Love it or hate it, there’s something sexy about bass-heavy music. Whether you’re into rock, electronic, heavy metal, or hip hop, there’s nothing like a live show where you can physically feel the bass pounding through your chest — it’s music meant to be experienced.
So with that in mind, LA’s OnTronik may be one of EDM’s sexiest new DJs. The System of a Down drummer and co-founder knows a thing or two about producing (and performing) aggressive music, which is why his addition of live drums and vocals into his set will give OnTronik massive crossover appeal in both the EDM and rock circuits.
With the release of his debut mixtape, Anger Management, the Los Angeles native is about to take the EDM world by storm, and the movement starts tomorrow, November 23rd. Where else? LA.
I caught up with Ontronik “Andy” Khachaturian to talk about his big debut and why being in a rock band really isn’t that different than DJing.
So when did you get into EDM?
OnTronik: I was actually DJing and in the scene before I was in System. I started out with super underground hip-hop tracks, then to house in the mid-nineties. Just parties — something like that — but I was drumming at the same time. It just sort of happened that I fell into rock music, but I was already into electronic music. I was into hip hop, drum and bass — the harder styles of EDM. I was that kid. That kid with the backpack and the hoodie.
Were you playing clubs or just parties?
Oh, I was DJing clubs and parties. Nothing as big, obviously, as the band touring and all of that. We were having fun. We were young, though, ya know?
Have you always been spinning the bass-heavy style?
It’s hard to say what’s “bass-heavy” and what’s not. Like I said, I was DJing the harder styles because I love the sound, love the style. Dub, drum and bass has been around forever, and all the break stuff — Pascal and Goldie, the old school “break-heads” — I was into all that. Now it’s so subdivided. It’s crazy.
Do you tend to mix a lot of styles into your music?
I think it just depends on what the event is. Usually I’ll stick to the heavier bass music. I think there’s cool stuff going on in electro. There’s cool stuff going on in glitch. There’s cool stuff going on in drum and bass and breaks. It’s a matter of figuring out whatever makes sense for the event or the style of what’s going down.
I’m open to any genre, though, especially when I’m writing. I’m actually writing new material now. This is the first step in the process of getting the OnTronik brand out there and getting the music out there in the right way.
When did you start producing and making music as OnTronik?
Were you spinning under something else before?
Well, I was dabbling in production and trying different avenues with bands here and there. After System I started and sang in a band called The Apex Theory, which got signed and toured the world. We did all that, but for the past few years, I was just trying to find what it is I wanted to do, get my production skills and all that together. And also just life, really.
How did you come up with the name and brand OnTronik?
People think that it’s a made-up word, but it’s my birth-given name. I have an Armenian background. “Andranik” means the first-born son in the family. It’s also my grandfather’s name and also a famous war hero. So it’s an Armenian name just written differently and converted into, I guess, English.
How do you describe the OnTronik brand?
I guess I’m defining it as I go. OnTronik is all about live, heavy bass music. And that means if it calls for live drums, if it calls for live vocals — whatever it may be — I want to bring a more visceral live experience. I don’t just want to hang out and DJ. I want to interact with the crowd and go up front and perform. I think that’s a big part of the brand and establishing the sound and style that I want to do.
Do you always use the live drums or do you adapt every set?
Yeah, I mean sometimes you can’t have drums. Some DJ booths won’t allow that, so I’m trying to find out how to work in those parameters. I think there might be a way to do it where I can incorporate electronic drums instead of live drums, maybe hybrid the two together. I think the live drumming, though, is something that people are really gravitating toward and they really like because it’s natural for me. I think they feel that, that I’m having fun, and they’re having fun with that.
For me, it’s not just about the drum thing. It’s about the experience. The performance. It’s abut incorporating what you can and using your skill set however you can. Just have fun, ya know? I’m looking into doing vocal remixes for tracks. Just looking into utilizing all of the assets that I’ve got.
Are you going to tap into your rock connections and do any collaborations?
Absolutely. I’m hoping to do some collaborations. To be closed off to collaborations and have blindfolds on is not where it’s at. I definitely want to collaborate — with the right people, of course. I think heavy bass music in general has that kind of rock, angry, punk, aggressive thing to it naturally, so that’s why I like that. But to bring in maybe heavier guitars or singing and screaming into that culture — I’d love to do that.
Are you at all worried that bass-heavy EDM or dub was, or is, a fad?
Just like anything else, right? Something gets famous, something gets popular. It appeals to the quote-unquote masses because it’s being marketed a certain way. If you market something the right way, you’re going to get people’s attention. It was growing for years and years and years, but I think once that style hit the mass market, it just blew up.
Ya know, just like everything, it’ll be a fad for while, it’ll go through its stages, but the people who are in it for the right reasons will always be there for it. I’m not worried about it being a fad. Music fads come and go all the time.
When I started with System, people didn’t know what we were about. They knew we were loud, they knew we were aggressive, they knew we wanted to change whatever the landscape of the music scene was at the time. So I think that with any musical project I do, I just want to have fun and bring something new to the table.
So speaking of fun, your debut release is called Anger Management…
[Laughs] Yeah, that was fun.
Tell me why you chose that as the title for your first release.
It was just the feeling that I got when I was putting the mix together. It felt like it could be a theme because of the songs that I was choosing, the energy, and the style that I was putting into the mix. It felt like it was the right theme for the tracks. The other thing is that I wanted a way to get it out, ya know? Everyone’s got frustrations and pent-up aggression, and all of that…
So it was kind of cathartic for you?
Yeah, that’s exactly the right word. It was fully cathartic.
Do you find this style of music to be more cathartic than playing rock music or playing with System?
I think there are similarities. The similarity is that I’m doing it, so I feel whatever I’m feeling in that moment. That aspect of it is still there, but obviously if you have electronic music pumping out, there’s a different feel. People are dancing moreso than smashing each other and moshing. So there’s that difference. There might be more of an open feeling of happiness or good vibes, so to speak, but then someone might turn around and say, “I get that feeling listening to heavy metal music.”
So for me personally, the similarities are that it makes me feel good, and people feel good listening to it. The differences are just the technical aspects of it. There aren’t four or five people jumping around on the stage with instruments. There’s one guy doing the show, usually, but there are some cool things happening in the scene right now where people are recognizing that you can have a band, or you can mix the two worlds together, kind of like you were saying with Destroid. You can have a band together and do live electronic music and have that feeling.
Tell me about the EP.
The EP is set to come out next year. It’ll be my first EP.
And you have the mixtape coming out now (released November 18th)…
Yeah, it’s coming out through Dank’s label, Funky Element. I’m excited about the mixtape actually. Funky Element Records puts out awesome, sick bass music, so to come out with that is really cool for me. I’ve been working on it a long time. It’s the first time it’s like, “Here’s OnTronik, see what he can do. Here’s the style of music he’s representing.” I think it’s a good first go.
Sonically, how do you describe the mixtape?
It’s live, bass-heavy music. There are some electro vibes happening, there are complextro vibes happening, there are trap elements happening. I don’t want to say there’s just one thing, but it’s heavy bass music. That’s the only way I can describe it to not be caught in somebody’s weird, negative paradigm of wording. [Laughs]
When you’re producing in this style, what’s your process?
Usually I’ll start with the concept of some sort of bass line or idea, or drum pattern, or something like that. It might actually start on a guitar or actual drums. It’s a learning process for me, but I think the thing that stays the same is the creative spark that starts the whole process and understanding that this is the type of music that you really want to put out to the masses, so make it the best you can for yourself first and foremost, but you want to convey that to the public, to the audience, that you can do both. Ya know?
So is Saturday’s show the official mixtape release party then?
Ya know, that’s funny, I never really thought of it that way, but I think it is. It’s sort of the OnTronik debut in Los Angeles in that way, so I’m really excited about it. Again, performing with Dank — it all kind of worked out. It’s going to be an awesome party, and people should definitely come check it out.
You’re obviously well-versed in the rock scene, but how is the LA DJ scene in your opinion?
It’s awesome. You just have to find it. LA…I was raised here. I’m a rare native. In LA every day there’s something to do. You just have to find it. So I think it’s here, and just like any other time period, I think LA — or the West Coast, Frisco, whatever — has their own unique thing going on. Like you were talking about Skrillex earlier — he’s LA.
And you’ve got Destroid up north…
Yeah, there’s a lot of West Coast stuff happening. But I don’t think that really matters. I think the way the world runs now is that everyone can speak to each other and cross-converge. I don’t know, maybe your environment does play into how someone perceives, and writes, and is creative, but I don’t think it matters anymore where you’re from.
I think LA is great for collaborations. I feel like the cross-pollination of genres is a huge thing on the West Coast.
Oh yeah. We’re open to that here. I think there’s a feeling of, I don’t want to say the wrong word, but there’s a feeling of experimentation. I’d love to collaborate with people if it’s the right fit, ya know?