It doesn’t take long to recognize a Doctor P song when you hear it. The thick bass and piercing high frequencies of his sound design infiltrate your senses faster than you can say “dubstep.” It’s a sound that’s invasive and aggressive, satisfying in a confusing way, and totally unexpected from the pleasantly mellow producer, Shaun Brockhurst. Years before the rapid rise in popularity of dubstep in the US, Doctor P was pioneering the techniques that would define some of the characteristic sounds of American dubstep. His influence can be heard in much of what we hear in American dubstep today, but maybe no one else can still move so many people’s bodies into impassioned convulsions the way Doctor P did at Mysteryland USA this summer. We sat down with him before he annihilated the Boat Stage to discuss his methods, dream collaborations and his devotion to the genre he helped to shape.
So, I understand that the P—Doctor P—stands for Picto, which is your old drum ‘n’ bass alias and I guess a kind of nickname for you, so I was wondering how that came about as a nickname.
I’ll tell the story, but I feel like people don’t understand now. Basically on old Nokias, you had predictive text, which is the original, like, autocorrect, and if you type Shaun, my name, it autocorrected to Picto.
That’s pretty funny.
Yeah, so that’s where it comes from. It’s not an exciting story, really, that’s just the origin of it.
Okay, so what went through your head when you were kind of just looking at dubstep and it was primarily focused on bass frequencies, and you started making music that was dropping into really high mids and high frequencies? Why did you kind of go in that direction?
I mean, I don’t think I did it on purpose, but I think looking back, the thing that made me do it is that I think music with that really, really intense bass and really, really piercing high frequency just kind of sounds really satisfying. Although I can’t explain it in any other way except it just sounds satisfying. Just, I don’t know. It’s just so, like…extreme. It just gets some part of your brain that you can’t quite explain it.
It’s interesting, yeah, ‘cause as humans we hear the upper mids the loudest—louder than any other frequency range.
Yeah, so to hear music that’s pushing it to the absolute extreme—I don’t know, it just does something that other music doesn’t do. And I didn’t make the decision to do it on purpose, it just kind of happened.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Um, I mean, I started off listening to drum ‘n’ bass, really from the beginning, when I was about twelve. But then I went off track a bit and went and got into metal and a bit of hip-hop and stuff, and then I kind of rediscovered drum ‘n’ bass when I was about eighteen. That was only really when I started making music, when I was about eighteen—making proper electronic music. Yeah, I mean I kind of rediscovered drum ‘n’ bass and rediscovered electronic music, and, yeah, that’s really where it came from.
Cool. So I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but I personally hear a lot of Russian and Slavic folk music influence in your music?
You’re not the first person to say that! I guess it is. I haven’t deliberately taken inspiration from that.
That’s so interesting.
Yeah, I mean obviously I did “Tetris”, and that is, like, a traditional Russian folk melody. I guess Tetris—that actual theme song—has been influential in melodies and stuff. That was one of the first things I ever learned to play on the keyboard. That’s why I remixed it. It’s like a going-back-to-the-beginning sort of thing. Yeah, I guess, like, learning that originally has gotten some Russian melodies into my brain.
But you also have that kind of 8-bit aesthetic.
Yeah, that goes back to the Tetris thing. Well, the only game I had on my Game Boy when I was a kid was Tetris. It came with Tetris and I had no other games. I couldn’t afford other games. I heard that Tetris music about a million times when I was a kid, and I guess that has had a profound effect on my life. It’s resultant in the complete sound of my music.
But it’s also very angry, so where does that come from?
I think that comes from the fact that I don’t really express my emotions. People always say I’m really deadpan and I don’t express myself, so I guess my emotions come out through my music.
Yeah, cool. Could you take me through the process of composing and making the sound design for “Flying Spaghetti Monster”?
That actually started off as a 140 dubstep track, but it was sounding a bit boring, and I accidentally—my mouse hit the scroll wheel on the tempo and it accidentally went up to 200 BPM.
Oh my God.
And I really liked the sound of it. So I just left it there. I was actually in a hotel room in L.A. getting ready for a show when I did it and I got home after the tour, opened up the file and thought, “You know what, this is actually better like this.” And, yeah, I just left it. Made a few tweaks to make it sound right.
Yeah, it’s interesting because not a lot of dubstep sits in that mid-tempo range, kind of grooving.
Yeah, I think ‘cause I’ve always wanted 100 BPM music to take off, and it’s never quite had its time.
You don’t think it has its time now?
I mean, it’s building. It’s definitely building.
The twerk thing.
Yeah, yeah. And I was trying to make it happen, but I couldn’t. ‘Cause no one was really doing it. I’d personally do a track here and there. I mean I’ve made a couple more since then at 100 BPM. I’m hoping it has its time in the spotlight. I guess the twerking and that whole—Diplo does a few at 100 BPM, but it’s never really been the big thing, 100 BPM. I feel like 100 BPM electronic hip-hop could be something that could happen.
Maybe it will! And then “Music is Dead,” also a mid-tempo song with Dillon Franics—how was it working with Dillon on that?
Yeah, it was a cool. He’s a really funny guy. He’s a cool guy—just really relaxed. We went to his house to try and finish the track in L.A. and didn’t really get anywhere. His studio—I walked in like, “Where’s your studio?” And he was like, “This is it.” It was just like a folding Ikea table in his living room with his laptop on it, and that’s his studio. And I was like, “How are you making the music that you’re making in this studio? How is that possible?”
Was it his idea to put in the YouTube clips?
No I did that (laughing). I did that, yeah.
Sick. I mean, those make the song.
Yeah, it started off as a track I was working on just while I was on tour and he asked if I wanted to do a track together and I just sent him the bits to that track. He kind of turned it into something, yeah, and then we attempted to finish it together. Didn’t really happen. We just kind of put it out as it was I think. It never really got finished.
Sounds finished to me.
Well, a track’s never really finished, it just gets to a point where you give in and go, “That’s probably fine now.”
So you haven’t done a ton of collaborations, but who would your dream, unexpected collaboration be?
Whenever anyone asks me that I say Knife Party, just because they’ve been there since I started making music. I’ve talked to them about making a track together several times, but we just haven’t done it. So, my dream collaborator is actually asking me to do a track with him and I’m not doing it, but you got to have the right track I think. I don’t want to keep bombarding them with ideas that they’re not feeling. Kind of want to wait ‘til we feel the right idea and then make a track together.
I hope that happens!
Yeah, so do I! I mean, my original dream was Method Man and that ended up happening somehow by some miracle. So I’ve ticked off number one. And I give Knife Party now my number one. They’ve been bumped up.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while you were onstage?
I get asked that a lot and I never have a good answer for it. Nothing crazy ever happens to me.
Nothing? Do you see anything in the audience where you’re like, “Woah…”
I mean, a guy got stabbed once.
It’s not a good story. A guy literally got stabbed. I think it was me and Flux doing a back to back at Coachella—it was about three years ago.
And it was kind of like a mosh pit started, and a guy knocked another guy’s sunglasses. He picked up the broken sunglasses and stabbed the guy with them, and the guy went running off, jumped over the barrier with blood all running down him. We were just looking onstage like, “Jesus!” We just kind of carried on mixing. But yeah, that’s probably the craziest thing, although it’s not a very fun story to tell.
It’s not fun, but it sure is crazy.
I hope the guy’s all right now. I never followed up to find out what happened to him. I’m sure he’s all right.
Yeah, let’s hope so. What do you think is the direction of dubstep, as it is now. Where do you think it’s headed?
I never know how to answer that one either. I would have predicted that trap was going to have a little time and then die, but that’s ended up becoming absolutely massive. I’ve been waiting for dubstep to die, and it just hasn’t really. It’s kind of been on the same level for a few years now.
There was like a bump and now it’s kind of plateaued.
I’d say it’s been pretty much the same for about three years now or so. So, like, we’re not seeing a dip in sales or anything. So, I guess it’s kind of stabilized. And I’m not planning to stop doing it. I feel like it’s the music I’ve always made. It’s the music I’ve always wanted to make. Like, I know a lot of producers follow what happens to be current, and they change their style. I’m just kind of trying to do my thing. If nobody wants dubstep, I’m still probably going to be making dubstep. And just no one will be buying it, but I’ll still be making it. That’s a better way to be.
Well, thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking with you.
∆ Grace Sandford
Photo credits to Anna Modera