Making Moves in Summer: Tawa & Atomisk
Blips, wubs, bass drops and pounding four-on-the-floor beats were once primarily reserved for sweaty basement raves and underground city nightclubs. But in the past few years, the genre of electronic music has blossomed out of its primordial stage to become a contender to the ears of the mainstream music culture.
But as shitty Grammy Award-winning pop degenerates into shitty Grammy Award-winning house and the rave scene bleeds into the college party scene; the composition of electronic music is fighting to retain its identity while vying to be recognized not just as glow sticks, ecstasy and Pauly D; but as a legitimate genre of music.
Embroiled in the mix of this musical midlife crisis is Penn State student and up-and-coming house DJ, Keegan Tawa (@Keegan802).
Right from the start, Tawa challenges stereotypes built up around the EDM culture with a military-issued buzz cut and a straight-laced ROTC lifestyle. But you can feel his passion for music once he starts using “face-melting” as an adjective for dubstep hooks, shows off his neon blue and green laptop where his art is forged and when he exposes his dream of playing in the Air Force jazz band—a feat more grueling than gaining a fighter pilot’s license.
Tawa first made a name for himself in the Penn State music scene when he won a spot at Movin’ On in the Battle of the Bands competition. From there his sound began to become more tight, recognizable and elaborate as his music theory background offered a unique backbone to his collection of synthesized riffs and face-melting (it’s really a great adjective) beats.
When Tawa isn’t at field training for the Air Force or playing saxophone in his hometown ska band, The Mahlors, he is working tirelessly to restructure his signature style of progressive electro house with jazz and rock concepts. He described his summer as a “learning process” where he “cleaned up the noises of his previous projects” while “exploring new tonal ideas.”
But as Tawa peers deeply into the state of the EDM music scene, he has found the limits posed by exclusively remedying scales or creating interesting compositions. That’s where his good friend and protege, Andy Fitton or @AtomiskOFFICIAL, comes into the picture.
Just last night the duo released a seven-minute firestorm of frantic syncopation, agitating synthetic oscillation and a forceful driving bass beat titled “Matter“. Building up insatiable tension, the intro carries a shuffling beat out into piercing treble tones and a washed-out synthesizer that sounds like miced up laser beams. Slithering into absolute silence—with only a haunting tone left ringing in your ears—Matter has a sharp release at the middle of the song with a heart-stoppingly slow tempo and stoical instrumentation. And when the listener least expects it, pounding bass picks up the ecstatic groove before moving into an eerie end by transitioning—not with fading volume—but with a descending scale.
As DJs use outros to mix in other material, I believe the specific use of a melancholy end was a conscious decision to allow the duo wiggle room to showcase their more “breakout” and experimental music—which they warned is soon to come. Tawa described “Matter” as a “culmination of all of his progression as a producer” and that metaphor can be seen as running parallel to the track’s tactile progression.
At face value, “Matter” seems like a seamless project. But after speaking with Tawa and Atomisk, it becomes clear that each member of the collaboration brings something fresh and innovative to the table.
“We have complementing styles and personalities,” said Atomisk. “Our skill sets don’t overlap at all and we do a really great job of covering each other’s weaknesses.”
Where Atomisk helps sand the music down—mastering, mixing and producing final tracks with a finely tuned ear, Tawa shines as the mastermind behind the complexity of the tracks—delving into complex music theory to manipulate the feel of songs through tempo drops and octave shifts.
Atomisk excels at pumping out tightly laced mashups while Tawa calls remixes “rebuilds” because after he gets his hands on a song—he makes it his own. And while live Atomisk reads the dance floor and spins music that vibrates into the emotional cortices of his audience, Tawa instead works on putting on an intense live performance of twisting nobs to adjust eq, flipping switches to make clean transitions and using live instrumentation in the form of saxophone and on-the-spot piano accompaniment.
Furthering the duo’s split personality, Tawa is building a new computer for Atomisk—to run software that only Andy can translate. Where Tawa is the nuts and bolts, Atomisk acts as the polish.
As the EDM scene filters out into subcategories as broad as dubstep and as occult as sea punk, Tawa and Atomisk are capitalizing off of the fracture in the genre. Where there are DJs like David Guetta and Avicii who can light up a dance floor like a rag soaked in gasoline, but rarely pump out tracks that give the die hard EDM gormandizers the slightest rise; the duo finds balance in concrete musical advancements as well as putting on a live show that could get club promoters to notice.