Alex Saldana aka UHNK has made incredible progress during his time with the Class of 808 and he is now consistently producing professional crowd pleasing tracks that ill.Gates has been playing in his live sets. I had the chance to catch up with Alex recently to congratulate him on earning his Purple Belt and learn more about him and his music production approach.
Alex, tell us about your musical journey and how did it lead you to ill.gates, The Producer Dojo and the Class of 808?
So I was one of those hyper kids growing up and I’m pretty sure my parents put me in band and sports in grade school so I could burn some of that energy. I played snare drum from about 3rd grade through senior year of high school in various school bands (jazz, marching, concert etc.) I’ve always been super into rhythm but didn’t know anything about music theory. In high school I played drums for a few friends in a metal band I don’t even remember the name of. I’ve thought about it, and my first memory going back where I knew I was into bass music was sitting at the bus stop with my cd player with the low end eq on max bass listening to Deftones or Korn or something. I remember buying this $300 stereo from Best Buy that had bass boost and blowing out the speakers one summer.
In college other than hanging out with a few people who either rapped or played guitar or something, I wasn’t making or playing music at all. This is around the time I started really getting into electronic music though. I used to play a computer game called CS 1.6 and tons of the “skill” videos from the game had songs from Crystal Method, Chemical Brothers, Infected Mushroom and stuff like that. A year or two into that I realized that there were actually places you could go to listen to that music live and I’ve been going to shows ever since and discovering all kinds of new awesome music.
About two years ago I was at a show having the time of my life and I had one of those moments of clarity where I was like wait a minute I can totally make music as good as this. Whenever I’m listening to music I’m always imagining the small details I would change to make it better. I decided that from that point on I was going to produce music. I remember asking my friend Jimmy who made these awful rap beats as a joke “but how do I make a hi hat roll?” I got Ableton, hopped on Youtube and started watching anything I could find. One of the funniest production channels that I’ve seen to this date is You Suck at Producing with that guy Underbelly. He explains all the intro concepts clearly and in a hilarious way. Shoutout to his video “Getting High and Making Beats.” The scene at the end where the song just gets more and more intense gets me every time.
The first year I was producing I made about 100 songs and then another hundred the following year. I basically did nothing but work and then go home and produce other than go to the occasional show or hanging out with friends. A lot of these songs looking back are pretty awful but I remember just being absorbed in learning and really “thinking” about sound and how it works for the first time ever. I was obsessed at this point and wanted to learn more and was tiring of most of the places I was getting information.
One day I opened a video of Dylan’s on Youtube and was like wait what the hell? Ill Gates will teach you how to make music? I had been going to his shows for a while by now and I signed up for the Class of 808 pretty much straight away. Immediately I knew it was exactly what I was missing. The level of detail he went into on every topic blew my mind. You can instantly tell whether or not someone is an expert on a topic and when talking to him and I recognized that was the case right away. It can be hard to piece together certain aspects of production without someone to ask questions back and forth to, or explain general guidelines so I figured this was a great place to really dive in deep.
I lurked for about a year and just watched videos every day after work and tried to put anything I learned into practice. Then about a year into the dojo, I went to do a studio day with Dylan which really solidified everything I had learned and we became friends. I highly recommend the studio day if possible. Right after that I submitted for my first cypher (Scrabble) and and made the mixtape to my surprise. Shout out 6TH STREET, my partner for that cypher.
Around this time I met Moonsplatta and Mufunka in Chicago at a Caspa show I think. We became friends almost instantly and their group kind of took me in. They were scheduled to open for Dylan at Chop Shop and I had asked if they wanted to play any of my music. I sent them 3 songs and they ended up liking Power. They played some of it in their set and I was stoked because that was my first time ever hearing my music live. The next part is what really blew my mind. I hadn’t heard anything about the Say My Name cypher at this point. I was talking to Dylan in the crowd before his set just saying hey or whatever and then he went on to play. In the middle of his set all of a sudden I heard the war drums from the intro to my song. I start freaking out and while I’m freaking out the whole crowd starts freaking out and this one guy starts screaming at the top of his lungs running back and and yelling “what is this?” as Dylan plays out basically my whole song. Apparently in the green room he had said something to Moonsplatta like “Yo I heard you guys play that UHNK track. That track bangs.” From that point on I’ve kept on getting amazing feedback from other dojo members and random people who hear my music. I had shown other people my music before and had gotten decent feedback but now all of a sudden the feedback I was getting was almost entirely positive. Random people messaging me on SoundCloud telling me I was going to change the world and that they could hear Jesus in my music… People at shows hearing I was UHNK and coming to say hello, other artists that I follow starting to follow me back. Someone else in the dojo said it best and it accurately describes how I feel – “Dude you came out of nowhere… Where did you come from and how are you making your music?” Well I did come out of nowhere but I’m here to stay.
Where are you from originally? Can you describe your life using only song titles?
I’m from Chicago. One day at the first year of Okeechobee, the people in the tent next door called me Chi-town for the entire first day until we met sober the following morning.
Crystal Method – Name of the Game
The Chemical Brothers – The Salmon Dance
Deftones – Elite
Missy Elliott – The Rain (Super Dupa Fly)
Bassnectar – Teleport Massive
Marilyn Manson – This Is The New Shit
What made you want to become a music producer? What do you do when you are not producing music?
Well I love music and the ability to make music that no one has ever heard before is what I’m really after. When you first hear a particular sound or song and it just sounds so good and blows your mind… in that short period of time you are truly happy. An example that comes to mind is Caspa – Deja Vu. That growling bassline is just perfect. UHNK is also kind of alter ego of sorts and UHNK is not an acronym but means something very dearly to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever explain what the name means but maybe someday.
When I’m not producing music I’m either chilling with my dog, at a show, with friends, learning something new or playing a computer game.
Tell us about your upcoming song release on the Class of 808 Volume 3.
So the title of the song is “Power.” When I’m sitting down in the studio writing music I generally just kind of mess around with drums and bass grooves until I find something that really bangs and just kind of go from there. The song was actually for the Say My Name mixtape and we were supposed to make a song that really hammers home what our artist brand is about. If you’ve ever been on a stage and had the luxury of playing your music for a crowd it’s kind of like you are this wizard of sound and just blowing minds by hurling boulders of sound at them. The best feeling in the world is seeing people in the crowd going nuts to your music because you know you made someone happy. So Power is just a sonic representation of what I think the word power would sound like. That second drop where it’s just all crazy bass, just imagine like two yolked out sine waves battling like they were Battle Toads or something.
What are your plans for your music (both near-term and long-term goals)?
I’m working on an EP that should be released later this year sort of as my debut EP. I also have a ton of collabs going with various producers, both in and out of the dojo. Shout out Wreckno. Short term I’m really just planning on getting to the level I want as a producer, and then this year is when I am going to start playing as many shows as possible. Long term, I want to work on music full time for a living and one day headline and build my own community where I get to travel the country and throw insane parties for everyone who gets down to the music and the message. I want to build a ridiculous live show and have a crazy over the top production where it’s just mayhem start to finish and everyone leaves with their mind blown.
What are the top 3 “game changing” lessons that you learned as a member of the Class of 808?
No way I can limit this to just 3 things but here are a few:
I would say sound selection/arrangement. Vertical vs Horizontal. Which types of sounds sit where on the spectrum, what kinds of sounds you need in certain parts of a song but not in another.
How to make drums and bass sound fat like cow. And separating songwriting from sound design. I work heavily in audio and it would slow me down if I didn’t make sounds before trying to write music.
Mixing – How to actually fit the thousand sounds you want to use in a song and how to be merciless removing sounds that aren’t needed no matter how cool they sound on their own
Dry/Wet chains and sidechaining, layering, granular synthesis… The list is endless.
If you could go back 10 years ago and advise your younger self of just 1 thing, what would that advice be?
Aside from starting producing earlier, I’d probably just tell myself to figure out what made me happy and make that the top priority so that I could focus on that.
Do you ever experience writer’s block in the studio? How do you overcome it? How often do you make music?
I don’t really have a problem with song ideas, I have a million of those. I do sometimes get frustrated when I can’t get a sound to sound like I want it to, or I compare myself to another artist and I’m not on their level yet and you just kind of feel shitty about it. To overcome any of the above, I just make music all the time. I’ve never had a problem obsessing over other hobbies so it’s really easy for me to spend a lot of time making music. If I’m stuck, I usually just throw down some cool drums and play with bass grooves until I find something that either makes me starts dancing or gives me that bass face.
What are your favorite genres of music at the moment and who are your top 5 favorite artists right now?
I don’t even know this changes like daily but in no particular order:
That heavy Drum and Bass
Bassnectar, Noisia. Crystal Method, G Jones, Peekaboo
Are you involved in any other music production communities?
Like I mentioned earlier I used to be in the You Suck at Producing discord but I haven’t been there in a while. I’m also part of Audio Stuffs. We have a nice little Chicago Dojo group going too. (Moonsplatta, Mufunka, Le Moyne and myself)
If you met with a music producer that was on the fence about joining Producer Dojo what would you tell them?
If you’re serious about learning, make the jump. There’s information here I wasn’t able to find anywhere else and everyone I’ve met so far in the Dojo has been awesome. The mentor feedback is super useful and Dylan knows his shit.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
I’m going to be expanding my online presence more in the coming months. I will be starting my Youtube channel, putting my livestreams on there, putting up merch for sale on a website and setting up a Patreon to do some production lessons. And for anyone wanting to know if you should become a producer… How bad do you want it?