Behind The Scenes: Cryptochronica “The Beginning Is Near” EP

Cryptochronica is the glitch fusion project of Seattle based producer, Chris Michaels. Cryptochronica seamlessly threads funk, soul, rock, reggae, hip-hop and downtempo with the heavy bass styles of the underground on his new EP, “The Beginning is Near.” Thank you in advance for showing your support of the release by purchasing on BEATPORT.

Chris, how did you come up with the artist name, Cryptochronica and what does it mean? 

Ten years ago, this bandmate and I would play this game where we would string disparate words together to make silly run on sentences like: “apple jack in the box car race war against drugs are bad kids mkay.” Straight nonsense. Sometimes we would do this to generate band names, like “Leon bridges falling down with the sickness.” Kind of like Ill.Gates’ song “Harmonica Lewinsky.” I’m sure we didn’t invent that formula and millions of people have played word games similar to it, but anyway, it was something we used to do. Silly stuff. On one fateful day, pulled from the recesses of our imagination in a cosmic mind-belch, some combination of “crip” and “chronic” and “electronica” popped out. Both “crip” and “chronic” are Hawaiian slang for cannabis, and cryptocurrencies were just beginning to register in the public consciousness, and all these things percolated until Cryptochronic- add the “A” from “electronica”- Cryptochronica was born into the world of words. We laughed about it, and I was all: “Dude! If I ever have an electronic reggae band, we would be called Cryptochronica!” and he was all: “ferrr sherrr” *throws shaka.* 

Of course, I don’t have a band and I don’t make reggae, but I appropriated the name anyway. When I’m being honest, like now, Cryptochronica’s meaning is really just a couple of kids playing word games, stoned after band practice. When I want to seem cooler than I am, I tell people: “Cryptochronica- it’s the digital drug.” Haha, Yea, k. Who ya kidding, bro? 

What new skills have you acquired as a direct result of your work on this EP release?

I have acquired so many useful skills from doing this EP release. Perhaps most of all, I’ve learned to see the “big picture.” I understand what it takes to finish a track on par with professional standards. Before the EP process, my expectations were so much lower. Doing the intensive deconstruction to a track the EP required helped me develop an ear for unpleasant frequencies I was oblivious to, helped me hear conflict and “crowding” in a mix, and taught me the correct sequence of processing for layering and using effects correctly. Now I can immediately pinpoint problematic frequencies, or find elements in a track that clash and kill them right off the bat. I can add spice to my instruments with layering, and I know how to use effects like reverb and delay as instruments in and of themselves. Best of all, because I understand the “big picture,” I now design songs from the ground up and avoid making most problems in the first place, saving myself editing work later down the line. 

Building a track from the ground up, knowing it’s endgame, is totally different than messing around with some cool sounds, trying to put them together, or just experimenting. The big difference between the two approaches is of intention. Building a track from the ground up, I start with intention, in the kick, in the groove, in the genre, in the sounds I select. My intention is infinitely more focused, which saves tons of time, ‘cause I’m not burdened by indecision, or a dim view of where the track is headed. Having the big picture is invaluable. 

Tell us about the “The Beginning is Near” EP.  When did you begin working on it and how long of an adventure has it been?

I started defining ideas for the E.P. during FAWM, building synths and kits for my library during my nighttime sessions, but I didn’t really start to compose tracks until late March. Admittedly, I pulled in “Bad Trips” from my FAWM cypher submission, which I’d had Nintendeaux master, but in late February, early March, I went back into that project and sharpened so many things up. I focused the mix, and cut the fat off the track. “Bad Trips” was approved for the cypher, but every time I listened to it at that stage, I wasn’t happy with it. It felt like a missed opportunity, and I’d sigh with regret every time I’d hear something that was whack. So going back to that track- which I know is anathema to the Dojo motto of always moving forward- felt really right. 

When I first submitted my rough compilation for EP consideration in April, it was five tracks, and I added a sixth in early June. Dylan made me really focus those tracks, and by the end of the process, of the six, four were approved for the E.P. One of the two leftovers was released on the Festival Banger Cypher, and I self-released the last one (Hell Yeah! ) as a promotional single, to lock down my Spotify account. All in all, from beginning to end- designing instruments, building racks and sample packs, composing, mixing, Mixing and MIXING some more, finally mastering, promoting and setting Spotify up- the whole process took seven months. April to October.  

For any of y’all looking to do the E.P., I can’t recommend it enough. That grueling journey will give you the “big picture” I’m talking about, what it takes to bust out a finished song. After that process, you will have fully internalized what it is that makes a song professional. There is a clearly defined “Before E.P.” Era in my music and an “After E.P.” Era. I’m so glad I’m in the “A.E.P.” Era now, there’s no going back.

Is there one song that you are most proud of on your latest EP?  If yes, why?

It really depends on the audience. I’m proud of all the songs, because of the time and love I’ve put in to them, but as far as demonstrating or performing them, I like to show Dr. Ambassador to people the most, I’d say. If the people I’m showing my music to are familiar with the conventions of Bass music, I like to show them Brunge Crunch, which is far grimier and heavier, but for those people who aren’t intimately familiar with electronic music, or don’t like heavy music, I play Dr. Ambassador. That song is cool because it’s sonically diverse and melodic. The thing to remember is that most people- especially those who are musically un-inclined- focus on melodies and lyrics. They’re not thinking about the perfect ratio of compression, or the fullness of the stereo spread, or the complementary patter of the polyrhythms- most people don’t actively consider production elements like that. But they DO listen to the melody and the “singing;” essentially, the “face” Dylan is always discussing. Dr. Ambassador’s “face” is clearly defined, relatively pleasant and catchy… especially compared to the brunge-crunchiest, hard-ass robot sex grinding that Brunge Crunch is. 

What has been your favorite Cryptochronica live performance experience so far? Tell us about your performance set up…do you use Ableton or CDJs? 

My favorite experiences by far have been playing the underground microfestivals on the beaches of Hawaii. Oahu has a really active alternative community, a total mash-up of hippies and health/yoga enthusiasts, surfers, skaters and street artists, musicians and producers, fire dancers and psychonauts. I guess now is a good time to give a shout out to The Love Tribe of the Double Rainbow, The Champagne Gang, The Purple Room, Hawaii Fire Tribe and The Dirty Feet Crew. I don’t want to give away too much about the underground scene, but usually, about once a month, these different entities come together for free, self-funded music festivals, on the scale of anywhere from 50-300 people. It’s all local artists, with minimal advertising, that play at rotating locations, in different hidden parts of the island, all on the DL. We set up generators, RGBs, sound systems, art installations, inflatable couches, slip and slides- you know, the whole renegade shebang. Sometimes they’re themed parties, like “Onesielust”- where we had 200 people in different animal onseies, or Cabaret Circus theme, you get the idea. 

One of the involved groups, The Hawaii Fire Tribe, is a school of fire dancers (you may have seen them at The Burn) who come down and spin fire all night under the stars, exploring their consciousness to the music. Their fire play becomes everyone else’s rad entertainment. I mean, sometimes there will be like 15 spinners at one time, and so long as they have fuel, they go all night. Let me say, too, that in Hawaii, fire spinning is taken seriously. It’s a lifestyle. In the morning there is yoga and a beach clean-up, breakfast, swimming (with dolphins, when we’re lucky), ocean trampolines, etc. Those microfests are such a good time, put on by such a dope community, all my favorite experiences playing live have been those nights. It’s so nice playing music for the joy of it, being the sound-track to rad-ass fire-spinners, who are blowing peoples’ minds away on the beaches of paradise.

So I’ve used CDJs mostly, simply for the sake of expediency, but I would really love to master stem mixing with an APC. Personally, it entertains me more to watch someone stem mix than someone DJ. I’d like to be that person. 

Chris Michaels – Cryptochronica

What creative ways do you promote your music?

This is a hard one for me. Most of my creativity happens in Ableton, and the moment I try to promote or network, it all falls apart. I feel like anytime I make an Instagram post, it sounds contrived and hollow, and posting on Fakebook, literally splinters my soul a little bit. I don’t mean “figuratively,” I mean literally– full- Voldemort- Horcrux- status- splinters my soul. Facebook is where art goes to cough it’s last breath. 

That said, I have tried a few things that I think are different, but decent avenues for promoting my music. I used to work for a radio station in Hawaii, so I reached out to peers from the station and have asked them to play and promote my music. I’ve also reached out to all my DJ friends in various cities around the world and have sent them tracks for free in exchange for playing them, and name dropping Cryptochronica in their sets. I’ve taken to submitting my music to college radio stations here in the Pacific Northwest. I have also begun to make rack packs, sample packs and production videos I’ll be releasing soon, and I’ll give out free downloads for people who subscribe to my Youtube Page. Like Dylan’s always saying, generating listener engagement is crucial, and following his “attract and capture” marketing strategy is so important for widening your appeal among your core demographic. 

What is next for Cryptochronica in 2020?

Teaching! I’m so excited to start teaching through the Dojo and share some tricks, techniques and conceptual frameworks with the amazing community we have here! Personally, I also want to ride the momentum from this release and start touring in a more serious way, doing “cluster bomb” style shows, where I’ll spend four or five nights in a city, play as many places as I can, and then move on to the next city. Because of my years traveling, and because of amazing websites like Couchsurfers.com and Trustedhousesitters.com I know oodles of people I can stay with for free for a few nights at a time. Cutting out hotel expenses are critical, and I’m done sleeping in a car.

It’s also really about time that I buckle down and focus on working with vocalists. Bangers are dope, but songs are immortal. I need to transform the ideas I have for lyrics and hooks into full tracks, and record them, in studio, with trained vocalists. 

My long term goals are this: sustain myself and raise a family on an income solely derived from music, never have a boss again, do a festival circuit and, ultimately, be re-mixed by Bassnectar, and/or collab with/open for him. I can die happy after that. 

Is there anything else that you would like to share with us? 

Yes! I would like to share at least a few production tricks so you’ll know how I made (some of) it! 

Now, I’m as much on my journey as anyone is, with plenty of hurdles to overcome and still SO much room to grow, but one of Cryptochronica’s strengths is that the listener can clearly hear me, my style, my sounds, my identity in the tracks. Cryptochronica has a clearly defined “voice”. And the thing that enables one to find and command their “voice” is simple: committed library management.

That is tip numero uno: Know your tools. Build sounds and effects that you know intricately, every macro, every articulation, every variable, and save them. Once you have a set of committed basses, a set of leads, a set of vocals, atmospheres, plucks, etc. use those sounds religiously. Slightly tweak details from song to song, and don’t be afraid to improvise, but use the templates you’ve configured for yourself in your nighttime sessions. When you use your templates, what happens over the course of multiple songs is that clear sound palettes and clear articulation patterns emerge, giving you a style. Think, for instance, of the clear Bassnectar arpegios, or the Polish Ambassador detuned leads, or the Charlesthefirst plucks, or Ill.gate’s distinctive gloppy-gloopy bubbly-slurpy textures; the moment any of those sounds happen, one can immediately recognize the artist- because the sounds are used, in some fashion, pretty consistently in their work. And that’s just one instrument: the mark of the true masters is that every single sound of theirs drips with their voice, not just a single bass, or a single arp sound. 

Second tip: Lasers! Spend an hour making 100 different lasers using every single wave table of Serum, or Massive, or whatever synth you’re using, and throw them into a saved folder. Drop ‘em into your project anytime you need a little high-end spice/excitement or anytime you cut an instrument suddenly, if you put a laser where you cut the audio, it’ll sound like the laser is a scissors, snipping the sound fabric at that point. Add a delay onto your laser for extra spice.

Third tip: Snare diversity. We talk about layering a lot in the dojo, because it is the quintessential sound design technique a producer must have down. And that layering takes on added meaning when we talk about the all important Snare. Layer your snares, but also have the layers vary from snare to snare, so that even if you use the same four sounds in a snare, (Body, Punch, High, Wide) have the Wide component pan in a different place, or maybe have the reverb tail stretch or shorten, or add a pre-transient or some foley texture. Because the snare hit happens so much over the course of the song, diversity from hit to hit will keep the track interesting. Essentially, you want your snares to have their own grammar in the song, so that a 4 bar loop’s snares might look something like this:

(numbers are the Snare, letters are the Reverb):

1A  1B 1A  2B 

Or

1A  2A 1A  2B

Or

1A  2A 3A  4A 1B 2B  3B 4B

You get the idea. But make sure the little details in you snares stay fresh, because the human ear can pick out mechanical, identical repetition, and that gets boring fast. 

Bonus tip: Bells, water drops, congas, snaps, glass breaking and quiet vocal chants make great snare layers. 

Alright everybody, this has been such good fun, If you have any questions or would like me to share some more with you, don’t hesitate to reach out, or book me for a Dojo Lesson; I’m a teacher in my day job, and very little makes me happier than helping people learn. Happy producing, and of course, peace and Aloha!

If you haven’t heard it yet, check out the new EP here: Cryptochronica – “The Beginning is Near.”