After a 5-year hiatus and soul searching in Northern California, the Philadelphia native, Sauniks, is back with more precision than ever. His latest release, ‘Timeless‘, truly offers a brand new sound to the scene that suspends between synth wave, progressive house and hip-hop. With LeeSon Bryce laying down the vocals that create a classic club feel, Sauniks swiftly finds the perfect point to drop an explosive beat to spur the dancefloor.
Saunkis’ presence spans multiple genres of dance music, from deep house and drum & bass to future bass and dubstep. He made his name known through his remixes of ‘Carol Of The Bells’, Courtney Jenae’s ‘Accelerate’ and Spiffy Man‘s ‘Farewell’, surpassing 2 million plays.
His DJ career started while attending college in Pittsburgh, building a reputation for the quality of his performances. Not long after, he began producing and released his first remix through Metronix Recordings. He would go on to release on reputable labels such as Simplify Recordings and Argofox.
To return from his hiatus, Sauniks released a laid-back dubstep track, ‘Fraction of a Dot’, “a narration of the smallness of Earth compared to the vastness of the Universe. That by working as one, humanity may be able to transcend into the heavens and improve upon its daunting past.”
Following Saunkis linked back up with Spiffy Man for a breezy deep house rework of ‘Liberosis‘, then he showcased his polished drum & bass side through a collaboration with guitarist, Scott Toebe, for a single titled, ‘Dream’.
With a come back story on our hands, we had to reach out for an interview to find out what sparked the fire again.
Hey Sauniks, hope all is well with you and yours. How are you handling quarantine? What is keeping you busy?
Same with you! Quarantine for me has actually been pretty busy. I’m normally a homebody but since March, I’ve had more time to produce music, hang with my cat, bike ride, and even kickstarting a business! I have realized that quarantine has allowed me to slow down a bit and revitalize myself towards my vision.
Usually, when you hear hip-hop or rap mixed with electronic music it comes in the form of trap. Your new single ‘Timeless’ introduces a new style of implementing the hip-hop world with the electronic music. How would you describe the direction of this track?
This is actually a great question! I started this track around when the last season of Stranger Things came out. I really vibed with the synth-wave/retro EDM style sound but I wanted to move into an area I haven’t seen many people explore. I believe there is a hidden opportunity here for hip-hop and EDM to shine together more but in the form of a different style and sound like you hear in “Timeless”. LeeSon and I definitely plan on doing more songs like this in the future.
Can you get a little techy with me and the production nerds out there by walking us through how you developed this infectious beat?
The session itself is about 66 tracks in total. What’s interesting is two of the instruments you hear in a good portion of the song are stock Ableton instruments. It wasn’t until the composition of this song that I realized how underrated the stock instruments in this DAW are. Another cool thing that’s happening in this mix is during the drop.
If you listen closely to the big-sound synth chords, you might hear a little bit of extra movement in the notes that give the chords more character. One way I found to get chords sounding more interesting is to bounce back and forth between two notes in the chord while the chord sustains. It gives you this “Ex Machina” vibe (great movie btw) which I absolutely love. I may do a tutorial or two to help newer producers take their songs to the next level.
You had experienced some serious success with your dubstep tracks you released 5-6 years ago, since then you didn’t releases anything until 8 months ago. Why did you stop producing music? What happened during your hiatus? Now you are releasing deep house, drum & bass and other styles of electronic music, what inspired the shift?
Bobby, I’m glad you asked this question. This is a very deep and personal subject for me and one that involves mental health. Before I continue, I want to mention that mental health is a real thing and to anyone reading this that’s experiencing hardship right now related to mental health, you’re not alone. Reach out to a family and/or friend and talk to them about it. You’ll be surprised at the result.
But anyway, here’s what happened back then: The success I experienced 5 years ago was amazing and I cannot express how grateful I was (and still am) for everything that happened back then for me in music. There were times I was brought to tears when I would have a fan reach out and tell me how much my music impacted their life; even saved their life.
The success and attention was great in the short-term but over time, it started to get to me in a negative way. I started to feel this immense pressure to “deliver” another “hit song” and this started to affect my productions. I became more critical of my songs and spent too much time trying to get them “perfect”. Time kept passing and by the time I did have a few songs put together, they weren’t getting accepted by the label I was with at the time, nor did they meet my own personal quality standards. Self-doubt started to creep in HARD.
With pressure from music and additional pressures from my personal life, I decided I needed to take a step away from the limelight to really do some soul-searching and to get a better sense of myself and life’s purpose. I traveled more and talked to my friends and family about these feelings. These turned out to be really pivotal things for me because things started turning around. I never stopped producing during that time but I simply stopped releasing music. During one pivotal trip, I flew out to California and drove 3,000 miles around northern CA. It was such a revolutionary experience for me that the music “fire” was reignited. The moment I got back, that’s when things got serious and my vision was crystal clear.
Please tell us about your very first set. What are some vital DJ lessons or tips you have learned since then?
My very first set took place in Fairfax, VA of all places. I was still in college at the time but I was away from school working a co-op in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania. The set was on a Friday and I had to leave work immediately after I was off and drive south to Fairfax (4-5hrs). I timed the drive perfectly so I would arrive just in time for soundcheck.
Along the way, I was driving down the highway in an extremely remote part of PA in the middle of nowhere. There were no towns, no gas stations, nothing around. Then all of the sudden, out of nowhere, I come across this traffic jam. Dead-stop-traffic. I figured, “No big deal. There’s probably a cow crossing the road.” 10 minutes roll by. Then 15. then 20. Then 30. Nobody has moved an inch. At this point, I’m panicking that I’m going to miss my set entirely. I pull up Google Maps on my phone and notice that there’s an exit up ahead that conveniently has a bypass to whatever was blocking the road. However, the only way to get there is by driving down the shoulder in some ways. Normally I’m against doing stuff like this but I was getting desperate. Risking the chance of running into a cop or construction sign, I take the leap and cruise down the shoulder. I make it to the exit unscathed and make it to my gig in time.
My DJ lesson/tips I’ve learned since then is always arrive substantially early to your gigs haha.
What are some of your favorite events / festivals in Pennsylvania? Who are some local artists you like?
It’s been a while since I’ve been to a show but one recently that really stood out to me was when KOAN Sound and Haywyre played the One Art Community Center last Halloween. It was a crazy time. The venue is outdoors and it started storming at one point which really added to the vibe in a unique way. One Philly festival I really miss is the Identity Festival. It’s been almost a decade since the last one but if any event organizers are reading this, I hope we can revive it someday. After COVID, I’m willing to bet that people will flock to festivals more than before so maybe that’s our chance! We’ll see.
Identity Festival 2012
Philly has a very deep and underground scene filled with a lot of great talent. I’ve seen it for myself and I can’t wait for these people to rise. As for some of my favorite local artists, there are several super talented people I think are worth checking out.
Jodi Valentin (Pop/Country)
Keegan Tawa (House)
Jada Lee (R&B)
What are your favorite venues?
For bigger concerts, my favorites are The Fillmore, Franklin Music Hall, and Union Transfer.
What are some good after hours spots in Pittsburgh Philadelphia?
What is there to be said about the electronic music community in Philly?
There’s a lot of hidden talent here that’s on the rise. Everyone, no matter what your skill level, is really chill and supportive of each other. It’s like one big happy family. We’re not called the “city of brotherly love” for nothing. Overall though, I think the scene here is underrated and my goal is to help lift that more into the spotlight. There’s more music in Philly than most think.
What is one life philosophy you live by?
There’s a quote by Martha Graham (American dancer) summarizes one of my biggest philosophies. I love it so much that I have it framed on display in my house.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
What is next for Sauniks?
Lots and lots of more music. When the world opens back up, you’ll be seeing more live shows too. In addition, I’ve started a company that helps producers and songwriters take their art to the next level. We do the basics (mixing, mastering, producing, songwriting, ect) but we teach and coach.
Bringing the best out of people is what fires me up.