STUDIO TO STREET: The Difference Machine

The Difference Machine

In 2011, after hearing “Psychology,” the debut single from the newly-established hip-hop duo the Difference Machine, I issued a warning: Atlanta hip-hop had better step up its game because these cats were chopping off heads and ready to take names. It was my own personal (and completely incidental) mini Kendrick Lamar moment (not really), even if DT (rhymes) and Dr. Conspiracy (beats) weren’t quite ready to pick up that mantle.

Since then, it’s been a waiting game. Recorded output has been scarce—in addition to “Psychology,” the Difference Machine released the “Futuristic Blast” single in 2012—but the duo’s dynamic live performances have more than whetted the appetites of local hip-hop heads and music fans alike. In June they sealed their status as one of the city’s best live acts by winning the Creative Loafing-sponsored Throwdown, earning themselves a slot at next year’s CounterPoint Festival in the process. But with today’s release of The Psychedelic Sounds of the Difference Machine, the group’s debut full length and the first record to be released by the local Psych Army Intergalactic Records label, DT and Dr. Conspiracy are ready to take their immersive experimental hip-hop and abstract poetics to the next level—and possibly pick up that mantle in the process.

Recently, I got the opportunity to converse with the duo over email. Among other things, we discussed the new record, their musical connection and the highs and lows of the Atlanta music scene.

How did the Difference Machine come together?

DT: Conspiracy and I had known about each other starting around 2007 or 2008. Basically the circles that we ran in started to cross-pollinate and we started running into each other more often, and we started building more. The homie Brannon (Boyle) at Speakeasy suggested we do a song together. We linked up and worked and kinda knew we were on to something. We just kept it going from there.

Atlanta is known for its hip hop. But there are so many variations and subsets, so many crews and cliques, that it easy for some artists to get drowned out in all the noise. What do you think makes the Difference Machine standout from all your contemporaries and peers?

DT: I think that our sound, our vibe, and our presence is unlike any of the hip-hop that’s being made in the city. From the style of production to the live performance to the content of the lyrics, we stand out because we’re a different beast (machine if you will). Also, we are heavily inspired by music that isn’t hip-hop and that also adds a certain perspective and aesthetic to our music.

Outside of hip-hop, what are some artists that inspired the making of this record? How did you incorporate their particular aesthetics into your music?

Dr. Conspiracy: We are definitely inspired by psychedelic, garage and progressive rock music, both old and current. We are into Pink Floyd, Ultimate Spinach, Black Angels, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Lumerians, 13th Floor Elevators, Yes, Frank Zappa, David Axelrod, the Velvet Underground and a ton more. Of course, one way we incorporated their aesthetics into our music was by sampling several of the above artists. Outside of sampling, we are influenced by psych rock in terms of the genre’s abstract nature and sense of experimentation.

The Psychedelic Sounds… feels like a culmination, something that has been a longtime coming. Your single “Psychology,” for instance, has been out since 2011. How long have you been working on this record? Was there a particular vision or mindset you were trying to achieve when you were putting it all together?

Dr. Conspiracy: We have been working on the record since early 2011. I don’t know that there was a particular mindset or vision; we just make music we like that is built on both of our strengths. The beats we pick to turn into songs tend to have a certain theme and that lends itself to a certain consistency on the album. Also, because the lyrics are written to the vibe of the beats, the lyrics tend to have similar features as the music.

Talk to me about the musical connection you two share. What is it about each others’ style and approach that inspires you the most and how have your individual styles evolved since you started working together? How did that connection come to fruition on this record?

Dr. Conspiracy: An important musical connection we share is our mutual interest in psychedelic rock music and old music in general. Both of us are into digging for records, specifically late ’60s and early ’70s rock, jazz and soul. An important aspect of both of our styles that allows us to build is our willingness to experiment with and build on the classic hip-hop formula. Although we like the hook-verse-hook style of boom bap, we more or less see it as a starting point for a new style of music that is a more abstract form of classic ’90s hip-hop. Also, we just want to take what has been already done to the next level—more distortion, longer verses, less hooks, more reverb, etc. I think the record is built on this theory.

You mentioned the beats having a certain theme and that the lyrics sort of follow suit. How would you describe that theme and how did it inform the overall nature of The Psychedelic Sounds?

Dr. Conspiracy: The theme of the lyrics and beats is both of us trying to take everything to the next level, pushing ourselves to add more to every aspect of what we do. We want the drums to be louder and more distorted; the lyrics to be more abstract, forceful and passionate; and the psychedelic influence to be more direct.

Now that your record is coming out, what can we expect next from the Difference Machine?

Dr. Conspiracy: We have several shows coming up, but definitely expect more music. We already have an EP close to completion and plans for another full length. Also, both DT and I are working on instrumental records. Live performance is a priority, but we both really love writing music and working in the studio.

What’s your favorite spot in the city to catch a show and why?

The best venue in Atlanta is 529. The sound system is amazing, the bartenders are great, it’s got an awesome patio, the sound people always make the bands sound great, and the promoters they work with are constantly booking good shows.

What’s the best spot in town to go crate digging for vinyl?

Dr. Conspiracy: The best spot to dig for vinyl is top secret information that cannot be shared with the general public or all our records would be dug up. As far as well-known record spots, Wuxtry Records in Athens and Criminal Records in Atlanta are both great record stores.

What’s your favorite ATL restaurant and the dish you can’t live without?

There are a lot of great restaurants in Atlanta, but we are both fans of cooking at home to save money and cater to our own tastes. Plus, with the money we save we can buy more records and drum machines.

What’s the most overrated Atlanta institution? Why?

Dr. Conspiracy: There are a lot of overrated institutions in Atlanta, but we would rather not speak negatively about anyone or anything. It’s just not a good look for anybody.

What about the most underrated Atlanta institution?

Dr. Conspiracy: The music scene in general. Because Atlanta is so well known nationally for its trap/pop rap, the underground music scene is definitely overshadowed by this. When people think of Atlanta music they always think of snap rap one-hit wonders rather than the amazing garage rock, psych rock and hip-hop scenes that are currently flourishing here.

If you could change one thing about the Atlanta music scene what would it be?

Dr. Conspiracy: The only thing we would want to change about the music scene is an increase in the attendance at local shows. Although lots of people come out to shows, there are lots of great shows that are under-attended, specifically local music. This could be due to Atlanta’s suburban sprawl, which causes a large portion of the population to be far away from the epicenter of the music scene, but hopefully more people will do their research, learn about all the great local bands and drive into the city to start packing out venues every night of the week.

The Difference Machine will celebrate the release of The Psychedelic Sounds of the Difference Machine tonight at 529. Supporting them will be Ante Meridian and the N.E.C., as well as DJ sets from Yamin Semali, Knumbskull, Patty Hearst, and the Beatles. Doors open at 9pm. $7 gets you in.

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