Published Apr 17, 2007As you descend the stairs into Agiles Nuthouse basement studio in Markham, Ontario, just north of Scarborough, the first thing that catches your eye isnt an array of studio equipment. Its Agiles display of archaic videogame consoles below a big screen TV. Apparently, many others notice it too. "I have some artists come here and they see my vintage systems and they start trash-talking about how good they are at certain games, says Agile. "And Im like I have those games right there and we can hook it up. That brings us together and then the creative process is that much easier because we already have common ground. Surprisingly the subject matter that actually ends up in songs that were working on is that common ground that we built on together before doing the track. Thats happened countless times.
Among the artists that have benefited from Agiles production skills and not necessarily his vintage videogame collection include Nas, Ivana Santilli and Choclair. But Agile is best known for his role as producer and DJ for Canadian hip-hop group Brassmunk, who have just released their sophomore effort Fewturistic.
Sonically, the record is bonded by Agiles experimental future funk production, a different feel than the groups noticeably more sample-laden Dark Sunrise debut. "What I tried mainly to do on Fewturistic was to make all the stuff Im playing sound like samples, and make all the samples sound like stuff Im playing, he says, sitting in close proximity to his studio set-up and vinyl stacks. "But there isnt any sample that loops for the most part. If you find a hot loop as a producer youre not going to deny a gift horse if it its right there and if no ones touched it. But samples create more headaches. Citing legal issues surrounding sampling and declining record sales, Agile continues. "There are not enough ways to earn so you cant be increasing your fees when your earning potential is lower. Thats just business.
While the economics of the record industry have played a part in his creative process, Agile identifies the split as 70 percent artistic and 30 percent business. "Theres the ethics of it and then Im just comfortable, like fuck it, I can just play it myself. So its a little confidence thing, Im just like, I can make this sound like a sample. Thats my thing. I grew up listening to Pete Rock and Dilla and all these great producers that sample. As well as these legendary influences, Agile includes touring with Brassmunk (where he realised that the groups Latin-tinged single "El Dorado could not be played east of Manitoba) and being a part of Toronto hip-hop supergroup Big Black Lincoln as important touchstones in his production development.
While he refers to his Rhodes as an important sketch pad for much of his collaborative work, he rarely keeps the sound from the revered instrument in his music, preferring to use flexible plug-ins that closely emulate the vintage keyboards sound. If his Rhodes is the sketch pad, Agiles Akai MPC 3000 is the brain of the operation. "Everythings hooked up to here, he says. "Usually Ill do like maybe 60 percent of the beat here before I dump it to ProTools. Agile runs the music software program on his Mac G5 and his virtual instruments through an adjacent PC when hes creating music. "I would say 90 percent of it is freestyle. I just sit down and I know Ive got work to do. And I come up with what I come up with, he says. "The other 10 percent of the time I have a good idea and most of time Ill beatbox it or sing it into my answering machine. Ill sit down the next day and with the technology and at least with my old phone, which had a recorder in it, I would Bluetooth what I did from my phone right into the session and then build a beat around it and then take it out so I could do it exactly. Now I have to use my speaker phone to catch it precisely.
While he used to shop the beats hes created on CDs, Agile is now adamantly against the practice. "The game is changing. A lot of artists, theyre just ripping off your beats from a CD and putting them on their mixtape, he says. "You cant sell the beat because people already heard it on someone elses mixtape, but youre not getting any money for it. As producers, on your beat CD youre not putting on something thats polished. Its just a beat; its not a song yet and people are putting it out.
Instead, Agile is focusing on a variety of other projects including his upcoming solo record, which showcases his sonic breadth outside of hip-hop. "I dont wanna just drop another hip-hop record. I want to show what Im capable of doing, he says. "Ive decided that I want to be an artist and not just a producer. To be a producer you need to have music on beat CDs and shop beats. I dont want to do that. Ill be an artist. Never really what I wanted to do, but it forced my hand. That way I can put out the records I want to put out and if and when artists want to check for beats from me, they can come check for beats.