Is it challenging for an artist who has found a degree of success to consciously decide to switch up their style? If one earns recognition doing things a certain way, how will they fare once they begin doing things differently? The experimental producer Sixis has some insight on these questions. He made his name beginning in 2015 with a handful of EPs and singles marked by ambiance, attention to detail, slow progression, and tropes of transcendence. It earned him a great reputation, a spot on the first Tipper & Friends Full Moon Gathering, and sets in Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Canada. Now the producer is pursuing a “fierce new direction”.
Ben Wyss grew up in Berkeley, California, just a few minutes south from the Coalesce gathering where he and I spoke on New Years Eve. That January 1st performance was his biggest to date in the Bay Area, for the largest audience yet to hear his new, heavier material. It felt fitting that this would happen in his hometown among friends, many of whom were on the lineup with him. 10 years ago, Ben started going to festivals like the Rain Dance Campout in the Santa Cruz mountains, or Stilldream in Belden. These events inspired him and served as the beginning of his journey. Looking back, he sees a distinct progression from then until now, remarking that many of the artists and friends he saw in those days were there performing at Coalesce.
When it comes to sound design and composition, Ben is exceptionally good at crafting a specific psychedelic style. So good that few expected his new music to be anything but that. In the past year or so he’s released the cinematic two-track EP Mirrored, an absolutely mad Frequent remix, and a crushing collaboration with Australian glitch stand out Whitebear. The share of aggressive music in his catalog is growing, and he just added a new single, ”Contact”. But what are his motivations? What’s it feel like to take a hard left turn with his artistry, and what’s next?
The Rust: Many people may still associate Sixis with a sound you can sink softly into; something detailed and nuanced but not aggressive; something that can capture you, but doesn’t force itself upon you. I wanted to ask you about this new direction.
I actually really enjoy listening to heavier, more intense music and I have for a long time, whether it was metal or electronic music. It’s only been within the past year or two that I’ve figured out how make heavier music that I’m actually happy with. I’m not that into most heavy bass music. It can get a little abrasive, and there’s often few truly melodic elements. That’s just my personal preference. So it’s taken me a while to do something like that. I like the energy. The potential of the energy there is awesome. But how can I make something that feels fulfilling to me, that’s also stimulating for my mind, my emotions, all that?
So for the last year or two I’ve been experimenting a lot. Much of what I made I haven’t finished or released. I have an album that’s...getting there. I’m trying to find a way to blend this heavier, more intense, driving energy with something that is both cerebral and psychedelic like my music has always been, but also has emotional content there, and maybe a cinematic quality. And then somehow maybe works on the dancefloor.
The Rust: That’s the golden ticket!
It’s a lot.
The Rust: That’s my favorite, when music engages you on both the psychological and physical levels.
Totally. What I’ve been playing out is this heavier stuff, but I’ve also been working on some very chill music. In the past my project was just one style, in a way, that was chiller, maybe some edginess maybe some glitchiness or whatever. But now it’s kind of heavier, more intense, and there’s this other really mellow stuff that will eventually be released. I’m really just trying to make what feels good to me, and have a good time playing out. I’ve been enjoying the energy.
The Rust: One of the key things that attracts me to your music is the ideas in it. I think the first song I heard from you was “Conduit” from the 2015 Refection Point EP. I wanted to ask you about some of the ideas behind your music. What kind of messages or information, if any, do you try to communicate through your music?
Well, more recently I haven’t been using many vocal samples. I’ve been trying to keep it more open-ended for the listener. “Conduit” has a vocal sample saying something, it drops, whatever, it’s great. I’ve kind of stopped doing that because I really want it to be completely open to interpretation. But it is still a very conceptual process for me. There is often a narrative, often abstract, for each song; telling a story, going through these different movements and emotions and thoughts; different patterns.
The Rust: So some of those patterns may provoke, or are designed to provoke, something.
Definitely. I’ve really been trying to think about music as an emotional thing. Because I think it’s more that than anything else. I guess dance music is a bit more of a movement thing, too. So I’ve been trying to focus more on feeling, and capturing what I’m feeling at the moment and putting that into my music. So in the end every track is a reflection of what I’ve been going through for the last week or month that I’ve been working on it.
The Rust: Does it usually take you a long time to work on music?
In the past, yes. Recently I’ve gotten a bit faster which is nice. I’ve been more strict with myself. And I think I’m finally figuring out something that I feel comfortable with, instead of doubting myself and changing things over and over again. Just being able to get something right from the beginning.
The Rust: I have my own ideas about what an event like Coalesce is representing, but what does it represent to you?
One of the reasons Coalesce feels different or special to me - well, I have a lot of friends who are playing which is awesome - but it’s a lot of up and coming artists. Of course there are big names, but it feels like there’s been something happening that’s been underground for a while which is now beginning to be generate events like Coalesce. Something has been happening for a while but it’s not been recognized as much as some other things.
Something similar could be said about his show this evening at One Art Community Center in Philadelphia, where he’ll be part of a showcase along with Ultrasloth, Mickman, Chee and a bevy of other hitters presented by Aspire Higher (tickets).
Complexity is the common denominator between Sixis’ different styles. He’s working with contemporary neuro sound designs, but within a songwriting framework that’s vastly different than other neuro music out there. The complicated and constantly evolving synthesis that he’s known for is still there, but it now invites the listener’s attention in a different way. Taking that risk can be challenging for an artist, but the size of the challenge is often mirrored by the size of the reward.