There are some unintended consequences to the cutting edge ethos of the beat scene–starting with the life cycle of its producers. Despite being of the youngest forms of music in existence, it’s probably the only one where a talented young beatsmith can start a scene in college, form a collective of likeminded virtuosos, travel the globe, release four albums, start his own label and feel like the Willie Nelson of the genre before hitting age 30.
“I guess I’m like old school now at this point,” Dane Morris aka Great Dane, 29, says jokingly. “But it’s all relative. If I blow up to TroyBoi level someday, then this is all just the precursor, but if I don’t then I’m old school. Let’s hope for the former.”
The co-founder of all-star producer Chapman-bred collective Team Supreme is the leader of the pack and one of the scene’s most recognizable names in the world of bass and sound design. To many, he’s more than just a designer, he’s one of the architect that brings avant garde production together with a Matrix-bending poltergeist of urban genres that sounds like the future of music that always seems three steps ahead of the game.
“I don’t want to sound like shit that’s on the radio, I want my shit to be on the radio and bend towards me,” Morris says. “Maybe not this year, maybe not in the next five years, but someday.”
Sitting on the patio deck of Hopscotch Tavern in his native Fullerton sipping a lager on a steamy summer day, Morris realizes he’s garnered more than enough stripes to put himself somewhere ahead of a hot up and comer but still decades away from actual old timers like Earth Wind and Fire and Smokey Robinson, who’s 40 year classics tunes waft from the bar soundsystem over the green patio umbrellas.
And while Great Dane obviously isn’t a pup anymore, it doesn’t mean you can’t teach an older dog new tricks. That was exactly the point of his fourth full length album Gamma Ray [out on July 20 via his own imprint ADBC Records]. The 14- track effort is a soul searching, psychoanalytic expedition into who he is now five years after releasing his proper debut album Alpha Dog and owning the fact that his identity may not come with a brand, a sound, a vibe or any term traditionally used to define (read: constrain) an artist.
“My philosophy is agnostic, I’m not married to anything. I’m not a diehard believer in anything and I think my music reflects that,” Morris says.
From the opening of the album’s Adult Swim-style skit on “Cat’s In the Bag” (featuring a laser-packing feline), the album gives chase through a forest of sounds–crushing bass music, hip-hop, dub, psychwave ambience, Dane’s first real take on a structured EDM song called “Fog & Fear” featuring Katya Grasso on vocals. The tracks are also a diary of Dane’s journeys around the world. On the track “Tokyo Surfer”, the producer turned his phone recorder on while channel surfing Japanese commercials which he used as the basis for the song’s beat.
One might assume that a seasoned producer who’s released countless tracks and garnered a spot as a former teacher at L.A. production school Icon Collective might be meticulous and regimented in his approach to his own beats. However, the ability to stay open to new techniques and happy accidents is the quality that defines Dane’s music. It’s a lesson he’s learned over the last year observing and collaborating with younger producers like Tsuruda, whom he lived with for the last year while both producers worked on their own projects. The joy of watching someone who started off as a Team Supreme fan blossom into a beast behind the boards is one of the most exciting memories behind the scenes of producing Gamma Ray.
“The past year has been huge for him he was getting recognition from everywhere. Every big artist wants to work with Tsuruda, including me,” Morris says. But rather than copying Tsuruda’s tricks, Dane says its his work ethic and the ability to keep an open mind that’s really helped him up his game.
“You can’t be too good or else you’re gonna sound like everyone else,” he says. “On this album I got good enough where I’m more proud of this production than any other album but it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard, it sounds like me and I think that’s what people like about it.”
Embracing new talent is also a catalyst for Great Dane’s latest ambitions not only as a producer but a newly-minted label boss. Some might’ve expected the co-founder of Team Supreme to push the collective into becoming a full fledged label on its own by now. However, the producer says he eventually dropped the idea given how much effort it takes to create a truly dedicated label with 17 minds who make up the collective.
“If we wanted to turn it into a label, there’d be like 17 people who need to weigh in on every decision so that didn’t seem like a fun thing to dive into,” he says.
Instead, Morris opted to start ADBC records, with his new album as the label’s first release.
You may have even seen billboards popping up around LA in areas like Echo Park and Highland Park as promotion for the new album hit its stride. “That was a big deal for me,” he says. “I’m almost as excited about those billboards as I am for the album.”
What excites him even more is the prospect of ushering in new talent, much in the way Alpha Pup founder Daddy Kev did for him as an aspiring producer nearly a decade ago when he took him under his wing and commissioned him to create his debut album Alpha Dog. Years later, Dane is taking on a similar role working with young producers, including some former pupils at Icon Collective.
“Even though I’m not teaching there anymore, I was there for two years and noticed certain students throughout that time and I put ‘em in my back pocket thinking if I ever have a label someday and they’re not super famous already, these are the ones I’d want to help out on,” he says.
If that wasn’t enough, he and some members of the Team Supreme crew are also launching a new club night called Hypnothesis at the Echo in LA. Aimed to become the scrappy scion of Low End Theory, the monthly contribution to the beat scene includes Great Dane, Tsuruda, Hapa, and Woolymammoth as residents. “All the residents involved have all headlined lowend multiple times so I feel like it’s a good start,” Morris says.
With barely enough time to really savor the full-circle moments that make up this record, Great Dane stays focused on what he considers to be a multi-pronged attempt to infiltrate pop music and change its DNA to the point where one day it becomes something totally different that it has been for the past 50 years. Though the genre he’s helped foster is focused on being the fastest and the strongest at their craft, it requires a seasoned vet to take the long view to see the beat scene’s true potential.
“Let’s say Tsuruda or me became as big as someone like Diplo then you’re in charge of pop music, you’re the guy,” Morris says. “Diplo didn’t used to be in charge of pop music and then he kinda became in charge and now it’s almost over, so it changes all the time.”
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.