Moscow-based producer Chuck Upbeat has carved out a niche for global bass music in Russia, exposing open-minded audiences to his unique blend of baile funk, kuduro, UK funky, and more . The producer’s prolific output spans a wide spectrum of genres, drawing influences from blogs and SoundCloud pages across the world. Along with his musical partner Groove Daddy, Chuck has established Midget Ninja Soundsystem, a collective that is championing an underground dance subculture the two have deemed “Soviet bass.”
Today we’re premiering the producer’s The Ritual EP, a project which arrives May 25 via Lisbon-based label Enchufada. The two-track EP begins with the title track, which features syncopated percussion that draws from kuduro and baile funk, but escalates the influences to a footwork-esque frenzy. On the flip side is “Sunrise Syndrome,” a UK funky influenced joint that features lush synths and tumbling afro-house inspired percussion.
We also had a chance to ask Chuck Upbeat a couple questions about the project over email. Read the interview and stream the project in full below.
Mass Appeal: What is the dance music scene like in Russia?
Concerning mainstream EDM club music, we have everything that you can hear anywhere else in the world. Expensive clubs, lots of bars with mashup style DJing and things like that. In regards to the global bass and tropical bass scene, it’s not that big. We’ve got hipsters who prefer more indie, hip hop or trap music, and we’ve got dancers who love dancehall and twerk. We’ve also got junglists who still listen to wikkid ragga jungle chunez, but tropical bass and global bass music is not that popular yet. Though people who come across the music as a rule never leave it. I know it for sure being a blogger of Tropical Bass Russia. It is always pretty expensive to promote something and advertise a blog so the process takes some time but when you catch peoples attention they give you feedback.
Is there a particular scene you identify with? I’ve seen “Soviet Bass” mentioned.
Soviet bass is absolutely a part of global bass music in Russia. Me and Groove Daddy actually started this thing. And then the whole Midget Ninjas Soundsystem crew influenced the three albums and singles we’ve put out thus far. We wanted Russia to be spotted in the scene as a contributor. We were thinking about what could define Russian influence, and decided that Soviet musical and cultural heritage is the best thing for it. It can be understood both by foreigners and by Russians.
Why the tropical influences in the music? They come in stark contrast to the climate of Russia with influences from baile funk, Baltimore Club, etc.
It all started when me and Groove Daddy were experimenting with mixing Baltimore Club and baile funk. Not an easy thing to do, but we loved how those two genres sound together. We also added funk, some dancehall. At that time we were organizing events in Moscow clubs and looking for a good name for an event. And then we came across “tropical bass” blog. We loved how “tropical bass” sounds, and then found out the philosophy of the genre—to mix all electronic dance stuff with tropical flavor. It was practically the same thing that we were doing, and we just found out the fusion actually had a name. Since that time we began to discover more and more genres including cumbia, kuduro, merengue, and moombahton. As for me, I’m from tropical Sochi. The climate there is actually sub-tropical, but nevertheless we’ve got palm trees, banana trees, beaches, and a wet season instead of snowy winter. I grew up there so tropical thing is in my blood no doubt.
What are some of your sonic inspirations?
I love to discover music. I can spend hours searching for something interesting on blogs or SoundCloud. I love to travel, but unfortunately I don’t have enough money to do it very often. I like to discover new cultures, local art and stuff like this. Since I work in the global scene, understanding and discovering foreign cultures is definitely a cornerstone of good production.
How do Russian crowds respond to your brand of dance music?
Russian crowds have a problem with foreign languages. Not many Russians are really good with English, French or any other languages. That means discovering something new and understanding foreign cultures sometimes is pretty difficult for people, but those who manage to be open-minded become a part of the crowd and love global bass music and music we produce with Midget Ninjas crew. About two years ago we didn’t have much feedback, but now we’ve got lots of people involved. Some of the readers of our blog are now moderators of it, and they have something to show others. They find lots of stuff, and they want to be a part of it. Things are growing with our blog, but not so much with clubs due to the economic crisis in Russia. There’s also a club business crisis in Russia, and though we still have some places to hang out at there aren’t that many.
Midget Ninjas Soundsystem is an insane name. How did you come up with that in conjunction with Groove Daddy?
We came across each other on an early Russian analogue version of Soundcloud called promodj.ru. There were different genres and DJs, but Groove Daddy was the only one who played baile funk and I was the only one who played and produced Baltimore club music. All other DJs mixed electro house, hip hop, drum & bass, and so on. We decided to meet for a DJ set, then decided to make our own events and founded a promo group called “Midget Ninjas Soundsystem”. It’s a good name for an English speaking listener, but an awful one for a Russian speaker. No one can pronounce it correctly, but that’s part of the fun!
What’s the wildest thing that has happened at one of your gigs?
We had a Midget Ninjas Soundsystem birthday gig and invited a real midget. I asked him to put on a Mexican wrestler mask, and though the crowd wasn’t ready for this we still had fun. I played kuduro in a former monastery and that was really crazy. We also had real Brazilian natives with drums at our very first Tropical Bass party. They arrived in Moscow for a ritual concert, and we booked them for a 10-minute performance in the club. No one actually understood what was going on. They wanted to show a ritual, but it was a night club and at 3:00 a.m., all the crowd wanted to do was dance so they had to dance with the people. They liked it though, because in the end they spent much more then 10 minutes on the stage and had fun.
Favorite venue to play in Russia and why?
Myata club. They have a perfect soundsystem, a perfect dancefloor, and a perfect bar. The owners are VIA THE ROBOTS, and they took part in Soviet bass project with Funk Globo by Mr. Bongo label. But I also like playing at unexpected spaces. It depends on the atmosphere and sound, and the space doesn’t necessarily have to be a night club or a bar.
What equipment do you produce with?
I produce on a HP laptop, use Fruity Loops for production, and use Virtual DJ for playing sets. As you can see nothing to boast of, as I don’t use a Mac or Ableton or Serato. When I started to play gigs, I played on a cheap and old HP laptop, and it worked well enough to play a set in front of 800 people during primetime. I use those things to get what I want, FL Studio gives me a tool to produce things and experiment with the music. Virtual DJ gives me an opportunity to work with tracklists and search for tracks during a live set. I know the majority of DJs and producers would say I use shitty software, but I don’t give a damn.
How did you end up releasing on Enchufada?
I had some tracks especially produced for Enchufada. I wasn’t going to offer them to any other labels. It was a big stroke of luck that Enchufada loved those tracks. I love the moments when a crazy idea becomes a reality. Yesterday you weren’t sure they gonna like it, and today you’ve got a letter that says, “Hi, we love the tracks, let’s release them”. Another idea became reality!