Producer Spotlight: Demuir

Toronto-based jackin’ house king and Purveyor Underground boss Demuir discuss his musical background and offers details on his new sample pack, YYZ Underground.

12 min
Demuir producer spotlight
Jul 5, 2022
Conor Healy

The COVID-19 pandemic saw club culture evaporate and DJs forced to spend long periods holed up in their studios. Everyone responded to the enforced isolation differently, and for Canadian DJ and producer Demuir, there was solace to be found in the creation of his new Beatport Sounds sample pack YYZ Underground. The pack’s title and the sounds within are a nod to the underground culture of Toronto, and Demuir is an artist whose relationship with the city greatly contributes to his musical sensibilities.

Since those early appearances at clubs like Bassline Music Bar and Coda, Demuir has built a career that has taken him and his music across the world. His soul and groove-infused tracks have been released on famed labels like Hot Creations, Desolat, Fool’s Gold, and Classic Music Company, and his most recent full-length album, TruSkool, went out on DJ Sneak’s Magnetic Recordings. As a DJ he’s spun the decks at renowned clubs in cities including New York, Miami, LA, Barcelona and Toronto; toured multiple continents; and continues to champion the underground scene on his own label Purveyor Underground.

Check out Demuir’s YYZ Underground sample pack here.
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What was your first exposure to music?

As a kid, hearing my dad playing records. My dad is a classically trained guitar player, but being from Trinidad & Tobago, he would play a lot of Caribbean records in the house, and plenty of soul and jazz. It was a huge musical melting pot, and not only did the records sound good, they also made me curious about how they were made. I always knew I would be involved in music, it was just a matter of when. It happened much later in life for me, but I’m so grateful to be able to do it full time today.

How important is finding your own sound as an artist?

It’s the number one thing that will distinguish you on two fronts: as an artist and as a person. Even as a casual music listener, you can learn a lot about a person by their playlists. Both as an individual and an artist, finding your sound is what separates you from the pack. Every week, Beatport receives over 25,000 tracks, which goes to show how much saturation there is in music.

How has sampling inspired your music production?

There’s a whole process to sampling. Creative sampling is a term that I throw around a lot, and I think it translates to electronic music from hip hop. A place that inspired me and helped me to discover my sound and approach to production is Cosmos Records, a record store in Toronto owned by Aki Abe. People would say to me “Yo, you got to go to Aki’s spot!”. That store means so much to me in terms of my production journey.

I got into hip hop originally – Mr. Attic and that whole grassroots scene – and I would always wonder where artists were getting their sounds from. Eventually, I realised that my parents had a lot of the records that the sounds were coming from – for example, my dad used to play “Let’s Stay Together” by Jimmy McGriff every morning to wake me up to go to school. I would find clean copies of those kinds of records in the shop, and then be introduced to other records that would influence my musical palette.

Things I’ve heard in the store have directly impacted YYZ Underground. Take drums for example, there’s so much swing and groove in there that you can only really be informed of through listening to those old records. J.Dilla mentioned in an interview once that he was listening to Bernard Purdy playing drums, and he messed up one of the patterns, but it sounded so dope that it influenced Dilla’s broken beat drum structure. It’s a similar thing – my understanding of the grooves I heard in the records is in the sample pack.

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What was the inspiration for YYZ Underground?

A music project always starts with the spirit of the idea, the spark. What is the DNA that you want to have resounding through the project? You can have all this lovely studio gear, but it’s only ever a means to execute your vision. It’s actually ironic that you ask that question, because that’s the whole point of sample packs – they provide people with inspiration for creative ideas and help them to execute.

For the sample pack, the theme was inspired by Toronto underground culture, and the vibe and diversity of the city. Toronto Underground is everything that’s outside the mainstream or widely known music scene. I’m talking about people who dig for records and look for unique sounds, and producers who get together and push the boundaries. It’s the stuff that you find when you dig a little deeper beyond what’s on the cursory surface of things.

How did you approach the process of putting together the sample pack?

I came up with one process in particular that took me well over two months to get through. Basically, the idea was to exhaust every piece of kit in my studio to enhance the output of the project. I would turn on every analogue synth in my studio at least an hour before I started, because they actually sound better when they’ve had time to warm up. So, my Arturia MatrixBrute, MiniBrute, and MicroFreak were definitely used in the pack, along with the Moog Sub37 – once they were all warmed up!

One of the stars of the show for the project was my Akai MPC X. I was able to put all of my knowledge about groove and swing, the stuff that I got from listening to old records into the MPC X. The sounds I created on it are unique to the project, because I would always shut the unit off and not return to the same point where I was. When you pull up a file in the pack that says ‘My MPC Swings’, that’s the only copy of it.

I also used the Behringer Deepmind 12 for more lush synth sounds, where it was applicable. I really tried to go after anything that was analogue and warm, so I ran sounds through tube preamps like the UAD 610, and distortion preamps.

Did the previous records you’ve produced influence the sample pack in any way?

I would say the workflow processes and the things I learned from creating those projects were incorporated into it. For example, everything that I did for TruSkool – going to record shops and buying up a bunch of records – was very unique to that experience, but the lessons learned weren’t. For example, learning a particular groove from a record, or understanding ghost notes – all of those things are very present in the sample pack.

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How do you typically start making music?

For me, the starting point could be anything. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a beat or a melody, it could be a picture that I saw in an art gallery. Generally though, most of the time I start with a melody, and anchor myself to that. I’ll go to a certain point with the melody, adding a Rhodes part or a bassline from a Hammond B3, and then jump into Loopcloud and grab a 909 kick or something like that.

Loopcloud is a fixed part of my workflow, and I’m looking for my sample pack to be a part of that process for others. A lot of people think sample packs are there to make things linear, and they’re just dragging and dropping, but it’s actually the opposite – it’s all about whoever is manning the ship! You’re able to put things in key, compress samples, isolate sounds and chop things up before they go into your DAW.

How do you find making music for the club in a non-club environment?

For me it’s about tapping into a feeling, and visualising how my tracks will be received in the club. As producers we make music in all sorts of spaces, sometimes they’re dark, sometimes they’re bright, and you sit there in the room not knowing how what you’re making is going to impact people. Even still, you can put everything you want to have happening in the club into the energy of your music.

It helps when you can limit the amount of thinking you’re doing and just execute ideas. That’s why themed sample packs like YYZ Underground are so helpful, because you can immediately pull up the sound that you’re looking for. There’s a whole other conversation about technical things you can address, like mixing in mono or doing certain things to specific frequencies, but generally it’s about being able to hone in on your own feeling of what you want people to experience from your music.

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