By Neil AcharyaIf Paul Murphy's loft were stripped bare, it would have the appearance of an elementary school classroom. Under the high ceilings are massive south-facing windows that take up the entire wall along with the space heaters that come up from the floor to meet them. They are divided only by a ledge that runs the entire length of that side of the room. Beyond the glass is a remarkably uncluttered view of Toronto's Little Portugal neighbourhood.
"I wanted a space that was a true live/work space that was ideally one room so if I wanted to get up and hit my beat machine, I'd hit it, and if I felt like scratching, I'd just do it because I'm so busy at certain times, I don't want to think about compartmentalizing my life. I'm always doing music, so I just have it all ready to go," says Murphy.
He certainly knows a thing or two about type of set up that works best. He has been steadily making a name for himself as one of North America's top DJ/producers since competing successfully in the DJ Olympics in Halifax in 1998 under his moniker Skratch Bastid. He subsequently became well known in the area and garnered a following by playing various local haunts such as the Marquee Club, the Khyber and the Attic.
The west end, the farthest side of the domicile from the entrance is Murphy's wheelhouse; it is where Paul Murphy the man becomes the Skratch Bastid, the merciless party destroyer. The space is pretty much a self-contained box with a computer at the back end, turntables at the front, which would put the drum machine to his right if he were practicing a set.
He gives me a rundown: "These are my two tables and my mixer, this is where it all started for me so I keep it pretty central to my whole studio." The Technics 1200s sit upon a piece of furniture that he has taken with him every time he has moved ― the latest being from his third story apartment in east end Montreal, to his present location in Toronto. "It's actually the secretary's table from my dad's old real estate office in Bedford [Nova Scotia]. It's been my DJ table since I started, it just one of those things, it's super solid but it does have basically shag carpeting on the side ― that's Royal Lepage's colours I guess," he explains with a wry smile.
Against the west facing wall that makes up the back end of Bastid's studio is a laptop on a small table with a separate monitor just above. Here Skratch Bastid the DJ becomes Skratch Bastid: Juno-nominated producer. In 2008, Bastid became the first-ever Canadian DJ to be nominated for a Juno in production for his work on Buck 65's album Situation. The Juno nomination hangs from the wall of his studio, although he didn't win, he did DJ the Warner Music after party and came away with a great story involving Greg Keelor ― but that is for another time.
Digressing back to the production nerve centre of Murphy's loft: "The program I use is Logic," he says, as he fires up the software to give me an idea of his production process. "I can run two screens, it gives me more visibility. Logic is a pretty big program and it helps to have more visuals. I have all my files right in front of my eyes, I can tweak something here and see the effects of it up there," he says as the program is up now in full view on both monitors. "The last thing I did was a bootleg remix of 'Maritimes' by Classified with a pop song over top of it. It went over really well because I was DJing in the Maritimes at the time."
Bastid takes me through some of the tools he uses in his creative pursuits. He uses a "pretty cheap" midi controller, an M-Audio-Axiom 61 that he uses to play ideas with software synthesisers. "I'm not Keith Jarrett," he laughs, "I just need something that works pretty simply. It's got a couple of beat pads on it, which is nice." He also has some midi production devices that he used when he first started making beats ― an Akai S950 and an E-mu-Emax, which he confesses "holds up well, but should probably be in storage" as he hasn't used it in about three years. Finally he shows me his classic sampler, the SP-1200. "It's always fun if you have a certain type of break or sound that you want to sound really gritty, I'll put it in there first and then send it into the computer. I did a lot of the drums for the Buck 65 album on that, because that's the same sampler he used to make a lot of what I feel were his classic records and I wanted to recreate that feel."
With the tools and software of the trade become more and more accessible to the masses, Bastid finds that having a few older tools around helps provide some separation from the pack. "The base level and entry point for everyone is so low ― that's a $200 keyboard and it can do pretty much everything, that's why so many people are making music. That's why I keep the old ones around, just to have a different sound when I need it."
Across from the midi players is a wall with a few shelves that hold a few hundred records ― this is the staging point from which Bastid can easily throw them down and get to work. "These [records] are the ones that have come over to the studio more recently and the ones that I want to sample or get inspired by. Then maybe every couple of months I'll go look at them and say 'these ones can go back on the shelf and these ones can stay.'" When Bastid does need to exchange any of the records in his studio he just needs to walk directly across the loft to what could be easily mistaken for a row of product in a warehouse. Stacked six shelves high and with room to rise, Bastid has a cache of thousands upon thousands of records. Every time he chooses to get behind the turntables ― at least two hours a day by his estimation ― he has this sweeping look at his arsenal. For the 27-year-old Nova Scotian who leaves parties in his wake, it certainly is a view to a kill.