INTERVIEW: Mason (ADE 2011)
Dutch production duo Mason is best known for their club track “Exceeder” which became the pop hit “Perfect” thanks to vocals by Princess Superstar. They’ve gone underground with a series of tracks that have gained much play from DJs around the world. 2011 saw them release their debut artist album They Are Among Us, featuring collaborations with everyone from Roisin Murphy an Sam Sparro to Kurtis Blow and DMC. To take their show on the road, the duo Iason Chronis and Coen Berrier have constructed a unique interactive multidimensional experience. Mason proves that there’s definitely more to Dutch dance music than trance and dirty house.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: I hear that you guys worked with Roisin Murphy.
Iason Chronis (Mason): Yes, that is true. We just released our album They Are Among Us. We have been doing very club-focused records for the last seven years with a DJ following, and we thought it would be a nice challenge to make an album with more of a pop approach. We basically made a wish list of artists that we would like to work with and sent out our ideas and sketches. A lot of them were really up for it because they liked the music. This includes Roisin Murphy, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and Aqualung. It was really inspiring and a big challenge to work with these kind of people. Since they are so talented at what they do it made us want to work even harder.
RS: When you work with them, do you send them a track and they write a topline to it? How do you collaborate?
Coen Berrier (Mason): It is actually different every time. Sometimes we go physically into the studio and record. With Roisin Murphy that is what we did. She was very impressive by the way. She actually wrote the lyrics there on the fly. At first, we were kind of worried because she didn’t prepare anything. It actually turned out really nice, which shows how much talent she has. She came in with a big scrapbook that had all kinds of cutouts and news articles in it. Sometimes we just work from eMails or the artist will come to us. There is one track that we actually wrote the whole top line and then asked someone to sing it. It can work either way. With the Aqualung track, for instance, he just delivered the vocals and we built the track around that.
Iason Chronis (Mason): The nicest way is to be in the studio together at the same time so that you can go back and forth with ideas and leave the studio when you are finished and satisfied.
RS: You also worked with Sam Sparro, correct?
Iason Chronis (Mason): That is right; we did a track with Sam Sparro in collaboration with DMC. It is called “Corrected” and it did really well here. He is a great vocalist, so it was pretty cool.
RS: Your artwork and logo is a cartoon kind of creation, who drew it and what was the inspiration of that?
Iason Chronis (Mason): Our label is called ‘Animal Language’ and it started out as our logo. It started as one little animal, but since we kept doing Animal Language parties and releases, our designer Ifo kept making more of them. It is now a whole life form; there is a whole world out there of all these animals that just keep getting nicer and nicer.
Coen Berrier (Mason): His company 310k based here in the Netherlands. They do very great stuff. We are actually about to release an underwear line with these animals on them. It is a nice gift for the holidays.
RS: You have a new single called “Le Big Bob.”
Iason Chronis (Mason): That’s right; it is our new release on Animal Language. It is not from the album. It has an electro, pop funk track, with remixes by Arveene & Misk, that are also on our label, as well as Disco of Doom, Luke Walker, and In Flagranti.
RS: What kind of track is it?
Iason Chronis (Mason): It is fun; we don’t like to take things too seriously. We aren’t the type of producers that like to make the boring two-minute intro, bassline, a one-minute breakdown and outro kind of track. It is just a fun, crazy track. Many times, they are just sketches that they would be used to play live or in the DJ sets. When we see what works we just make it into a proper release.
Coen Berrier (Mason): The video is actually worth checking out; it has a nice kind of food porn thing going on. We ran into some guys at a marketing company in Holland and they use a lot of commercials from big restaurant chains. They have all sorts of salad tossing, ice cubes falling in slow motion, and shrimp being broken in half with the juice falling out of them, so it is real fun.
RS: Talking about visuals, do you have a new live show that you are working on?
Iason Chronis (Mason): Yes, we have produced together for over a decade. I always DJ on my own because Coen doesn’t DJ, so we really want to bring our music together live on stage. It is more challenging than DJing, so we teamed up with a bunch of technicians and created a system that we do with Ableton. It has all of the different sounds, lights, and video attached to it so we can do an interactive show. We play instruments and a lot of gear alongside of it. It is just our own music and material, it is a lot of fun.
Coen Berrier (Mason): We have developed a system that syncs up our live set to all of the club lighting and video screens. We have a special video and lighting track developed; it is a special plug in Ableton that recognizes what sounds we play. We can actually slow down a track, video, and lights. We can even reverse a song and have the lights go backwards.
Iason Chronis (Mason): We can combine ten tracks and all of the lights from the tracks go together. It is a very modern system.
Coen Berrier (Mason): It is like we are the DJ, the musician, and the VJ at the same time. It is pretty spectacular.
RS: Do you use Ableton when you produce, or just when you DJ?
Iason Chronis (Mason): Ableton is for a live show and in the studio, we work with Logic.
RS: Are the visuals that you use in your show things that you find, do you use software to generate them, or does someone create them for you?
Coen Berrier (Mason): There is a guy from DeeperEnd TV that developed a system with a bunch of other people. He came up with the whole idea and concept. He uses interesting algorithms. He took elements out of different tracks, and used them to create certain visual patterns to combine them all together. We can play different elements from the track. For instance, the kick has a certain visual; the lead and bass sound have a visual as well. When combined, they give every track a unique look that fits the sound. There is also color so the lighting all moves in time. It is pretty spectacular when you see it. There is a video about how that works on our site and also on the Ableton blog. It is nice to have Ableton on board; they support the new plug in that we have built. Make sure to check that out.
RS: Where do you think that you fit into the rise of the Dutch movement, International scene? Where do you think the Dutch scene is going to go next?
Iason Chronis (Mason): Holland has had all different scenes parallel doing well over the last years. You have the trance guys, the dutch house guys like Chuckie and Afrojack, and the techno people like Shanadoo and 2001. I don’t think that we fit into any of those scenes. It is nice because everyone supports each other. It is nice that Holland is on the map on all of these different levels. For a small country, we have quite a big dance scene, so there are always things bubbling up. Right now Dubstep is big in Holland.
Coen Berrier (Mason): I think that is a natural progression for this kind of Dutch movement to cross over. There is a big tradition in dance music here for the last decade. The Trance guys are always on the top of the DJ list. Holland was established as a house music country. I think that America is ready and it helps that people like Chuckie have more of a hip-hop background. I think that is helps in crossing over the sounds. It is nice that the States are finally ready for this kind of music.
RS: Did you guys ever meet Princess Superstar? What was she like?
Iason Chronis (Mason): Yes, we did, She is nice and goofy; I think that she is a real artist. She does all kinds of things; she does really obscure and freaky records. As you probably know, we did a commercial record together. We both like to play and listen to really obscure stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point you find a Mason and Princess Superstar record together. It would be like the newest, deepest, weirdest, obscurest, hard rock.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Iason Chronis (Mason): I hope to see you guys at one of our new live shows. We are really excited to present it to the world. To all of you guys producing don’t forget to do your own thing. Don’t try to be the next this or that. Follow your own line even if it’s not popular or trendy. Make the kind of music that you believe in. That is the only thing that there is.
Coen Berrier (Mason): Keep it real.
Interview conducted October 2011 during Amsterdam Dance Event.