Self-Portrait: Deep Aztec

In recent years Cape Town has become a breeding ground for a new wave of producers cooking up deep house music — Deep Aztec is one of them. His warm, groove-laden electronics have taken him to a wealth of labels including Watergate, Nervous Records and Get Physical Music, as well as his own freshly launched MFENGU RECORDS, which is the home of his debut album, Healing Frequencies.

Ahead of what’s looking to be a busy year of releases and projects, he treats us to a mix of predominantly unreleased original material, including a few tracks from his new album and a special edit made back in 2015 that marks the moment he truly found his musical voice. This sits alongside an interview about his approach to production and his creative processes.

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

My earliest memory is singing along to Biggie Smalls ‘Hypnotize’. NOT that I had a choice. My uncle would constantly blast the track early in the morning, to the point I even knew the lyrics. Still, I will always thank him for introducing me to Hip Hop.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

I used to take piano lessons growing up. Unfortunately, I didn’t own a piano, making it difficult for me to put in those practice hours at home. The only time I’d play was when I was at the lesson. I was also very active at church; I sang in the choir and had my own acapella group.

What led you into music production?

Nothing but the love for music. Also, having been exposed to and being surrounded by music from a young age. That inspired and gave me all the motivation to make my own music and find my own voice.

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

Larry Heard is definitely at the top of my list. My debut release was a tribute to the OG! I have so much love and respect for him.

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

I always make sure I exercise before hitting the studio. That helps me get into my trance and keeps my creative juices flowing. Also, my studio is at home which makes life much easier, haha. Oh yes, I can’t afford not to have a cup of coffee before going into the studio. That’s my ritual.

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

Not at all, everything I do is improvised. I randomly hum a melody or keep singing the hook that I’ve got stuck in my head while jamming keys. I go where the music takes me.

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?

I don’t know if it’s possible to be both? I’m definitely a perfectionist, and I’m also often happy with first takes. It took me two years to be satisfied with the mixdown of the main track of my album. I am not doing that again, though!

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?

The gear I use to make music is the same gear I use for my performances. I love jamming and being active in the studio, and therefore interacting with the computer less when creating.

I always have a standard kick that will guide the jam and loop as I go along using the APC40 MKII. I use the Roland EM-20 to record my hats, drum fills and claps. There’s some pretty cool presets on this baby. After recording drums, I move on to chord progression. For that, I use the Roland EM-20/ the microKORG XL. After tracking the keys, I track the bass and I use the ol’ faithful microKORG XL.

Once I have the basic idea, I record my hook and start arranging. When I’m happy with the arrangement, I mix and then sprinkle the fairy dust, aka my synth leads.

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

I have more original music than sample-based music. Also, I don’t want to be using the same samples as the other producers. I record a lot of my drums using the Roland EM-20. I don’t like working in MIDI. Gimme that audio!

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

I’m a sucker for drums that SWING, jazzy chord progressions and a groovy bass line. Not forgetting my signature synth leads. I LOVE THOSE!

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

This mix is mostly unreleased raw tracks, a few tracks from my album and my release on Closer To Truth. Towards the end of the mix, you will hear the edit of “RAMP – Daylight” I made in 2015, which I made for my first live sets. This edit is very special to me. It reminds me of the time I was diving into the deep end and finding my own voice.

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

I am excited to be gigging in Rotterdam soon at Africa Rising Afro Deep House Extravaganza. I’ve got quite a lot of music waiting to be released, and I’m looking forward to releasing more music on my new label, MFENGU RECORDS. I’ve also got a few collaborations in the works with Hyenah, Boogie Vice, Lazarusman & Thor Rixon.

I’m also currently doing some official re-works/remixes of three classics which I’m not going to mention yet, but it’s HUGE. There’s quite a lot to look forward to, yeah!

1) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
2) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
3) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
4) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
5) Deep Aztec – Funk Sssh Up [Closer To Truth]
6) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
7) Deep Aztec – Believing What’s On Your Mind [MFENGU RECORDS]
8) Deep Aztec – Vibes Never Lie [Closer To Truth]
9) Deep Aztec feat. L Speaks – Land Of The Kings [MFENGU RECORDS]
10) RAMP – Daylight (Deep Aztec 2015 Edit)
11) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
12) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
13) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]
14) Deep Aztec – Untitled [Unreleased]

Healing Frequencies is out now on Mfengu Records.

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