’Birocratic – atari dreams’
’Birocratic – misty’
’Birocratic – ergo’

The internet is an incredible tool. With sites like YouTube, SoundCloud and Bandcamp, these days it’s become easier than ever to discover new artists. While these avenues help make music more accessible to all of us, it inevitably means there’s a lot more material to sort through. Often times many talented artists can get lost in the shuffle, but once in awhile, you’ll find that diamond in the rough (pardon the cliché), making it all totally worth the effort. While I won’t claim to be the first to discover 20-year-old producer, Birocratic, I would like to take some pleasure in introducing him to you all today.

Instrumental music has never exactly been my forte. Often times instrumentals can seem drawn-out and repetitive, which in many cases ultimately leads to boredom. Birocratic succeeds where others fail, because he keeps things simple. At an average of nearly two minutes, his compositions are easy to digest, yet still possess enough layers to consistently keep your mind stimulated. Biro’s sounds are never boring, even if they are perfect to relax to. As you’ll soon find out, the man behind the music is even more intriguing than the pieces he samples.

TMN: Since this might be the first time many of our readers are hearing your name, let’s start with the basics. How did you come to be known as Birocratic?

Birocratic: My name is Brandon Rowan, and when I first got to college people took to calling me B-Row. Biro is essentially a phoneticized version of my nickname, which I lengthened to Birocratic because I like the subtle tongue-in-cheek connotation. I find that the idea of a bureaucrat who makes hip-hop is a satisfyingly ironic image, and so the name stuck. Also, I didn’t want to be confused with a ballpoint pen, which is called a “biro” in British English.

TMN: I guess that’ll be our little fun fact of the day. Maybe if you decide to pick up the mic one day, Biro might be a more appropriate moniker for you. 

Birocratic: Heh. Well, I highly doubt that’ll happen. If anything, I’ll sing rather than rap, but I’m ironically way more comfortable speaking with instruments – drums, bass, guitar, keys – than with words themselves.

TMN: Let’s follow up with the next natural question. Where did you grow up and where do you currently reside?

Birocratic: I grew up in central New Jersey in a place called Hopewell Valley, a super typical suburban/semi-rural area right smack between Philadelphia and New York. I lived in a farmhouse in the woods there from when I was six until I graduated from high school. From there I hired Three Movers and moved to Cape May, at the Jersey shore, where my parents still live. I split my time between Cape May during the summer and NYC during the school year, as I’m currently a junior at NYU.

TMN: Alright, let’s dig a little deeper into your background. When did you first get into music, and how long have you been producing for?

Birocratic: My parents put me in piano lessons when I was four. My cousins had moved to Germany and left behind an antique Steinway upright piano, and I used to bang on it until I figured songs out by ear. My parents noticed and got me a teacher, so I learned piano formally until I was 14. I also grew up on a steady diet of classic rock, thanks to my parents and WTHK radio from Philly, which sadly no longer exists. But from there it just kind of blossomed – in late middle school I formed a band with friends, quit piano and taught myself guitar, and steadily became more and more engrossed in music until I realized it was what I wanted to do with my life.

Production started when I was a junior in high school, after I got my first laptop. I kind of just saw it as a natural extension of my passion for music – I could make entire songs by myself without having to get the band together. It was an awesome mental and emotional release, and it was accessible without dealing with the headache-inducing logistics of organizing band practices for a bunch of teenagers who are barely old enough to drive.

TMN: So what impact would you say your environment/upbringing has had on your music?

Birocratic: Man, it’s hard to pinpoint. It’s funny because I make hip-hop now, which is so different from the music I used to listen to during the most formative years of my early childhood. I guess just being surrounded by music all the time and being encouraged to explore my passion is what led to where I am now, even if the specifics don’t seem to line up. And I think some of the unrest I experienced early in high school—mostly traceable to living in the ‘burbs and feeling like everything was so small-time compared to the big city, which we used to visit as a family every year—had a large part to do with my tendency and desire to express myself via music. It allowed me to feel bigger than what my town and my school would allow for, especially since I was always such a quiet kid and had a tough time expressing myself in social situations. It provided the all-too cliché “escape” for my pining young self.

Birocratic_Studio 1

TMN: Now we always hate putting labels on music, but if you had to classify yourself, what genre would you say you fall under?

Birocratic: To keep it simple, I say I make instrumental hip-hop. Much of it is very jazzy, because that’s just the way my musical tastes lean. But instrumental hip-hop sums it up best.

TMN: Who would you list as your major influences in music?

Birocratic: At the moment, I’m incredibly inspired by the music of producers like Shigeto, Flying Lotus, Bonobo, Gramatik, and Nujabes, if I had to pick my top 5. In high school I also really got into lounge music (I’d listen to internet radio stations for hours every day, all playing this mellow, trip-hoppy stuff I’d never heard before) and I think that had a lot to do with my current appreciation for ambience and primarily textural music, rather than highly composed or super-polished stuff. I love what a lot of these producers do with sonic textures. In my opinion it’s some of the most interesting, artistically cohesive stuff out there.

TMN: On a semi-related note, if you could collaborate with any artist, who it would be and why?

Birocratic: Honestly, not to toot their horns so much, but FlyLo or Shigeto. I think Shigeto has a really incredible sound and I’m just fascinated by his process. Same goes for FlyLo, but in a different way—his music is a little less the product of introversion and his collaborative spirit seems to be a little more exercised than Shigeto’s. But I’d love to just pick their brains and see how the music they make materializes. I’m sure it has a decent amount to do with psychedelics, at least from what I’ve read about them in interviews.

I’m a sober guy so I don’t do any drugs, but I might put that reservation on hold if I ever found myself in a studio with either of them. The music they make always speaks to me really acutely. I’ve always wondered how they do it. Even just getting coffee and talking with either of them would be dope, just to know a little more about who they are and where they come from when they’re making their music. It’s the mind behind the songs that I’m most fascinated by.

TMN: Your career is only just beginning—as you put it on your Bandcamp page, you’re a “tadpole swimming with the big fish.” Where do you see yourself headed in the next few years and where would you ideally like to end up?

Birocratic: Well, I think the beauty of it is that I’m not entirely sure where I’m headed, and the act of actually finding out is fun in and of itself. So I’m leaving plenty of room for twists and turns, but the basic plan is this: this year I’m formally developing an artist collective/label with a bunch of musicians I’m tight with from NYU. Really amazingly talented bunch, and my buddy The White Lights and I are spearheading its formation. There’s a nice balance between electronic, hip-hop, and jazz among all of us. And I think I’m gonna keep producing under the Birocratic alias for a while; I’ve already netted a few forthcoming production credits with some amazing NYC rappers (more details to follow in the next few months), and getting more personally involved in the established hip-hop scene has helped immensely. I also work at the Nuyorican Poets Café, a multi-arts venue in the East Village, which has opened up the doors to a lot of talented individuals.

TMN: Can we get any clues as to who you’ll be working with, or is that all still tightly under wraps right now?

Birocratic: Hah, well it’s not like I have a publicist looking over my shoulder, so I can tell you. I’m in fact working on a few things with the Brown Bag All Stars crew, and I’ve been in contact with Mr. Green and we’ve started a few casual collaborations. But it’s all very early in the game and so there’s not much to say about it, other than that I really like all these guys, they have a lot of salient advice to offer a young cat like myself, and that over the next several months I hope to foster the personal and musical relationships we’ve begun to develop.

’Birocratic – since you’ve asked’
’Birocratic – Turkish coffee’
’Birocratic – Man cheeney’

TMN: Do you have any other production credits outside of your own library right now?

Birocratic: Nothing major, though I did produce the song “Soul Kitchen” for Nino Augustine, a rapper from my home state of New Jersey, a little under a year ago. It got some good reactions on some prominent blogs/sites like DJBooth and WorldStarHipHop. The attention sort of caught me off guard—I certainly wasn’t expecting a community like WorldStar (which, I’ll admit, I don’t know a hell of a lot about) to be so receptive.

TMN: So when you’re not focusing on your music as Birocratic, what do you like to do in your free time?

Birocratic: I work full-time as a server in Cape May, which I absolutely love (starving-artist tropes be damned). During the school year I’m very occupied with music—and all my friends make music too, so it’s hard to escape from it. I’ve taken up casual photography this summer, which is another great release. When I’m bored or frustrated, I go on aimless hours-long bike rides. What an amazing way to clear your head. Super therapeutic.

TMN: I noticed the name of your first project was [bumps], which is an obvious reference to the quirky black-and-white transition screens shown on Adult Swim. Why’d you name your project after those, and how excited would you be to eventually see your songs used in those bump segments?

Birocratic: [bumps] came about as an exercise of mimicry, as I wasn’t really super good at producing then and was trying my hand at emulating stuff I liked in order to teach myself production. I loved the bumps on Adult Swim as an early teenager, and revisiting them with my renewed taste in music and urban sensibilities after spending a year in New York provided an interesting perspective. I always was super inspired by the marriage of simple still imagery with thematically tied, albeit abstract, music. Just quick vignettes that don’t form a whole story but let the beholder’s imagination run a little wild. Something about the idea of vignettes translated very well into my creative mind, because I feel that’s mostly how I appropriate music—as brief scenes, with little or no context. I’m in love with that concept. I’d bug out if any of them made it onto Adult Swim; thing is, I feel that I’ve improved a lot as a producer since then, so my minor insecurities might make me a little apprehensive about those particular beats being featured. I have a lot of new material though, such that I’m strongly considering putting out a sequel to [bumps], that I’d be more comfortable with seeing on television (God willing).

TMN: Let’s talk about that growth. Just recently, you released your third beat compilation, Beets 2. How do you feel you’ve improved as an artist in just over a year? Has your process changed at all, do you find that your music is more polished?

Birocratic: I feel that my technical production skills have certainly improved, as they are wont to do after months of practice and refinement. But I think the most important changes I’ve made as a producer and artist involve the way I see the world and how I incorporate myself into my music.

Whereas Beets was more of a selection of six beats I had made that went pretty well together, Beets 2 was more of a document of my life leading up to its release. I went into it with more purpose, knowing that a longer, more holistic album would result. I had just endured a pretty emotional breakup and producing was a very necessary way of coping, and I think more of that emotion was able to make its way into the music than in Beets.
And as far as sounding more polished, I might even say I’m moving in the opposite direction—most of my recent (unreleased) material has definitely incorporated a much less rigid, and much more experimental, sound. And while I’m getting better at production, I know there’s still so much work to be done and so much ground to cover. That excites me immensely.

TMN: With Beets 2 behind you now, do you have any new music on the horizon we can look forward to? Care to announce any new projects? 

Birocratic: Well, I’m always posting one-offs on my SoundCloud that aren’t related to any projects. It’s just music I want to put out there sort of as a documentation of my own progression. That said, I’m still feeling my way around my new setup. I changed DAWs recently so I’m reorganizing my entire library and approach in order to incorporate more of my own sounds, rather than sampling all the time. Sampling can be really interesting, aesthetically speaking, but I’ve found that over time, with disuse, the composition muscle in my brain has weakened. So I’m getting more into composing and writing rather than just sampling for content. So we’ll have to see where that goes. In the meantime I very well may, as I hinted at before, be pursuing a more comprehensive follow-up to [bumps].

Birocratic_Studio 2

TMN: It seems your song “Atari Dreams” was featured in the Buzzfeed video for “10 Facts That You Thought Were True.” I know that might not seem like a big deal to some, but how would you say the response was to that? Have you noticed an uptick in your follower count or number of fans?

Birocratic: Buzzfeed has actually used a ton of my songs (maybe about six or seven at this point) in their videos. Simply put, I wouldn’t have half the following I do now if it weren’t for their use of my music. The sheer number of people they can reach is insane – I think overall, close to ten million views of all the videos that use my songs. And what’s nice is that they always credit me and link to my profiles. There’s this nice trickle effect where Buzzfeed reaches the diverse masses, and those interested enough by the background music will go check it out. So I basically know that any new followers I’m receiving from Buzzfeed are genuine fans of my sound, and not following simply because they were exposed to it. An interested fan is the best kind of fan. And I can’t thank all of them enough for the support.

TMN: What song of yours would you say you enjoyed making the most? Do you have any favorites you like listening to?

Birocratic: Interesting question. Most of the music I release is the direct result of a brief burst of creative flow, and I only breathe when I’m done. It’s more of an exhilarating few hours than a fun few hours when I make a track, because it always happens so fast and I can’t lose the moment. Regardless, I’d say “stay gold” was probably the most fun, because I knew I needed a closing track for Beets (the EP on which “stay gold” was released), and I’d already announced the project’s release online. I started “stay gold” five days before Beets was set to drop, so that was an awesome last-minute track that turned out really well. And purely number-wise, it’s gotten the greatest reception of all my songs, which of course is super gratifying.

TMN: I see you’ve entered a couple of your songs in beat battles. For those not familiar with the concept, can you explain how those operate?

Birocratic: Beat battles can work a number of different ways, but the ones I’ve entered are similar to a Battle of the Bands, but for producers. We’re given a folder containing a bunch of samples two weeks prior to the battle. We get split into groups and then have four different samples to flip, one for each round in the battle. At the actual battle event, we play our prepared beats (about a minute long each) and get eliminated tournament-style based upon a judge vote combined with audience support. It’s a blast.

TMN: I bet the atmosphere at those is really awesome.

Birocratic: It’s nuts. So much fun. In April I competed in one with my best friend from school and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more pointedly symbolic outpouring of mutual respect (or platonic love) as when we went head-to-head in a surprise tiebreaker semifinal round. We both may or may not have shed tears over the emblematic beauty of the whole event. Really a formative experience.

TMN: So, obvious question. Have you won any of them?

Birocratic: I actually won the first one I ever entered. That was an awesome feeling. I’ve won a few online as well; there’s a community on Reddit that does beat battles and I’ve had some luck on those as well. But it’s not about winning – the greatest thing to come of those events, by far, has been meeting a whole bunch of dope producers and MCs and being welcomed into the hip-hop community in a city where I’m still very green.

’Birocratic – stay gold’
’Birocratic – frontusis’
’Birocratic – Does not compute’

TMN: Have you had any other types of live performances at all? If so, what do they mainly consist of? Do you play all of your own music or do you treat it more like a DJ set?

Birocratic: I haven’t done any other performances as Birocratic, but this year is going to be different. I just transferred my entire software production setup from Logic to Ableton, which is far more conducive to playing live. And I’d love to do all my own stuff in a DJ-style set, but I doubt I’d have enough supporters right off the bat to book shows. Although I am part of an upcoming monthly event hosted by Soul Khan in which I’m making my DJ/performance debut, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. I’ll post more details about it when it’s solidified, but I can tell you it’s going to feature a really exciting crew of producers, DJ’s, and MC’s.

TMN: Wow, that sounds like it’ll be pretty epic. We’d definitely love to learn more details about that as soon as they come out. Where can people find out about your shows and upcoming releases?

Birocratic: I’m pretty much guaranteeing it will be amazing, inexpensive, and filled to the brim with dope acts—the kind of event you can’t wait to come around every month. If you want updates, my Facebook page is Birocratic and I’ll definitely be posting updates there. I also have a YouTube channel where I’ll be more active in the coming months with live videos and whatnot. And if you want to, you can follow me on Twitter (@birocratic), though that’s more for my random musings and whatnot.

Birocratic_Studio 3

TMN: Before we forget, where can our readers find your music?

Birocratic: All my music is available for streaming on SoundCloud, and I release all my EP’s for name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp. I also post many of my beats/songs to my YouTube channel.

TMN: Thanks for speaking with us today, Brandon. We’re definitely excited to hear what you have in store for us in the future.

Birocratic: It’s been a pleasure! Thanks for everything.

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