Perth based producer/beat maker Ta-ku doesn’t drink, smoke, take drugs or even make beats for a living, he does it after dinner, before bed as a side project. He has an out look on life that seems as progressive as his music considering recent heavy weights to hip hop, like Kendrick Lamar or Oddisee renouncing drugs and the party life because, religion, health, keeping a straight head while focusing on work and music.
It seems Ta-ku was onto something the rest of us have ignored all along. But more and more people are retracting from peer pressure to conform in favour of personal progress and simply enjoying the creative work itself. Despite leading what he calls a ‘regimented’ life he still manages to work on tracks like ‘Cake’ for @Peace, remixes for Flume or feature artists like JMSN; lets not forget his own 50 days for Dilla two-part release or the project he did with Home Brew’s Haz where they went back to back in June 2011 posting a beat a day. I got to sit down with Ta-ku at The Bird in Perth and talk beats, music, life and hip hop. Perth has such a nurtured beat scene with regular events like the Beat Lounge or Boiler Room TV – Ta-ku is an exciting example of the good music that grows there. In 2013 he began his own label, Sunday Records, with the intention to support fellow beat makers by providing them access to a bigger audience. He says there’s so much talent out there but people are still hiding in their bedrooms, which he wants to change.
HH: What was happening in your world the day you started making beats?
T: That’s a good question…Mum and dad split up. I bought an old Hitachi I think it was in Year 10.
HH: So was it Hip Hop that you loved to start with?
T: Definitely, so like Slum Village, Jay Dilla, Nas and even stuff like Mase and Jaheim and all types of stuff….Puff Daddy.
HH: How were you introduced to Hip Hop?
T: My cousin was a big Hip Hop fan. It was like Ultramagnetic, Keith Sweat and all those R&B hits so it was his influence really yeah.
HH: You went to the Red Bull Music academy in 2008, how did that experience influence you?
T: That was the turning point for me and Red Bull pretty much started the whole beat scene movement, electronic music, even things like dubstep kinda sprouted from that. So when I left Red Bull, that’s when I like really put my foot down and then actually went for it. Not saying I quit my job or anything I just started putting more experimentation into my music and actually reading up on it.
HH: What software or equipment did you use to start making music?
T: The first one is the one I’m using now, Fruity Loops, it’s the one that I adapt to the most.
HH: You began making beats at 12. Explain how you went about making beats…
T: When I was 12 it was about beat by matching. Something as simple as finding a loop and then scratching over a drum break. As cliché as it sounds that’s pretty much how I started and then I heard Slum Village’s Fantastic album when I was out of high school and then I actually started Fruity Loops, so the way I went to it was just loops and drum loops really.
HH: Did you grow up in Perth?
HH: Hip Hop wouldn’t have been big back then ?
T: Nah, not at all. Hip Hop wasn’t big at all, it was mostly rock, classic rock. But coming from a Filipino and Māori family, those two cultures really had kind of adapted to hip hop.
HH: So for a long while were you just jamming music by yourself?
T: I had one of my best friends who lives in New York now. We bought our first pair of decks together and then we would just share them. Every two weeks or every month we’d switch. So me and him did the journey together but then he started uni and doing graphic design and that [music] became a bigger part of my life than it did for him.
HH: So in a way you would have watched Perth Hip Hop grow to what it is now?
T: I did yeah…To a certain extent like I was always and outsider. I didn’t like to get involved. No disrespect but I’m not the biggest fan of Australian Hip Hop. I love what they do and I respect it, but I didn’t connect with it. So I just did my own thing and I connected with those who were doing the same thing that I was.
HH: From your perspective, when did the Paper Chain style of artists start coming out?
T: Paper Chain was in 2005 when they started. But Justin reached out… Me and Justin knew each other for a long time like on the internet, MySpace days and I used to send him music and he asked me to be apart of Paper Chain I think around 2006/07.
HH: What inspires you to make music?
T: Music for me has always been like a hobby, it’s always been something that, instead of coming home and watching TV or reading a book I’d rather make music. It’s not something I do hard-core. I work a 9-5 so when I go home I spend time with family, have dinner and then maybe for an hour or two before bed I try to just make something or play around with sounds.
“I’d rather be at home watching a good movie or hanging with friends and family than being out so it’s moulded the way I socialize definitely but it doesn’t really change the way I make beats.” -Ta-ku on not drinking.
HH: So knowing how some other people have to really grind to get somewhere in Hip Hop, how would you explain how you’ve been able to keep a ‘normal’ kind of life?
T: See I don’t know, I know that I can do it but I don’t know how I do it sometimes. There will be times where I have to meet a deadline or finish a remix and it will be done faster than I ever thought I could do it. But I think it’s just about, not so much a confidence in yourself but about relaxing when you do something, not putting yourself under too much pressure and knowing that things need to be done on a certain time… I guess it’s my personality really, I like to keep things time managed and I like to get things done. I don’t like starting projects and not finishing them. I like to maximize the time I have when I am in the studio.
HH: You’ve just returned from Japan, what did you do there?
T: : Japan for me was just a holiday. My 9-5 is pretty hard at times. I work in corporate health insurance so there’s a lot of driving around and a lot of visiting companies. So it was just a holiday and I know a couple of people over there from Red Bull and connected with them but yeah really I went just to eat, drink and shop (chuckles).
HH: Were you into any other elements of hip hop?
T: I was. When I was a kid I used to pop and lock, not well. I used to think I could break dance, not well. But I always used to love all of that… You know I used to tag in my exercise book. But I always loved hip hop. It was a form of expressing yourself in a way that I thought was cool and appropriate to my lifestyle.
HH: When you say music is a hobby to you, does that mean you’re still hard on yourself quality wise?
T: With my production, I have always kept it in the frame of mind that my work is work, my family’s family and my music is my hobby. When I make music I am critical of it, but not so critical that I beat myself up, over think things or don’t put something out… a lot of people have told me at times that my output is too much. But quite frankly I really don’t care because I don’t see anything wrong with putting one thing out every two years or putting music out as you make it.
HH: Are you influenced by what other people say in other aspects of your life?
T: Yeah I am. A lot of people in my family and [people] I look up to say, keep your head down and get it done. So I think I take that with everything I do…There’s going to be goods and bad, bad music but you’ve just got to get on with it .
HH:It’s just music?
T: It’s just music. Like I love music and I don’t ever want to take it too seriously where it becomes a chore.
HH: In your music there are a lot of old school samples. Did you dig for those or did you always love them..
T: Yeah I always loved them, dad always used to play Stylistics, Spinners, you know The Dells. That’s just the sound that I love to make hip hop out of because there’s so much soul in it, so much life, there’s so much character so I would always dig for it electronically and for vinyl.
HH: Do you still contact people to remix or work on music together?
T: Yes definitely, there are a lot of artists I really look up to and would love to be apart of what they do, for instance people like Shigeto. He’s a Japanese-American living in Detroit who makes really good music. I reached out to him saying if he ever needed work done, let’s work
HH: Have you found any negativity in your journey so far?
T: I think the negative is the way people perceive you sometimes. I talk to people and I’m quite open. But the core of me is quite introvert. I am quite shy and so people normally see that as me being a snob and a lot of people take your success as something to be hated on and I’ve had a lot of experiences where people kind if treat you differently if you start to do well and that’s the sad part about it because my philosophy has always been if someone deserves props you give it to them.
HH: So just take the music for what it is?
T: Yeah for what it is, I mean I like pop music as well and people are like ‘aw that dude’s selling out’ or that dude’s making music that’s whack. But if I take it for what it is and give credit where it’s due then don’t let bitter feelings get in the way. That’s one thing I’ve seen a lot in the scene.
HH: Perth, or…
T: I’m sure it resonates globally, but Perth, because it’s so small. It’s there. But Perth is really good as well on the other side… the people that do appreciate you they’re the good people.
HH: So when I wrote the interview you had 15,134 followers on SoundCloud is that something you have nurtured and built up for a reason?
T: Everyday I am amazed and so humbled with the SoundCloud followers. I don’t know where they come from. I don’t know what they’re doing there or…
HH: So you never consciously went out like, ‘I need followers’?
T: No, never. I mean I am not going to lie. I love it when I see more followers and it’s like really inspiring but I’ve never been one to just chase it. With the SoundCloud I am pretty sure it’s just cause the 50 Days For Dilla has become like a playlist for a lot of people. Where they get into work and they just let it run and I am just stoked that people have found me and they’re listening whether they like me or not it’s just nice to have them there.
HH: You made two parts for your 50 Days For Dilla projects. What is it about Dilla that you love so much?
T: I just love the way Dilla makes me feel when I listen to his music. I love the way when I hear a Dilla song I automatically know it’s him and I automatically just get so into it and inspired to make something as well. A lot of people think that, and this is another part of the scene, I used Dilla’s name to increase my popularity but they can think that if they want but for me… if you listen to 50 Days For Dilla, there’s only probably three or four tracks out of the 50 that sound like a Dilla production. The rest is just inspired by him. So it was an inspired project not a copycat.
HH: As someone who began music 12 years ago before this big digital revolution and the internet, how would you say that’s changed hip hop?
T: I think for the best. I mean I was never a hands on guy, never owned an MPC or SPC it was always digital. So I love the way the digital software and things like that have opened doors for me. And I love to see how it’s opening doors for other kids for instance XXYYXX, he’s 16 years old and using Fruity Loops.
HH: How do you think it’s changed the way people consume music, do you think they just need to catch on to these things ?
T: Yeah I mean people need to find what they like and search for it. People think there’s an influx and an overflow of music and I don’t see why they see or feel that as a bad thing. More music in the world is definitely not a negative. And if you think that it’s over flooded with a lot of crap music or a lot of whack music it’s obviously not of your taste so just don’t listen to it, you know.
HH: Obviously it’s created a shift and pop charts can’t tell people what they like now, they can find it themselves…
T: I mean that’s a good thing as well cause record labels…it’s hard with a record label they have to be nimble and they have to be smart with their money therefore they get a bit conniving sometimes but you have to because it’s a business.Now that people are veering away from labels and releasing things for free it gives people more productive and more creative freedom than they ever had.
HH: Ok so, you are quite structured in your life, for a musician. It’s quite rare you know. How do feel when you see other people not make it because they don’t have this kind of discipline?
T: In general terms if someone doesn’t make it… without sounding cliché you have to work hard. Like your music can speak for itself to a certain extent but you still have to work really hard for it to be heard. You have to talk to the right people, know where the right avenues are and I think music, if you want to be an artists you have to also be aware of how you market yourself and what strategies you take. Because you can have the best EP but you might not have the channels to get it heard. So it’s about not giving up and noticing what the pattern and what the trends of music are. It’s really important I think.
HH: So in saying that, though you didn’t intentionally go out and try and get followers, you were smart about it?
T: Yeah I mean over the time I just, I was really conscious of who I talk to and where I send my music and where my music could be heard in larger volumes. I wouldn’t say smart because everyone’s got the ability to do it, you just have to be aware of your surroundings and what you’re capable of too. There’s a lot of people that I look up to that I know, realistically, I will never be at their level. But you use what you have and you make the most of it.
HH: So who are you signed with?
T: Well with signees there’s a bunch of labels that I have album deals with so HW&W, I’m actually part owner of that one, Soulection, I’m part of that collective, Project Moon Circle in Germany and recently actually I won’t say that yet…cause it hasn’t happened…yet…But possibly a deal with Mushroom Records.
HH:What would that do though?
T: So publishers really push your music into the corporate sector or into television and movies and that’s really where the money is regardless if I am making music or not, no one can tell you that they’re not going to be happy by not making money off their music. So this is a big opportunity for me to provide for my family and my future.
HH: What is your definition of success?
T: Just to be happy. It’s cliché but it’s true and I don’t gauge my success by my music I gauge with how comfortable or how happy I am with myself and my current life.
HH: As a beat maker producer. How do you feel about beats released without lyrics?
T: I love it. Not taking anything away from a vocalist or an emcee but without the beat they’d have nothing. They’d be a poet or an a capella artists. A lot of people think that production is important but it is essential and I think a lot of emcees take that for granted with the way they deal with a lot beat makers and producers. But I love it. I love that beat makers are standing and making success for themselves on their own, not in the back ground.
HH: What defines a good beat maker to you? What defines a good beat?
T: To me a good beat is a beat that I play twice, that I repeat. And it can be anything But to break it down, mainly it’s got to be catchy and make me want to listen to it again.
HH: What about the technical side?
T: See that’s the thing, technicality doesn’t come into it at all. You can be a beginner and still make something that’s really, really got a lot of feeling and soul so I think technicalities the last thing. Of course, when you’re looking at it, technicality can improve a track but it doesn’t have to.
HH: Do you want to say in Perth with your music?
T: I think so. I love Perth. I’d like to travel the world but I’d love just to work out of my bedroom for the rest of my life [laughs].
HH: Do you still live with your parents?
T: Yeah, it’s me, my mum and my little sister.
HH: So what role does family play in your life then?
T: It’s a big role I mean Dad’s not really there so I look after my little sister like I’m her father. And that’s been an experience , both happy and tough but family plays a huge part because it’s the main part of my life and if that fell apart everything else would too. Where as if music fell apart family would still be there and everything else would still be there.
HH: Taking on the role of dad at such a young age, how did it shape your view of the world, considering it’s such a responsibility?
T: I think it just makes you more responsible and it makes you take things for what they are. You see things a bit more in black and white. You find yourself a lot more comfortable with yourself. It’s hard to explain when you’re looking after a kid that making sure they grow up to be alright is pretty much the only thing in your mind. Where as if you’re single you’ve got heaps of stuff to think about. You know you’ve got should I go out tonight, should I have something to drink, should I text this guy, or I mean this girl! But yeah when it comes to family, if that’s going good, then everything else is a bonus.
HH: In terms of that responsibility would you say it contributes to your life structure and work ethic?
T: Yeah I am a religious person too. So that goes without saying that I live a pretty regimented life where I don’t really drink alcohol, I never take drugs but if you want to do that stuff you can but that’s just not for me at all.
HH: Have you found that clash, your religion and hip hop?
T: At times I have, for instance right now, (the bar is packed and there is a girl’s bum placed so close to our faces it’s a little awkward..he laughs). But yeah when you go to these places there’s a lot of drinking, there’s a lot of this stuff. That’s why I don’t go out that much and people can take that for what it is but I’d rather be at home watching a good movie or hanging with friends and family than being out so it’s moulded the way I socialize definitely but it doesn’t really change the way I make beats.
HH: In other interviews it’s been mentioned that you’re very shy on stage it was said, ‘really bad things happen’…
T: Terrible things happen. I love people and I am a very people person and I’m very open and I get along with people but when it comes to performing, music especially, I hate it. I get so nervous and if I stuff up, even a little bit, it just snow balls until I run off on stage. It’s not for me. I’m not a performer.
HH: So you have to turn down a lot of gigs because of it?
T: Yeah, a lot of great gigs that I would love to do but I know that when the night would come Id be kicking myself that I accepted it you know, Hudson Mohawke and Rusty, Madlib. I turned them down because I know I’m not going to give my all. I’m gonna get really shy, really nervous and I’d rather someone else come along who I know is going to give it a 100% and put on a good show. Because I don’t think people want to pay money to see a guy shaking and sweating on stage.
HH: When you speak about yourself, it’s like you’ve got no ego in there at all…
T: It’s just the way I was brought up is to just never take yourself too seriously and never think that you’re better than someone else because there’s a million people out there that can do a lot better things than you can and I just never understood why people get caught up in their egos because humans are so fragile and humans are so imperfect, I guess, no one is perfect. I might make beats that people like but I know there’s someone out there making better music or whatever. But for me it’s just about …I don’t know..I don’t get egos and stuff like that. Like when I feel good about myself I eat a lot, (laughs). That’s pretty much all I do . I love food but I don’t like bigging myself up too much. It’s not me.
HH: When I wrote the interview you’d posted a picture on Facebook of Aaliyah and Drake and the song he had with her. You wrote yeah not this guy or whatever….What is it about artists like Drake that grate you the wrong way?
T: See that’s the thing a lot of people think I put that up cause I was hating on Drake- I love Drake, I really do and people are going to hate me for that but I don’t care. I don’t like that he’s working with her because she’s dead and she is like probably the #1 female R&B vocalist of all time to me, besides all the divas like Whitney and all that and I don’t like those after death albums and collaborations at all.
HH: So you aren’t one of the critics that think commercialism has killed hip hop?
T: Oh yeah definitely I think commercialism….I don’t know… I admire people who are making millions of dollars for rapping. You know for just rapping over music that kids like and you can take it two ways, you can say hip hop died because these people are making money, or you can say that hip hop died because the fans don’t like that they’re making money. Why would you blame an artist for making money off something they love and it’s their music so who gives you the right to be critical of something they make. Especially for Drake like, good on him, he’s a money-making machine.
HH: What is it bout hip hop that you love so much?
T: Just the way it makes me feel. Especially the music. I mean breaking and all that flew out the window a long time ago but the way it makes me feel. From commercial hip hop to R&B to even pop music to ambient to folk, I mean hip hop has that driving force and that energy behind it that makes you really inspired and have a love for life. But that’s me personally and anyone else that likes hip hop.
HH: A therapy?
T: Music was something I’d always play when I was falling asleep it was like my night-light. And it’s only recently I’ve just stopped doing that. I can’t go to sleep with anything on but it’s always around. Music reminds you of things, it brings back memories, it’s nostalgic. Yeah it’s great.
HH: What element of yourself do you always put into your music and hope that people see?
T: I just hope they see that I put a lot of soul into it. I’ve hit up artists on Twitter and email saying this song got me through a really tough time and this song really reminds me of when I was a kid and that’s the kind if thing I want my listeners to take away. I want my music to remind them of something or to spark something and that’s the thing that really buzzes me. When someone hits me up and says man your music has me through a tough time or I really dig this song because it does such and such it’s just the way I see people react to it really.
HH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’s want people to know?
T: I think it’s for anyone out there that’s like making beats is, and this is tough coming from me, but don’t be shy about it. Put it out, because you don’t know who’s going to hear it. Pass it around. Even do the old school method of passing tapes to people you know radio stations and things like that. There’s a lot of beat makers out there that are so good but don’t believe in their own music and that’s sad, cause no ones going to hear it then.That’s why I’m starting a record label this year because I’m picking people who I see have such life changing music but don’t know how to put it out or they just don’t want to and I’m going to push then to do that.
Follow Ta-ku on his SoundCloud HERE
Cover Image courtesy of Matsu Photography