Words: Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography: Kahlil Hernandez
Freeza Chin’s success as an in demand DJ and mixing engineer is not as a result of luck, it’s been his ability to work hard and dedicate himself to his craft. You can also add that his willingness to rise above trends and stick to what he likes has been key. Over the past two years, where grime is finally getting its well-deserved international recognition, Freeza is reaping its benefits. He’s the official DJ for Tre Mission- Canada’s first grime artist outside the UK and the one who’s on the bill whenever a grime artist comes to town.
Did you always want to follow this path from when you were a kid?
No, I remember when I was kid it kept flying between wanting to be a skateboarder or a drummer in a rock band. Oh, and I wanted to be a soccer player but as I grew older I started smoking weed and did less sports— then I started getting into different types of music. Then I was into DJing heavy for a long time which I wanted to make a career, which is part of my career now. It was not until seven or eight years ago when I started going to school for recording.
Is this something you were self-taught in?
I have been dealing with music since I was a kid. I have been a DJ since I was 13. I went to University for computer programming— I had programming job and a year into the industry, I just wanted to kill myself. I decided to try my hand at doing something that I enjoy doing. I went to school at Centennial College for about a year. Around that time, I got an internship at a small studio downtown as well and worked there for a few months. He packed up shop and moved to Calgary and then I got an internship at Phase One because he knows the owner. You have to do an internship in this industry to get anywhere. I learnt so much at my internship than I ever did at school— I read a lot of books. Some people hate this, but I did a lot of YouTube and getting to learn from people in the industry.
Do you think self-teaching yourself in audio engineering in this day and age is still a viable option?
Absolutely. It all comes down to using your ears. There is absolutely an insanely large technical side of it but especially when you are dealing with music— I find a lot of it is using your ears. I know some of the craziest arrangers, producers, mixers, and engineers that never spent a minute in the classroom, meanwhile I know some people who passed every single exam with top grades. You can ask them any technical detail down to the last minute detail and they will know. It all depends on the person. I will say to be successful in this industry you have to be dedicated because it is very tough. For one, I was an intern for a year and a half; you are not getting paid, you are getting coffee— but you are spending time in room full of people who are experienced.
I know you just left Phase One studios, were you scared to lose the comfort of steady pay cheque?
In a way I was but it was about time. Phase One was awesome, it is one of the top recording studios in the city and the country. I have learnt a lot from a lot of skilled people in the industry that has come through there. I have been there for six years and I always intended to leave at some point. Like you said it was a comfort thing but you know, around the time I left was when I went to LA with Tre for the Redbull thing. A partner and I who also worked at Phase One started our own company called Genesis Sound and we are looking to open our own facility—but yeah, I am excited; I get to be doing my own thing.
Was there a point through your journey where you felt like quitting?
There were times where we finished a session and it was so early in the morning that we only had time to go back home, take a shower, and come right back. There was a stint where I spent literally over 72 hours in the studio straight— we took shifts and we would nap for an hour each. There are some artists with a crazy deadline who do not care if you sleep and you have to make sure you are doing the work properly because if you mess it up, it is on you. It does get frustrating and you want to quit. You know a lot of my friends have office jobs working in the financial district, getting married, buying houses and stuff like that— I am in the club playing music I am working on, I am in the studio on weekends trying to get the mix perfect, trying to get the master right and that is what it comes back to— if you want to do this job, you have to really love it.
Have you ever felt that you’ve missed out on stuff because of what you do?
I kind of lived life a normal way in the past. Like I said, I went to school for programming and it drove me crazy. There are times where what I do has driven me crazy. It is tough but I never expected it to be easy. Yeah a lot of stuff does get sacrificed— relationships. Everyone who knows if you are into music, it is almost like a full time girlfriend. I have a girl who has to dedicate a lot of time in the industry she is in so I am blessed enough to be in a relationship that we understand we have to put in the time now to make a good life later.
Do you feel the term DJ has been thrown around loosely these days? It seems anybody can play music they are into and call themselves that.
It all depends. I like to keep it real as much as possible but I do understand that DJing is work at times. I do corporate gigs and I realize I can not play funky or garage— but in terms of what DJing is, it really comes down to what it is for you. For me I have the most fun when I play shit I like. Going back to your question on whether if that term is being thrown around a lot these days— I would say yes but I am also a fan of modern technology and making things more accessible then it was back in the day. At the same time, I see people who say DJs are plugging in their iPods, hitting the sync button and matching shit up— I do not think that is DJing. It is a touchy subject man. I do not hate.
Do you feel people should respect the art of DJing?
I do. I am no way a “turntablist”, I can do some basic scratching. I would like to think that DJing is a culture and you should respect the culture and you should at least know about the history. A lot of kids do not know that it took a long time before Serato got to where it is at— there was never a sync button before, there were not cue points; you had to put a sticky on the record where the cue starts up. It is interesting because the recording industry is very similar in a sense that now anyone with “mbox” and a $100 USB microphone automatically has a recording studio. You do not have to go to a studio anymore
True. I heard Daniel Caesar recorded his first record in his living room.
Bryson Tiller recorded his vocals for “Don’t” in his living room.
It is good and bad; it is bad because people think that they can go to a dude’s basement who has blankets up in a makeshift vocal booth— but they do not realize that more than likely the guy working in a professional studio has worked on his craft and there is a reason that he is there.
But maybe we can argue that technology has made it more accessible for artists to make music and they do not have to drop thousands of dollars before getting their music out there.
In a way. Do not get me wrong— amazing records are being made in basements. I find that it is more prevalent in urban music; for the most part, urban music you only really have to record a vocal or a small instrument. For rock and stuff that requires bands and stuff like that, you will have people recording in their garage and it sounds like shit. I would believe in that situation that it would be wise to record in a studio that has the proper accommodation, technology, and proper equipment— but I mean Migos records all their shit in a basement and it sounds wavy; Young Thug does the same thing, Juicy J records his stuff in hotel rooms and it sounds dope.
Wasn’t watch the throne recorded in hotel rooms?
Yeah. It is funny when I was working at Phase, a lot of the hip-hop clients who would come in would be on tour. They would always want to be working. For example, the Black Eyed Peas took over the studio for three days working from like 6pm until 4am— and I had to.
Yeah. You know, a lot of kids want to rap and make stuff but they do not have the money to pay for studio time. So in a sense, it would make sense to do stuff on their own.
I think as long as they respect it as an art and understand that it is not just about making it bang or making it sound distorted. You have to understand that there is art to it, that there is technical knowledge that you need to know. I will tell everyone that I work with that I am not the most technical guy; I would not know how to fix a piece of gear by opening it up or know every parameter on every piece of equipment but I use my ears— I find as long as it sounds good.
Why do you think kids might be scared to do what they really want to do?
I do not think kids really are these days. Especially with music, there is so many young dudes— especially producers from the city. I do not even know what to tell you. I can not imagine what it means to be a kid in the world today. It took me a while to come to a point and realize that if you are not happy, it is going to show in your life.
Actually, I have answer for your question. Kids today are lazy. Stuff is not easy man. Especially if you want to fuck with music— they see all the cool shit and they do not understand that it is a grind.
How do you find your voice and style as DJ or a mixing engineer in an industry that is so saturated? I always say “if I know Freeza Chin is playing somewhere, I know I have to be there because I know what to expect”.
I started DJing with Jungle/Drum and Bass when I was 13. I used to fuck with a lot of Ragga Jungle. From there was where I discovered Reggae— they used to throw in samples from live Sound clashes and Dubplates and I was like, what is this shit? I also listened to a lot of Hip-Hop when I was growing up and Rock music but in terms of DJing, I find if I had to describe it— I have to play a riddim whether it be House, Garage, Trap, Grime, Reggae or Dancehall; I always find there is a bit of Caribbean. You know how you always hear a beat and you are like, that is a fucking riddim. That is why I fuck with it.
It is interesting actually because I am actually starting a label under Marcus Visionary and DJ Lush’s “Inner City Dance” label, we are going to be calling it “Bare Selection” and I am using it to showcase mostly instrumental music— a lot of Grime, Trap, Garage, House stuff, basically stuff that I fuck with. My intent is that one day when I am not here, you can look at the catalogue and say that was his style.
But how do you develop the self-confidence where you play what you want and not be a follower of trends or tapping into what is hot at the moment?
I play stuff that I listen to anyway. I would like to think my taste is alright, I do not think it is a confidence thing— I never thought of it that way. It is always a drag when people come up to you and say, “Yo, can you start playing so and so”. For example, I have been playing at Tymeless for about 8 years no; it is reggae monthly, it is all reggae all the time, it is a “Rastaman” bar but you always get people coming to you— “Hey can you play the new Black Eyed Peas song? Can you play so and so?”. Yeah, I do not know how to answer that question.
I mean even with photography— when you log onto Instagram, everyone is shooting the same way. If you like to shoot faces, do that. Do not shoot buildings because it is the hottest thing to do.
Now that you put it that way— It is funny because around 2008-2009 when I was playing this kind of shit people did not think it was cool.
Exactly, that is my point.
Last year at the Skepta show when I played “I Luv U” by Dizzee Rascal and everybody knew the words— I even said to myself “In 2008-2009, I dropped this tune and nobody knew what I was doing”. I love that you guys know this music now. Again that is proof to my point of— I just stuck to what I loved playing. In the music industry or the entertainment industry there is always going to be to a certain extent, people that are going to judge you and you have to be careful to how you are perceived. At the same time, you have to not lose yourself and turn into a follower. You just got to be you— I might be Freeza Chin but at the end of the day I am Freeza Chin that does normal shit. I have never been one to follow a trend.
Would you say you are content right now?
Things are going well. I am trying to get my studio up and running. I am pretty content.
What is success to you?
I want at the end of the day to be known for a sound whether it be through my DJing, through music I produce for people, or recording/mixing/mastering that I’ve done — I want people to expect a sound and vibe when they hear the name Freeza Chin.
Listen to New Currency Tape 2 by Freeza Chin.