INTERVIEW: Gus Sutherland (All Ears)

Let’s take it back. Not all the way to the Bronx, rather we can zone in on Belfast. There we saw filmmaker Gus Sutherland (thanks again Laurent Fintoni) and Beats of Mind (see/hear) documenting Ras G, Kutmah, Dakim, and Sweeney Kovar’s trip to Northern Ireland. Fast-forward to now and Gus’ film All Ears, featuring the aforementioned producers and many more LA Low End Theorists and beat-beauticians, is set to screen at this week’s CDR Australia session in Sydney. To whet minds and senses beforehand, the CDR Australia team shared words with Gus on All Ears, the elusive, the D, and, and, and…

Gus, what’s good? What you been up to lately?

Things are great. Just regular everyday things, work, enjoying new and old music, editing, applying to study more, beginning to gather music to release a cassette to accompany The Unseen Detroit documentary. The film will be ready later this year and is related to All Ears, looking at some Detroit beats links. Will be looser structurally, for the most part not focused on individuals.

… and with everything this life has to offer… why beats?

To me I’d been waiting to hear this music since I first heard Madlib beats around 1999. Around 2005 I started to hear beats on more records. I bought Nobody’s And Everything Else & Jneiro Jarel’s Three Piece Puzzle on the strength of the covers alone. It was like a large part of my imagination had been stimulated more than ever before, from being a listener and record collector.

You’re truly fascinated with the elusive… why?

It’s the embodiment of the hip-hop producer to me, people who arrange sounds that in their very nature are elusive. Staying intrigued by what’s in the background is something that drives my curiosity, beyond just wondering what sample someone’s chopped. Universes inside loops.

And how do guys like Dak + Madlib play into this part of your imagination?

These are guys who are vessels for the energy that they’re dealing with, whether that’s records, found sounds, drums, anything really. Honest reflections of the rawest hip-hop can be in its simplest forms while at once taking the music in new directions through an urge to create something else.

Tell us a bit about dak for those that don’t know…

dakim’s the most articulate, thoughtful person I’ve met making music. The film excerpts probably speak better than I can sum up.

From your humble opinion, what’s the key to artistry that allows people into the heavenly gates?

In the artists I’ve had pleasure of meeting, I’d say obsession combined with a knowledge and appreciation of what’s come before. But above all else it’s something more inarticulate, the closest I could say is soul, being in it for the right reasons.

Music is like a virus.
It spreads and manifests into the everything of things.
What are your thoughts on this?

I remember the photographer and filmmaker B+ telling me he didn’t stop hearing music when he stepped into a room without records, that he could see notes in photographs, and compositions when shooting sequentially. That stayed with me, I’d like to think I have some of that way of looking at the world, responding and recording instinctively.

The documentary talks a lot about rappers being the catalyst for beats and now it feels to me that beats are the catalyst for the resurgence in rap. You finding this amongst your travels?

I don’t listen to enough to really determine what trends might be, I find it’s easy to think of someone as one or the other but I’m increasingly hearing people who’re nice at both. Folks who I thought of strictly as beatmakers a while back Samiyam, Exile, dak, MatthewDavid, Flying Lotus are doing it all. Also in Detroit it seems so many people were brought up on both. Some of the hardest beats I heard there were old Danny Brown tracks, I had no idea he produced.

Your new doco is on Detroit… Why the D?

Really joining on from some links I’d found in L.A., and a curiosity to experience the home of some of the best beats that will ever be made, attempt to understand their musical heritage and landscape a little further. I remember when filming All Ears, Jesselisa Moretti (co-founder at Leaving Records) talked to me about her grasping towards things out of the realm of the canonised established history, stumbling on visual material in dusty shops for use in her design work. It occurred that Detroit’s Hip-Hop history is so undocumented that the filming process there could and has adopted a related mentality. Some things are meant to be left to the imagination though, there’s nothing wrong with a little mystery.

You bumped into any techno along the way?  What’s your view on the city’s techno/hip-hop interplay?

I was exposed to ghettotech in Detroit through Nick Speed. Wasn’t overly familiar although hearing the connections through some of his beats’ link to the Underground

Resistance guys opened my eyes and ears a little more. Waajeed’s joining a lot of dots with his productions and dirt teck reck, covering new ground. I think it’s almost more inspiring when a producer you associate with a definite sound can confidently step away from it, that’s where Jeedo’s importantly really carrying Dilla’s influence FORWARD.

And give us some tips for fresh things coming out of Detroit…

Heard plenty amazing music there, so much I’ve never heard before from Ahk’s broken laptop that he had hooked upto the TV in his different apartments. He’s childhood friends with dak, cousin to Black Milk, Black Beethoven and Nametag and has one of the most effortless rap voices I’ve heard. He also became a father to his sixth child last December. There’s a lot of experience and hunger in his voice, feels a little like a combination of Roc Marciano and Ka’s best elements. Ahk’s kinda nomadic and his whole setup essentially fits into a backpack- sp404, $20 portable turntable, mic and laptop. There’s a project he has coming out with Hugh Whitaker called Ahkatari, as dirty and raw as Madvillain.

Last but not least, let the people know how they can support your cause…

Keep an eye out at, there’ll be a Paypal button soon if anyone missed the chance to support the unseen Indiegogo campaign. Truly grateful for all who’ve contributed so far, helped the project really get off the ground.

Watch on: CDR Australians, tell us what you make of All Ears when it screens on Thursday (event inf0). Unable to attend? Best make do with Beats of Mind and find somewhere local to organise an All Ears screening!

And from the Archives..