Self-Portrait: HAGAN

Percussion has always been an important part of Hagan‘s musical upbringing. From a youth spent drumming with various kitchen utensils to picking the drum as his main instrument in the church band, it’s no wonder it plays such a central role in his productions today.

Grounded in the UK bass-heavy sounds of his home, he marries these with African polyrhythms in homage to his Ghanian roots, bringing his own distinct energy to several labels over the last few years.

His explorations have materialised on releases for the likes of Gobstopper Records, Jamz Supernova’s Future Bounce and Push & Run, while more recently he contributed to Python Syndicate’s Free Borga project, a music and fashion capsule compilation which brought together artists of dual heritage from the African continent and the West.

For his Self-Portrait mix he gives us a window into the different pockets of his sound, moving from smooth, melodic rhythms through to the weighty, dynamic bass cuts he’s become synonymous with. This sits alongside an interview about his love of rhythm, collaborating with Sango and what’s in store for 2021.

Free Borga is out now – grab your copy from Python Syndicate.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

I remember this so clearly. It was my sixth birthday party and my mum had just bought me a kid’s electric guitar with the amp and microphone; the full package. Red and white guitar body with a very cool strap. I don’t know who I thought I was but at the time, I thought I was going to be a child rockstar. All of a sudden, I remember that for some reason the guitar went back in the shed. That resulted in playing drums with my hands along to songs I’d hear around me. I think this grew my love for rhythm and after a while I started using cooking utensils around me for my drums which was stressful for my mum on occasions!

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

I was deeply into music from a young age. At home, my uncle, who was a DJ, used to live with my mum, sister and me. I remember seeing his sound system in his room and always trying to be around when he turned it on. Later on, when he moved out and I was sixteen, I shadowed him by following him to his gigs and assisting with the set up. That soon turned into me taking over the warm up sets and that was my entry point into DJ’ing.

Back in primary school I was part of the chamber choir which is so funny to even think of now because there is nothing special about my voice today! I also knew from early on that I loved rhythm, so I started a percussion band with four members. It got to the point where we were asked to even perform and create music for the end of year school plays. That experience ultimately carried me to secondary school where I joined the music club, studied music as one of my GCSEs and used my Djembe to perform my practical assessment.

Even at church I remember seeing drums for the first time as a small child and wanting to play that, so it wasn’t a coincidence that it became my instrument of choice when I joined the church band at sixteen. 

What led you into music production?

At the age of 14, I had a program on my computer called Music Maker by Magix. It was essentially a bunch of loops that you arrange together to create music but that was my entry point into understanding electronic music, DAW workflow and sample manipulation. Once I was comfortable with that, my mum surprised me with FL Studio 6 on my sixteenth birthday. Every day without fail, I studied the different functions of the program, created some tracks I still think were pretty decent for a novice and watched as many videos as I could find about music production. I started building up a sample library full of sounds, especially drums. Gradually, as the samples began to grow, so did the quality in my drum beats.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

I grew up listening to Ghanaian artists like Gyedu Ambolley, Ebo Taylor, Daddy Lumba, Ofori Amponsah and more. Artists like Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire were also getting heavy plays.

I’m certain taking in those sounds influenced my production style. I’ve been inspired by producers like Neptunes, J Dilla, Timbaland, Ryan Leslie and Appetius in the past for their ability to create distinctive sounds for their music. When you hear music produced by those mentioned, you know straightaway. 

This is exactly what I see in some of the producers that influence me today such as Sango, Sampha, Juls, Lil Silva, Swindle, Sons of Sonix, Scracha DVA, DJ Lag, Black Coffee and Black Motion to name a few. They’ve all created individual and inimitable sounds that they’re known for and they have all greatly influenced the sound you hear from me today which is constantly evolving!

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?

I don’t think I have set rituals, but I have things I may do if I reach a moment of writer’s block. I may listen to a lot music that inspires me or sounds from a scene I’m trying to understand more of. Sometimes when I open Ableton I might not make music. Instead, I’d just work on creating new sounds with my plugins or I might search through my sample library and pick out samples for another time. On other occasions I’ll go on YouTube and search for samples and inspiration to do with a particular scene; sometimes even tutorials just to keep the skillset updated. 

Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

When I first started producing, it was always the drums that I started first because I used to have so many drum patterns in my head. I think as I’ve stopped playing as much, so has my approach to starting off a jam. So now it’s quite varied. If I have a melody in mind, then I may start with that but sometimes a drum sample might trigger an idea and I’d construct something through that. 

Are you the type of producer to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

It’s a mixture for me if I’m honest. Sometimes I like to take my time and really craft out the music, especially with my drums and arrangement. However, I understand that’s not always feasible. Plus, I’ve noticed that some of the tracks I’ve quickly produced have been some of my most popular!

How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

The majority of it is original but I’d like to explore further how I could use more samples. I feel like that’ll open up a different side to my music!

What’s the most important bits of kit that make a HAGAN track?

Most of the time I use Ableton to produce so I’ve created various drum kits full of my favourite drum samples, vocal cuts and percussion. The kits help to with creating a faster working process for me. Most of my tracks are also bass-heavy. So in order to get that strong low end, I use Serum to design some of the basses, Camel Crusher for distortion and Waves Renaissance Bass for harmonics. I’m using Aturia V Collection to emulate some of the analogue sounds but whenever I get the opportunity to play on some analogue gear, I incorporate hardware synths like the Prophet 08 and the Juno 106. I’m starting to use more live instrumentation as well. I feel like live instruments shape your sound in ways electronic music can’t and the combination generates a rich spectrum of sound.

This mix is comprised of 100% original HAGAN material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

This mix does a good job of demonstrating how wide-ranging my sound has become. It starts off fairly smooth with tracks heavily chords orientated and becomes increasingly bass focused as the mix goes on. The track I produced with Sango is special to me because I consider him to be a big inspiration for me. Collaborating on the track, ‘Espírito Santo’, and having that feature on his album was a big thing for me this year.

Anything on the horizon for you? Any releases we should know about?

There’s a lot being planned for next year. For now, I’m just in the planning stage so I’m trying to understand how all of these demo tracks I’ve got can be packed as impactful releases. My goal is to collaborate more in 2021 with vocalists, musicians and producers. 

Hagan – Bobby
Hagan – Trib3s
VIP – Ahomka Womu (Hagan Edit)
Hagan – Coastline
Ngaio – Green Eyed Queen (Hagan Remix)
Saiyon – Getting High (Hagan Remix)
Hagan – Tropics
Hagan – ??
Sango Feat Hagan – Espírito Santo
Kondi Band – Belle Wahalah (Hagan Remix)
Hagan feat Gafacci – Yenko
Hagan – Asantewaa
Hagan – Right Here
Hagan – Volta
Bisa Kdei – Over (Hagan Edit)
Hagan – Ashanti Riddim
Hagan – Detect
Hagan – Waves
Hagan – Shape Shift
Hagan – Splash
Hagan – On Sight
Hagan – Talking Drum
Hagan – Ultra
Afriquoi – AcidAttack (Hagan Remix)

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