With a comprehensive portfolio of production work to his name already, Leeds-based musician Rowan Perkins aka 'Debian Blak' is now turning his attentions to the ever-expanding world of electronic music. Assured, quietly confident and hugely ambitious, Blak's two successful releases on First World Records with the 'East Park Reggae Collective' suggest he has the talent to make a considerable impact on the scene. He has also written music for documentaries and independent films, remixed a number of 'Kidkaneval' tracks and drawn praise from Resident Advisor's founder, Nick Sabine. i managed to catch up with him on everything from flicking through dictionaries to planning live DJ shows:
"I come from quite a musical family so I've always been exposed to music. When I was 6, I started to play the piano and the violin - I continued playing piano right through my teens and still play regularly now but didn't really enjoy the violin so I dropped it by the time I was 12 and picked up the drums instead! I made a habit of going to 'Womad' festival every year too - i'd go along and plan my own schedule, making sure i'd never miss a band; it was literally a case of taking in as much music as I could and you'd always discover a few gems! From there, the aim was just to get through my GCSEs and find out where to go next. I loved my Music GCSE course so it made sense to carry on with that and in due course, I decided to take Music Technology as opposed to taking it as an A-level and it was through doing that that the whole concept of writing music on a computer came about. I was well into my Hip-Hop at time time - guys like Jehst, Roots Manuva and Rodney P in particular were definitive for me and I was inspired to make beats. I found it all a lot of fun to start with - I had lots of friends who either sang or rapped so I'd always get someone to do their thing over my beats, just to see how it would sound. Before long, I ended up going to Leeds College of Music to study Music Production and now that's done, I'm looking to really branch out."
Despite such a passion for music becoming apparent as a youngster, it wasn't until the beginning of 2010 that Blak began to take things more seriously:
"I always used to make beats, throw them on my Myspace page and then send them to a few people but nothing would ever come from it - having said that, it wasn't until a year or so ago that I realised! It got to the stage where I started to think, 'this is just pointless' - my music was going nowhere and I'd end up feeling dejected. In January 2010, I started to produce East Park Reggae Collective's music and decided that all my creative energy would go into that. Once I finished their second album, I realised that I needed to put all my efforts into writing my own music and from there, i've never looked back. I wrote loads of music over that period and initially didn't actually finish that much but I've somehow ended up with a nice back catalogue of music now! As for the name, I spent about 6 months flicking through dictionaries and searching on Wikipedia for something original - I eventually found the colour 'debian red' but changed the red to black and decided to spell it 'Debian Blak'. I actually quite like it because people think it's my real name!
Despite producing East Park Reggae Collective's second album, Blak had initially joined the band as a drummer:
"The East Park stuff came around about two years ago - I actually joined the band as a drummer and when I first joined, I used to help out with the bookings and management side quite a bit. Before too long, the guy who writes the band's music, Jonny Tomlinson, suggested I should start to produce for them and it all snowballed from there - it's been a really productive working relationship!
As well as my work with East Park, I've also done quite a few documentaries and films too, initially because I had college assignments. I remember finding these guys called 'The Rainbow Collective' online who were writing a film about street kids from Bangladesh. I hit them up and asked if I could borrow some stills that I happened to like and they said that was cool - funny enough about two weeks later, I got an email back from them asking whether or not I could produce some music for a particular scene. I emailed back saying I could, sent over a recording and they loved it! As a result, I've ended up producing the majority of the film's music, alongside input from Kidkanevil. It's actually been shown in cinemas and at festivals - the support and exposure it's had has been really good. I've done a few other independent films too and I'm actually co-writing some music for one at the moment - few stellar names in this one too!"
Now branching out alone, Blak explains that his sound tries to incorporate the diversity of his influences:
"I take a lot of influence from various different styles of music. The main priority for me though is soul - if a track's got soul, even if it's just a single note, then there'll be something I can take from it. I'm most interested in beat-based stuff on the whole - I tend to try and put my energy and my passion into the music that I make - it sounds a bit cliche but I do try and make beautiful music, music that really engages the listener on every level possible. I suppose as a genre, I'm making electronic music but it doesn't really fit any specific criteria. If I could name artists I take a lot of stuff from and really enjoy listening to then maybe you'd get more of an idea (laughs) - I'm well into Mount Kimbie, Joy Orbison, Bonobo, Flying Lotus and Ramadanman, amongst others. Whenever I listen to anything they've produced I find myself sitting back and thinking, 'this is really special".
in terms of where i think my sound will fit in, the aim is just to try and make the best stuff I can. I'd love to be able to do something special like say Massive Attack or The Prodigy did - those guys transformed the industry at the time but bearing that in mind, I guess I just want to stay slightly ahead of the game without losing track of what's sounding good at the moment. I'd also love to put together live shows to perform my music one day, even if it's just 3 or 4-piece band. I've also always respected the artists releasing on 'Warp' so releasing with them would be a dream. Shouts to 'Ninja Tune' too!"
With regards to one day putting together a live show, Blak admits he's never really mastered the art of mixing:
"The only deejaying I've ever really done has been on radio to be honest and I've never actually 'learnt' to mix - I know how to but I've not really put much time into it. Having said that, I'm in the process of putting together a live show using 'Ableton' at the moment - the idea would be to do a live deejay set I guess! I'm hoping to be able to play lots of my own tunes, mix them in to other stuff sounding big at the moment and throw lots of samples in - it'd just be something a bit different for the crowd really. The plan over the next month or so is to start pushing myself to promoters - I've already had a few festivals get in touch and some promoters have shown interest which is nice because deejaying is going to be vital to what I want to achieve. I won't always conform to the 'conventional' set so to speak but my shows will hopefully retain a personal element."
Looking at the scene as a whole, Blak feels the fusion of sounds has had a profound and lasting impact on electronic music:
"I think right now there's a lot of amazing stuff coming out - it feels like musicians are coming to the fore a bit more now and adding to everything. I guess people are really taking hold of electronic music now and treating it properly now too which is really good to see! The way I say it, the fusion of different genres is also completely essential to the future of music, as well as it sounding good. For me, it feels like Garage is making a big comeback at the moment as well which is great - the way it's mixing with Dubstep and other new, interesting sounds is the perfect example of how good music can be when it starts to come together. James Blake is the guy that's managed to embody it all really - he's made electronic music really accessible for everyday people. For me, electronic stuff's always been massive but ask the majority of people on the street and they won't have a clue - James Blake and others like him are helping to change that and bridge the gap. Funnily enough, I used to live with a guy called Rob who I worked with on my remix of Kidkaneval and about two and a half years ago, he was teaching James how to use Logic - now look at him! It's brilliant to see him going so far and taking the Industry by storm."
Set to take the scene by storm with his unique approach to producing and deejaying, Debian Blak is most definitely a name to look out for:
"The aim at the moment is to get a few tunes out there and get them heard by people - I need to make people aware of what I'm doing! Press is also a big part of my thinking at the moment too, I'm generally trying to get as many people involved as possible - magazines, blogs, deejays, everybody! It's all about creating that buzz really, which I guess is necessary in order for people to take you seriously - when I feel the buzz is right I'll put in an application for some sort of label signing hopefully. I must have at least an EP's worth of stuff worth releasing now so it'd be nice to get some of it put out. Playing some shows is obviously on the agenda too but it's gonna be a case of seeing how it all goes for Debian Blak. I can't forget that East Park Reggae Collective have a new album out with First World Records in October so I'll be touring with them too!"
East Park Reggae Collective's 'Love Radar': http://shop.firstwordrecords.com/track/love-radar