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The Blue Mountains have a surprising slew of hip hop crews and producers, members of The Herd, Thundamentals and Hermitude among them. Katoomba boy Caustic has been a producer for nigh on 16 years, and his latest album with Obese Records, Cooking With Caustic, showcases the hidden production gems of regional NSW.

“All the hip hop I used to listen to was made up of classic or golden samples, that made up the majority of the songs,” says Caustic, civilian name Tony. “As times changed, making hip hop out of stuff like that wasn’t really viable cause of royalties, sampling laws, stuff like that. I went about putting together my own crew of musicians who can play the kind of samples I wanted to use to get that ‘60s and ‘70s sound.”

It’s similar to the originally recorded beats of Triple J darlings M-Phazes, Phrase, and The Herd – “Often produucers might start with a sample and eventually replay that music to get around sampling laws. A lot of musicians in my band have been called in to do work like that for other crews”, Tony explains.

Cooking With Caustic, his ten-piece band which includes turntablist DJ Cost and multiple vocalists, has a particularly interesting set up: while most young producers get started with GarageBand, Tony’s old enough and retro enough to have an entire analogue workstation.

“I keep it fairly simple – for the most part, I use the MPC-2500. I think the software was written in the ‘80s – it’s pretty ancient but it’s always worked pretty well. I use a PC for most of my multitracking and editing, but a lot of stuff is made inside the MPC, old drum machines. All my computers are hooked up to an old analogue mixing desk, so most of it’s manually mixed. There’s a computer at the heart of it, but it’s all about sounding organic.

“I think I started building my studio when I first started making beats, using old and broken instruments – very modest bits and pieces I collected. I’ve run it as a recording studio and I’ve done a fair bit of mixing for people. It’s gradually getting there as a business, too.”

Tony is keen to tour interstate, although it’s a matter of working out the logistics of moving so many musicians. “Our live set up’s based around the turntables and MPC, drums and percussion-type stuff,” he says. “It’s fairly easy to transport.”

Tony’s particularly lucky that he’s part of a hip hop community that, while firmly rooted in a past abandoned by the cities it started in for ruthlessly modern styles like trap and Jersey bounce, is about the old-school laying down of tracks. He met many of his collaborators working as a chef.

“My favourite hip hop producers are a crew called The Herbaliser from the UK. I guess our live set up is modeled on their set up – the multiple vocalists, the horns, the instrumental backbone. Massive Attack, NZ funk bands like Fat Freddies Drop and Sola Rose. As far as Australian music goes, we’re pretty into the crews from the mountains – Hermitude and Thundamentals.”

“There are effects, but my style is to keep no effects any more technological than the mid-‘70s, trying to keep it in the sound style. Nothing much more than a delay – it’s fairly old-fashioned. Occasionally there’ll be a few more synths, scratches or filters that are a little more modern feel, but most of the horns, drums and vocals keep fairly raw. There’s no autotuning. It’s all done on a multitrack tape machine.

“The musicianship and the sound was pretty spot on back then and it gradually declined a bit. The mixing and mastering style of those records – without it wanting to be too loud or forward-sounding. Bit of a quieter sound to let the bass and drums breathe rather than having the vocals really in-your-face.”

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