Interview with NZ-based Producer, RQ, About Latest New Ambient/Jazz/DnB Crossover Album

By Alex Brown - 17.10.18

RQ is a New Zealand-based DJ and producer, he is an acclaimed graphic artist, having provided visual work for labels such as Metalheadz, Commercial Suicide, Samurai Recordings and Valve. Also, he is the resident designer for London’s leading D&B night, Soul In Motion. 

A truly beautiful release that perfectly marries ambient, jazz and drum and bass together, Solid Ground is a piece of work that has been likened to Photek’s ‘retro-futurism’ and Alice Coltrane’s ‘jazz psychedelia’. The LP is a self-portrait album where RQ has tried to narrow the distance between himself and the listener.
On October 8th, Solid Ground was released via Blu Mar Ten - his first album for the label. 

We caught up with RQ on ‘feeling-based’ production and the magic of simplicity:

For those unfamiliar with RQ’s mesmerizing grasp, how would you personally describe the music you produce? 

Mildly cosmic deconstructed jazzy Drum & Bass... haha It’s quite hard to describe my own sound as I don’t sit down with a manifesto or a theme in mind, I just ‘trust the process’ and see where it leads. It’s all pretty much 170bpm, and from my previous years DJing it always has a D&B skeleton underneath it, even the totally ambient pieces would still mix with a normal track. I like to think some of it sounding like jungle / D&B from a slightly alternate present, just a little surreal but still recognisable. 

Your latest and upcoming inventive body of work and LP Solid Ground is out. Could you detail the recording process, and how it may have differed to past studio encounters? 

The initial tracks that kicked off the whole endeavour were a step away from the usual way I had been doing things, I came to Solid Ground from a really sample-based angle, only using audio tracks. Prior to this I had leant heavily on VST synths to create the more musical elements and samples for background / FX style parts. Drawing more directly from my collection and influences this time around seemed to bring a lot more life to what I was making and it also lends itself to more serendipitous events, even the act of scrolling through samples can send you off on unrelated tangents. There has been a lot more chopping of breaks too and that can also heavily influence the direction of a tune, the timbre and weight of a break can make a huge difference in the ‘vibe’ instantly... either scuttling the track immediately or sending it off in an otherwise unforeseen direction.

Are there any pieces of equipment, hardware, software etc that you just cannot live without?

My laptop and Cubase. I can kinda get by now with generic / basic effects as I am not trying to do heaps of crazy shit to sounds, but being totally ‘on-board’ means that yeah, no cubase... no music, no laptop... no nothing. I am doing a lot of work at the moment just sitting on the couch with basic iphone earbuds, so a flash studio is not a must either. If I didn’t have turntables (at least one) I would feel a bit stunted, they are a piece of studio gear I suppose to someone that samples a fair bit. 

What do you feel makes RQ stand out in terms of originality? 

Aaahhhhh, maybe one thing that has kept what I do a little different from other stuff is that I am not DJing at all and as such have a little bubble of calm around me in terms of what I am hearing, and also more importantly, what I need from the tracks I am making. I don’t need guaranteed smashers to drop on the weekend and that allows me a lot more room to move. If I was playing regularly I have no doubt my sound would change, maybe for the better, who knows! 

What would you say is a usual source of inspiration or influence upon your music?

Inspiration is coming from everywhere at the moment, weather and nature in general at the moment given my location. A lot of my music is really ‘feeling’ based so things like a rainy walk on an empty beach can linger long enough to come through in a track. I try not to be too literal with things like that, but sometimes a sample of waves on a beach HAS to go in a track, simple as that! As with any producer, the music you listen to when not producing is going to have a bearing on your production and when I get a chance that is pretty much just Jazz at the moment, the more cosmic the better. That style of music has completely enveloped me... I just love the exploration, the darkness and also the joy in it, the further out it goes, the bigger my smile gets.

Earlier this year, you released Season of the Emergence EP, which appears to serve as an introduction to the album. Was there any particular inspiration behind the track “Hawk Bones”, for example?

“Hawk Bones” is completely a product of its environment. I live in a remote valley on the side of an extinct volcano, my studio is full of Jazz records and 94-99 Drum & Bass / Jungle. Sitting at the desk I have raw nature on my left and a physically imposing wall of vinyl to my right. I sometimes feel like a reverse prism, with all these things pouring in and the music kind of beaming out. Also in the mix is 100 or so mid 90’s dubplates from the ‘Samurai Collection’, and I cannot explain the effect that the SMELL of those acetates has on the production process.  
If RQ could collaborate with any artist on the planet, who would you choose? And why?

Jeez... that’s a tricky one. I have ZERO music knowledge in terms of theory and reading music etc, so I would be quite embarrassed trying to work with someone on that level. I have attempted several collaborations over the years, and unfortunately they always seem to falter after a couple of cycles of back and forth. The momentum seems to fade until the project fizzles to nothing. All the artists I worked with have successfully collaborated with other people, so I guess the problem is at my end! Something that could be awesome would be to get a couple of hours of studio samples from someone like Kamasi Washington for example, and lock myself away in the studio for a month to see what would happen. All of that said, I would chew part of an arm off to work with Future Sound of London. They were / are a MASSIVE part of my musical DNA from right back before I even started DJing. 'Lifeforms' is just soaked in to my bones after all these years.

Care to mention any personal playlist favourites on heavy rotation right now?

Due to my current home life and schedule (stay at home dad with 2 kids, part-time graphic artist) ANY spare time I would normally have spent listening to music is now totally focused on production. I grab any tiny window of downtime to fire up the track I am working on and as such have isolated myself to a degree. Day to day background playlists are 90’s Hip Hop and Jazz at the moment, depending on if the kids are up. 2 things I never miss though: Loxy’s mixes and the Hessle Audio Rinse show.

What does the future hold for RQ?

No grand plans, I like to think my best music is still ahead of me and I work daily to make that a reality, try to find new areas to explore... What to leave behind and what to pick up. I know it’s kind of a cliche but I would love to score for film or television, given the right project I feel I could bring something to the table. 

Order Solid Ground by RQ
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