Meet Jock Nowell-Usticke, the Kiwi chemical engineering graduate turned HypeMachine-charting producer, festival performer, and MATOMA opener who rode the bedroom producer wave to success in a matter of two years.
Jock’s career under the BAYNK moniker shows the infinite possibilities for DJs in the digital age, enjoying a steady incline since his first-ever release, “Sundae,” ended up on HillyDilly and caught the attention of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival promoter Mark Kneebone. After Kneebone booked BAYNK’s first-ever live show at the hometown New Zealand festival, he’s continued performing live across North America and New Zealand ever since.
His soundscape surfs between future bass and tropical house, bringing the beaches of New Zealand directly to your speakers with live instrumentation atop catchy summery synths.
Read more about BAYNK’s climb from chemical engineering misfit to traveling around North America on MATOMA’s tour bus below.
OTW: Where was the music video
for your most recent single, “Poolside,” shot?
BAYNK: We shot it on the west coast of New Zealand in the north islands, quite close to Auckland at these three beaches called Muriwai, Bethells Beach, and Karekare. One of them is the same place where Taylor Swift shot her video for “Out Of The Woods.” She flew all the way to New Zealand because they’re such amazing beaches. They’re about 40 minutes from where I’m living now.
OTW: What was the experience like? Did you have friends with you on set?
BAYNK: Yes, all of my friends were there. The two people in the video clip were my friends from university. I connected with the videographer Connor Pritchard through YouTube; he’s only 17 years old! We shot it in a day, and we didn’t stop moving once.
OTW: You are largely
the director of your own visuals, except for the “What You Need” music video. How did you
get involved with Jason Bock, that video’s director?
BAYNK: New Zealand has this amazing funding system called NZ On Air for tracks that they deem are commercially viable. They gave me funding to make a professional video for “What You Need,” so that’s why I could afford to do it in a really nice studio and could get Jason on board. Jason is incredible; he’s done other amazing music videos [for Ta-Ku and Alison Wonderland] so he was a logical choice for me.
OTW: “What You Need” is your only collaboration thus far. Why’s that? How did that collaboration come about, and what did NÏKA add to the song?
BAYNK: I’ve always [recorded music] with just me and a laptop. I make all of the human sounds and vocal chops myself. So it was quite nerve-wracking, but I knew I eventually wanted a girl to sing on some of my tracks. My friend met [NÏKA] at a party and was boasting about how good she was at singing. I wasn’t even there, but they told me how amazing she was and that I should make a song with her. So I emailed her and asked her to send me some of her songs. She must have sent me at least 30 acoustic demos that were all incredible. I booked a flight to Nelson to meet her in her hometown. We had two days to write it, and the first day nothing happened. It was super awkward because neither of us had ever collaborated before. We went out and had some drinks with some friends, loosened up a bit, and then in the morning we wrote “What You Need” in five hours.
OTW: I could see how collaborating with someone you don’t know could be a bit like a blind date.
BAYNK: It’s so much like that. I did a lot more writing and collaborating in Los Angeles, but I’m still getting used to it.
OTW: Who else would you like to collaborate with in the future?
BAYNK: I would love to do something with Flume or Mura Masa, who are my favorite producers. I take a lot of inspiration from those two. As far as vocalists go, I’m drawn to anyone with an unusual voice. I love like rappers who double as singers, like Chance the Rapper or Anderson .Paak. Also, Kučka, who sings on some of the Flume records and has an incredible voice. Or Aluna George. I listen to all sorts of artists across like every genre.
OTW: What specifically do you like about Flume?
BAYNK: I love the fact that he consistently uses sounds that I’ve never heard before. Flume’s sound design is next level, and you can tell he puts so much time into finding sounds that are just ludicrous and shouldn’t work. Even on his new albums, the Skin LP and the Skin Companion EP II, there’s controversy about some of it just being unlistenable. But I love the fact that he uses sounds that he shouldn’t use, and he manages to fit them in with the context. I get so impressed when something sounds fresh and unlike anything I’ve heard before, and he just does it song after song. That to me is amazing.
OTW: What do you think his recent Grammy win for Skin in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category means for your genre of music?
BAYNK: It’s the first time that someone from my genre–the future bass, bedroom producer type thing–has really gotten somewhere. It just shows that anything’s possible. You don’t need to be a crazy musician. You just need a mouse and a laptop.
OTW: I read that you threw your first track “Sundae” up on Soundcloud, didn’t look at it for a week, and then came back to see it blowing up. Is that true?
BAYNK: Not entirely. It wasn’t a week; it was more like five months. I didn’t know how Soundcloud or anything worked; I just liked making music. I assumed that it would blow up straight away, because I thought it was amazing, and then it didn’t so I got really sad! I actually got so distraught that I gave up making music for 2 months. I thought, “No one’s even going to listen if it hasn’t got heaps of plays now.” But I didn’t know that you had to send it to tastemakers if you want people to listen to your music. Now I have better knowledge of the music industry.
OTW: You studied chemical engineering before becoming a musician because your dad wouldn’t let you drop out, right?
BANYK: Yeah he wouldn’t let me, and I wouldn’t have wanted to drop out anyway.
OTW: So you finished school?
BAYNK: Yeah I finished, studied four years of chemical engineering, and finished two years ago.
OTW: Do you think your education was important even though you didn’t become an engineer?
BANYK: I’m not sure. I almost think yes, because it helped me figure out how to learn things really fast–I had no motivation to do chemical engineering. I studied for tests like two nights before. But to this day, I haven’t really utilized the knowledge. I also wouldn’t change it, because of the life experience. If you’re making music and writing songs, pretty much anything that gives you solid life experience is going to help with the songwriting process.
OTW: What does your dad think now?
BAYNK: I think he’s stoked. I have so much to thank my parents for, in getting to the small musical career I have now. Even now I still work at my dad’s company. I was working like five days a week and [also working on] music, then it was four, then three, and just last week I was like, “Okay, I’m only going to work one day a week.” I think he’s a little gutted… wait, you Americans don’t say gutted! It’s like sad… I think he’s just slightly sad that I’m not working there all the time now.
OTW: That’s progress,
though! How is it different playing shows in America versus in New Zealand? How’s the crowd reaction in America?
BAYNK: I love playing in New Zealand, but I actually feel more pressure playing at home because I always want to put on the best show for my hometown. So maybe I do like playing overseas a bit better. I love playing shows in America. I feel like everyone’s just there to have a good time. My experience was super easy; I didn’t feel a huge amount of pressure because I was the opening act for three others.
OTW: This was when you opened for MATOMA’s Party At Your Place Tour, correct?
BAYNK: Yes, with MATOMA, Cheat Codes, and Steve Void. We were all on a tour bus, and they’re all amazing people.
OTW: How was that experience?
BAYNK: For me, it was a constant party. I’m sure that once you start headlining your own tour it becomes hectic. But the other guys told me that when they were opening for other big acts, it was super chill and breezy. It was such good practice for me because when I played my first show in America, it was only like the fourth or fifth show I had ever played. So it was good to play 30 shows in a row, and get all of the awkward stage stuff out of the way.
OTW: Any specific memories from the tour?
BAYNK: Oh yes. At my first show in Philadelphia, there were literally two people in the room. People never want to talk about when no one comes to watch them play, but I don’t really care. Of course no one’s going to watch me play, no one knew who I was! Three openers were a lot of acts to have on one show. I mean, I usually wouldn’t go and watch the first act, or even the second, realistically.
OTW: Right, I wouldn’t take it personally.
BAYNK: Exactly, I don’t at all. Originally I was like, “Oh my god, this is going to be 30 nights in a row playing to two people.” But it wasn’t. That first night, I pulled out the chords from my computer, and the sound cut out. But every show got better and better, and most nights I was playing to anywhere from 200 to 1,000 people at the places that were really keen. It was everything in between, and a perfect experience for my first tour.
OTW: You’re big on
using the saxophone in your music. How long have you been playing it and when
did you start?
BAYNK: I started playing saxophone when I was fourteen and probably stopped around sixteen, then I picked it up at university when I was playing in bands again. I just didn’t want to be another DJ, so I started incorporating the sax into my music. It’s just such a crowd pleaser that I don’t think I’m ever going to stop. As soon as people see it, you don’t even have to play it, and people go nuts.
OTW: Aside from the sax, another trend in electronic music is to release singles rather than full length albums. How do you feel about that? Are you more of an album person or a singles person?
BAYNK: I’m definitely a singles person. I’ve never come from a culture of listening to an album. I listen to so many different artists that I don’t have time to listen to a whole album…That sounds bad. I’ll listen to Flume’s whole album, or people who I seriously admire, but otherwise, I’m going with singles because I want to hear every single genre. I wouldn’t want to spend my time only listening to a specific person.
OTW: Who are 3 artists on your Ones To Watch list and why?