ITW : Downside [Fuse]

Fuse resident DJ and techno producer Downside is rapidly making a name for himself in the techno scene. He is no newcomer to the Brussels underground, putting out music and organizing parties for more than a decade. For some historical context, Downside is a Brussels native with Bulgarian roots. Since 2007, he was already out, raving and playing at parties. On his days off, you could find him delving into audio engineering, obsessing over kick drums, compressors, recreating his favorite tracks from scratch. He kept at this for years, and then started organizing his own events in Congres Station of Brussels, and saw some of his original tracks released on German labels. His consistent output and activity led him into the Fuse Club’s family, first as an audio engineer, then as a resident DJ, which puts him right at the heart of the future direction of techno.

In his own sets, Downside combines deep techno and dub timbres with warmth and melody, but with a precise, underground vibe. You’ll hear his own tracks, blended with exactly what the audience needs, a skill perfected by deep experience as a DJ and sound engineer in Belgium’s most legendary club. Those in the know would be wise to keep an eye on Downside.

Could you tell us about what first inspired you to get into electronic music? And what was it that you liked about the electronic scene when you discovered it?
My teenage crush ! Until the mid 2000’s, music wasn’t a big part of my life. My parents never listened to anything else than what was playing on the popular radio at the time. But one day I was invited to a teen house party by my crush who was a bit older than me and used to hang out with the cool kids in school. That was my first real encounter with electronic music, at a dance party. They were playing a mix of Prodigy, House and everything in between. Back then, I didn’t understand the repetitive nature of the music but at that age, anything new sounded exiting.

I’ve always been into technology and electronic devices so it was easy to get me captivated by the DJ who was playing on a pair of CDJ 100’s. They looked like some kind of rocket launching devices to me (so cool). I’ve spent more time hanging out with him that I probably should have and the girl never spoke to me again.

From there, I’ve learned how to beatmatch, mix, produce music and after a few years, I’ve moved to Brussels where I discovered the Fuse.

Belgium’s legendary Fuse club, the pillar of the Belgian nightlife, can reopen on the 1st October. As Fuse’s technical director and resident DJ, what’s your feeling about this reopening announcement?
It feels like it should have happened sooner but I won’t get into political decisions here. What’s important is that we now have a fixed date! The sound system is being tuned, the light show is also updated and we’ll be ready to welcome everyone who missed the club during the passed year and a half. Judging by the energy of the people who attended the last “Fuse OFF” at Tour&Taxis, I’m sure that it will be a weekend (or many) to remember for a long time. I’ll be playing in the Motion Room on the Saturday 2nd of October and I cannot wait to be a part of the reopening.  

Like we said, you are a Fuse resident DJ and this year again, you join the (new) team of residents. After more than 1,5 year closed, the club is still evolving with some changes planned. Can you tell us more about that?
Indeed, everyone on the Fuse team is absolutely religious about reopening the club and with that, announcing its new residents. Since the closing in march 2019, we’ve had to come up with unorthodox ideas in order to keep the club and our passion alive. That’s how the “Echoing Through Eternity” (or Fuse museum) idea became a success but also “Plein Air by Fuse”, which was one of the best places in Belgium where people could enjoy electronic music on a terrace, during the summer.

Working on these projects and hearing all the positive feedback made us even more motivated to work on the club behind the scenes. Currently, we’re making sure that everything is ready for the 1st of October, in order to give you the classic Fuse experience, if not better.

Working on these projects and hearing all the positive feedback made us even more motivated to work on the club behind the scenes. Currently, we’re making sure that everything is ready for the 1st of October, in order to give you the classic Fuse experience, if not better.

Techno as a musical subculture has undoubtedly grown in popularity in the past 10 years or so. What do you think is next for the genre? Where do you think it will go?
It depends who you’re speaking to. Some will say that it’s right where it’s supposed to be, others will tell you that it’s going back to a harder and faster form or even becoming commercial or too business oriented. I won’t go that far but instead talk about something that’s crucial to no matter which direction Techno follows next.

During the years that I’ve spend at the sound desk at Fuse, I’ve noticed that warm-ups, main acts and closings are getting harder and harder to distinguish. I’ve always enjoyed a night out with a beginning, a middle and an end. A night where a story was being told. Nowadays, I feel like the art of the warm-up and the closing is getting lost. Instead, it’s replaced by the need to always go bigger, harder, faster, stronger, no matter what sub-genre we’re talking about.   

Is this caused by the big festivals where all the artists are pressured to show the best of themselves in a short period of time? Or is it because the newer techno fans simply don’t know what a proper warm-up or closing can do to an otherwise average night out? I’m not sure. But to me (as a DJ and producer), the next step for Techno is going to be whatever we end up composing next in the studio and whatever we end up playing in front of a crowd, that feels right at that moment.

I think that the only way to stay creative and to move the genre forward is to detach ourselves from trends or ego and listen to, produce and play quality music, while still understanding the crowd and what they like to hear. As long as we keep that in mind, I’m sure that Techno will be heading in a great direction.

And you? How would you say your own sound as a DJ and producer has changed since your debuts?
My sound is always evolving and it has been ever since I began making music. It started from what I will now call progressive house. Then, I was drawn by the newer wave of deep melodic house that was emerging around 2011. My first official release as Downside was in 2014 on 136 Grad Recordings. For the next 3 years (until 2017) I was releasing melodic house records for the same people and a few others German labels. I’m still proud of these tracks as they were made with a lot of passion, care and because of that, I’ve managed to sign one of them for a vinyl release. It has been my dream to hold a vinyl with my name on it, ever since I started producing music. That being said, during the last 4-5 years, I’ve moved away from that particular genre and instead have been focusing mainly on DJing as Downside and only recently got back to a steady schedule in the studio. Currently, I’m interested by the less obvious genres but I’ll always be a huge fan of musicality and well produced tracks, which at the moment leads me to the deeper shades of Techno.

There is a lot of focus on contemporary producers to be equally as good at DJing as they are at production. Do you think that DJing has had an impact on your production style, and vice versa?
I’ve been so fortunate to play at some amazing events like “25 Years Fuse”, “Tomorrowland 2018 and 2019”, “Voodoo Village” and many times as a warm-up or closing act at Fuse. Every one of them has been crucial to the way that I listen to and make music. The memory of each past event is probably the best way I’ve found to get me inspired when I feel stuck in the studio. The opposite is less true for me because I wouldn’t play a track just because it’s mine, if I don’t feel like it fits the moment.

Downside @ Plein Air By Fuse (Brussels, Belgium)

Do you think that the expansion of affordable gear and software which have the capabilities to create and record studio quality music at home has a positive impact on the global electronic music scene?
Absolutely! Even though I get the argument of some people saying that it’s becoming too easy and because of that everyone is making the same music, I still believe that DAWs, plugins, dedicated machines etc… are only tools. They won’t magically turn you into a production wizard so, you still need to learn how to use them and also learn the bigger principles behind “just” pushing or clicking a button that you saw someone else on YouTube push. It’s all about how you use these tools and nowadays you can get better quality products for less money than ever before. No one should complain about that.

It’s seems that you are also passionate about electronics. You’re dealing easily with components such as transistors, diodes, integrated circuits and now, you’re creating your own midi controller. Can you tell us about it?
Sure, I’ve always been passionate about electronic devices. As a kid, I used to open the lid of the family VHS player, the TV and everything else that my dad would say that I couldn’t. He later saw my interest for tinkering with (or destroying) electronics and bought me a semi-broken VHS player and an old Macintosh computer to play around with. I later discovered video games, Ableton Live, Traktor and obviously choose a career path in IT, which seemed to combine everything that I liked doing at that time. During my studies I’ve also followed production and mixing courses and developed my audio engineering skills which all combined, led me to the job at Fuse.

It’s only recently (during the lockdowns) that I further advanced my knowledge about electronics to a level that makes it comfortable for me to design and develop a product from scratch. It’s indeed a midi controller designed for the touring performers, build to last and be reliable in the harsh environment that a DJ booth can sometimes be. Currently I’m still in the development stage so I can’t say anything more but my goal is to have it ready to ship in mid 2022.

Do you have any other upcoming projects for 2021 that you’d like to share with us? Currently, my focus is on the Fuse residency, releasing new original music and finding ways to stay creative and interested in the studio. Additionally, I’m mixing and mastering songs for other artists. By doing that, I often get some valuable perspective on my own music as well.

I’m also involved with Underdog Electronic Music School where I coach students on mixing, mastering and music production. Oscar Verlinden (the founder) has a real gift for transferring knowledge with such ease and I will continue to support his project however I can. This feels like my way of giving back a little something to the community that taught me so much and helped me getting to where I am today.

Currently, my focus is on the Fuse residency, releasing new original music and finding ways to stay creative and interested in the studio. Additionally, I’m mixing and mastering songs for other artists. By doing that, I often get some valuable perspective on my own music as well.

Finally, you’ve been working in the music industry for a long time now, and sure have a lot of experience to share. What would be some of your most important pieces of advice to people beginning their journey?
The biggest one for me is to break complicated concepts in small chunks. For example, the production of a full track can be easily divided in a few simpler concepts: Understanding of the DAW, working with samples, synthesis, basic music theory, arrangement, mixing/mastering and playing the track live. I’m oversimplifying it here but you get the idea. Spend some time learning these concepts individually and I promise you that at some point, it will all click and the whole process of finishing a track will become so much easier.

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