Agile

Agile
As you descend the stairs into Agile’s Nuthouse basement studio in Markham, Ontario, just north of Scarborough, the first thing that catches your eye isn’t an array of studio equipment. It’s Agile’s 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 I’m 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 we’re working on is that common ground that we built on together before doing the track. That’s happened countless times.”

Among the artists that have benefited from Agile’s 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 Agile’s experimental future funk production, a different feel than the group’s noticeably more sample-laden Dark Sunrise debut. "What I tried mainly to do on Fewturistic was to make all the stuff I’m playing sound like samples, and make all the samples sound like stuff I’m playing,” he says, sitting in close proximity to his studio set-up and vinyl stacks. "But there isn’t any sample that loops for the most part. If you find a hot loop as a producer you’re not going to deny a gift horse if it it’s right there and if no one’s 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 can’t be increasing your fees when your earning potential is lower. That’s 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. "There’s the ethics of it and then I’m just comfortable, like fuck it, I can just play it myself. So it’s a little confidence thing, I’m just like, ‘I can make this sound like a sample.’ That’s 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 group’s 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 keyboard’s sound. If his Rhodes is the sketch pad, Agile’s Akai MPC 3000 is the brain of the operation. "Everything’s hooked up to here,” he says. "Usually I’ll 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 he’s creating music. "I would say 90 percent of it is freestyle. I just sit down and I know I’ve 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 I’ll beatbox it or sing it into my answering machine. I’ll 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 he’s created on CDs, Agile is now adamantly against the practice. "The game is changing. A lot of artists, they’re just ripping off your beats from a CD and putting them on their mixtape,” he says. "You can’t sell the beat because people already heard it on someone else’s mixtape, but you’re not getting any money for it. As producers, on your beat CD you’re not putting on something that’s polished. It’s just a beat; it’s 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 don’t wanna just drop another hip-hop record. I want to show what I’m capable of doing,” he says. "I’ve 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 don’t want to do that. I’ll 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.”