by E.P Pirt, Jr.
Electro hip hop soul producer Mike Guggenbuehl, stage name “Guggenz” (pronounced goo-genz), just released a brand new album entitled After Hours and it’s safe to way we’ll be bumping it for the next few…yup, hours. Any fan of Pretty Lights, Gramatik, Michal Menert, GRiZ, or virtually anyone from the “electro hip hop soul” (or EHHS, as we’ll call it here for convenience sake) realm is guaranteed to be on board with it. But he draws inspiration from a lot more than just these big players. “I draw inspiration from a lot of places. Of course, guys like Gramatik and Pretty Lights who built the genre, but also more underground, lofi producers like Vanilla and Flamingosis. I listen to a lot of hip hop as well – hip hop production especially inspires me. Guys like Knxledge, 9th Wonder, and The Alchemist to name a few. 9th Wonder’s production on DUCKWORTH has some of the hottest beats I’ve ever heard. Pretty much anything that makes me want to nod my head with the beat is somehow going to make its way into my sound.”
I personally discovered him through a Spotify playlist this past summer while cruising around town and I’ve been a big fan ever since. Just this past October, he was featured on Pretty Lights’ podcast, The Hot Shit, and recently got to play with Big Gigantic and Big Wild at Myth in Minneapolis.
Guggenz’ catalogue is extensive and eclectic, but always stays true to that EHHS sound. He’s got plenty of tracks that you just want to kick back and light up to, but he’s also got a number of more uptempo ones that make you want to get up on the good foot. His latest release, After Hours, is certainly more of the former. It harkens back to the good ol’ days of hip hop – when the focus was more about setting a positive groove that you felt in your soul instead of the tacky and trashy bragging about money, women, and codeine.
We asked Guggenz if this more minimal approach was intentional. “Totally. I felt that my music was getting a bit cluttered trying to max everything out. By pulling some elements out it makes other ones stand out more – in the case of my latest album the samples shine through more and add some more soul to the tracks”. It’s beautifully simplistic; just dope beats and carefully curated samples. “When I first started producing I made raw sample based beats, so in some ways I’m going back to where I began”, he explains.
The opening track, “Facade”, is short but sweet – the perfect intro recipe. It’s got a daunting East Coast piano hook that makes me immediately think of Wu Tang Clan. The next track, “Without You”, picks it up a bit and dips slightly more into the electronic side of the EHHS sound, with more chops, loops, and vocal samples. That formula is continued into the next track, “Been Such A Long Time”, which is sure to please any Gramatik or SuperVision fan. The focus turns back to the beat with the next track, “Take It Or Leave It”, which is coupled with some nice dreamy hooks reminiscent of early Michal Menert. Things take an interesting turn with appropriately titled fifth track, “Undercover”. It sounds like something out of a 70s spy flick with it’s inquisitive bassline and retro woodwind samples.
Guggenz then jumps right back into the rhythm for the second half of the album, kicking it into gear with “All About You”, which is followed up by the jazzy “Night Drive”. If the album contains an “anthem”, the eighth track, “Team Spirit”, is it. It starts off with a creeping piano loop that merges with some sinister bass (or is it cello?) chords before breaking through to a catchy horn segment that GRiZ or Russ Liquid would be proud of. He follows that up with the hypnotic ninth track entitled “Lullaby”, which is just that. Only not your grandma’s lullaby; this one’s got flava. Put this on your baby’s headphones at nap time and I guarantee they’ll be the coolest cat in the nursery. The amped-up boom-bap beat is the primary focus in the next song, “Speakeasy”, with some nice “swing-like” keys that make me think of the big band era.
The psychedelic sounding “Frostbite” creeps in next, putting the listener in one last audial trance before he begins to close it out with “Lonely Man”. This one’s a continuation of the chillness, but with a hint of old school Latin flavor. Kinda like sipping an espresso on the patio of a cafe in 1950s Cuba. Last but not least, the graceful “Beautiful Day” rounds out the album. An old-timey, crackly, and well-placed outro that peacefully serenades you as you exit your listening adventure.
The chill, melodic, and soulful After Hours should be well-received around the globe, but definitely so here in Colorado. Whether you’re watching the sun set over the Rockies or carving out fresh lines down the slopes on a snowy January day, throw on After Hours and your troubles will seem to float away with the breeze. Keep your head on a swivel for this promising producer out of Minnesota, as After Hours is surely only a tasteful sample of what’s still to come.
For the producers out there, we asked Guggenz what he uses to make such dope beats. “I try to keep things as simple as I can. I use FL studio as my DAW. In terms of physical equipment I have a 25 key keyboard and an MPD. For software I use Trillian as a live sampler for most of my basses and a mix of Sylenth1, Harmor, and Razor for synths. Everything gets mastered with Izotope Ozone.”