From the witch house track, ‘Portals’ – which comes complete with a Pinoy Jack Donoghue – to the Lana Del Rey-channelling ‘Ocean Star’, 24-year-old Justin Craig as Conclave (stylised as CONCLΔVE) belongs firmly in the realm of bedroom producers. His songs hit all the right subgenre notes derivative of the sound borne of the scene Pictureplane trollingly gave birth to, and his musical background is the perfect fodder for us to contextualise the bedroom producer scene. Technology has not only democratised knowledge (with the internet), but it has also levelled the playing field in music with the advent of digital audio workstation (DAW) softwares.
“Three years ago I haven’t got a single clue on how to make music,” Craig shares with us. Not only was he not musically educated since childhood, he didn’t fit the self-taught musician cliché either – Craig never invested in learning how to play any instruments on his own. “I just happened to stumble upon some digital audio workstations way back then on my computer,” he tells us in reference to DAWs the likes of Ableton Live and FL Studio. He continues, “I was very confused and didn’t even have a single idea of how to stitch up a beat.” Before he knew it though, he was experimenting on different sounds, enough to make a whole depository of instrumentals (“Like, a lot a lot,” he emphasises).
“You could say that my passion for music went through, I was able to have this moment of brilliance wherein everything just made sense.”
It’s a familiar story shared by most bedroom producers; internet age autodidacts whose art wasn’t a learned product in the traditional sense, but instead learnt from message boards and YouTube videos. And just like the traditional autodidact, their works have a vigour untainted by the academisation of art. Unshackled by outmoded templates, Craig is free to write music in his image.
Describing his self-titled LP as “deeply personal… a testament to how much I love various styles of music,” his debut is a confluence of electro, hip hop, and industrial elements, not unlike the band we surmised is his biggest influence, Salem. And Craig does confirm to us that he was inspired by them – “One of my biggest influences in music,” he says – like them his songs are rooted in hip hop snares, claps, kicks, and synth.
“The real magic is how [Salem] meshed all of those into a unique haunting sound,” continues Craig, unknowingly describing the sonic constant of his debut LP. He laughs at that notion and admits as much that if he were to be asked to define his music, he wouldn’t know what to say. That, in his opinion, is the real thrill of it all: “Venturing into the unknown.”
It helps that he’s walking into that territory as aided by incredibly disparate influences. Growing up he was exposed to Enya, Metallica, and the Prodigy, come high school he was introduced to k-pop, j-pop, and even Mandopop, and finally, it was in college that Craig discovered Japanese producer Nakata Yasutaka and Björk – two of his biggest influences aside from Salem.
Rather ironically, despite our supposition of his being a new-fangled breed of musician, Craig goes surprisingly traditional when choosing the medium for his debut LP, it’s released only on vinyl. His reasoning for this is straightforward: “Vinyl records have the best sound quality, and I want my listeners to have the best listening experience.” Before adding that it’s an opportunity to have his record go straight into their personal collections, that is.
Although previously describing the album as personal, with the exception of one track, the record is surprisingly collaboration-heavy. From Luxe Calip’s haunting Americana vocals to Blam Lord’s crack-induced rap drawl, each guest vocalist is chosen with real intent – one that relates to his choice of stage name. “The word ‘conclave’ is synonymous with ‘gathering’, I see my music project as a gathering of only the most unique voices out there,” he explains, adding that being a fan of different styles of music, the guest vocalists on the record is personally curated to “best reward their individual vocal styles.”
Interestingly though, while a fan of the Pinoy scene’s range of vocalists, Craig isn’t so impressed when it comes to fellow producers. “Most of them create generic hip hop beats, and I’m like, c’mon, that is so f*cking boring!” he exclaims. Claiming that it’s an ‘underground thing’, he admits that there are a lot of new ones appearing in the scene recently, but not many are talented enough.
“A lot of producers here are afraid of taking risks, which is really, really sad and f*cking uninspiring.”
There is animosity in his tone, but Craig isn’t so kind on himself either. While the creation of the self-titled LP was cathartic, and “a fun experience both physically and mentally”, it led to something of a ‘depression’ for him post-release. Maybe the same pressure he puts on other producers is something he puts on himself as well – he’s been feeling unsatisfied with himself musically due to the fact that he felt the need to surpass the sounds off the LP (an album he describes as “a result of various experimentations”).
“Regardless, I quickly realised that in order for me to fully do that, I must first let go and just let the music that I’m making take me to where I should be.”
Letting go, he did. Having recently played live for the first time with Luxe Calip on vocals to the request of an encore, Craig sees more shows in the offing and thoughts of quitting he had before have dissolved into a newfound drive. “My journey is just getting started and I hope it really goes a long way,” he tells us. Like the autodidacts before him, the pressure to prove oneself can make the journey go either way; blossoming or destructive. Luckily for listeners, both paths make for far more an interesting career trajectory than that of the generic artiste.
Released under Phantasma Disques, CONCLΔVE’s self-titled debut LP can be purchased at phantasmadisques.bigcartel.com.