Get to know Skorpion: an exciting new talent based in San Francisco who’s emerged in recent years on labels and platforms such as Stonx, Deeper DNB, Full Send DNB and indeed this very platform with his track The Shadows on our 1 More Tune Vol 1 free download album.
Now comes his first ever official full-length mix. Entirely comprised of his own productions, remixes and edits – some made specifically for this mix and so fresh they’re not even titled! – Skorpion shows what he’s truly capable of across the full tempo and genre spectrum.
From face-melting neuro to grizzly, curmudgeonly breaks to smoking, emotion-heavy 808 funk, it’s an impressive and beguiling trip that showcases Skorpion’s skills and what he has in store in 2023. So fresh he’s yet to play his first live club performance, we caught up with Skorpion (real name Jake Swartzel) to discuss the mix, his dual life as a Yale graduate chemist, how he’s overcome severe hearing impairment to pursue his dream and the pretty brutal way he got his artist alias. Let’s just say it’s a stinger.
You’re a PhD graduate in Chemistry. I can’t help but have some Breaking Bad or wild scientist synthesising LSD type of thoughts right now. Sorry to stereotype!
Haha, I can’t lie. Breaking Bad was definitely an influence in my decision to pursue the science. Psychedelia and being in tune with your own intuition and understanding the pattern of the universe is also something that inspired me to become a scientist and explore those things more deeply. Spending the last five years at Yale getting my PhD in chemistry has enabled me to fundamentally understand these biological processes but also provided me a unique perspective on the physics and science behind music, harmony, and feeling.
Love that. How do you apply those studies now?
Now my job is working on cancer drugs for a biotech company so it’s also nice to be able to see some fruitful benefit of all that labour and work towards something that can extend people’s lives and give them more time with their family. It motivates me to spend time on things creatively as well, like working on music which is something I never thought I’d do.
Woah music is something you thought you’d never do?
No definitely not. I’m almost half deaf in my left ear. I love going to music events and always wear earplugs but never thought I’d be able to take the plunge into production myself. For any producers reading, what I have essentially have a -60db shelf EQ at 1000hz in my left ear. So I lose all that snap in the snare and hi hat isn’t there for me. I wear a hearing aid when I do my final mixing so I can hear the stereo image properly.
Wow. Were you born with this?
Yeah but I didn’t find out until I was in fifth grade and I turned my head so the teacher could speak into my right ear. I didn’t know I had hearing loss, it was all I was used to. But that’s when we realised. Fortunately I have a hearing aid which helps me in day to day life and making music. I keep levels low and I take care of my hearing.
Of course. So music must be incredibly strong to draw you in, despite your half deafness?
Yeah. I’m very passionate about things and pursue them to the fullest extent but with music I’d held back for so long even though I’ve loved it since the beginning, growing up in the late 90s with hip hop and RnB. Then in the late 2000s I heard Noisia and Liquid Stranger. Those two acts changed my life. I was amazed you could inspire raw emotion from instrumental music with no lyrics. That’s what got me interested… Like, how do you make these sounds? And from a physics level, the frequencies and amplitude of the waves and all of these things made sense to me scientifically. It looked fun to apply myself and got into it. Then when covid hit I spent hundreds of hours watching YouTube videos and doing sound design and this mix is a 90 minute result of that time.
Oh wow. So this is all post-lockdown?
No I started a little while before, but my production came on a lot during that time because I had time to go really deep into it. My first release was in 2019.
Did you get to play any shows pre-lockdown?
I’ve yet to play a show. But now I have a body of work and have made more connections through online communities I’m sure there will be opportunities. Drum & bass over here isn’t quite so popular so events and bookings are harder to come by. There is one night that’s been running here for many years in San Francisco.
Yeah. Jamal is always killing it down there. Love that guy. They have some amazing guests. But playing live shows hasn’t been a priority for me because I have a day job that I love, so I wouldn’t need shows for the financial side. I want to keep the music on a more hobby level in that way and not have to worry about it making me money. But that said, I also like the idea of taking a sabbatical for a few years and coming over to Europe and playing some shows. That could be a really nice recuperation from the daily grind of American work life.
Haha yeah. Are you feeling a rise in interest in drum & bass in America? It definitely seems that way from my perspective
Oh for sure, there are a lot of people coming through and the larger US events like EDC are starting to represent a lot more. They would usually have a dubstep stage or a bass stage but now there’s more attention to drum & bass and we’re seeing guys like Alix Perez play at EDC which never would have happened years ago. It’s cool to see. And with my collaborations, which have been largely through Discord, I’m working with more American artists whereas before it was almost all exclusively UK artists in the past.
It runs deep though. Jamal has been repping since the 90s and I know Dirtybird Records and Claude VonStroke were hugely inspired by drum & bass. Drum & bass and San Francisco have deep roots don’t they?
Oh they do and most DJs will drop in some breakbeats even at techno nights, I always get down front and show my support when they do!
Yes! Run me through your releases…
I started putting out some free downloads just to test the waters and get into things. There’s a bit of gatekeeping out there, even if you’re stuff is good it might not get heard or released, right? The fun part is making the music then you’ve just got to keep on pushing it out there. I got involved in some forums on discord and groups like Deeper DNB had picked up on some of my submissions so a release came out of that. I collaborated with T-Cutt which was cool to have that experience collaborating with a UK artist.
After that I got more into the heavier neurofunk side. At first it seemed quite unapproachable, the sound design takes a lot of work but I delved into that style and worked hard during lockdown on my EP The Dark Alter which came out on Drevobos, a Russian label. On that release I was in the transition between deep and neurofunk. It had a lot of tribal shouts and percussion and deep rolling basslines. It didn’t really get picked up much but I think they’re some of my coolest songs so far.
Then after that, during some of the worst times we had during the pandemic. It was called Tribulations which I released on Stonx. Those guys are the best and I have to take time to shout them. They’ve got one of the best communities on Discord, everyone is really supportive. They’re crushing it and it’s really exciting being part of that group. Sindicate as well, they’ve been smashing releases and they won the Pythius remix a few weeks back. SO I sent them the release and said, ‘I’m not sure what this is. It’s a bit drum & bass, it’s a bit dubstep, I don’t know what this is.’ But they loved it and they respected what I wanted to say on that release.
That’s really important right now – vibe not tempo. We’re not so genre-centric right now, which is awesome.
I agree completely. Switching between halftime, 140, 170, sometimes flipping midway in the track. It keeps things exciting and interesting and dynamic I think from a dancefloor point of view. Definitely vibe over tempo. You can’t tie yourself down to one sound or you’d get very bored. I like making different vibes; not everything has to be chaotic, not everything needs to be deep or rolling. And I had a lot of fun making this mix and felt proud I could take you on a journey over 90 minutes with my own productions.
Yeah it must be an added thrill being able to do it entirely with your own repertoire
Yeah. And I took the time to produce a couple of tracks specifically for the mix, just ideas I had on the spot. Like ‘I got an idea, let’s see if this works?’
Oh nice, on the spot exclusives! What happens next?
I’ve got a few things lined up. Abyssal have been supporting for a while and I have a free download coming soon which is also in the mix. We’re talking about an EP later in the year, too. I’m releasing a 140 tune on the Juice Box, another VA coming with Stonx and I’m focusing on the heavy neurofunk side of things now. My dream would be to release on one of the big labels on that side of drum & bass. Guys like Blackout or Eatbrain. But that all takes time and it’s a connection based game, which is hard for an antisocial science person like me.
You broke through the noise and got through to me and you’ve utilised platforms like Discord really well and become part of communities online so I’d say you’re on your way there! I guess the covid time really boosted all of that?
Yeah it was a good time for people to connect and take the time to make music. I think a lot of dark and gnarly music was made during that time too because people were so frustrated. So every cloud has a silver lining, right?
Haha. Yes! What else does the world need to know about Skorpion?
Just that I hope people enjoy my mix, I’m going to keep on making music and I’m really excited to start playing shows. Anyone in the bay area or anywhere here in the US into these sounds, I’d love to chat to you.
You heard the man! So I’m going to sign out with this… I recently learnt that scorpions dance before they mate which I think is very very cool. What’s your coolest scorpion fact?
It’s not cool but they really hurt when they sting you. Especially when it’s in your bed.
IN YOUR BED WTF!?!?
Yes. In my bed. You’ll never jump so fast out of bed until you’re bitten by a scorpion in one.
Is this a regular Texas thing? Is it like checking a toilet seat for spiders in Australia? Does every Texan check under the sheets before they get into bed?
I don’t know about that but scorpions are regular in Texas. So that’s how I got the name Skorpion. I’m like Spiderman but I’m not sure if I got my super powers yet.
Haha. Where did it bite you?
In the ass!
Bahahaha. Oh wow. Do you check the bed before you get it in every night now?
There’s no scorpions in San Francisco. Well… Except for me.