Sonic Species – vibrationally enhanced and inspired
Sonic Species is a psytrance artist who garners god-like devotion from his fans. Mention the groundbreaking album Unleash The Beat to any psytrance aficionado and you’ll notice an almost immediate misty look in their eyes.
2017 has seen a prolific output of killer singles, EPs and collaborations from him and he tells us there’s still more to come!
Join us as we delve deep into the mind and rhythm of the man behind the moniker – Joe Markendale, who is undoubtedly one of the hottest producers in the Psytrance game.
We find out about his inspirations, work ethos and everything in between.
Dreamstate is a huge multi sub-genre Trance event in Los Angeles and is at the forefront of educating the American EDM kids in the ways of Trance and now Psytrance.”
If you think back to your first release – Machina Terra on Alchemy over 7 years ago – do you still listen to it and go ‘wow that was a great first release,’ or are you critical of the production with the knowledge and skill set you now have since those earlier starts?
Sonic Species: Machina Terra is still very close to my heart even now. Musically I still love it as an EP but the track Machina Terra in general I still think is right on the money..so much so that I’ve even considered doing a remake of it with modern day production so I can start playing it in my sets today without it sounding dated.
Playing bass in a band… some musicians would despair at the idea of giving up the thrill of jamming with fellow musos for mouse-clicking and synth tweaking. Was it a gradual process or did electronic music and/or psytrance hit you like a sledgehammer and you were hooked?
Sonic Species: For me it was a very gradual process transitioning from live music to electronic music. It happened over around 10 years and so by the end of that time it was natural and didn’t feel like too much of a big deal. I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss jamming with my old friends and other great musicians.
The feeling one gets when you hit a synchronised peak in a spontaneous jam with deadly musicians that you’ve known for over 15 years is just unparalleled as far as I’m concerned….musically speaking anyway.
Performing as an electronic artist gives me a totally different buzz but one that is just as powerful but composed of a different vibe altogether.
In recent times you’ve collaborated with Volcano, Vertical Mode and Outsiders to name a few. How important is collaborating in terms of artistic growth?
Sonic Species: For me collaborating is just a great way to connect and hang out with my mates around the world. Making a track with another producer that you respect is such an awesome way to diversify and explore other areas of your sound and your creativity, not to mention production techniques.
Collaborating is important for me also because it keeps me up to date with what’s happening in the scene with the artists that I love and right on the musical cutting edge of our scene.
I think it’s a balance between knowing what’s going on out there in the wider world or other artists and producers whilst at the same time channelling that new data back into the music that you love.
In general I find working with other artists a great inspiration.
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing a track? Do you wake up with a certain sound, melody or groove and build on that or do you ‘tinker’ about and stumble upon greatness?
Sonic Species: When I start a track I normally have an idea of the BPM of the track I want to write. Then I will play around with some Kick and Bass options until I find something that is sounding good.
After throwing down a few bits of percussion to get the groove going I normally hit the keyboard and start working with some synths to create some kind of hook.
The hook might be a synth stab or a melody or a chord progression but finding that first hook is often the gateway to making the rest of the track. Once I have laid down a hook then I start building lots of little synth stabs and other sounds around it in a loop – I call this ‘The Grid’.
Then I extrapolate the track from that loop that I’ve been working on and usually these days I dive straight in and start structuring the track and putting the synths and stabs all around the place building a story.
In general I don’t have problems with being inspired because when I hear the track going in the right direction I recognise ‘The Sound’ that reminds me of those classic dance floor moments that have inspired over the years and from that point on I know the track is gonna be just fine.
What I have realised over the years is that I don’t need to think too much because the music is a direct expression of the vibe that’s inside me, and so it’s inevitable that whatever track I write will pretty much capture the vibe that I like.
What is your track writing process and when is a track complete in your eyes/to your ears? Do you set time constraints for when to stop?
Sonic Species: As I mentioned above I start with the BPM and Kick Bass and then throw down some percussion to get a groove going. Then I hit the synths and keyboard to play in some riffs and hooks.
When I have a couple of hooks that I like I will start making the grid around them that keeps the sustainable groove of the track alive.
Then I move onto structuring the whole track quickly. I normally tweak the structure a bit as I go but I found that having the structure of the whole track in front of my more or less had a really positive effect on the writing process.
When I reach the end of the track I normally make notes of the things that I need to tweak in order for the track to be finished. By this point I will have also been working on the mix alongside the final stages of finishing the composition.
After I have finished the list of tweaks I start purely mixing down the track by adjusting the volumes of the drums and synths to find the perfect balance that allows the Kick and Bass to drive the track whilst retaining the power and energy of the main hooks of the track.
Teaching yourself how to finish a track is hard because it’s a totally subjective experience. Normally for me having a deadline is the thing that makes me really finish a track for a specific date. If it’s my own release I will set myself a deadline to make sure that I deliver the finished track to the label well i time to do proper promotion before the final release date.
The music that I make is dance music first and foremost and the gig is the setting in which I see it performing its number 1 function”
The European Summer of festivals is in full swing at the moment. How’s the season been so far and are there any specific gigs you’re looking forward to in the rest of the year?
Sonic Species: Summer of 2017 has been good so far. I have played some awesome festivals already and am in full swing now in August with a run of some great looking festivals ahead. Aside from the usual EU festivals there are some new comers to my calendar this year that I am excited about.
PLUR festival in Greece has always had raving reviews from everyone I know who has performed or attended so I am looking forward to playing that very much next weekend to name one.
Aside from summer festivals I am very excited to be going back to LA to play Dreamstate for the first time.
Dreamstate is a huge multi sub-genre Trance event in Los Angeles and is at the forefront ofeducating the American EDM kids in the ways of Trance and now Psytrance.
I’m super excited to be a part of this because it’s something new and exciting for me and I will have the chance to expose the Sonic Species sound to a totally new audience.
Touring: What’s the best and worst part of this?
Sonic Species: The best part of touring for me is that moment at the peak of my set when I am fully connected with the audience and I see how much positive energy people get from the music.
That moment of connection and exchange of energy is really what the whole thing is about for me. The music that I make is dance music first and foremost and the gig is the setting in which I see it performing its number 1 function so that makes me very happy and inspired.
The other highlight for me is hanging out with all my wonderful friends and family around the world who i normally only ever get to see when I am on tour! Oh and last but not least experiencing the culinary delights from the different countries I visit is also at the top of the list!
For me one thing that’s not ideal about touring constantly is that it can be difficult to keep up a healthy lifestyle. When I am at home I eat good food and live a relatively healthy existence. Sometimes if I am on the road for extended periods it can be hard to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
In general these days I try to get back home relatively quickly after my gig so that I can carry on with my life at home making music and developing on a personal level. In general though life on the road is absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I have realised that it’s all about having a healthy balance of things in life and the same goes fortouring and time at home. Both are amazing in the right proportions.
What keeps you sane at airports and in hotel rooms? Any rituals, habits that keep you going?
Sonic Species: Sometimes I like to do my Tai Chi or Chi Gung practice in my hotel rooms before the gig just to keep me on point and feeling energised.
I find this is a good way to get my head in the right place to deliver a slamming performance. In airports I head straight to the restaurant area and see what’s on offer or I go and hang out in the lounge if I need to chill or do some work but that can get a bit boring sometimes so I like to keep it mixed up.
You teamed up with another industry titan Avalon to form the massive progressive act, Future
Frequency. A) How’d this come about? B) I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when you discussed
the sound you were going for; care to share?
Sonic Species: Me and Leon were living in Brighton together and we made a track for his first album and since then we just did more and more to the point where we made it official and released our debut collaborative album as Future Frequency on Nano Records in November 2016.
We both liked some of the more powerful progressive trance that was and still is going on and we wanted to take some of our vibe into that lower bpm range and see if we could make something with more groove and bass but still with our energy and styles.
Focus when being a creative is an important key. How does one keep a solo project going and a duo project? Is it all about a consistent release of music?
Sonic Species: I think it’s all about time management, which is something I wasn’t always the best at but I am getting better these days.
In reality there is time to do a couple of projects but you just need to make sure that when you work you are actually moving forward with tracks and making serious progress rather than sitting for days trying to come up with an initial idea that will spark the creation of the rest of the track.
I have been releasing more regularly as Sonic Species than ever in 2017 and I plan to keep that going into 2018 because I think that’s a really important part of the whole game.
One the one hand it gives my followers a new piece of music once a month and it also gives me something solid to talk about on my social media platforms. In general I do like to think that it’s still a very music-centric scene so the constant release of new music then has to be a central and necessary reality.
Also the music industry these days moves increasingly quicker than before and in some cases tracks have a shorter shelf-life than they used to, making it more important to release regularly and remain present in an every expanding scene.
Imagine the 1960s Hippie movement infiltrated by a vibrationally enhanced intergalactic tribe sent from the future to save the Universe”
What is your favourite element of a track? Bassline, percussion or melodies/leads? I know it’s impossible to separate as it all forms the whole but what do you find yourself drawn to? [PS: Your percussion is insane.]
Sonic Species: Wow what a tough question! For me I do love the Baseline groove because when you are immersed in one of those ultimate dance floor experiences it is often the Baseline that is driving the experience I’ve found; Having said that, I love the melodic hooks and all the little synth stabs and FX shots that subtly drive the track in the background.
Experiencing a track on a huge sound system and at home are 2 very different experiences so a lot of my work is consciously trying to reverse engineer the experiences I have on dance floors so that I can understand how those tracks might sound in the studio.
This process is what allows me to create grooves and tracks that I hope will deliver that quality Psytrance experience when heard in the proper setting.
So far it has been quite a busy few months of releases for Sonic Species. Are there more to come this year?
Sonic Species: Yes it has and its part of my new drive to release roughly a track a month for the coming future. For the remainder of 2017 I have a string of single tracks coming out on Nano and other labels every month until the end of 2017.
November will see the release of the first instalment of my new concept album series ‘Supersonic’. Supersonic Vol.1 will feature some remixes of myself alongside a few collaboration tracks with friends of mine. The idea behind the new Supersonic series is that I want to have a home for all the tracks and remixes that inevitably happen each year.
I also like the idea of using my Supersonic series to promote new and talented artists so i the future I may mix the concept to include tracks from other artists too.
It’s an open book at this stage but I’m very excited about the future of this project. I will release my 2nd Sonic Species solo album in 2018 also.
Last question; the global psytrance scene. Explain it as if you were talking to someone who’d never ever experiences a psy festival…
Sonic Species: Imagine the 1960s Hippie movement infiltrated by a vibrationally enhanced intergalactic tribe sent from the future to save the Universe and together they create the ultimate form of dance music that will blast planet Earth into an age of Love whilst all dressed like Thundercats!
WITH SONIC SPECIES