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All about the Beat

Rory Foster talks to Jake 'Handbook' Brown about beats, oboes and competing in the digital jungle.

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Jake Brown does not look like a man that could comfortably rattle off the chronological order of Flying Lotus' discography. Nor does he particularly suggest the ability to name the samples off of Slum Village's LPs better than he can remember the names of the songs themselves. Nevertheless, these are things that Brown, who makes beats under the name Handbook, can (just about) do.

York's second finest Sam Smith pub, The Hansom Cab, played host to our conversation where I had the best intentions of grilling him over his career, his prospects and his music, but conversation quickly degenerated into gushing over hip-hop, drum patterns and just how good J Dilla was. Nevertheless, I managed to keep it together just long enough to discuss Brown's own phenomenal raise to prominence in barely the length of time I've spent at this university.

Handbook makes beats. Beats are derived from the track you hear underneath an MC's rap in regular hip-hop, but since works such as DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..., J Dilla's Donuts, and Flying Lotus' Los Angeles, making beats has expanded, merged and converged with electronic music, jazz, funk and soul to become an art form in its own right. "You don't have to try and get a band together, you don't need to get a studio, it's just you, a laptop and your equipment".

Currently they find me on the internet. With live you come to them.

Originally a drummer, when his band parted ways beat-making filled the musical gap left behind. Brown's time making beats - a mere three years - stands testament to how quickly things can move within a genre that has a greater presence on the internet than anywhere outside of it's spiritual home, L.A.
Sites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud give artists the ability to connect musical styles just by seeing which artists are following one another. Handbook's presence on the latter is particularly impressive, with over 100 tracks uploaded covering numerous EPs, several LPs and a lot of collaboration with hip-hop artists and beatmakers around the world. With over 20,000 followers and some songs having near 100,000 plays (not including plenty on those Youtube channels with the sexy women on the front), Brown knows just how essential it is to be on the top of both your music and social media game: "It's so important to link everything post on the Twitter which links to the Facebook, Soundcloud, Tumblr, even Myspace if you're feeling retro".

Considering Handbook's popularity, it's perhaps surprising that he isn't a regular performer at Fibbers. The reason is twofold: "Performing live at the moment is secondary...I don't like a huge focus on me in a room, I prefer to be hidden away creating and making something new." That's not to say that when he does perform live, such as last year's appearance at a Circulation launch party, it doesn't go well: "The Circulation show was definitely one of the best I've played... it was a good vibe." But the other reason why he's not picked up a residency at Tokyo yet is that fans are everywhere, but not concentrated anywhere: the one problem with your online presence exceeding your local imprint is that fans could be next door or in Australia: "I was invited to do a festival in Denmark last year...just a last minute call, I was so surprised they even knew my stuff." The solution? "I'm refining my live show and making sure it's worth coming to see, as it's an essential way of getting out there. Currently they find me on the internet. With live you come to them".

So what with the speed at which the beat scene moves geographically, technologically and the relatively small barriers to entry, it's no surprise that the internet is flooded with people who want to be the next FlyLo ("If Flying Lotus uses an oboe in a track, you can bet there's 10,000 other kids out there that are gonna do the same"). It takes a lot for someone, especially outside of L.A, to make an impact. A particular exception to that rule has been the rise of Manchester's Star Slinger. His popularity snowballed due to a change to less samples and more club-ready remixes.

But does the social media approach count as selling out, and is this even a bad thing? "When people talk about trying something different or... or saying 'give this a try'. It's not selling out, but actually it's just a different challenge. It's applying what you do in one style to another and most of the time that comes to really good effect." It seems that at least for the time being then, Jake Brown is happy riding the online wave for a little longer and seeing where it takes him: "Handbook is what I want to do, it's what I'm feeling is right".

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