like Planet Asia, Rasco and Oh No rap over them, but they’re still in the demo phase since a third album never materialized. But I’m hoping they will come out some time.
You’ve also been featured on a couple of compilations including Brownswood Bubblers. How did that come about?
The first time I was contacted by Marc Mac (4Hero. Reinforced Records) who asked me to do some remix work for his project The Visioneers. He found me in cyberspace somehow and one day he sent me an e-mail. That project opened a lot of doors for me in The U.K. and that’s how I eventually got featured on the Brownswood-compilation.
What’s your creative process like? Do you have a certain method when crafting beats?
Yeah, I pretty much always go about it the same way. I don’t really see myself as a composer as such. It’s more like I’m trying to communicate a certain vibe or a mood. I’ll start off with a sample , whether it be a a drum break, a nice chord, a cool sound or whatever. That’s usually what triggers it. And then I’ll take it from there.
So most of your tracks are built from samples?
Yes. I buy a lot of vinyl, so I have a huge arsenal to sample from. Pretty much everything is sampled, except for the bass lines which I usually play myself. It’s kind of hard to find good clean bass sounds on records.
What gear do you use?
It’s a mixture of hardware and software. I use the classic MPC2000 XL from Akai which has a real nice sound and swing to it. Then I also use the Roland SP-303 which is kind of toy sampler. It was originally made for fun, but a lot of electronic producers use it. Those are the center pieces of my set up really. Afterwards I use Ableton Live for arranging and mixing.
Who do you look up to in terms of production?
When I started making beats I really looked up to guys like Pete Rock, J Dilla and DJ Spinna. Those are probably my three biggest early influences. My learning process actually involved trying to make exact copies of those guys’ beats. No one will ever hear those though! But that’s a good way of developing your own style which I did eventually. I still think you can hear my influences though.
What other music inspires you?
Well, I sample a lot from older jazz and and funk, so obviously I listen to that a lot. But I’m also listening to a lot of house music at the moment. It always changes though.
Would the term “instrumental hip hop” adequately describe your style?
I do see myself as a hip hop producer, but one who can also do other things. I don’t really want to be stereotyped as being just one thing. I also like the idea of letting go a bit and challenging the usual form. I think it can get a bit boring just making straight up hip hop all the time, so I try to challenge myself to do new things and come up with new ways of approaching the genre.
Whats it like making this kind of music in Denmark? Is there much of a scene for it?
There is actually. It’s not that big, but there are some good things happening. Some guys who call themselves SoundEsc are especially helping to grow the scene here. They arrange concerts and also have a record label where they release artists. So I think the scene is growing and it has a lot to do with those guys.