2002, Alexander Azzi, released his first EP, Here I Stand under the moniker, Perfect Dark. It was a massive hit with the hardcore/gabber scene and twenty years later, he has dropped a new single, “I’m Still Standing“, with it’s huge booming, rapid fire beats, that are meant to get a sweaty, raucous dance crowd, bouncing on the balls of their feet like maniacs. Do you know what gabber means? I didn’t until this interview, so I suggest you dig in and get educated by the man who is pumping up the beats, Perfect Dark.
Welcome to Onyx, Alexander Azzi, also known as Perfect Dark.
Thank you very much for inviting me onto your page for a bit of digital chin-wagging.
Gabber first started in the 90s, in the Netherlands, especially in Rotterdam. When did you first experience this style?
It all started around 1999 for me. This was during a time when I was already getting my name out as a multi genre DJ, but at the same time I was trying to figure out what type of specific genre was the best fit for me and what I wanted to be known for. The only stipulation I had was that it had to be hard and aggressive because that’s the type of music I generally enjoy in my everyday life, such as Hardcore Metal, Punk, and Oi!.
During this time period the best place to go to get vinyl records in my area, specifically for rave type DJs, was a place called Satellite Records in Boston Massachusetts which was about an hour from me where I live in New Hampshire. There was not a genre that didn’t exist in that store. The place was legendary. Everything from the most chill Downtempo, to the hardest fastest 300BPM+ Terrorcore. What made this place even more awesome was there was about 10 Technics 1200 turntables available to be able to listen to the tracks first to make sure it was what you wanted before you bought it. Sadly, it’s no longer in business along with most other DJ record stores in the world. Thanks a lot Spotify.
The day I went down there I was browsing through various styles of music and that’s when I came upon a bin of records simply titled “Hardcore” (which is another name used when referring to Gabber). I already knew this was what I was looking for just based on the genre name and some of the album cover art that was staring me in the face; skulls, fire and brimstone, demons, and wizards shooting fireballs out of their hands. These are visuals aren’t ones you normally see on record covers for records sold at a DJ record stores. After listening to the first record, I knew that Hardcore/Gabber what is the sound that fit me the best. Hard skull-crushing kick drums, sinister synth melodies cutting through as if they were conceived from two serrated knives slashing their razor-sharp edges onto one another, and vocals that could easily have summoned a demon from hell or fit nicely onto a Hardcore Metal song. All of this dropped into a tempo that is equal parts dance and mosh pit worthy.
I found artists like Neophyte, Rob GEE, Evil Activities, Bass-D & King Matthew, Art of Fighters, and Rotterdam Terror Corps. The list can go on and on. I bought a whole stack of various Hardcore/Gabber records and that’s how it all started.
Back in 2002 you released the EP, “Here I Stand” as Perfect Dark, which introduced you to the hardcore/gabber scene. What had brought you to that point in the scene?
About a year into working hard to make a name for myself as a Hardcore/Gabber DJ, a friend of mine, John Manning, known as DJ Midas was having a conversation with me and I clearly remember him telling me that if you want to go further out beyond just being a DJ then you have to start making your own music. I listened to every word he said and that’s when I started to learn how to produce Hardcore/Gabber music almost immediately.
When I say immediately I don’t mean I just woke up one day and I knew what to do with a software based audio workstation and understand MIDI controllers etc. but I knew immediately that I needed to learn more than just mixing records and that’s when I started gathering the tools required to figure out how to make this stuff myself.
I did my research, applied what I was learning and eventually after about a year or so I was in the process of producing complete Hardcore/Gabber tracks.
As I was diving deeper into producing music another friend of mine got me in contact with Rob GEE. If you recall, I mentioned his name in one of the records I purchased the day I discovered this genre of music. I found out that he lived in New Jersey which technically is local if you consider living in the Northeast of the USA the local area amongst states up here. Him and I started to talk, and we became friends. He even gave me a shout out on his mixed CD “Vitamin GEE” that was being released during that time. That small gesture meant a lot to me considering I was still an unknown little dirtbag from New Hampshire and here was one of pioneers of American Hardcore/Gabber adding my DJ name to his thank you/shoutout section on his CD cover insert.
In 2001 me and Rob made plans to finally meet in person at a big event he was DJing at where the Dutch Hardcore/Gabber production team Neophyte was headlining. This place was at the legendary Limelight in New York City.
He already heard some of my productions prior to that night but it was important for us to finally meet up because he was interested in helping me with my first music release and I wanted to show him that I was serious in this commitment and appreciated his intentions.
A couple months later I signed a Sony/ATV publishing contract, and my first 6 song EP was in motion to be released with the title track “Here I Stand“ through Rob’s record label at the time known as ADAM Recordings (ADAM stands for Aggressive Dance And Music) which has now become GEE thAng Music in the present day. I believe it was April of 2002 when it hit the record store shelves worldwide.
The EP did very well. What was it like for you, Alexander, to see all those people dancing to your music?
I felt like I was part of ‘the club’. It was a great feeling to know my record was sharing the same space as all those other records I discovered years back at Satellite Records in Boston. What made things even more satisfying was I was able to go and physically purchase that record myself out of that very same bin.
Because of that feeling, to this day no matter if it’s a vinyl release, one of my songs featured on someone else’s compilation mixed CD, a CD that I had a part in producing, or even a digital download, I still purchase a copy myself and put it away in a personal security safe that also holds the masters and project data to every song I ever made. Even digital downloads get put on a small flash drive and then put back in the safe.
The best feeling, however, is to watch or know that people are enjoying my music enough that they are willing to get up on the dance floor and sacrifice a few minutes out of their life to enjoy something I created.
You didn’t stick to the hardcore/gabber sound, instead, creating metal inspired dub step under the moniker, Drop Goblin. What drew you into this genre?
Well to get to Drop Goblin one needs to understand what happened before that. After some years in Hardcore/Gabber I decided to walk away from it because I wasn’t feeling as creative as I was in the beginning of my career, and I didn’t want to produce music at a lower self-standard. So, I quit. I took some time off in the mid-2000’s and then one day I heard Dubstep. I don’t remember what song it was, and I don’t remember if it was aggressive Brostep or more traditional Dubstep, I just knew that the bass was heavy, it had a cool wobble to it, and I really enjoyed listening to it.
That re-ignited musical interest and creativity to start producing again but I wasn’t going to bring the “Perfect Dark” name back and confuse people with such a different sound. I did know that if I was going to make this type of music then it was going to be on the aggressive side of things just like the way I did with my Hardcore/Gabber songs but I also realized there wasn’t much Hardcore Metal ‘riffy’ Dubstep stuff out there, so I had to figure out how to incorporate the metal style sound with Dubstep and make it work myself through trial and error.
One attribute that was an advantage for me was that most dubstep is 140 bpm which in a Hardcore/Gabber sense is slow, but the good thing about that tempo is that a lot of Hardcore Metal breakdowns are slow and heavy and work very well at that BPM, so I started making typical Dubstep patterns but also mixing in heavy low-end baritone guitar riffs into them and double bass kick patterns in most of my Dubstep productions. Not all, but most.
While I don’t promote the Drop Goblin name anymore, if anybody would like a good example in how I incorporated the metal riffs into those tracks I would suggest going on YouTube and doing a search for “Drop Goblin – One Jaded Asshole“ in order to get a feel for what I was doing at that time.
I guess the money question is, which style of music do you enjoy more?
Hardcore/Gabber. Hands down. That is where I feel at home. The Dubstep phase was simply me jumping on the genre bandwagon since I had nothing better to do at that time. Even the name Drop Goblin was a last second decision that doesn’t even make sense to me. It’s just two words put together and I only had a weekend to figure out a name to give to Reid Speed of Play Me Records who was releasing my breakout track “Dubstep Believe It” at the time and it was down to the wire and figured “Drop” like a Dubstep bass drop, and “Goblin” because why not?
I could have just started producing Hardcore/Gabber again. It’s not like anything was stopping me, but I wasn’t mentally ready to come out of retirement as Perfect Dark, nor did I even consider it. As far as I was concerned Perfect Dark was my history with no plans to return. But hey, Dubstep took me by the hand and said, “Hey Alexander, I see your not doing much lately, how about we take a trip down sell-out lane and make some music together on the Dubstep hype train… everyone else is doing it”. The truth is though, I never felt fully comfortable or felt like it was “me” in that genre. It wasn’t all bad though, I made it into the Beatport top 100 Dubstep charts with a few that made it into the top 10 at the time, but I am glad I am done with it. Nothing beats the intensity of the driving pace of Hardcore/Gabber and I am happy to be part of that family again.
In 2021, you decided to resurrect Perfect Dark and to mark the 20 years difference in releases, your return single in “Still Standing”. How much does the title alone mean to you?
It means everything to me. More than most people realize at this moment. To the majority it will be just a new song released after many years of me being in retirement. I reckon to my fans of the past (and any new ones in the present) it is exciting and hopefully “Sill Standing” gives the impact I feel in my heart that it does. The deeper the rabbit hole goes, however, the more the story gets interesting. Let me lay it all out for you guys and gals:
In 2002, my debut vinyl EP “Here I Stand” came out on ADAM Recordings owned by Rob GEE. The photo for the album cover was taken at a specific location in New Jersey and the graphic artwork was done by a graphic designer named Sergio.
Fast forward to the release of “Still Standing” and it comes with a huge fun fact:
The release is the sequel to the title track of 2002’s “Here I Stand”. The photo taken of me for the release cover was taken at the same spot in New Jersey as the 2002’s photo shoot of “Here I Stand”. The graphic designer who for all I know could have been long disappeared, dead, or fully retired from graphic design by now was still around, and he was able to resurrect the original “Here I Stand” project file from 20 years ago off of a old school Zip/Jaz Drive, and he was able to layer the same original graphic design effects on “Still Standing” with just some color changes to give it its one unique identity. And to top it all off, Rob GEE and his label (now known as GEE thAng Music instead of ADAM Recordings) released it.
Let that sink in for a moment. Two Decades of non-communicative space in between, and somehow all the same artistic, human, and business logistics from “Here I Stand” were incorporated into the release “Still Standing” without even one technical hiccup. This could only happen once in my lifetime.
There is a remastered version of “Here I Stand”, coming out. What was the thinking behind this and is it an incredible feeling to know a whole new generation are going to hear your music?
Right now there is a process going on to not only remaster the entire 2002 “Here I Stand” 6 song EP, but it will be re“mixed down”. Not to be confused with ‘remixed’ where new productions are made from other people based off the original songs. What I mean is all the separate elements of the original project files are being re-analyzed and brought back to life using newly updated know-how and processing tools to bring the best out of what was originally produced. And then they will be remastered. It’s not every day that you can strip down project files that were produced over 20 years ago and revisit the production process to give them new life.
I figured that putting in all this work would be a thank you to anyone out there that is still around and remembers me and that release. And of course, there will be many new ears that will hear this music for the first time.
Not only will the EP be completely re-engineered but will also be available for free. I will not be selling this release. The main outlet to get this release when it’s out (no date set yet) will be the #1 source for all Hardcore/Gabber music: Hardtunes.com.
But wait, that’s not all. There will also be a bonus track included in this release which will be a completely new and reimagined version of the original “Here I Stand” single with a more modern updated sound. When the original producer makes a new version of an existing song they made, this is typically known as a VIP (Variation in Production) but “reimagined” sounds cooler.
DJ Rob GEE was involved with “Here I Stand” and you have signed with GEE thAng Music, which was originally ADAM Recordings, whom you first released that EP. What is it like to be back?
The way him and I converse now after all these years with nearly no communication is a special thing. We talk nowadays as if there wasn’t a minute that has passed us by. In 2002, he gave me my opportunity to show the Gabbers of the world who I am. And while I realize that this genre is a bit smaller than Mainstream EDM, the term “Gabber” which is Dutch for “Friend”, is bigger than any other sound out there, and that also relates to humans as well. Rob and I are and forever will be Gabbers. Having such a large gap of time and reconnecting the way we have has proven that. He believed in me back then and took me under his wing. He didn’t have to. In fact, he originally created ADAM Recordings as a vessel to release his own music and had no plans to sign anyone else on until we met up. I feel blessed that I was his first artist other than him on his label and here we are now in 2022, a bit older, a bit wiser, still crazy idiots, and still refuse to grow up but he opened the doors for me once more to help me come back out of retirement.
This single is just the warning salvo, as the rumblings are that you are gearing up for a bigger release. What are we in for?
Another fun fact: For the past year and a half I have been making quite a few tracks. In fact “Still Standing“ was not my first production I started and finished when I decided to make my return. I produced that song sometime after I already had about two or three other songs already finished. They just haven’t been released yet
The reason why these other songs have yet to be released is because I was not going to put out any other original song before “Still Standing“. Like anything in the music business nothing happens overnight so there was a bit of a waiting period to get this track out. I could’ve had other songs released first but having good self-discipline and being patient paid off considering the story of the “Here I Stand” and “Still Standing” connection.
Of course, if you look up any recent releases you will notice there are two remixes that I did prior to “Still Standing”. Since those were remixes of other people’s music, I don’t really count those as my official kick-off return but more of just testing the waters of how the way things get released and how things are approached in this new day and age.
At the time of this interview other original tracks that are in line for a release are titled: “Knuckledust“ (with remixes by Masters Of Noise/Dedicator and TerrorClown) and “Edge of Madness“ (with a remix by VOLAK). I also have a remix of “Riot in NY” I did for Rob GEE which is going to be the next release with my name attached to it coming up.
You are correct about a VERY big release coming down the pike. This is something very special to me. Another big production I’m looking forward to having the Gabbers of the world hear is my official remix of the mega-hit Hardcore/Gabber song “Schizophrenic“ by the legendary production team Rotterdam Terror Corps. This was one of their biggest hits in 2002. It was an honor for me to be the official remixer of this song of which has never been remixed before (not even unofficially). This remix will be coming out on their highly anticipated new album I believe later this year.
Alexander, you have dabbled in different styles with several projects in that 20 year period. Do you think in a way, these other styles have enhanced your ability to write as Perfect Dark and do you think it has changed your composing style?
Yes, absolutely it has helped. Music production isn’t necessarily like riding a bike though; once you learn doesn’t mean you will always be able to ride smoothly. Sometimes the terrain you are riding on changes. Technology has changed over time. It can be intimidating to make changes in the way you produce, the tools that the productions are made on, and the overall change and evolution of the music industry. If you want to have any chance at all in making a success of yourself, then you must push forward and accept all those changes and make them work to your advantage.
I started producing when computer-based programming was just breaking through. The effects and instrument plugins were still trying to prove themselves to the sceptics, and hardware synth keyboards were still the tried-and-true method of pattern and melody making via MIDI into the computer.
And then came the Drop Goblin era. While I wasn’t making Hardcore/Gabber, I was presented a whole new world of production methods and new software’s that allowed me to do things I wanted to do back then but didn’t have the know-how or the capability do via hardware at the time. While I admit Dubstep was just a phase and I never was truly comfortable in that genre, had I not pushed through it at the time, learned new techniques and explored new plugins that helped inspire me to make the sounds in my head become sounds in real life, I may not have had the self-disciplinary path laid out for me to come back as Perfect Dark and start producing the music I am doing now.
As far as composing style, sometimes you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I have methods that work for me, and I have stayed with these methods since the beginning. I don’t necessarily think I am saying anything too extravagant or noteworthy but, the name always comes first. I have an iPhone full of future track names. The names inspire me in how the song will sound which also includes the lyrical content if there is any. I always start with a small kick and percussion sequence in the beginning to give me a groove and I continue building as I go from there with a big blank space ahead of me. I never lay out a generic full kick sequence from beginning to end first and fill in the gaps and build on top of it. I start to get lost if I do it that way for some reason. Another thing is that I allow my mind to be creative during the time of the morning where I am still partially awake and asleep at the same time. Most of my melodies are derived from those moments. Naturally if I go back to sleep, I risk forgetting what was being conjured in my mind so I normally grab my iPhone and “hum” the idea into my voice notes so I can circle back to it later when I am looking for a melody to work off from. 9 times out of 10 though if I am feeling the momentum of a track, I will come up with something on the spot and completely forget about my rolodex of pitchy out of tune “hum” recordings sitting in my voice notes. There are many. Maybe someday I will release them as a fun bit of audio for people to enjoy at my expense.
What acts/projects heavily influenced you into getting into music?
For Hardcore/Gabber, I would say that Neophyte was my biggest influence. They are the legends in Rotterdam Holland that helped bring this genre to the ears of the world. The crew isn’t so much a crew anymore and in the present day it’s just a single entity known as DJ Neophyte, but the music, regardless of if it’s the classics or the new stuff, the sound is very inspiring. The production style is more of a bouncy triplet signature style pattern and has this ‘follow the bouncing ball’ type of rhythm to it. If I could recommend song to capture the interest of someone not familiar with this style, search on YouTube for the track “Skullfuck” (also producer credited as “Masters of Ceremony”). It’s and oldie but still my top number one favorite of all Hardcore/Gabber music.
I can’t ignore the Hardcore Metal influences though. Without the following bands I would never have had a love for aggressive music: Sheer Terror, Blood for Blood, Madball, Hatebreed to name a few. In fact, the gang vocal and metal style breakdown in “Still Standing” is completely inspired by the styles of Sheer Terror and Blood for Blood who are two of my most favorite Hardcore Metal bands of all time.
And while I wouldn’t say the following list directly inspired me as a producer, I still want to give some honorable mentions because they were a big part of my overall love for aggressive music and helped me get where I am today: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, GWAR, King Diamond, Anti-Heros, Dropkick Murphys, Rancid, and a lot of other various Street Punk and Oi! bands.
Are there musicians or DJs that you love to listen to these days?
You know, I don’t really listen to many DJ’s or Producers of electronic music much on my own time. I think if you eat bologna every day in the morning, afternoon, and night it will eventually drive you nuts. I feel that when I listen to any kind of Electronic Dance Music it’s when I am within that environment, and I can appreciate it more that way. Think of it like this: I used to eat Chinese food almost daily because I love it. However, after a while it loses its treat’ness. It’s no longer a special taste to look forward to on certain days after not having any because I was eating it all the damn time. So now I eat it once a week. Sometimes even once within two weeks. I have learned to appreciate it again and no longer take that food craving for granted anymore. Same with music. Just because I produce electronic music doesn’t mean I have to listen to it constantly. Which means when I am at an event that’s playing EDM, I can appreciate the sound more since it’s not being drilled into me daily. Some people think EDM producers only listen to what they are involved in. Not me.
What I have been listening to lately is Ghost, The O’Reilly’s and the Paddyhats, Volbeat, a lot of various Skacore, one of my favorite bands Nightwish is always in my playlist, and John Denver. Yes, John Denver. John is one of my favorite solo recording artists.
If you could go back to the 90s for a day to visit a musical icon, anywhere in the world, who would you go see and where would they be?
John Denver died in October of 1997, so if this is a question of anyone living, I would say John Denver before he died. It doesn’t even have to be a one-on-one interaction. Just sitting in a crowd of people witnessing greatness would be an honor enough for me. I just never got the chance, and it sucks. Ted Vigil was cool to see as a VERY convincing John Denver impersonator and he put on a hell of a show, but that still doesn’t count.
Now if we flip the script and speak of any music icon that is no longer with us anymore, I will again say John Denver. For more reasons than just wanting to be able to see him live, but in addition I would want to know how or if he would have continued his music career. And if so, would he have stayed true to the old way of sound recording? Or would he have embraced the newer technology that is available today to really bring out his sound to an industry standard level. I might sound crazy, but I sometimes sit and stew over these thoughts wondering how he would sound today if he was still alive.
What else is in store for Perfect Dark?
I am just going to keep on keepin’ on with the resurrection of the Perfect Dark name and see where it takes me. I have a lot of work to do though. The old schoolers remember me, but I have a whole new generation of new schoolers to introduce myself to. I feel the “Still Standing” track is a good start, and it has a cool backstory, but that track is just me slightly opening the door to peek into what’s happening on the other side. Once it’s wide open I would like to think that the momentum will really start to take effect and I will be playing more events and being able to interact more personably with my current and future fans. Time will tell!
Thank you, Alexander, in joining us!
It was my pleasure. Stay hardcore guys and gals.