Since emerging as one third of BV (FKA Black Vanilla), Melbourne-based producer, selector and SUMAC co-head DJ PLEAD has moved from strength to strength with each year that passes.
Working across a range of projects, DJ Plead (aka Jarred Beeler) is affiliated with some of the best producers and DJs operating in the Asia-Pacific, all making deeply considered and deeply felt work. Last year’s wonderful Get In Circle EP debuted Beeler’s signature sound: rolling, latticework rhythms inspired by Levantine dabke and global club cultures. Released on Air Max ‘97’s label Decisions, the EP laid the groundwork for 2019’s Pleats Plead EP.
Pleats Plead, released on TSVI's Nervous Horizon label takes everything that made Get In Circle so thrilling even further, demonstrating a keen refinement of style and an infectious danceability.
I had the privilege of speaking to Beeler via phone last week. We spoke about his new EP, inspirations, working across several projects and future plans.
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First of all, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Congratulations on releasing the new EP! I’ve listened a few times and it’s definitely your strongest and most realised work yet. How would you say this EP differs from your previous?
The previous EP was more scattered. They were tracks picked by Oliver [van der Lugt, aka Air Max ’97], from Decisions, tracks he just really liked out of a big bunch of demos. There was one on that release that was maybe four years old, and used different drums sounds with a different approach. So, it was scattered, but it worked.
With this release, I’ve streamlined my music-making in a lot of ways, in terms of what sounds I’m using, and how I structure them and arrange them, so they glue together more. All of them are relatively recently made, in the last year or so, except ‘Ruby,’ which is one of my older tracks - the first track I made in Ableton. It’s the only outlier so the drum sounds are a little different.
Not to get too bogged down in the detail, but I’m curious about your workflow. What’s the usual starting point for such rhythmically-dense and sonically-precise pieces, and how do you then go onto developing pieces?
I normally start with drum sounds, then find some sort of basic groove and try to fill in the pockets within that, but not too much. After that, it’s not too difficult to arrange, because with that groove there’s only a few options melodically that can work. Usually I’m quite worried about melodic elements dampening any kind of rhythmic momentum. So say I had long chords, it takes away from the rhythmic experience of the track. That’s why a lot of my tracks are staccato-like and percussive, and the melodic parts tend to be percussive.
Your heritage comes up a lot in pieces written about you, and how it informs your practice and sonics, the “Midi East,” as you sometimes put it. I wanted to ask, to give people perhaps more context to your work, if there were any particular artists or genres that you’re drawing upon?
Well, I’ve heard this music growing up, but as it was happening. It’s strange, because when I would originally hear the music at weddings and family functions, I wasn’t aware of any particular artist or who was making it, it was just there, and it was immediate. Only when I was doing my own research did I find out who these people were. Tony Kiwan was big in the 90s and early 00s, Fairuz is a big influence in that region in terms of melody and songwriting, lots of other dabke artists. There’s another Syrian artist called Saria al-Sawas, she’s amazing.
I think there’s a difference between pop dabke production, which you can find online, and live recorded performances of one performer, a keyboard player and drummer at a wedding. Doing these covers, the feel and tone vary across performances, like doing shout-outs to the bride and the family. It’s more raw and dramatic, less polished than the pop productions. They’re just a follow-up when artists get big.
Also one thing to note is that it works more similarly to how pop music was done in the 50s in the US, where people would do covers and get famous for that. A lot of these songs are old folk songs that then get turned into these pop songs later on, sort of a cover, performed by many different singers in some format available online. Some artists might never write their own songs.
You’re involved in quite a few different projects at once. Obviously your work in BV goes way back, but then there’s Poison with T.Morimoto, and co-running the label SUMAC, which has put out really great records by Logic1000, Jon Watts and FAKE. How does working across a few different projects at once influence your work as DJ Plead?
I think I’ve learned from everyone that I work with. I learned a lot of it from Lavurn [Lee, aka Cassius Select and FAKE] and Marcus [Whale, one half of Collarbones]: how to make music, how to make dance music, how to appreciate rhythm. That came a lot from them.
Later on, working with Tom Smith [T.Morimoto] and Tom McCallister [Cop Envy], I learned about finishing things quickly and not being precious about the track itself. You don’t have time in collaboration to get neurotic. I think running the SUMAC label is an exercise in curation, and I do that with Tom Smith and Jon Watts. That’s more an exercise in handling other people’s music, and communications. It’s difficult and hugely interesting. I’ve been built up by all these projects.
Releasing on TSVI’s Nervous Horizon is a big deal - in fact, you’re getting attention in a lot of great places, including from Four Tet, who put ‘Baharat’ in the most recent update of his Spotify playlist.
Wait, what? Seriously?
Yeah! Haha, wow I can’t believe I’m the person breaking that news to you.
That’s crazy, haha.
Has getting this kind of engagement with your work influenced any changes in your practice?
I’m trying not to change too much. I have gotten some interest from other labels in the UK that I really would love to release on, and that has kind of sent me scrambling to make stuff. I fear I’m putting pressure on myself, making music in a different direction. Before I would make it and see what would happen; now it’s for a purpose, which isn’t really “bad.” It’s added some kind of importance, a weight in my own head. Also, say a certain label hits me up and wants to hear tracks, I try and make tracks for that label. That’s how this [EP] came about, making more UK Funky tracks for Nervous Horizon’s taste. I like these constraints.
Oakland-based collective Club Chai’s co-founder 8ULENTINA has recently announced their second EP, which you’re featured on for one track. How did the track with 8ULENTINA come about?
They just reached out via email, and we got to chatting. I sent them a playlist of snippets I had made, they took one, flipped it, and the track was made. It’s just a few pieces they took, and made into a longer piece. They changed it up. I wanna do more collaborations this year, and work with as many different people as possible.
I’ve been thinking about what really typifies the artists on the SUMAC roster, including you of course, and I think the word that comes to mind is patience - artists working away for years before surfacing with something that’s truly worth sharing and playing. That might be completely wrong, of course. Would you agree that it’s patience, or is it something else?
I don’t think it’s patience… You’re close, but it’s not artists working away for years honing their craft. It’s about coaxing people out of their shell. That’s what Tom [T.Morimoto] did with me about four years ago.
With Logic1000, we just said “You’re releasing then and there,” and then she got herself into gear and did it. Jon [Watts] was also similar. He had been sitting on some stuff for a while, and so we said “Alright, we’ll just release it.”
It’s been an EP per year for 2018 and 2019, as well as work across various other projects, photography, and whatever else you must have going on. Is there anything else coming up in 2019 you can let us in on?
I just wanna release more music, and focus on collaborating with different people doing different things, like 8ULENTINA. I want to collaborate with Air Max’s other project, I want to release another record this year, but we’ll see who that’s with, and if I end up finishing that. I don’t think that’s out of question.
DJ Plead's second EP Pleats Plead is out now via Nervous Horizon.
DJ Plead will be performing at Camp Doogs before heading to Europe in May.
Words by MICHAEL STRATFORD HUTCH