Gutter Twins: Dev79 and Starkey take the sound of the Philly streets worldwide.
- Words: Ben Zoltowski
The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic that DJs/producers Gair "Dev79" Marking and PJ "Starkey" Geissinger call "street bass" combines touches of Dirty South hip-hop, grime, Miami bass drops, glitched-out sex funk, dubstep, and dancehall—yet the two City of Liberty gents still have a way of making the sound a regional one. Having coined the genre is one thing, but through their own Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey imprints, Philly club night Get In, and regular sets across the globe, they've elevated the sound to worldwide status, bringing some much-deserved attention to their city. Here, the pair ponders Philly's club atmosphere, what exactly happened to grime, and where to get the best watermelon ale in Philly.
XLR8R: What's the story behind the term "street bass”?
Starkey: Well, Dev79 was definitely the one that came up with the name, and we basically just thought it was a great phrase for what we did. We came up with the idea of putting it on a party flier and seeing what people thought—and people would actually show up to a party that just said "street bass" on it.
Dev79: As far as a description of the sound, though, for the uninitiated, it's more of a club sound mixed with urban music. Hip-hop, R&B, reggae, vocal bass... all fucked up together with forward-moving dance music. And clearly with a heavy bass element.
Were there Philly parties that were instrumental in getting you two together?
Dev79: For two years we did a party called Get In, which, in America, was the first monthly to feature grime. There was dubstep, ghettotech, and hip-hop, but grime was the main push we were going for—it being kind of this new thing. That party was pretty instrumental for me and Starkey really coming together, and was the impetus behind Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey and the whole street bass movement.
Creatively, it's seemed to work, but was it also a wise business move to become a team?
Dev79: Well, we're sittin' here looking at each other, so if we say no, then... [laughs]. We grew together on certain levels and certain things kind of just came naturally and just developed—so I do think it was a wise thing... I'm still here working with him. But it just kind of happened and it worked and it's gonna continue working.
Starkey: When we first met each other we were talking and Dev was like, "What kind of music are you into?" and I said, "I'm really into this music called grime right now," and he's like, "No shit, I thought I was the only guy that knew what grime was!" And that's really how we became friends. We didn't know anyone else who was into that music—and we both had different ways of how we came into it. From there, the Get In party came about and everything kind of blossomed.
Can you differentiate Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey for us?
Starkey: Basically, Seclusiasis is kind of like the parent company, the big organization, and then we have our [Slit Jockey] label under Seclusiasis, which tends to be stuff that's more all over the place. A little bit more club music-oriented and less about grime and dubstep and U.K.-influenced music.
What's the relationship between Seclusiasis/Slit Jockey and NYC's Trouble & Bass crew?
Starkey: We're really good friends with those guys. We're kind of the bastard family members. We were doing stuff with Drop the Lime and AC Slater prior to all this street bass, and prior to Trouble & Bass really being Trouble & Bass. Back in the day we were all kind of dabbling in electronic music—be it like breakcore or electronica or hip-hop, we've just been good friends with those guys for years. And yeah, you see a little bit of incestuous behavior—they're a different organization but we obviously feel like we're doing similar things.
Do you two try and remain exclusive to Philly and the U.S.? Or do have plans to go global with all these projects?
Starkey: We started here and Philly's our home, but we've got people everywhere. BD1982—a strong Seclusiasis member—is living in Tokyo right now, Kotchy is in Brooklyn, we released some stuff under Slit Jockey by DZ, who's now out in San Francisco but he’s originally from Canada. So we are branching out globally, but our home base is Philly.
Do you feel like there's a "Philly sound" happening right now in the underground?
Dev79: Well, I think if you go up to New York, there's a real similar vibe going on right now—and there's always a symbiotic relationship between Philly and New York. But certainly over the last six months, I have noticed a steady incline of interest in dubstep.
Starkey: One thing that goes along with our whole street bass idea is that we've always been pushing vocals and a lot of dance music, especially right now—a lot of it's not vocal-driven. Our music with the Seclusiasis stuff and the Street Bass Anthems series—it's really heavily vocal-based.
Dev79: Partially, we feel that the vocalist aesthetic that we've always been akin to comes from the fact that Philly is such a heavy vocal city, from soul music to hip-hop. It contributes to our love and interest in using vocals to such a heavy extent.
Starkey: Also, we don't really keep the street bass sound to a specific bpm. Yeah, we all dabble in different bpms, but we kind of let everyone do their own thing. So there's more of an attitude that defines the sound.
Ever since Burial became this kind of dubstep deity, there seems to be a lean towards more headphone-oriented production—Floating Points, Joy Orbison, etc. Even [Starkey's] Ephemeral Exhibits has a moodiness to it. Is this a direction either of you are interested in really delving into?
Starkey: We're both different producers than we are DJs, but I don't shun anything. It's whatever you're feeling in the studio, but in the club, our shit is way energetic. I'm a sweaty bastard when I play live. It's intense. Dubstep, for me, is not club music. It's not what I want to hear in a club. Anything where someone says to me, "this is deep," I probably won't play it in a club. That's just not my thing and I don't think it's our thing in general.
So, not likely that we'll be standing still with our hands in our pockets at your shows, watching you on your laptops anytime soon, eh?
Starkey: [laughs] Nah, it's not about meditation.
As far as grime goes, it had this surge a few years back but it's since cooled off pretty significantly... would you argue against that?
Dev79: It definitely had a peak and a valley... and then a fall-off. It's still going on and there's still good stuff out there to pay attention to, but there isn't nearly the scene there once was. Some of the promise has fizzled. I think it imploded on itself due to being too "in-scene." Just not enough growth and acceptance of people outside this small region.
With a project like Major Lazer—and really, Diplo's entire Mad Decent crew—elements of dancehall and reggae are appropriated and the sound’s now gained a whole new audience. Do you think this could go the same way grime did?
Dev79: Well, it's all about crossover. Taking elements of grime, dubstep, house, reggae, and kind of bringing it all together—that's been going on for years. And right now we're seeing a real peak in the crossover of electronic and traditional dancehall.
Starkey: Dancehall in its infancy had the chance of going the way of grime, but it stuck there, and the same with hip-hop. I mean, people thought hip-hop was gonna be a fad and was just gonna die.
Dev79: I think what's going on now is you're seeing somewhat of a beautiful harmony in the bastardization. There's so much crossover, so much cross-pollination. It's like, "What genre is it that we're talking about?" That's part of the reason we came up with "street bass." Because, what is it? It's all of these things—and we're seeing the lines blurred.
As far as Philly parties go, what should we be hittin’ up?
Starkey: We've been throwing some parties at this club called 941 Theater. It's relatively new on the Philly scene. That seems to be kind of a new hub for Seclusiasis' activity in the city right now. We're doing a party in September called Who Run It—it's all over the place. Though in Philly in general, the club scene is constantly changing. Clubs are closing, clubs are coming up. I think it's a rough DJ town in general, that's my raw feeling.
If you two were to play Philly travel agents for a second, where would you tell us we have to go?
Starkey: My favorite thing to do is go to brunch at The Abbaye in North Liberties. I'm not sponsored by them, but I do wish they'd give me free food every time I went there. It's really, really good. Like good pub breakfast food and all these Belgian ales, pumpkin ales, watermelon ale—it's all over the place.
Dev79: Well, I'm definitely a food nerd—and if you want a different cheesesteak-type thing go to Gourmet To Go—it's this vegan spot. They got this wheat-chicken cheesesteak that's bangin'—and I eat chicken, but this thing tastes better than chicken.
What's on the horizon for Dev79 & Starkey?
Dev79: We've got BD1982, who's been down with our crew. He's got a single out in September and probably a full-length around November. He takes dubstep in a more organic, tribal direction.
Starkey: We’ll have remixes for it coming from Slugabed and Hobotron. We're always trying to branch out and pick up some different people. And we're both working on records. And we have Street Bass Anthems Vol. 4 that's gonna be dropping mid-October.
You've released 12-inches where one of you does a side-A track and the other does a side-B, but will there ever be a full-length collaboration? Like the Hall & Oates of street bass records?
Dev79: You might have just had an epiphany for us! We never thought of that parallel
Starkey: We might actually open for them on their next tour!
Dev79: We can dress up like Hall & Oates...
Starkey: I can take my shirt off and show my chest hair...
Dev79: And I can grow the mustache.
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