Don’t Sleep On Ekali : An Interview With The Rising Producer

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We launched our "Don't Sleep On" series earlier in the year with a feature on hip-hop duo THEY. as we aim to highlight rising artists who have continuously been putting out amazing music. The goal of this series is to give a more in depth look at up-and-coming artists you should know more about. An artist you shouldn't be sleeping on.

If you’ve been keeping up with TSIS, you know all about Ekali and how powerful of producer he really is. Ekali (real name Nathan Shaw) has accomplished a lot in just over three years from his frequently supported “Smoke & Retribution” and “I Can’t Stop” remixes to his collaborations with Falcons and KRANE, his top tracks don’t even begin to scratch the surface of Shaw’s incredible musical capabilities. We’re letting you know right now: Don’t Sleep On Ekali.

Although it sometimes seems like producers pop up out of nowhere, it isn’t uncommon for musicians to get into producing having already accumulated a wealth of experience in the music industry; as was the case with Ekali. Classically trained on the violin since age 13, Shaw played guitar and bass in a handful of bands before joining Vancouver-based group, Said the Whale. After playing bass and touring with them for years while producing beats in his free time, Shaw saw the fruits of his production labor come to fruition when he became the only Canadian accepted into the 2014 Red Bull Music Academy and has since released a handful of hard-hitting remixes and originals. 

Ekali is an artist whose forward-thinking production will stick with you from the first note. His crisp sound design and ability to put together his spree of flawless originals and remixes makes him someone we've been consistently excited about and can't wait to watch progress.

Shortly before deciding to pursue his solo music project full time, he was contacted with a happy surprise when Drake decided to sample his single “Unfaith” for the 2015 album If You're Reading This It's Too Late. The sample can be heard toward the end of Drake's “Preach” and throughout “Wednesday Night Interlude.”

Having launched his new hourlong ‘Awakening’ mix series and dropping an incredible remix of Snakehips & MØ’s “Don't Leave”, Ekali has been busy this year and it seems the best is yet to come. Ekali recently was featured on Diplo & Friends, went on to join the OWSLA family and even has been remixed by the godfather of bass himself, Skrillex + it appears he has a ZHU collab on the way.

On top of all this exciting news, Ekali has unleashed an insane track "Babylon" alongside Denzel Curry as one of the hottest hip-hop releases all year it is one of his best tracks to date. There's something about Ekali's sound design and ear for production that sets him apart from the pack.

We anxiously await new material from this rising TSIS favorite, so be sure to spend some time with this talented artist as he is undoubtedly someone to keep an eye on. He's now heading out on the Babylon tour with support from Medasin, Josh Pan, Y2K and Judge – see dates below and grab tickets here. Continue below for our interview with Ekali. Enjoy! 

Are you still based in Vancouver?

Yes! Everyone is telling me to move to LA but I'm having a hard time leaving. 

How does it feel to headline your own shows being someone who has toured in the past as a bass player in a band?

It's really interesting, especially playing the same venues I once played in a band. The reason I started my own project was for full control in the first place… So I think headlining my own shows has been a lot more rewarding in that regard. 

At what point did you decide to fully pursue your Ekali project? 

Two years ago, I was given an ultimatum – tour in my band-at-the-time without pay, or head out on my own and try to make my project work. I realized I had to put all my effort into the solo project to make it work.  

How does playing Violin and Bass in the past impact your productions?

Playing all sorts of instruments allows you to approach your productions from a different perspective. Even if you're not physically playing the instrument… you can, for instance, manipulate midi in a way that feels more humanized and natural, because you know the intricacies involved in physically playing, and you can capture the imperfections that makes music human.

How did Drake come across your song "Unfaith" and decide to use it for one of his own songs?

I actually have no idea! I think it was PARTYNEXTDOOR who heard the song first. I've never spoken to Drake, just PARTY. 

What’s your approach to working in the studio? Did working with Red Bull Music Academy alter this?

I mean it depends completely on the session. If it's a session with someone I've never met before I usually like to do something non-music related before the session – something fun. It makes the creative process more natural for me… I've had some pretty awful sessions where you're just forced into a room with someone without any semblance of chemistry. RBMA definitely helped me open up with my musical ideas. Everyone at RBMA had a different creative background, so it gave me an opportunity to develop my versatility. 

Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

I have an EP coming out this year!

Can you tell us more about your new ‘Awakening Mix Series” and the inspiration behind it?

I've always done guest mixes throughout my career and people seemed to really resonate with them… The Awakening series was my way of taking all the guest mixes I was doing and giving them a name and a face of my creation… I'm a huge fan of music that exists inside of it's own world… Awakening was just a world I created where my favorite songs can live together. 

How did you link up with OWSLA?

I've been hanging with Drew aka Team EZY for quite some time… He was the one who originally showed Sonny my music & from there, Sonny reached out directly to hang out. Rest is history!

What does it mean to you to have a Skrillex remix of your song on the way and how did that come together?

I mean it's a privilege and definitely a trip to hear his production on one of my songs… Originally it was supposed to be just a Ronny J remix. We asked Ronny and he was super into it. Sonny then had the idea to hop on and make a "drop" section for the remix.

Who would your dream collaboration be with?

Travis Scott 

Ekali Babylon Tour