Gramatik Wants to Free Music—By Making Music Free
Days after a sold out two-night stand in NYC, the Slovenian-born artist Denis Jasarevic stopped by our office to drop some knowledge.
Photo by Patrick Hughes
A few days after a string of sold-out nights at New York City's Best Buy Theater, the Slovenian-born, New York City-based Gramatik (Denis Jasarevic) rambles into the VICE office in Williamsburg, donning his trademark fitted hat, large-framed glasses, and a black hoodie embroidered, fittingly, with the word "BROOKLYN."
The 30-year-old producer of soulful, blues-tinged, crunchy bass music has just wrapped a leg of his European tour, and when asked to compare European crowds to American ones, he declares, "French festivals are just casually dressed Apple users walking around, there's nobody with a big ten-foot squid on a pole."
This turns out to be one of the more light-hearted comments of our interview. Whether he's discussing net neutrality, his label Lowtemp, or his steadfast belief in releasing all his music for free, chatting with Jasarevic often feels more like a conversation with a radical member of Anonymous than a guy who makes people dance for a living.
Last year, Jasarevic released Age of Reason, an album that pays homage to the inventor Nikola Tesla-specifically, Tesla's failed attempt to build a telecommunications tower in Long Island that would provide access to electricity for free. Jasarevic shares Tesla's anti-capitalist ambitions, except in his perfect world, music would be free.
Recently, Jasarevic made his entire discography downloadable free-of-cost through a partnership with BitTorrent. (Boys Noize and The Polish Ambassador are among the popular torrent website's other musical partners.) "I realized [torrenting] is another survival platform for musicians of the digital era... I just wanted people [to] have access to my music for free all the time," he says. Despite having his blessing, the program still hit snags with the piracy-wary authorities. "People have been telling me that once they download my bundle from BitTorrent, they get notified by Time Warner that they've committed a crime, which is a complete ludicracy," Jasarevic says with frustration. "They've downloaded a torrent legitimately authorized by me, from a technology that isn't illegal."
Download Gramatik's entire discography at BitTorrent.
"They've downloaded a torrent legitimately authorized by me, from a technology that isn't illegal."
"Freeing music by making music free" has become the de-facto slogan of Jasarevic's career. "If you don't force them to buy it, they'll donate what they can and love you even more for it," he says. It's safe to say that he has a very different opinion on the subject than, say, Taylor Swift, whose battle against Spotify sparked fierce debates over the viability of the streaming business model. Jasarevic admits that the free music marketplace might work better for in-the-box producers who can make an entire album cheaply on their laptops in the back of a tour bus-as opposed to a a ten-piece band whose overhead and studio costs are far more significant. "The model might not work for them, but there's always an argument that if they put their music out for free, they might amount to an even bigger following."
This ethos also applies to his two-year-old label Lowtemp, which releases all its music as freebies and has rising West Coast bass producers like Branx, Russ Liquid, and Gibbz on its roster. "We don't try to do any crazy contracts. It's like a train stop. You come by and drop an EP, expose yourself to this group of people, then go on," he says about the label's business model. "If I went into it with a corporate mindset of building an empire, it would be a different story. But that's not what I'm about-I never wanted to sign with a major label. I didn't want to be restricted in that way."
Unsurprisingly, Jasarevic is a staunch supporter of net neutrality. "ISP companies are just trying to control everything. It's pretty much like a Nazi Germany on the web," he says passionately. "It's either going to be the end of an era where the Internet was free for everybody to use the way they want to, or [the major corporations] are going to take control and destroy it completely." Like a mystic peeking into a dystopian future-or Kyle Reese from The Terminator-he tells me ominously: "There's going to be two sides."
Jasarevic's social agenda is particularly evident on social media, especially Facebook, where his opinions on world events and governmental proceedings are mixed in with Neil Degrasse Tyson-like videos of space travel. He says his ideal vision for society is "basically the opposite of Fox News, where people actually don't do horrible things for political or economic gain, and where bankers aren't hurting the lives of billions for their own preservation."
"That kind of reality would be really cool," he adds.
Ever the idealist, one of Jasarevic biggest dreams is to visit space during his lifetime-in fact, his dream dinner party would be attended by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, along with Tesla, Stephen Hawking, James Brown, and Louis C.K. Jasarevic admits that he'd pay an exorbitant amount of money to snag a spot on a commercial space craft. "I would just want to see Earth from the outside, then I can die happy I guess."
David is the Homepage Editor of THUMP working in Brooklyn, and also really wants to go to space. @DLGarber
MIXED BY Gramatik Tracklist:
ILLUMNTR - "Islands / Mishiakuwan Johnson, Human Alien" (Lowtemp)
Betty Ford Boys - "Icky" (Melting Pot)04. Gramatik - "I Love The Way" (Lowtemp)
The Geek x Vrv - "If You Want Her"
Pumpkin & Vin'S da Cuero feat. 20sy - "Fifty Fifty (Instrumental)" (Mentalow Music)
Exmag & Russ Liquid - "VCR"
Lettuce - "Double Header" (Velour Recordings)
D'Angelo and The Vanguard - "Back to the Future (Part I)" (RCA)
Madeon - "You're On (Gramatik Instrumental Remix)" (Columbia)
Photay - Everytime I Hit Myself in the Head I Think I'm in Paris
DJ Nu-Mark feat. Ernie Hines - "Our Generation" (Hot Plate Records)
Temu & DJ Static - "Talkbox Vigilante"
Johnny Pate - "Shaft in Africa" (Dub)
GZA feat. Tom Morello - "The Mexican"
Andrew Block feat. Ivan Neville - "All I Need (The Noisy Freaks Remix)"
Bondax - "All I See (Pomo Remix)" (Relentless Records)
Haywyre - "Insight" (Monstercat)
Freddy Todd - "Wave Therapy" (Lowtemp)
Russ Liquid - "Twisted" (Lowtemp)
Evil Needle - "Antidote" (Soulection)
Luxas - "53" (Lowtemp)
Catch Gramatik on tour:
3/13: BUKU Festival - New Orleans, LA
4/11: Coachella - Indio, CA
4/13: Belly Up - Solana Beach, CA
4/15: Mezzanine - San Francisco, CA
4/16: Roseland Theater - Portland, OR
4/18: Coachella - Indio, CA
4/23: McDonald Theatre - Eugene, OR
4/24: Showbox - Seattle, WA
4/25: Vogue - Vancouver, BC
5/09: Red Rocks - Morrison, CO
5/15: Hangout Festival - Gulf Shores, AL