Talented, independent, and providing a bass-heavy heartbeat to the city’s dancefloors, Vancouver’s local electronica artists routinely pump up the volume in street parties and clandestine basement jump-ups. None more so than Jacob Cino, the DubnBass maestro behind the collaborative electronica fusion project Third Eye Tribe. Known for his sub-melting bass lines and fearless fusion that moves from dub to dancehall, techno to breakbeat and almost everything in between, Cino can be difficult to define but easy to move to.
Sitting down after a crowd-wowing set at the Commercial Drive Festival with electro-violinist Kytami, Cino discusses his enthusiasm for fusion -“where the magic happens”
Do you originally come from a DJ or producing background?
I started Third Eye Tribe a little over 10 years ago, and it was kind of a side project to my solo project when I was working with Kinnie Star. For the longest time, I was just a producer; I didn’t know how to DJ. The only involvement I had with deejaying was as an mc down on a drum and bass night. I was doing a lot of live shows with all my gear, a drummer and mc, and then I kept on getting people coming up to me after shows and saying that was great spinning you were doing there, and I was like ahhh what the point; I might as well DJ. So I started deejaying, and I’ve been deejaying for 5 or 6 years now.
Did you start deejaying with vinyl or CDs?
I started with vinyl, but I’ve moved to CDs so I could start to incorporate originals with non-originals and do sets that way or do sets with all originals. Before, when I used the gear I had, there was a lot of loading time; so I had to create these atmospheric collages with cassette and multi-layered cassettes and a drum machine running, and it was just more filler than creating tracks that I wanted to, and that also really changed my production once I started thinking ok i’m creating a song that I was going to mix. Noah [Pred] also was very formative in that, talking about the first 8 to 16 bars no bass or melody and then introduce the bass, and so that it’s got that space for mixing and overlapping with other tracks.
Do you make tracks specifically for DJs now?
I seem to fall in a couple of different genres. I do hip hop and dancehall, but i also make techno and breakbeat, so i am producing both a cd of stay home and listen to it or bump it in your car as well as tracks that you can mix.
How many CDs do you have out now?
I have two CDs out and one cassette. They’ve all been a mixed bag. They’ve all been a bit of electro, a bit of drum and bass, a bit of hip hop, a bit of dub, a bit of trip-hop, some house, some breakbeats. They are all independent releases. I do have a cd I’ve been working on for quite some time, it was supposed to come out this summer, but I get busy with other things like dance…
You are known as an electronica fusionist, and one never knows exactly what you will play at a show. Why have you not stayed within one genre?
I don’t know, maybe I’m schizophrenic (chuckling). I’ve never been able to be fascinated with just one genre. I’ll start producing something, and it will sort of spawn an idea for something else. I love drum and bass and there was a period when I was a total drum and bass head, but even then I was like what’s dancehall up to. I’ve always been excited by fusion. You know I think there is a commonality in my music, but I really am interested in fusing styles like what would it sound like to make a dubby bass line with electro, like today to put Celtic with some techno.
Where does that come from?
I grew up in a very musical family. We all had jam rooms, both at my father’s house and my mother’s house. My brother is a kit drummer. My stepfather was a jazz drummer; so I was always hearing drums being played. My brother’s band would always rehearse in the basement; so I got very inundated with music. My father would teach me a few keyboard lines so he could jam along with me and got all the kids playing different parts. We’d play old Mowtown songs and stuff so that was formative for me, and also just jamming on the piano- totally self-taught on that. I started studying saxophone and jazz saxophone for a while. I got to a level where I could improvise, play sax that way, andI started playing bass a lot, started with a punk rock band when I was younger. Even at at young age I was quite prolific with a four track. I wrote lots of music. It was either sort of a mix of punk rock and like grind core and metal, and also reggae and dub were both influential in the productions that I made. Bad Brains, for example, I was so excited when I cam across them because it was like a fusion, and to me that is really where the magic happens. People are coming from a different musical background, but approach a musical style and bring their take to it.
Who were your influences in electronic music?
Like Herbie Hancock… I was totally into break dancing with my brother. I think it was Tour de France by Kraftwerk I loved that album without even knowing who that was. Stevie Wonder was a huge influence to me and Bob Marley. Those were both records in my parent’s collection that I picked out myself and listened over and over again.
Was there one particular group that turned you on to electronic music?
The Artof Noise, was definitely influential. But I moved always, disliked electronic music when I was into the punk rock scene at a younger age. There were some things like Throbbing Gristle, Ministry that I really liked their use of electronics, but it wasn’t until I went travelling and went to my first sort of raves in Goa that I kind of got it. Oh this is what all the hype is for because to me it was all just really repetitive stupid music-when’s the change, where’s the musicality in that?
When did that change?
I remember being in India and getting ideas of how I would produce my own electronic music… I should look at those writings again, about how I would introduce elements and pull them out as foreshadowing and then bring them in later. That’s where I came up with concept Third Eye Tribe too, the name Third Eye Tribe was because I wanted to create an Asian influenced or Indian influenced electronic music…. I came across people like Apache Indian.
But Third Eye didn’t become that?
It’s always morphing? You can see me play a show, and it’s all drum and bass or more breakbeat oriented, or when I play with an mc more hip hop and dancehall. But when I first came back my friend had an Omega Computer. They were really well known for doing video editing, and I kind of took this video programming and looped things on it and started writing beats that way. It was a really primitive way of doing it, and it was always skipping.. But I actually always was putting some Indian element in it – tablas or sitar drone, and I was doing kind of like slower hip hop and was MCing with all those tracks.
You mc quite a bit. A lot of electronica producers or DJs don’t pick up the mic, but you’re quite the opposite.
I’ve never considered myself an mc. It’s always been like fuck nobody else is going to do this; so I got get on the mic, and also having a dj sensibility. I was talking to a drum and bass friend about this; about howthere is one guy he can’t work with because he doesn’t know when to stop. Like he’s very proficient and amazing, and I don’t have the skill to go on and on so, but I also as both a producer and an mc know when I want to hear the track breath, and when probably the crowd is getting sick of it. It doesn’t matter how good an mc you or how wicked the timbre is in your voice, eventually you are like ok let’s hear the track and how well it can move me on its own.
Could you tell us a little bit about your work with electro-violinist Kytami?
I think even though people are djaying, why is it that everyone faces the dj even though you can’t see what they’re doing sometimes? Why is it that we are still putting our attention to him? I still think it comes from us being used to older forms of music and entertainment, of having something displayed for us to be interested in. So I think having live elements is really important. It gives people a certain personable hook into the music. If it’s too synthetic, unless you’ve grown up with electronic music, a lot of people are really resistant to it. [The live element] That draws people.
The reason I wanted to work with Kytami is because there was an artist when I was in Switzerland I came across. This artist called Mich Gerber who uses cello. He would loop his cello and build tracks offof it, and it was so beautiful. It was the timbre of the cello [it] is almost like a voice to me; so I wanted to work with strings, and I came back and someone asked me to do a show, gave me a little bit extra money, and I thought may be this is the opportunity to introduce somebody new into the tribe. I asked around, and I found out that there was this violinistthat played with a lot of drum and bass djs. That sounds like it. She’s had years of experience both doing like celtic jigs and reals at bars and pubs and playing weddings, and classical experience, and also hearing DJs for years and playing with them. She has a sense of repeating themes, where as a lot of acoustic musicians when they try and play with electronic musicians, try to approach it like they are playing with other acoustic musicians. (Cino notes important aspects when working in electronica) building themes, like simplicity is another thing that works so well in electronic music.
I’ve noticed you like to play a lot of free outdoor shows and festivals. Why this type of venue?
I know that those sort of event are really fulfilling for me to play, cross-generational cross-cultural. I get to play to people that wouldn’t get to see me otherwise, people who can’t afford to seem me; all those people are there. That is really valuable to me…
Playing community events like that still makes me feel connected to the community. That’s one of the strong functions for me of my music allowing me to use music to connect socially, though it is not always the most rewarding avenue to do so. Still the magic of being home alone in front of a computer staring at it, writing music and that that can translate into hundreds or thousands of people dancing to that tune. There’s something really alchemical about that, something that is inspiring. Originally, if you’re writing a track and haven’t had the experience of playing it out, and it seems like a pipe dream, will make the crowd go off; but when you see your track do that, it’s like it’s a reality-affirmation that what you feel is what they feel even though you interpret it differently. It’s still that sense of connection. That’s kind of the concept of Third Eye Tribe; feeling like even though we all have different religions, different experiences, we all have this commonality or understanding of something greater or some sort of mystical sense or spiritual sense that it’s not always labeled. But there is often the connection of people through that experience even though it is their own experience. Often people feel that at shows. Like we went and we all got down, like 800 hundred of us were feeling the beat at that moment.
You can’t really be attached to a track being yours and having so much magic because, you’ve experienced this I’m sure, where you play this track in one place and everyone goes off and you play the same track somewhere else and everyone clears the dance floor. It obviously is not the track; it’sthe energy people give to it.
How long have you been living and producing in Vancouver?
I’m born in Guelph Ontario, I moved to the west coast 16 years ago. I moved out with my father to Victoria initially.
Were you producing music out east?
Not electronic, me and a friend would program beats on his keyboard, and write some rhymes and stuff like that. I’ve always had some influence with that. I remember my father borrowed a drum machine from a family friend back in the 80s, and I remember playing with that so I’ve always been interested.
What really kind of happened; I tend to do this, not just focus on one art form. I was really in to painting, and really kind of nurturing that painting all the time, then I would go downstairs and write music all the time, then I would go paint. And so I was really into music at that time and making punk rock and reggae, but also painting. And that’s what allowed me to travel is I did a solo painting show at the age of 19 and sold almost half of it and made good money and went travelling for a year.
Do you still paint?
Not very much. I’m more into dance now I guess.
How do you find it as an electronica artist producing on the west coast?
Well, right now in my career I’m at a point where I tend to have better shows outside of Vancouver and am more respected. I’m not really getting booked. no one’s calling me in Vancouver; it’s all self-made. So there’s that quote something like a musician is successful when he gets to leave his city and play other places, or something like that, and I think that’s very true. Vancouver’s been very supportive of me, but I feel maybe I have over-saturated Vancouver. There’s lots of people I meet who I don’t know, but they are like oh ya I saw you play like 7 years ago at this little party. So it’s gotten to that point now that it both is a hindrance and good for me that people recognize me and support me. And also I guess to answer your question, I feel like I could leave Vancouver and look for something else, though I’ve gotten a lot of support for things either related to music itself or in Vancouver.
And community-wise, you work with a lot of local artist like Kytamiand Bounty Hunter?
They are definitely part of the tribe, though we all maintain our anonymity. They all play on their own as their own solo artist, even Ndidi [Cascade]; she plays on her own with my beats at shows. They definitely are integral, but in the same breath I’m open to collaborating with all sorts of people; so it’s not like I can only work with them or that is all that Third Eye Tribe is. There are lots of people that have been in the Third Eye Tribe, like Jeet-K was an mc back in the day. There was a woman Caitlin Simpson who moved to Norway when we toured Norway. She fell in love with a Norwegian and moved there. I’m always open to collaborations. I’ll be doing that at the Folk Fest this year. The one that I am most excited with this year is a dub poet named D’bi Young. She is this jamaican dub poet who is super political and radical, and I just came across her stuff on Zed and was really moved by it, and through situation coercion and recommendation we get to collaborate.
Is this your first year at the Folk Fest in Vancouver ?
To tout my horn, I guess I could say I’m one of the first people to bring electronic music to the Folk Festival, with Kinnie. Someone said that was the first time they heard someone say can you turn more of the sampler up in the monitors. I worked with Kinnie 10 years ago and did some beats with her. She mostly was just solo guitar, but there was a few collaborators, and I played again with her another time at the Folk Fest, and then I was invited back to host an electronic music stage. And at that time I invited Noah [Pred] and Lace. He’s a producer in town. He’s been here forever. He still does stuff. And a lot of people were in uproar about that because they were like this is a folk festival, and the AD (Artistic Director) is a really cool guy- Dugg Simpson who really was aware that folk was music of the people. It’s not specific to beards and banjos. It’s the music of the people, especially the youth-electronic music, either hip-hop or rave-style music. He felt that was really important to represent on stage, a little more youth-oriented; so I’ve been involved with the Folk Fest maybe 10 years, not consecutively.
Do you notice, as some artists have commented, an openness in Vancouver to diverse styles of electronic music?
Although I think that, like for myself, breeds unique artists, but as far as being able to market it external of Vancouver can be quite difficult. Because the music industry is so set up to being like you’re a “deep house producer” or you’re a “minimal techno producer,” and that is what we will label you so we can sell you that way.
For instance, in the record store where do you slot Third Eye?
It’s always interesting to hear what people call it, breakbeats or hip hop or dancehall or some people have called me dub n bass, which is kind of unique to me.
I’ve always been independent. I’ve never been signed to anyone even though I’ve sent stuff to labels. A lot of label are like… I like this one track, but didn’t know what to do with the rest. I’ve even tried to send specific sounds to different labels, but I’ve not really had much luck with that. So I’ve just been doing things independently, really grassroots style. A lot of shows I’ve played in Europe have been in squats.
When I was in Barcelona I came across a drum and bass crew, and totally got along with them, and they invited me to their weekly, and I had a great response from them so things like that. Or I played a small festival called Side Sound in Norway. It was between Bergen and Oslo, so small things like that.
Do you like being independent?
I could sign up with a label I guess. I could use the support of a label.
Some artists though have been with labels or could go that route and have chosen to be independent.
Well even people like Matt Jonson, what really gets you out there is being signed to a label that is really known for that sound. It gets popularized, and then once your name is established then people become independent. The problem is even trying to get my music file shared on like Kazaa.or Soul Seek and things like that. I’d love to get my stuff out there that would circumvent stuff like manufacturing, costs distribution and get my name out there, but people don’t know your name unless they know it all ready. I think being signed to a label could help my name get out there. Wherever I play a show it does really well. I sell lots of cds people are always coming up to me going how come you guys aren’t signed. So its like in some ways I feel like some labels have missed out on us. There is a demand for our stuff, but getting it to the ears of the people who want to hear it is the important thing.
Do you spend time a lot of time on net promotion?
I do most of my booking and stuff online, but ya I’m not totally internet savvy. I’m getting better at it. As an artist, I think we would all love to have that manager that does that all for us, but that’s not the reality, especially of electronic artists at my level. Also finding the time and discipline. When I’m studying modern dance or in a dance piece, there was a period I was working 9-5, 5 days a week for three months solid; so when I come homefrom something like that, I’m not going to want to write a track and promote myself and send some stuff out to labels.
A lot of the other independent artist I have spoken with talk about a good portion of their day be taken up by email and distribution and marketing deals. Being responsible for the business side of things as well as the artistic seems to be the price of independence?
That’s why people like Noah Pred are so successful because he is so disciplined and well organized when it comes to his business side of things. It took me probably just the past couple years to realize that was really my responsibility, and that no one was going to do that for me.
Speaking of getting your music out there, do you think there is a west coast sound?
I think it keeps changing. I think the west coast tends to have a little bit softer influences – the whoosh as my friend calls it. The whoosh is the break down that everyone starts doing the twirling dancing too. If you play that whoosh sound in a club [elsewhere], it clears the dancefloor. I would say that was quite specific to the west coast.
Is it a preference for a slower bpm?
I don’t know because in saying that it’s kind of the community within a city that gives you that sound. I think that there are dub heads all around the world; so I don’t know if that is specific to east or west coast. I think it’s more specific to communities in the cities. In hip hop I hear a difference between west and east.
Do you think that west coast electronica has a more organic nature to it?
Definitely, the open environment has pretty much allowed me to throw down whatever I want, and not be like, oh my god I’ve got to keep it pumping, though I think my sound has gotten more dancefloor-oriented just because it seems to be more effective when I’m playing out. The west coast is generally more open to downtempo more experimental than perhaps the east.
A lot of artists I have spoken to often point out their choice
to work in the west comes from being drawn to the lifestyle.
Definitely lifestyle. Being a vegetarian, being somewhat health conscious with the food that I eat, those are resources that are important to me. You step outside of even Vancouver then you suddenly realize oh I have a selection of Subway and that kind of culture.
Would you move out east, however, for more career opportunities?
My next step would be to move out of Canada because I think the Canadian market can only take you so far.
However, (clarifying some terminology when speaking of success) I feel tremendously successful in this lifetime. I don’t think it’s necessarily about units or how internationally known I am because my music is all over the world and people know me and are downloading all over the world. I’ve given my music to people wherever I’ve gone. I’ve sold it to people. In that sense, I am hugely successful, but financially it’s slightly different. So I don’t feel bothered, not having the success of being an international artist and touring all the time because I have had a taste of that so I’m thankful of what I’ve got to experience.
by Romina Wendell – July 2005