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From Miensk with noir trip hop

An interview with Drum Warz and JJ.OK about their "Fragments EP".

Чытаць па-беларуску

The Radio Plato label has recently released the “Fragments” EP – a collaboration of two musicians from Miensk: beatmaker Drum Warz and guitar player JJ.OK. The EP has a dark noir vibe combining sampled dark-jazz elements with heavy guitars and oldschool beats. We sat down with the guys to discuss their inspirations, approaches to musicmaking and live presentation of this material.

Drum Warz – a Belarusian musician and beatmaker. Known for oldschool-sounding hip hop instrumentals using samples from jazz, funk and even metal records from his vinyl collection. Has a few albums and EP's under his belt. Used to represent a Miensk-Brest-based beatmakers crew Podpolie 162.

JJ.OK – a Belarusian musician and guitarist. Known for using his guitar and pedalboard to create a layered ethereal wall of sound to build compositions in styles ranging from ambient and drone to experimental post-rock to pop electronica. Member of such bands as The Glitchhh, Electric Poets and DAH.

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How did your collaboration come about?

JJ.OK: It all started with jamming together. In spring of 2023 we met up at the Plato studio and jammed. I said 'Let's try adding my guitar to your beats and see what comes out'. It turned out great! So we did that for a while, then played a few live shows. Little by little, individual tracks and the overall concept started taking shape. We had a bunch of ideas, including mixing ambient with hip hop beats, but the actual result is what you can hear on the EP.

Drum Warz: Initially we tried poppy guitar-led funky hip hop and were planning to release it last summer...

JJ.OK: Suddenly, it's October. So we shifted the mood to noir instrumental hip hop.

So where does this melancholy come from?

JJ.OK: From Miensk, of course. The visual we had in mind is walking along the dark or foggy streets of the city. The view from Plato studio is the railroad, then a huge construction site and the nearby turnpike. All this contributed to the atmosphere of this album.

Drum Warz: We once played at the patio of this place called Proletariat located near the studio. The surrounding ambient sounds were trains passing by really close. It was an amazing mix!

JJ.OK: So much so, that I didn't even bother adding any ambient textures – the noise of the trains was filling in for them. You finish playing a track, and the train noises fill up the pause and take you into the next one.


So how do you compose your tracks?

JJ.OK: Usually Igor will bring something to start from – a beat or a sample that we start adding things to. For example, one of our first demos "Grey Blues" – he brought in a very cool drum beat for and the guitar riff and solo came together really quickly. When we sat down to finish the demo, I re-recorded the clean guitar part but Igor was not feeling it. Another take and now I'm not feeling it. So eventually we left in the initial demo guitar – it was just right. It's sounds really raw and maybe a bit out of tune, but the vibe is just perfect.

Yeah, seems like authenticity is more important than perfectionism with music...

JJ.OK: Yes. You may think you are the creator but when you're making music it feels like the music is guiding you, not the other way around. All you have to do is yield to the invisible force and be a faithful conduit of whatever is coming through you from somewhere out there.

How would you define the genre of this EP?

JJ.OK: I would just say it's instrumental hip hop.

Drum Warz: With my previous tracks I tagged them as oldschool hip hop or instrumental boom bap. We still use those kinds of drums here, but the whole thing together sounds more like what I would call trip-hop.

JJ.OK: As for the guitar sound on this EP, I was inspired by Jim Jarmusch's Squirel and the drone-metal gods Sunn O))). I can't say there is much stylistic overlap with those bands on this EP, but the mood was influenced by them for sure.

What was the story with getting Maxgreat to do scratches on this record?

Drum Warz: Max's contribution was scratching things up, which inspired the name of the track and subsequently the whole EP. We first jammed together on Radio Plato birthday party and we loved it! That's when we decided we need to ask him to do a record with us. All the scratched samples are from "Combination from the Masters" EP by the UK label Cut & Paste and "Zarecord" by NMCP.

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Studio work vs live shows. What's your favorite?

JJ.OK: It really depends. I love composing music. And Igor is a great collaborator, easy to work with. Live shows are a great and important thing too. It's crucial to play your material live for people, to get the live feedback. Those are different check-points on your artistic journey. We started playing together about a year ago, played a few live shows: in Proletariat, Molodoy, Mad Frog, toured to Homiel. These gigs are fun and important landmarks that give us the incentive to move forward. "This music works live, let's keep going!"

What is the situation with organizing concerts in Belarus nowadays?

JJ.OK: Being musicians first and foremost, we are not heavily involved in that part of the shows, unless we decide to organize an event ourselves. Usually, though, we get invited to shows organized by somebody else. We did quite a few shows this season. Overall, one can say things have changed regarding organizing. But that had not impacted us much so far. And sadly, those changes aren't in artists' favor.

Any plans to present this EP live?

Drum Warz: Yes, the big presentation is planned for April 14 in Proletariat. We will play with a live drummer – great musician called Pavel Kuzmin. And of course Maxgreat on the wheels of steel. The supporting live act is Phlegm87 with an experimental live set and dj sets from Maxgreat and Gulfstream.

Any festival plans?

JJ.OK: Well, we're ready. Are we doing enough to make it happen? It's always a thing – you're ready and open to it, but in order to actually get on a festival lineup it's a whole other bunch of work to do, that we'd rather have somebody else do for us, honestly. Either that, or put in the hours yourself with all the promoter contacts, press-releases etc. So far, we have only been working on our music, not that other stuff. Maybe we'll get to it after the presentation.

You can listen to the whole interview in Belarusian/Russian in Editorial Podcast:

<iframe width="100%" height="300" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" allow="autoplay" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/1789916137&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true"></iframe><div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/radioplato" title="Radio Plato" target="_blank" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;">Radio Plato</a> · <a href="https://soundcloud.com/radioplato/radio-plato-editorial-podcast-117-w-drum-warz-jjok" title="Radio Plato - Editorial Podcast #117 w/ Drum Warz &amp; JJ.OK" target="_blank" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;">Radio Plato - Editorial Podcast #117 w/ Drum Warz &amp; JJ.OK</a></div>
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