Earmilk Interview: Mumdance

Earmilk Interview: Mumdance

Mumdance is no new kid on the block, with releases spanning labels like Southern Fried RecordsNo Hats No Hoods and Mad Decent. After a two-year hiatus he's seen a renewed resurgence on the underground tip with appearances on recent Tectonic and Keysound Recordings compilations. Now he's dropped Twists & Turns, a mixtape/album of sorts that boldly redefines his style with a complex hybrid of raw, analog techno, grime, and even a bit of shoegaze influence. If that sounds crazy to you, you're right—it's crazy and it's wonderful in its juxtaposed depth and simplicity. Mumdance was kind enough to explain his new direction and plenty of interesting tidbits along the way:

Earmilk: So your new "mixtape album" plays more like an album than a mixtape (that's a compliment). Very cohesive yet varied, clean sounds and progressions. How did it come to pass and why a mixtape album?
Mumdance: Thanks! I basically decided on a mixtape format for a number of reasons, the main one being is that the majority of the tracks are all coming out on different labels. What I wanted to do is simply gather them all together so they were in one place. It seemed natural to put it all together in a DJ mix; that way I could convey a dimension of how all the tracks progress, contrast and interact with each other. Also, I really wanted to present something that felt like a body of work. I think as a collection they denote a certain time of my life and where my head was at, which is something I quite like about it.
Twists and Turns is a sequel to the first mixtape album I did–Different Circles–although at the same time it’s pretty much the polar opposite of it. In fact I used Different Circles as a ground zero to what I WASN’T going to do for this record. Not that I thought what I did before was wrong, but more as a creative device. I switched up every single thing musically that I had got too comfortable with: production technique, thought process, influences and sound palette, overall aural aesthetic and even the location I recorded it. I wanted to experiment and impose a new set of limitations that I could work around and ultimately try to develop as a producer…and doing exactly the opposite of what I used to do seemed like quite a nice way to do it.
EM: Your sound seems to have evolved quite a bit in a few years. How has your progression to hardware-based production changed your vibe and workflow?
MD: Yeah so for this project it was pretty much 100% out the box, sequencing/sampler/effects/synths. I just used the computer as a tape machine to record it all. I think with hardware it’s ultimately much more of a hassle to do anything than it is to do it with software, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It teaches you to realize when something is finished and also the beauty of simplicity. For example, I would put a drum loop together in Logic or something in 10 minutes and it could be amazing, but because it only took 10 minutes I would feel I have to add a load more to it when it didn't actually need it and I'd end up with a tune which was unnecessarily complex. The same drum loop might take me 3 hours or something to put together on hardware. All the stuff I use to make music these days is super old and fiddly so after I have pissed about with loads of wires, got annoyed and shouted a bit cause the MIDI is playing up or because the floppy disk has wiped itself and lost all my samples I’m actually pretty happy with my really basic drum loop!
Also another major thing is I really like using an MPC 60 as my sequencer to trigger all my stuff instead of a computer. It’s so tactile and you use your ears instead of your eyes to make music. When I used to use a computer I would look to see where the notes "should" go, which seems a really bizarre concept to me now as surely you want to use your ears to listen to where the notes should go…it’s instilled a mantra that "if it sounds right, it’s right."

EM: I hear a lot of the Night Slugs sound, to name one example. What are some other influences you'd name, old or recent?
MD: I think with Night Slugs it’s more that we just share a lot of the same influences and have a very similar musical upbringing. L-Vis 1990 and I are the same age and we grew up literally around the corner from each other. We went to the same schools from young and growing up we spent a lot of time together interacting with music, going out to clubs and festivals, learning how to produce and putting on nights together. We used to do this night called Fallout in Brighton when we were 17 or so with High Rankin who also grew up literally two minutes from mine and L-vis' houses—it used to be carnage! I think what L-vis and Bok Bok have done with Night Slugs is amazing and they are pretty much at the forefront of dance music at the moment, so to draw parallels is a massive compliment.
In terms of my influences for Twists and Turns, as I mentioned before, I decided to really try to contrast it with what influenced me for my first record. For the Different Circles mixtape I looked really far afield to and spent a long time finding exotic sounds and samples from regional music from all around the world. So for this record I decided to do entirely the opposite and make it quite introspective and draw influence from the music from my youth. A big part of what I listened to when I was growing up was tape packs; '90s hardcore, jungle and garage as it was just taking its first steps into grime. At the same time but on the other side of things I was listening to a lot of shoegaze such as My Bloody Valentine. So in a nutshell that was what I decided to use as the main influences for this record. With the current climate of everyone just remaking songs from 15/20 years ago, I wanted to really make sure that I wasn't just remaking tracks but more trying to use it as a starting point to build from and create something new and original. After all, that’s what an influence is supposed to be, right?

EM: I've read about your new live setup, which also incorporates new hardware and according to you sounds like it sits "somewhere between Jeff Mills drum jams and golden era 8 Bar grime." To the uninitiated, what does that mean and a show like this entail?
MD: So basically what I decided to do was strip the show back to literally as bare bones as I could get it: a 909 drum machine, a sampler, two decks and a mixer. I guess my show is kind of a hybrid show. I play a few records, create a little vibe, then do a live jam for a bit with the 909, and then build upon the drums with the sampler. So I’m essentially building a live track in front of you, then I'll play a couple more tunes and to and fro between. The reason I decided on this path was because I never really found an electronic live show that REALLY hit the spot for me and I came away from going “That was AMAZING.” I find they sometimes drag on a bit or can become quite self indulgent, that’s why people need massive light shows and stuff to keep it interesting. Instead of doing this I wanted to focus on the crowd and the dance floor and I feel like this is the right way of doing it. The whole idea of my live show is to keep the same reaction you would get from a DJ set, but build on it and heighten it with the live elements.
EM: And how has the new setup been working out, i.e. the first show at Fabric? I imagine improvising with hardware garners a different reaction and a different risk/reward than the usual DJ or seemingly hardware-based set.
MD: It definitely has its fair share of risks, but I quite like that about it, it’s a new challenge & you need a whole new skill set to deal with it. Mixing into a drum machine which doesn't have a very sensitive pitch change can be a whole world of pain which takes a little while to get your head around. Also having everything playing at once, manipulating the hardware so the sound doesn't stagnate and then at the same time trying to keep them all in time with the decks can be pretty hectic. I really like using the 909 as a live tool though. I like it as it’s a primitive bit of kit but it sounds great and you have to really push it and use it in a way that it wasn't really made for in order to get the results you want from it. I kind of compare it to doing tricks on a skateboard or something.
The first live show I did at Fabric was a blast. I practiced so hard but literally everything I practiced went out the window as soon as I started. I did make my fair share of mistakes (including making a right cock up trying to do a live rendition of "Ghetto Kyote") but it wouldn't be live if stuff like that didn't happen—it’s half the fun!
EM: This leads out of my last question—you've alluded to seeing people bring out hardware for live sets but then appear to not do much with it besides tweak filters. Who are some acts who embody the opposite of this to you, i.e. super complex and dynamic live shows?
MD: I really enjoyed the Karenn live set on Boiler Room actually, it had a really nice raw feel to it and it banged real hard. I liked that there was no computer screen as that sort of stuff bores the shit out of me these days. Also the Livity Sound show I saw on Boiler Room was cool. I think the best live show for me in terms of presence and vibe it has to be Jeff Mills live. It’s so simple and so raw. It massively impressed and influenced me. What I’m essentially trying to do is build on what he has done while at the same time taking it in a completely different direction and put my own twist on it.
EM: Random digression here, but I heard you've been writing shoegaze?
MD: Yeah I’ve written a few shoegaze tracks of late and as I mentioned earlier it’s been influencing my sound quite a lot lately. The first and last tracks of the album are very shoegaze/drone influenced tracks and also some of the tracks like "Dragon Egg" have elements that were directly inspired from the big guitar feedback washes that the genre is very fond of, but again I’ve tried to make it my own. There is no point in just writing a straight shoegaze track which mimics what has gone before; you are never going to do it as well as the originals. I’ve got a few more tracks sitting on my hard drive which I didn't put on the mixtape & had some really positive feedback from quite a big Indie label about them recently, so I need to get back in the studio and finish them all off!

EM: Do you have any advice you'd give to someone looking to get away from making music with software?
MD: Do your research, read a lot and work out exactly what you want to achieve and if hardware is actually what you are looking for. I’m not a software hater and I think you can get amazing results with software, it’s just a different sound and there is no right in music.  One thing I will say though is when you come from a software background it can be quite a shock to the system how different the process is, but equally that can fuel creativity.
I think another big thing that struck me is when you use a computer you can recall everything you have made in your song, every single setting and sound back at the click of a button, but this is nigh on impossible when you are using just hardware. That really hurt me for the first few months but now I kind of love that everything you do only exists when you are doing it, so be sure to record everything! Finally, be prepared for your wallet to HURT and be prepared for a lot of stuff to go wrong, especially if you are using vintage gear, so find a good synth tech!
EM: Parting words/prefaces before people listen to this?
MD: Um, I guess I just hope everyone enjoys the album and I hope this interview helped you understand a bit more where I was coming from with it. Also if you want to see firsthand what the live show is about, come to my album launch party at Notting Hill Arts club and see it in the flesh. Or if you aren’t in London, I’m doing a Just Jam special which will be broadcast live on the internet on www.dontwatchthat.tv so lock in! [Note: At time of publication, these events already happened, so look out for the archive soon on Just Jam at the same link. However, you can catch a recent cast from Mumdance on Mixmag DJ Lab, joined by Pinch and Addison Groove.]

Listen to and download the rest of Twists and Turns below.




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