Spacing out with Cooking With Caustic

Cooking With Caustic have both a fresh and unique take on hip-hop, funk soul and reggae. Since their 2014 debut ‘From Mercury to Pluto’ (released on Obese Records) the group has continued to put out a number of impressive works, collaborating with numerous emcees and vocalists from Australia and New Zealand. The stunning 10 piece collective hail from the Blue Mountains and are coming to Sydney on the 20th of February for the final stop of their Spaceport 2our. 

Cooking With Caustic taps into the essence the classic sample based hip-hop, but with their own original melodies and sounds. We spoke to the man behind the beats – Caustic, about the background of the group, production influences and more. Victor McMillan writes.

When did you first become interested in music production?

I always listened to a lot of music, and I’d learnt to play a couple of instruments as a kid, piano and guitar. But I didn’t really start enjoying playing music till I was a bit older and found a way to record it and mess with it afterward. A turning point was probably when I started hearing a lot of loop-based music, in the late 80’s/early 90’s which was really inspiring. 

I first started dabbling with producing music around 1997, when my flatmate got an Akai 12 track tape desk. We would spend ages making beats on a keyboard or stealing drum loops from cassettes, then adding in other instruments we had. Not too far from what I do now really. Not long after the tape desk stuff, I started messing with computers and drum machines. I was making beats on tracker software called BUZZ, an old method of sequencing that I’d learnt from the Amiga days, which turned out to be great for making sample-based music. 

Then I started working with bands and vocalists. After a short inspirational trip to the UK in 1999 I got home full of ideas and plans to set up my own studio and start performing my beats live. I’ve gradually collected a good bunch of gear since then and the studio’s been busy these last couple of years. I do a lot of recording, mixing and mastering for other hip hop crews as well as my own.

How did the Cooking with Caustic collective come together?

Cooking with Caustic formed through afternoon jams, beat-making, remixing and collaborating with a bunch of local artists and friends. It’s expanded into an ever-changing collective over time, but also with a consistent core of musicians and vocalists. A lot of the members I had worked with before on previous projects and each project has really been an evolution of the same basic idea, beat-making without samples, making all the sounds ourselves, but still having that sample/loop based groove to the music which has always been the backbone of my sounds.

How does the dynamic of working with a 10-piece collective influence the process of creating music?

It can be either really slow or really fast to put songs together with all the different people involved. There’s mostly a lot of back and forth, working with everyone and throwing around ideas. We often have to work by correspondence with the guys in the city. But sometimes all the elements of a track will fall into place really quickly during a jam. Having such an awesome bunch of people to work with, all the different instruments, expands the possibilities of the music we can make so much. While it can be difficult organising it all, I wouldn’t ever want to lose that.

Who are some of your production influences?

The Herbalizer, DJ Premier, Massive Attack, The X-Ecutioners, Mad Professor, Red Snapper and Sola Rosa. Anyone who mixes new recordings with beats and samples. Plus all the creators of the original style of music that these guys have sampled or been influenced by. I like a lot of different styles, not just hip hop, but mainly the good old stuff soul, funk, jazz and reggae. I’m fairly opinionated on mixing and mastering styles and I’m not a fan of the current trend, overly loud and compressed with no dynamics. Hopefully this will change soon. 

The Blue Mountains have a strong tradition when it comes to music, do you think that had any effect on the sound of the group?

For sure. We get asked this a lot, and it’s kind of amazing when you count up bands that are originally from the mountains that are so big now, like Hermitude. We reckon it’s the lifestyle up here that’s different to the city. Slower, less expensive, less to do socially, and maybe the cold in winter. You have more time and opportunity to be creative. The local music scene has always been strong, and a lot of touring acts come here too. There’s a huge amount of talented musos up here to work with, and we kinda wish they’d stop moving to the city. They’ll be back.

You have collaborated with a number of other artists/producers from both Australia and New Zealand, who are some artists you can recommend for the people to check out?

Yeah we’ve been lucky to collaborate with so many dope acts. Some of the guys we’ve been touring with all have new releases you should check out; Otherside, Madame Wu and Elise Graham, Spectacles, Broken Thought Theory, P.smurf, El ‘Jistos, Waza.  

What Stimulates Your Soul?

Just being at home, making music