I don’t know about you, but when I was 19 years old my mind was occupied with getting good grades, play rehearsal (I was a theatre nerd), and what I was doing that Saturday night. Meet Matt “FX” Feldman, who spent his nineteenth birthday hard at work on one of the most hyped telvision shows of the past year. The job: music supervisor. The show: Skins, a sexy – often constroversial – adaptation of the UK hit show by the same name.
It’s a gig most experienced music supervisors I know would kill for – a hip show that not only requires fresh, underground, eclectic tunes, but a lot of them. In my conversation with the New York native, however, he proves more than capable of taking on the heroic task (over than 20 songs in most episodes) with confidence and passion. Passion for music in general, and for those artists that are experimenting with new sounds and tools, defining and deconstructing genres in the process. “The show in itself has become a way for my parents to get to know me,” said FX. It takes only nanoseconds to understand how this would be the case – he clearly eats, sleeps and breathe music, even dropping out of school to pursue it full time. With his mixtape “Don’t Like This,” Matt FX is out to show that no matter where or how music evolves – there is always something for everyone. Read on as he let’s Tadpole Audio peek inside his mind: music memories, the nuts and bolts of putting music in Skins, artists to watch out for and what’s next for the music multi-hyphenate?
Don’t Like This
Fiasco “Oh, You Horny Monster!”
“Starkey” Stars (feat. Anneka)
Doldrums “Under Winter”
Ramadanman “Don’t Change For Me”
The Parish Festival “Too Many Wars”
Freddie Gibbs “Playa w/ California Pudd”
Lionshare “Hip Hop Freestyle (REAL)”
Wild Beasts “She Purred While I Grrred”
Biscope “Little Dragon Versus Burial”
James Blake “Why Don’t You Call Me”
James Blake “I Mind”
Starscream “Heliopause A) Bow Shock”
TA: So what inspired the theme of this mix, “Don’t Like This”?
FX: Hmm. In thinking about themes for mixes I find so often that I subconsciously pull stuff that emotionally defines the subject of the mixes I’m used to making for people; with an opportunity to make you guys a mix that’s really just about myself, I think I’m actually just showing off the lifebeat of what I suppose defines me as a musician and music supervisor.
TA: I didn’t know you were a musician as well, what do you play?
FX: I was brought up mega-classical in voice and piano, and have since learned to play/BS a few more instruments: synths, drums, guitar, bass, some African percussion. I also have an electric tenor ukulele that I’m quite proud of my skill on.
TA: Do the artists you selected for your mix represent your musical tastes, in terms of what you enjoy listening to? What about in terms of your own music?
FX: This is totally the music I listen to. One of the reasons I liked putting this mix together so much is that almost every song (besides from The Parish Festival, and Starkey, which are just out of rotation) are songs I listen to regularly. I was even talking about it to one of my friends, how I’ve managed to find favorites in all these artists who in a lot of ways don’t represent everyone’s opinion of their genre.
TA: What genres do each of these songs represent, and what’s the defining element that makes them that genre?
FX: Oh boy…
Fiasco – Math Rock/Noise Rock. Math and Noise are generally marked with changes in time signature, intense sonic levels, and general aggression. What I love about this song is how catchy it is, and how score-y it feels. I can picture a million high octane things going on to this song, and for 3 kids who were still in high school, I think they’ve achieved something somewhat transcendent of the genre they’re rooted in.
Starkey – Dubstep. With this song in particular, you can tell it’s dubstep by it’s sub-bass as well as the fact it’s 140 bpm, with the rhythm resembling most/all dubstep songs. Wobbles are noticeably absent, while vocals are included; ultimately, it’s a beautifully ethereal song that uses the rules and characteristics of it’s genre not to create something filthy and brash, but poised and introspective.
Doldrums – Drone-pop? “Chillwave?” I don’t actually know what Doldrums calls his stuff, I just know that it in many ways represents a lot of the aesthetics people generally find as a turnoff in modern lo-fi indie electronic music. I don’t think this is necessarily Chillwave, but Rolling Stone probably would. I love the melodies, and how the droney, warbly synths add to the general winter-y melancholy that’s so easy to get lost in. Coming out of a New York winter, you have to understand that walking around to this is a joy.
Ramadanman – For fear of getting it wrong, I’m going to call this UK Bass Music, as the drum patterns seem to be rooted in much of the last 20 years of UK club music and I know there are people who know much more about this then me who’d call me out on calling it drum and bass. However, I definitely keep this in my pocket as something I show people who think drum and bass is stupid and just about hyper-dancey choppy club music. The zenith point that this song ascends to is really quite beautiful, and the little fall-off in the drum loop is so entrancing to me. Great chuune.
The Parish Festival – I’d say this is indie rock with a major jazz influence, which is generally quite negatively received in the community. It’s instrumentation and chord changes make it what it is, but it’s the guitar solo that really brings it all together. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song, but that solo is absolutely vicious. Vicious guitar solos in songs like these are rare, and the spotlight is deserved.
Freddie Gibbs – For me, this is blunt culture/ho-chasing gangsta rap at it’s best. The beats, lyrical content, and flow are excellent examples of the chill side of this genre, and a fantastic reminder that music that’s completely culturally removed from society-at-large can have artistic worth. Going to high school in New York City and being forced to listening to people like Biggie and Big L day in and out has made me really truly respectful
of the art of gangsta rap, and Gibbs’ flow is immaculate.
Lionshare – On the completely opposite side of the spectrum is Lionshare; white rap that isn’t out to be gangster, and isn’t even sure it can call itself hip-hop. At their core, these boys just want to party; of course, it definitely helps that their samples are coming from Kubrick and Tiny Tim, and that they’re quoting Sylvia Plath. Also of note, the line in this track that no self-respecting “rap game” rapper would ever say ever: “If you really want to throw down we can grapple / but the only cap I bust’ll be the one off of a Snapple.”
Aquadrop – Also dubstep, here’s a track that showcases it’s wobbles as the main attraction. While wobbles in dubstep are usually grimey, loud, and arrogant, here we have a song that’s smooth and sexy, letting the wobbles go from a dark bassline to a saucy, sauntering melody (1:09) that I’ve yet to hear anywhere else. Amazing producer.
Biscope – This song is actually a mashup of Little Dragon’s “Twice” with a song by Burial that I’m embarrassed to not know the name of. I guess I’d call the track “future-garage” genre wise, as it’s beat pattern is the same as many of the tracks coming out right now under that genre umbrella. It’s also just a weird track that still all works beautifully, so there.
James Blake – I’m not going to put James Blake into a genre box, but I will call him a creator. He’s firmly rooted in dubstep production and aesthetic, but has a lifeline in both classical and gospel music and progression. “Why Don’t You Call Me” and “I Mind” are next to each other on his debut full-length, and together with “To Care (Like You)” which comes before either, they’re my three favorite tracks on the album. I love the former track for it’s peculiarities, while still being jaw-dropingly gorgeous, and I love how “I Mind” begins by affecting his voice to sound like an instrumental trill, before launching into one of the most gripping beat patterns available in modern music. James Blake is a champion of restraint, and is one of the few artists in the world that I can truly call a sum of all his influences’ parts. There’s dubstep, hip-hop, classical, gospel, and “rock” in what he does, yet nothing is worn on his sleeve, and everything is synthesized to the point of a musical equilibrium that I don’t believe has yet to be done by other artists. Certainly something I aspire to in my own music, though I don’t think I’d be nearly as depressing.
Starscream – Starscream is at it’s core a rock band, or even a “post rock” band, but is most noticeable as a band that employs Gameboys and Commodores to create what’s called “8-bit” by many and “Chiptune” by people in the know. I’m personally closest to this band out of all of the smaller acts on this list, as I share a music studio with the drummer. Seeing these guys play shows in not-very-legit Brooklyn & Manhattan DIY venues throughout high school were probably some of the most Skin-sy things I did, and I’m so proud of how their sound has matured from simple dancepunk in 11th grade to the epic space-journeys they write now. There’s room to thrash and to dance, and almost all of their tracks weave musical tales so evocative that I really don’t believe lyrics are even necessary. Good job boys.
TA: What about each of these genres typically makes people cringe?
FX: I think in general the thing that makes people cringe the most are the one-note characteristics people assume the music has. All dubstep is loud and annoying, all British bands sound the same, all white rap is asinine, etc.
TA: Do you think that in this day and age, genre is mostly subjective or objective?
FX: My beliefs regarding genre have a lot to do with culture, and the way people perceive and interact with it. I believe music is ultimately a subjective thing, rooting in what you can relate to and understand (or in the case of gangsta rap, what you absolutely have no relation to at all.) Ultimately, I’m far more interested in music that transcends genre then genre itself.
TA: On Skins, do each of your characters have a specific musical voice? Doesgenre play into that at all?
FX: While I don’t think the characters have their own musical voices, I certainly think there are reoccurring emotional themes in characters that are shown through genre and style. For instance, Chris and Tina’s lovely relationship has a lot of Twin Sister in it, the same way Cadie’s delicacy can be scored by happy reggae or pretty female indie, while her craziness can be portrayed through weirdo dubstep wobbles.
TA: How did you get the gig on Skins?
FX: I got it through a friend who was interning for the showrunner. I came in on the teen advisory groups and wouldn’t stop asking about music until Bryan [Elsley] asked me to make him a mix. Three days later I got the job, and here we are!
TA: Had you done much music supervision prior to working on the show?
FX: Never ever ever. This is completely my first experience.
TA: Had you been considering it as a career option prior to getting Skins?
FX: I recently had the realization that I music supervise my own life, all the time, which is probably how this all got started. Ultimately no, though, I never realized I could do this for a living.
TA: What are a few songs that would be on your life soundtrack, then? I know that’s kind of it’s own mixtape, but…
FX: I’m really into bands that can do what I call “mood-painting” well, and I can give you two examples that are really strong in my head. I grew up and currently live in the West Village in New York City, literally on the west most block before the river. As you can
imagine, I’ve spent a lot of my time navigating myself home through the village on weekend nights, and I’ve found that the first Walkmen album, Everyone who pretended to like me is gone as a perfect, perfect accompaniment. With lyrics talking about the bars and being in New York and just these crazy moods and feelings, I don’t know, it just works so well.
Also, really distinct memory was when I first started listening to Twin Sister last spring. I have huge windows in my room, and even though it’s brick wall right outside it ends right past the right edge, and sunlight pours into my room in a really cool way. There was at the time a girl I was getting pretty close to, and I remember one of the main difficulties between us was music; she likes stuff from her suburban youth (Britney, Disney stuff, *NSYNC, all the way to The Mars Volta) and not really indie stuff coming out currently.
Twin Sister, though, reminded her of The Cranberries, who she likes. I loved the light, flirtatiously dreamy quality of the music, with fresh air and warm light pouring into my room for the first time in months, sitting across from this girl on my couch and just talking, it was all such a strong moment. I bet you the dreamlike quality of the music probably even enhances the memory.
TA: So take me through an episode – what is your process like from beginning to end?
FX: To be honest, days have been so varied depending on the month and phase of production we’ve been in. In general, I think most of my best days were good balances of going in and out of edit rooms working with Bryan and the editors, and sitting at my desk, listening to music and strategizing the business portion with my co-supervisor John Rowley (based in Toronto. Can you believe that? We’ve worked on a whole project together and I haven’t even met him!). It’s a lot of back and forth – you answer a call or email because of how urgent it is and then you get pulled into a room to urgently figure out a cue for a scene that’s in a cut that’s going out at 6pm.
TA: How involved is MTV in your music selection? Are there a lot of cooks in the kitchen?
FX: I’d say they’ve become less and less, dare I say, judgemental? In the beginning there was a bit more back and forth; they’ve always been supportive of the sonic landscape, but there are aspects of some of this music that is definitely very new and “untested” market-wise. Luckily for me and all the other kids out there, it happens to be good music we actually want to listen to, and at the end of the day I think they understand that.
TA: Other than yourself, who is the main musical voice on the show?
FX: Bryan Elsley, showrunner, creator.
TA: Does he let you run free and do your own thing, or is vocal about artist or song suggestions? Is he hip to the underground / indie stuff as well?
FX: For the most part, he lets me run quite free with taste. There have been a couple times where I’ve had to justify something to him aesthetically – but most of the times he bites, so to speak. He always says he isn’t hip to the underground stuff, but I’m pretty sure after five UK seasons the guy who created a show like Skins knows his stuff. I’m not saying he’s browsing Pitchfork on the daily, but he knows what’s good, and what’s played out.
TA: What is an example of a song or artist you’ve had to justify to Bryan? Has there been anything that he’s turned you on to?
FX: I’m not going to go as far as use the word “justify” here, but there’s a pretty cool story that explains how we came to using Starscream’s “Years (five-eight)” for the first trailer we made to go with the finale of Jersey Shore. There had been maybe 3 or 4 songs that we had already decided on and realized we couldn’t clear before I showed Bryan and the editor a clubby electro remix of a different Starscream track that they wound up liking the energy of.
Since the remixer was a friend, we had brought him in to do an edit on the track that afternoon and were nervously awaiting it’s arrival all night as we had less then a day to complete editing. Sitting with Bryan late that night he asked me if this Gameboy thing was for real, whether the music was actually something to take seriously. I turned on “Years (five – eight”), and the rest, as they say, is history:
TA: How do you find your music? Scouring blogs (if so, which do you frequent)? Reaching out to indie agencies? Your own library?
FX: Blog-wise I’ve always been quite loyal to Yourstru.ly, though I haven’t actually found too much there that I’ve used for the show. Other than that? I mean, I browse most of the giants, Pitchfork and Stereogum and what not, and a lot of my music comes from friends. I have a pretty big network of Facebook friends who post a lot of music all the time, and who make a lot of music all the time.
TA: Are you ever daunted by the sheer amount of music required for each episode? 20+ songs for an hour long show is quite a lot!
FX: Even though it was not music-related, the last job I worked was high intensity and involved handling so many different things at a time, that I think being put in a similar situation, and working with something I actually like, has made me – for the most part – undaunted. I did find a couple grey hairs the other day, though.
TA: What is the hardest part of the job then?
FX: Don’t get me wrong – the whole job was the hardest part of the job; in the middle of everything I remember coming home every night so, so tired. Half those nights I had concerts I had been asked to go to, as well! I guess I’m just really used to hyper-intense work loads, but this in particular, with it’s emphasis both on the business and creative side, was a difficult balancing act.
TA: What are the hardest kind of scenes to find music for?
FX: It really depends, but definitely ones where there’s intercutting between two different scenes, and especially if one or two of those scenes has a dramatic/emotional shift before it’s end. Same thing with party scenes that aren’t too wild; there’s a lot of stuff on screen that you have to get right, and not everyone’s feeling the same way.
TA: How is the licensing aspect handled? Do you do all the negotiating and requests and confirmations and paperwork?
FX: John Rowley, as mentioned above, is co-supervising with me; while I’m handling creative John’s been absolutely amazing at making all these licenses happen! If it was not for him I would have been so, so lost at the beginning; I barely understood anything about the licensing process and still don’t understand too much. We like to do little negotiation double-teams sometimes, kind of a good cop / bad cop sorta thing. Generally though, I make contact and pass them off to JR once we’re set on a fee.
TA: There is a lot of information about the music on the Skins website: list of music in each episode, recaps done by you, interviews with artists, etc. I personally think every show – especially music oriented ones – should do the same. Who’s idea was all that stuff?
FX: The list of music was a carry over from the UK series, who’s list I’ve employed the use of many times when I watched the first few seasons. I’d like to say that the recaps were my idea but they may also be the community manager’s – I’m not sure if he’d like to be named so let’s call him the wiz behind the @skinstv twitter handle.
TA: Did you have any say in the artists that interviewed?
FX: The interviews were a collaborative effort between us and MTV to come up with more exposure opportunities for the bands. All bands were asked to do them, and it was pretty much up to them to film and produce those vids. The ones you see on the site are the ones that “made the cut”.
TA: What artists are you listening to for pleasure these days?
FX: For pleasure? I had an incredibly dreamy weekend, so I loaded the Twin Sister EPs onto my new nano to take around. Otherwise, I think John Talabot’s Cosmic Rework of “Raindrops” by Blue Daisy & Anneka is phenomenal; I also heard a pretty dope track by a new rapper called Najee called “Destined to Be.” I don’t know if you can find it yet but the beat is sick.
Najee “Destined To Be”
TA: So with Skins wrapping soon, what’s next? Are you looking for more music supervision opportunities?
FX: Currently, I’m still in rest mode. I’ve purchased some recording equipment with money earned and am really enjoying writing old-sounding songs down in my studio. I’m also practicing DJing with my friend Sophia, as we’d like to start DJing as a duo pretty soon. While I’m not actively looking for more music supervision opportunities, I think I’d definitely be willing to work on another project if I was passionate about the subject, so we’ll see what happens!