Circle Research

Circle Research
After years of assembling fresh beats and funky breaks at their old Astro’s Turf studio in Toronto’s Little Italy, the production/DJ duo known as Circle Research is on the move. Even though they’ve only travelled a few blocks, for Astro the Guillotine and Nix the Finger Prince (aka Gil Masuda and Nik Timar respectively), it’s a real step up. "The vibe is much better in here. The house is much bigger and cleaner too,” says Nix. "There were mice,” adds Gil.

It’s a new multi-level residence, but the residuals of the old "lo-fi meets hi-fi” vibe are still unmistakable. This includes a collection of old vintage analog synths (including an impressive setup of classic Wurlitzers) mashed up with the requisite MPC and ProTools set up. Added to the mix are a selection of classic "Speak & Reads” ("good for cool sampling,” says Gil) thrown in for good measure.

Circle Research’s patented cut-scratch-and-boogie b-boyism ethic stems from a long-time love of all things hip-hop. The duo has come a long way from the hip-hop aficionados’ humble beginnings, throwing parties around Toronto back in ’92. Working with artists like the Oddities, Abdominal, Phatt Al, Tara Chase, Sunshine State and Ivana Santilli, the duo are known for their retro minimalist approach to production. "We pretty much work the same equipment because we’ve been working on it so long. And it always works itself out in benefit of the track,” says Nix. It’s almost uncanny how the duo seem to be on the same page musically. Held in high regard for their long-running Toronto underground hip-hop radio show, Circle Research are highly proficient in melding their beloved classic retro hip-hop with modern funk. This is likely due to them coming from the same mindset of digging and collecting prized samples.

"We originally only collected hip-hop but as we got older we started digging for more rare breaks. And from there our musical tastes really started to open up, where before we were more close-minded,” says Nix. For the duo, beat creation usually begins on MPC, including the drum rhythm punching. From there, it’s both an independent and collaborative effort: after one makes the beat, they usually develop the foundation independently and come back to decide what works and what’s doesn’t, and what needs to be added or recorded. From there, it’s just a matter of a ProTools polish and mix down. "We haven’t really strayed much,” Gil says of the whole endeavour. "Our demo that we put together in ’96 is pretty much the same process today.” Indeed, the duo notes that today’s sound is more professional and a better reflection of their maturing tastes. Today, the duo’s musical tastes can wildly vary but both usually agree on liking the same stuff. Right now, the focus is on instrumental tracks, as evidenced by their soon-to-drop Who? album, a collection of smooth and synthy hip-hop influenced tracks.

"We started sampling everything originally. It started with hip-hop, straight up sampling and using the drum machine,” says Timar. "As we get older we started getting new equipment and started to feature some of our favourite stuff from our favourite albums — that ’60s, ’70s and ’80s stuff.” "We weren’t using a lot of real instruments back then but now we are. Now, we’re essentially sampling [as many] instruments as we would a record. Either that or lay it out on ProTools,” says Nix. The team is transitioning to a more electric soulful sound, as opposed to straight up hip-hop. "We’ve got a lot of records so we’re not limited to a certain genre. But it’s all going to have a hip-hop vibe,” notes Gil. Being self-taught, the duo notes that regardless of the equipment, it’s ultimately intended to be the means to a musical end. Even if it’s GarageBand.

"I’ve seen people make the most amazing stuff using the most basic crap imaginable,” notes Nix. "Doesn’t really matter what equipment you’re using. The good stuff will stand out regardless. We’re not trained musicians but we make it work.” While the new studio (the reborn Astro’s Turf) isn’t 100 per cent up and running (it still needs to be fully soundproofed) Circle Research are confident that once they officially start recording in the new digs they’ll be able to not only recapture their trademark vibe but build on it.

"It’s not enough to sample, you need to get the instruments that made them,” Gil says of their current sound recreation mentality. And how does Circle Research define success? "We’re really not that naïve that we’re making a lot of money making hip-hop music in Canada. Although we would like to think that,” offers Nix. "It’s more about getting to quit your day job,” says Gil. "That, and to be able to eat and pay your Toronto rent,” adds Nix.