A master of music and sonic innovator, Canada’s very own OAKK is changing the bass music game. The Calgary native has spent the last year pumping out heat-packed EP’s, and jaw-dropping singles. As if that wasn’t enough, he also made an international move to Madrid and started fine-tuning his animation skills. A jack-of-all-trades, OAKK is filling shoes that have never been worn before.
Traversing nearly every genre, OAKK’s music stands as some of the most boundary-pushing selections in the scene today. We are honored to have been able to sit down and pick his brain about everything from his inspirations to his creative processes, as well as some first-hand insight into his most recent EP, Leash.
Katie Miller, Electric Hawk: For anyone new to you and your work, tell us a little bit about you!
Cole Tam, OAKK: Hi new people! My name is OAKK, I am 27 years old from Calgary, Canada but now I live in Madrid; I like to cook, eat food, and I also make music in my spare time.
KM: Your sound design is so impressively distinct! What got you into production in the first place, and how did you manage to find your sound?
OAKK: Thanks! I would say my best sound design tool is knowing when to use restraint. The craziest bass sound is not always the best choice. Knowing when and where to showcase that skill is a skill in its own right.
I was a big hip-hop head and R&B lover in high school and have played guitar since I was 10. My parents saw that I hated everything except drawing and music. They really supported me and nudged me into exploring my creative side (shout out Mom and Dad)! They got me my first drum machine in grade 10, and I started making really shitty beats. I started going to raves shortly after and got very heavily into UK dubstep, jungle, drum and bass, and dancehall. The more I got into the scene, the more I decided, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.” From that point on, I’ve made beats pretty much every day.
While we’re talking music, make sure to check out OAKK’s In Rotation playlist! Get a glimpse into his personal music library.
OAKK: As for my sound, it formed naturally. I always knew I wanted to fuse my love for hip-hop and R&B with my love for experimental electronic music without it sounding specifically like a certain genre. There are a few things I keep in the back of my head when I’m working on music. It needs to have a groove; if I’m not nodding my head or wanting to move to the beat, I know it’s trash. I like to make music people can dance to and not just bang their heads. That’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but just not for me. I heavily rely on vocal samples or using my own vocals to fill the frequency range and add a human element. I think that’s why a lot of people gravitate towards my “sound.”
I’m trying to do that less and experiment with other sounds and ideas. Also, I’m working on more music with verses, choruses, and bridges as opposed to vocal chops. My sound is just a hip-hop/R&B groove, simple bassline, and pretty sounds or vocals layered into that. I use a lot of dissonance techniques when writing off-notes, relative majors/minors, and start things very minimally. It creates a dark sound palette, and I resolve it later in the track with chord progressions and melodies; it’s satisfying for listeners and seems more complex than it is.
KM: Tell us about Leash, what is this project about? How did it come together for you?
OAKK: When I was writing the lead single, “Leash,” I was trying to emulate textures that had both physical and visual characteristics. In my head, I was thinking about rubber, latex, and leather, and what sounds inherently come to mind when I think of those things. Slapping, spanking, biting, and grip all came to mind. With that, my personal exploration of my own sexuality became a sort of theme for the project. Those ideas were running through my head when putting together the other tracks, and they all formed naturally with this industrial, rough-sounding tone to them. It’s rare for cis men to express their desires when it comes to their sexuality. It’s something I’ve been wanting to share in my creative outlets, as well as in my personal life.
The artwork itself is an abstract representation of these ideas: a latex torus shape that is a bit phallic, but not so on the nose that it slaps you in the face; you still have to think about it a bit. We started calling it the “kinky donut.” Shout out to my good friend, Shaun Lodestar (AKA HOMESICK), who I worked with for the visual identity for the project!
KM: Do you have a particular track that’s your favorite?
OAKK: I really love “Leash” because it’s so wildly different than anything I’ve ever made. I love the way the track flows throughout and just bangs. “Cavern” is a close second. It’s dark, and a real slow burner that I really can’t wait to play out on a big festival stage soon. “Tunnel Vision” is sick too; I like them all!
KM: So you moved to Madrid over the last year, how are you liking it? Has it been hard to adjust to living in Europe? Do you miss anything about home?
OAKK: I love it so much! I was needing a big change and challenge for myself this past year, and I think this was exactly what I needed. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Between the language barrier, cultural differences, and lockdown isolation, it was a true test of my will and mental strength. For the first 3 months, I felt I might’ve made a mistake. But now, I feel like a phoenix rising through the ashes. It’s so amazing here. My Spanish still sucks, but I’m super happy to be living here now. Hopefully, I can experience the Spanish music scene and nightlife soon, which is a big part of why I wanted to come here.
This is so North American of me, but I miss my dryer and king-size bed. Nothing hits like sheets fresh out of the dryer and having the best sleep. Drying bed sheets on a clothesline is not my vibe, and a bed bigger than a double is rare here. I’m tall, and so is my partner; we don’t fit on the bed together, and now sleep is a chore. Obviously, I miss my family and friends, but mostly the bed.
KM: You have released so many amazing singles and EP’s over the past year. Did you find that, with everything coming to a halt, it was easier to make music?
OAKK: Thank you! I wouldn’t say easier, but I definitely had a lot more time to be creating music. I tried to focus my time on learning new things or picking up old hobbies (guitar, drawing), which took a back seat when I started producing. Now, I’m making more hip-hop and R&B tracks for other artists, and some indie-sounding songs. I definitely got more inspired to try out new sounds and ways of making music that I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t have all the time at home.
KM: What are you most looking forward to with the return of live music, outside of being able to perform again?
OAKK: My favorite thing about going to a new city to perform is getting to try all the food spots that I have on my list. I had planned to go to LA a week before Lightning in a Bottle last year to try all the top burger spots and decide which was my favorite. I also miss the connection of being in a crowd with new people and sharing that experience, but mostly, I just want to do my burger tour of LA.
KM: What is your favorite performance? Do you have any events or venues that you just can’t get enough of?
OAKK: I’d say my Boiler Room set at Bass Coast 2019 was my favorite performance. It was a culmination of being surrounded by my close friends, the high-energy crowd, and my dad texting me partway through the set saying he was watching it with my mom and their pup. Bass Coast is my favorite festival, and they’ve supported me since early on in my career. They’re a huge part of why I started getting some recognition beyond my local scene. If I wasn’t booked to perform there, that’s one festival I would definitely still attend. The vibe, curation, diversity, and intimate setting are all the reasons why I just absolutely love it!
KM: When you’re not producing, who are some of your favorite artists to listen to? Do you have anything specific on replay right now?
OAKK: I’ll answer this in two parts because I want to share some music I’ve been loving lately that I would play out in my sets, but then I’ll answer what I would listen to at home. Ivy Lab has been crushing out releases since the fall, and they’re all fire. DÆMON x Xzavier Stone x Modulaw have also been steadily releasing rap bangers that I can’t get enough of. Music from SIM, Ouri, Rico Nasty, Sicaria Sound, Deft, Lewis James, and Hypho, as well.
As for stuff I’m listening to, I’ve listened to Men I Trust almost every day for the last month; their music calms my stress and anxiety. “Rainforest” by Noname (produced by The Kount), and “Jealous” by Mahalia and Rico Nasty are on repeat, too.
KM: We saw that you’ve been sharing a lot of your graphics and animations lately. Is that a new creative outlet for you, or something that you’ve been working on for a while?
OAKK: I’ve been honing in on my 2D animation skills lately. I’ve been working professionally as a designer and motion graphics artist for the last 5 years, and I have my bachelor’s degree in graphic design. I worked at an agency for a few years before I moved to Madrid. When I moved, I decided to jump fully into the world of freelance! I regretted it for the first few months. Now I have a steady client base, and I’m chillin’.
KM: What are your aspirations for graphics? Are you hoping to merge music, graphic art, and create your own visuals, etc.?
OAKK: Absolutely! I’ve already started blending the two worlds together and made visuals for shows. I do all of my own design and visual identity for the project. Ideally, I would have a whole A/V performance with stage design and lighting rigs one day. Obviously, that is a long time in the future. But, yes, I’m constantly thinking about what that could look like!
KM: Aside from the obvious inability to play shows, what have you found most challenging about being an artist during the pandemic?
OAKK: The constant battle of not feeling motivated, but then being so hard on myself for not wanting to work on music. I really had to learn to just sit back and relax sometimes, and not pressure myself into this weird idea that we all have; the need to constantly be creating and thinking about the next step. It’s very unhealthy. It’s ok to take breaks and relax without feeling guilty. It’s something that didn’t exist in my head before the pandemic.
If you’re new to OAKK and his music, take some time to peruse his discography. Spanning everything from masterful reworks of some of today’s hottest tracks, to mind-bending originals that dive into new musical depths, there is something for every listener to love in his catalog.
Listen to OAKK’s most recent offering, Leash, right here.
Looking for new music? Keep up with our weekly Spotify Playlist, Fresh Hunts. Updated every Friday with all the latest releases. Whether it’s the newest drops from OAKK, all your favorite artists, some old-school, or underground – we just want you to hear it.
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