He’s one of the most energetic and passionate artists in hardstyle. An Australian dude living in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, conquering one continent after another. Sam Gonzalez is the man behind Audiofreq, an artist known for his incredible diversity, open mind and taste for the eclectic. He has never allowed his creative process to be confined by genres, and that’s exactly what we love about him. Currently finalising his second artist album, we decided to ask Sam about his musical journey throughout the years, and get to know his studio tactics, as well as taking a deep dive into the man behind the Audiofreq alter ego.
Hey Sam, thanks for taking some time to chat with us! First off: how are you? And what equipment can us geeks find in your studio?
Audiofreq: “Music is the only thing that manages to capture my attention for any real length of time.”
Sam: I’m primarily an in-the-box producer with two exceptions; I have a virus TI and 2 TC Electronic Powercores which I use for the Virus Powercore plugins. Nothing beats the Virus sound when it comes to huge leads. For the rest, I’m all software so you’ll find the usual suspects: Spire, Massive and Serum. I also like interesting Reaktor ensembles a lot.
We thought it would be fun to grab some of your quotes and put them into a new perspective. So here we go!
“Creating music is in my DNA. It’s a part of me.” When was the moment you knew that music was going to be your full-time affair?
Sam: When my high school grades were suffering because of the amount of time I spent messing around with music. I knew then that if I had any hope of really doing what I loved, and doing it the best that I could, I needed to turn music from an afternoon and late night hobby into a full time job. I wanted to earn money from music so that I would have more time to make music.
“There’s no shortcut to hard work, but hard work always pays off.” How did you learn the ropes of producing? When you compare yourself to the artist you are now and the artist you were 5 years ago, what are your biggest accomplishments?
Sam: I’m mainly self-taught. Comparing myself to who I was and how I worked 5 years ago, I would say there’s been a lot of refinement. I’ve done a fair few ‘anthems’ for parties which I never thought I would ever be asked to do. I’ve met my heroes, worked with them and I’m proud to call them colleagues and friends. I’ve finished one album and I’m working on the next one. There has been a lot of growth and I attribute that directly to the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put in to the studio.
“I don’t think I could picture myself living anywhere else.” You’re originally from Australia, but moved to The Netherlands a few years back. What was the main reason and what makes The Netherlands feel like home?
Sam: Home is where the studio is! Everybody knows that! Being situated in The Netherlands, it's a lot easier for bookings - there's a lot more happening here and the rest of Europe is a short flight away.
“I see electronic music as a huge world and it would be silly to stay in one part of it and not to explore.” Despite being branded as a hardstyle producer, your tracks incorporate many different styles. Do you think every artist should produce with that freedom in mind, or do you somehow understand that people feel the need to label things?
Sam: I grew up in the traditional music world, playing in the school band, and learning piano. I grew up with a lot of friends who were playing in bands in their garages. True musicians can appreciate the work that goes into any genre and continually try to learn, adapt and improve. While a few of my guitar friends preferred to play folk or pop punk, they would still listen and practice metal solos. It’s frustrating when people don’t understand the world of music is so vast and can’t appreciate the art or skill it takes to do something they might not be used to.
“People are really looking for that oldskool hardstyle sound. It’s being missed.” What are some of the old classics that got you into the harder styles of dance music?
Sam: The first hardstyle track I liked was 'Headhunterz - The Power of the Mind'. It was such a huge tune, the sound, the emotion and the experience was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. After that I discovered Technoboy, whose music both old and new, continually inspires, and by that tme I was too far down the rabbit hole!
“I’m the type of person to get bored easily.” How does that work out in the studio for you? Are you the type that can spend hours tweaking a 10 second piece, or do you easily move on to the next thing? How does that work out with producing your next artist album?
Sam: The thing about music is that it’s the only thing that manages to capture my attention for any real length of time. There’s no way I can sit still in an office for 8 hours a day doing the same thing - I’ve done that and failed countless times. But with music, or perhaps with my approach, I’m always entertained, stimulated and at peace. Working on an album is the perfect outlet for me because I don’t have to do the same thing over again. I can follow each little inclination of inspiration.
“I love it and hate it at the same time.” We were sorry to find out you’re suffering a bipolar disorder. But it made us curious, what are the positive things about it that help you in your career?
Sam: The highs are incredible, everything falls into place, the lows are crushing and it can be a struggle for days and weeks at a time to get through it. It’s like a drug, but it’s part of who I am.
“If I want to work with anyone, it’s because I love what they do because its different to what I do.” Can you lift the lid on some of the collabs you’re working on? Or who’s left on your wish-list?
Sam: To be honest, I only like collaborating with people who I have a close personal bond with. If you’re gonna spend 40 hours together confined in a tiny room, you need to get on first. People first - music second. I don’t have a wish-list for collaborators really, I like working with my friends.
“I’m always trying to find new ways to approach making music and keeping the creative process fresh.” In an intense, creative process like making an album, how do you try to keep your mind fresh and avoid that writer’s block we all fear?
Sam: I’m just as susceptible to writer's block as anyone else. But you break up your tasks in the studio, because you don’t need to be 100% creative 100% of the time. Trying out new software, learning new tricks on old software, or reverse engineering other producers' sounds helps you grow as a producer and expand your skills. I always go back to what non-electronic musicians do: they’re not always writing new songs, some guitarists might practice Jimmy Page or Hendrix solos, rappers might dissect others' flows.
I’ve also found that limitations help stimulate creativity. In fact almost all the innovations in the world came from someone finding a problem and then trying to overcome that limitation, they didn’t come from someone sitting there with a blank canvas. So with that, I try and introduce limitations in my process, one of these was ‘chance dance music’, which was a methodology utilising dice throws to randomize certain rules to abide by in the creation of the track. The other thing I was doing was going into used record stores whenever I’d be in a new city, buying 5 random bits of vinyl without listening to them and then sampling them with the intention to create something out of those random snippets. Limitations breed creativity.
“Once you make a good one, you can do anything.” Is there any trick you use to get the perfect kick?
“I start with a theme or emotion. Sometimes I write down some lyrics or I just have a feeling in mind. I always put this on paper so I have something to go back to.” Is that still the way you work when you’re producing a track? What’s the normal process, the way you build a track?
Sam: Definitely. I find this method works best. When the pieces are assembled in my mind, that’s when I start laying down some demos of where I think the song can go. It’s not something I do every day, some days are spent solely on sound design, or constructing little beds and sketches for usage in the future, which I archive - but whenever I have the intention to start a new track, it always begins with the idea and theme.
“I think all producers should learn how to cultivate their own style. I can only hope that in the future, each producer will be genreless and have their own identity.” This is a quote taken from an interview 3 years back. Have you seen it happening, the scene becoming less and less based on genre?
Sam: In hardstyle this hasn’t really been the case. If anything, it’s actually become more polarised, but I think that’s got to do with the maturation of the genre. Outside of hardstyle though, that is most certainly the case. Love him or hate him, Skrillex has definitely broken outside of the dubstep genre that he got famous for. Outside of hardstyle, I’m seeing a lot more up-and-coming producers making as many genres as they can and then working that into sets for the dancefloor, that’s cool.
“The music that you make is like a soup of all the music you digest.” Sounds like a soup of all flavours. What stuff do you listen to that really brightens your day? And how do you try to get that into your own sound?
Sam: Honestly, it changes constantly. I have some favourite bits from the old happy hardcore I used to listen to when I was growing up, but I do like electro-industrial movie scores like what Sonic Mayhem does too. I try to have a varied musical diet.
“As an artist you need to be bold and you have to do your own thing.” What makes Audiofreq’s sound typically Audiofreq, in your opinion?
Sam: I don’t know! I have musical ADHD and I’m always listening to different selections of music. Last week I was obsessed with trailer music and movie scores, this week I’m all about gnarly basslines from drum and bass. Next week it will be something different again, probably classic rock or old trance. I guess my music is the intersection of everything I’ve been listening to married with the emotions I’m feeling on that particular day.
“There is so much for me to learn, and so much further for my music to go.” Last but not least, what is the best production advice you ever got, that you still hold dear today? What advice would you give to upcoming producers out there?
Sam: Don’t do things for quick success, that will lead to boring and uninteresting, disposable music. Instead, try and grow yourself musically, constantly develop your skills, love the process. Then find someone that can take care of all the other industry BS for you so you can truly focus on the music.
Thanks for the great interview, Sam!