words: REISA SHANAMAN
Vin Sol and Matrixxman (born Charles McCloud Duff) are more than merely musical partners, who share a studio space and consistently collaborate, they are bona fide best friends. Possessing an affinity for all things analog, they've amassed an impressive collection of gear over the years. Having earned the esteem of some of house music's hit-makers with their very earliest releases, they have since turned out a tremendous amount of music in a short amount of time. Swept up in the scene almost without warning, they're currently enjoying a whirlwind of success, which seems to have caught them by surprise. Relatively relaxed, they're anything but remiss.
Currently based in San Francisco, the two met in New York some six years ago through a mutual friend. Vin was in town for a gig, and Charlie was living there at the time. Of their relationship, Charlie jokes “We don't have many friends, so we provide solace for each other.” Although Vin originally had his hand in hip-hop, and Charlie was producing gangster rap for the likes of Le1f not too long ago, both happily hung those hats up permanently in lieu of pursuing house and techno exclusively.
Explaining to DJ Mag why he has no plans of returning to his hip hop roots, Vin says “I have a room full of hip-hop records. I love it and I grew up on it, but it doesn't really allow for the kind of creative process that I enjoy. Hustling beats to rappers and all that is just a nightmare.” Charlie chimes in with an enthusiastic “It's the worst!” before Vin continues, “[With] this [music] it's a lot easier to control what you're doing and who gets it.”
The two really made a splash in the electronic sea with their now-infamous white-label Sade edits, which was actually the first project they worked on together after they both wound up back on the West Coast. Admitting to having only spent a couple days on it, they sat on the tracks for about a year before getting them pressed, never imagining what would happen next. Charlie describes the experience that followed as surreal, recognizing the release's massive impact, as it undeniably opened them up to a much wider audience. “You take things for granted,” he says. “You'll just do something on a whim, with very little thought or hesitation.” The next thing they knew, they were hearing it played on Boiler Room and being dropped in sets by Seth Troxler. “We were stoked,” he enthuses.
Similarly, Charlie's debut EP, “The XX Files,” which was released last year on Fifth Wall, attracted instant acclaim, hooking in heavyweights like Damian Lazarus. This led to a remix on Lazarus' Crosstown Rebels, which then garnered the attention of Ghostly International, unintentionally setting off a veritable snowball effect of sorts. Charlie, somewhat stunned at its instant success, describes “The XX Files” as “a very selfish record.” Specifically referring to the keyboard solo in “Case Closed,” the track that Lazarus initially latched onto, he says
“I was essentially just fucking off, and really not trying to cater to or please any critics, or anyone [else], and that was the beauty of it. It was just me doing what the hell I wanted to do at that moment. The funny thing is that numerous people have come up to me asking me to replicate songs on [the EP] and you can't. That moment was already captured. To try to do it again is counterproductive. But I was very happy. It was a pleasant surprise that people liked it.”
A little under a year after that first release, Charlie is already affiliated with some of the most highly regarded names in the game. This month will see him put out “Amulet,” an EP which was signed to Ghostly International's offshoot imprint Spectral Sound. He had two tracks on Ultramajic's Metaphysix compilation, which dropped in April, and he put out “The XX Files Part II” on his and Vin's Soo Wavey stamp back in March. In addition, he alludes to some other exciting productions he has in the pipelines.
Despite an immense amount of personal output, he and Vin are committed to quality over quantity when it comes to Soo Wavey, citing an influx of demos that “just suck so bad” as preventing them from living out their original “lofty aspirations of taking up a big roster.” Instead, Charlie informs us “we are totally ok with it being a glorified vanity label, and only putting out our own music until we find something that we can really stand behind.” As far as the division of labor at the label, Charlie tends to handle the graphic design side, while Vin tackles the administrative responsibilities. When it comes to the creative end, they put in an equal amount of effort.
Just as busy on the production front as Charlie, Vin's “Western Ways” EP is out this month on Soo Wavey, with four juicy new jams to sink your teeth into. He has a follow-up EP forthcoming on Heidi's Jackathon, with more in the works he isn't able to fully disclose just yet. Although he admits his process in the studio is somewhat convoluted, he wouldn't have it any other way. Outlining the operation in an interview with Defected not too long, he revealed: “I am running Ableton, an Akai MPC 2500, which sends out a start stop signal to a Future Retro sequencer, which then sends Din-Sync to a Kenton din splitter box, which then links to numerous pieces of kit, like all of the Roland drum machines, TB-303, etc., and those machines then go out to trigger other synths.”
Despite the complexity of his process, and the number of analog appliances utilized, Vin's productions succeed in staying relatively simplistic in sound, when they could easily come off as excessive and overworked. He attributes being able to strike that balance to his innate understanding of minimalism. “I think the hardest thing to achieve in any art form is minimalism. You know, with minimalism you have to have such good ideas, because you're not obscuring them with other [unnecessary] layers. You have to commit and really have a good groove.” Charlie likens it to a painting, in which you make a masterpiece in a matter of just a few brushstrokes, “but that's easier said than done.”
In the days of the great debate between hardware and software, why will these two always stand on the side of analog? Charlie tells us: “It's really hard to make house and techno that harkens back to old-school sound without having the gear. We were initially using a lot more software, plug-ins and what have you, but over time we just found we got better results with more purity [this way].” Vin takes it a step further, saying, “When you're working collaboratively with someone in a studio, it's a lot easier [with hardware]. Instead of both of you being in front of a computer, one person's on the synthesizer or the drum machine.” They also appreciate the tactile aspect that accompanies the application of analog.
Out of his enviable array of equipment, what could Vin absolutely not live without? He admits, “If I didn't have my 808 or my 909 I'd probably cry. The 909 was my first drum machine. I got that eight or nine years ago from Angel Alanis, a Chicago house producer, who got it from someone on DJ International called DJ Boogieman. And it's still working perfectly after 30 years. It's pretty remarkable.” “She's beautiful,” adds Charlie. Vin is also eager to mention his Roland drum machine collection, which he referred to as “awesome,” as well as the outboard effects units they've started to seek out over the last couple of years, including goodies from Eventide and 500 Series.
In terms of DJing, Vin tends to stick with vinyl, while Charlie usually plays off CDs, dabbling with wax once in a while. Neither of them uses a laptop in any capacity. Vin tells us, “My preference is not to have to worry about my computer melting down, or needing some box there that you have to run your stuff through. Pretty much 50% of the time when you DJ with people who are using that kind of [set-up], something goes wrong. I also think there is something to be said for having the ability and the ear to match up your beats.”
In an era overly concerned with classification, Vin and Charlie are both adept at blurring the proverbial line. The hardware they apply to their work can be seen as analog appendages, electronic extensions of themselves. With an ethos that embodies the idea of an impending technological singularity, this especially rings true for Charlie and his Matrixxman moniker. He tells DJ Mag, “I eagerly embrace the singularity. There's a bunch of different predictions for what will happen, but I will happily jump into the technology and, if we can, download ourselves. If legitimate intelligence can emerge from technology, I think that's fucking awesome. It's a little bit fringe to be into that stuff, but I just think it's an inevitability.”
In addition to bending the boundaries between mortal and machine, Vin and Charlie place as equal of an emphasis on recalling classic Chicago house and Detroit techno, as they do on creating “the most futuristic shit ever.” Charlie goes so far as to refer to his music as “resurgent techno atavism.” Speaking to this esoteric exposition he explains, “Superficially, it's just some cold shit to say to somebody. But if you take a deeper look into why I call it that, I'm attempting to touch back on traits that have gone into recession. The whole philosophy of Soo Wavey, and for both of us, is to really capture the magic that wafts over the years, and to create new interpretations of said magic.”
From their studio in San Francisco, Vin Sol and Matrixxman are bridging the gap between bygone electronic eras and modern music, creating the sounds that will carry us into the future. They're fearlessly forging ahead into unexplored auditory arenas, and they're bringing their gear along for the ride. Collectors at heart, Vin and Charlie's early days had them rounding up high-end records, which later evolved into an affair with analog apparatuses. From this point on, we predict these two will mostly be amassing accolades for their aural accomplishments