Midland’s been getting some serious hype: in just half a year he’s released a slew of top-notch remixes as well as two outstanding originals on Phonica and Aus, each receiving rave reviews across the board. And, of course, we have him playing on 6 November in the Pelski Room at Counter Culture, London.
I was lucky enough to catch Midland supporting the likes of Henrik Schwarz and Four Tet at Corsica Studios. Up against such heavyweight dance legends, Midland more than held his own: opting for both banging tech-house à la Tim Green as well as deeper nu disco stuff from the likes of Lee Foss. We caught up with the man-of-the-moment to discuss the pernickety business of genre parameters, his d’n'b background and even a touch of philosophy…
Note: this is an interview from the Pelski archive and was recorded on 29th October 2010
Pelski: Was there anything that initially introduced you to DJing and electronic music culture?
Midland: I was introduced to electronic music by my family mainly, my brothers especially were massively in to their house, techno (the proper old Joey Beltram R&S type) and all things in between. One of my first experiences of clubbing and seeing the power of the DJ was when I was 14 I went to The Big Beach Boutique 2 with my brothers and sisters on Brighton beach and witnessed Fatboy Slim play to myself and 250,000other people. As first experiences go I’d say it was quite pivotal.
I can imagine. So you seem to be treading a very fine line between dubstep and house at the moment, but with the focus firmly on the deeper side of things. On say, your ‘Play The Game’ title track it’s very much in the deep soulful ‘future-step’ vein, whereas your remix of Zarif was very-much a straight-up percussive house track, in the mould of, say, Cécille Records’? Would you consider yourself a dubstep or house producer?
Well ‘Play The Game’ was one of the first tracks I wrote solo as Midland back last October and was partly inspired from my descent from the lofty tempo’s of 170 bpm drum and bass, but since then I’d say nothing I have written has been above 130 bpm and thus by default I’m probably considered more of a house producer. I find that problems arise when you just take inspiration from within your chosen genre. Lots of house music and “future garage/ bass music” seems to mimic the same patterns and influences of its contemporaries which is a direct result people mainly listening to other house and garage for inspiration.
I’m not saying that my music is groundbreaking, or that my influences are all obscure vinyl-only folk recordings from panama, but…. I don’t sit down and automatically start writing a tune at 125bpm (general house tempo), I just see what the vibe is and find a speed to fit it. The tune at the beginning of my Fact mix called Hub is 103 bpm and was a result of listening to a lot of Americana and film soundtracks by people like Ry Cooder, etc.
The Ry Cooder soundtrack to ‘Paris, Texas’ is certainly a favourite of mine.
Yeah and mine!
And I know what you mean about genre parameters – they’re irrelevant really. Why do you think it is that audiences – myself included – are so keen to pidgeonhole artists into neat, digestible, genre-specific boxes?
Ha ha.. you’re forcing me to be concise. Well as I’ve got older I’ve started to realise that in a wider sense – i.e not just in music, but in the big bad world – people like it for other people to have their roles and places in the world. It’s how we learn to deal with them but also means we can approach them in our own space. On a side note, but a mildly related one, I would recommend reading this for a clarification of the above point: http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring.php
Therefore it’s only natural in music that the same things occur. Labels that market themselves on one type of music are often more successful because people know what they are getting
i.e a label that releases just tech house will be a main stay for certain DJs and people who don’t like it will shy away or just bypass it but in the past year we have seen a massive crossover and blurring of genre distinctions occur and labels like Hessle and Domino become much more popular
I see what you mean – I like the role thing, we’re certainly digging below the surface here - philosophical almost! Like Plato’s theory of Teleology: we all have a role … and your’s is to bring us deep house…
Ha ha yeah, except maybe even within that sentence you have actually enforced the genre distinctions we were debating
I’m a sucker for genre parameters.
You bloggers are all the same.. ha ha
I feed off making up wildly fabricated genres like future-step-house-jazz-tech-funk, and then rambling on about them authoritatively for indefinite periods of time…
Anyway… you definitely encapsulate that mish-mashing of influences – there’s even a touch of breakbeat on ‘Play The Game’. It is interesting that many people do, however, fall neatly into these boxes, or at least in the past. And yet now, as you mention, this the genre-hopping thing is really taking of, with people blending Detroit techno and Chicago house with dubstep… Is there a reason for this?
I’m no expert, but my two pennies-worth is that it’s a reaction to the massive emphasis on genre distinctions within genres that occurred between 2000-2005 as well as the advent of the internet.
I believe the reason dubstep was so successful in its emergence in 2005 onwards was because the producers were just sticking two fingers up and doing what they wanted; imagine being part of a movement, making music before it even had a name. But yeah the internet is a massive reason.
Absolutely. I think globalisation and internet had a big part to play – the world has opened up. Someone for instance in Japan may had to really search for a Theo Parrish record 12 years ago. Now it’s available at the touch of a button. Producers can absorb as many influences as they want, without actually having to be proximate to, say, Detroit.
Exactly, the simple fact is kids in Russia can download fruity loops, listen to a set of classic house by DJ Qu and then a Pangaea set and then try and combine them, people just didn’t have access to all this music before. But a by-product of this is sheer laziness and loss of respect for producers and music encapsulated by music piracy and the such.
Whilst we’re debating the nicities of genre specifics, I saw you play dubstep and 2-step at Ruffage and then more recently a house set at Phonica’s party at Corsica Studios. Do you prefer playing one or the other? They are two very different crowds?
Although I’m not going to ever write off playing one type of music, the set I played at Ruffage was more a bunch of mates who’d been running a night together jumping on for a couple of tunes and drinking lots of cheap champagne and sending off the night in style. If I’m honest my main focus is playing the more housier 4/4 styles and that’s probably where more of my bookings come from. But, if we refer to the earlier comments about all this cross pollination, I love a night where I can start on some slow disco grooves and move my way up to some broken beat stuff eventually. It’s completely dependent on set time/ vibe/ night. You see Villalobos playing Addison Groove and Ramadanman tracks and making it work so why shouldn’t we, ‘ey?
Sure, that’s essentially what DJing’s about: versatility, introducing the crowd to new and exciting things, challenging their expectations.
In what ways do you think your d’n'b background has influenced your style?
All past experiences, musical and otherwise shape a person. In the musical sense lots of the Drum and Bass I listened to had a string focus on the melody and mood and that’s something I think is massively important in any music as well as that a massive emphasis on sub bass.
It’s the focus of drum and bass, and I try and get as much in to my music as possible
Yeah the translation of dnb’s mood is definitely something that’s tangible in your productions, what made you switch from d’n'b?
Well like I said earlier I was in that trap of predominantly only listening to music within the genre and getting my influences from it. Coupled with that, I was DJing a lot in Leeds and doing a weekly radio show and just couldn’t find enough across the board variety to keep me interested. It’s ironic that just as everything else seemed to be cross pollinating genre distinctions i.e the jump up/ techier, colder stuff and the more recent autonomic seemed to be getting stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still massively fond of it, and have a pile of about 300 hallowed records, but I personally couldn’t have made a career making it.
You have quite a sleek, honed production style. Would you agree that your productions are quite dramatic – they lead somewhere (and not in the cheap build-and-drop sense of the phrase)?
Well I try and make them lead somewhere, I’ve always been about music that develops and goes somewhere not just in the production sense. Arrangement is my biggest bane because I always focus on it and think I could do more. The problem is that by not throwing the kitchen sink in on the drop it can sometimes lose people. That’s why we see some big DJs just dropping big drop after big drop because the crowd’s attention span has become so woefully short. However I love it when a song or a good DJ can start somewhere and then before you know it the whole thing has grown and grown and your almost in this hypnotic state which will eventually be much more powerful than any massive drop could have been. Patience, an oft overlooked but deadly tool.
Yeah, the build and build, hypnotic vibe you mentioned brings to mind Henrik Schwarz’ recent live set…
It was horrendously packed during his set [at Corsica Studios] and I get a little tense when I don’t have my own space to enjoy stuff so I only caught a bit but heard great reviews.
Yeah it was rammed to say the least.
So I hear you’re a bit of a perfectionist. How long does your average track take you?
The track length… there really is no average , some tracks take ages, something like the Lone remix happened very quickly and organically, whereas a tune like Shelter – which will be coming out on the next Aus All Night Long 2 compilation – took bleeding ages as it’s so detailed
Leeds has a great music scene – do you think living in the city’s had an influence on your music? It has a renowned dubstep scene, but also a burgeoning techno scene. I feel as though this double-sided nature of Leeds may have left some sort of an imprint on at least your Play The Game EP?
I don’t really go out half or even a quarter as much as I used to.
So you dont think Leeds as a hub of music has had much of an affect on you?
The dubstep nights like Exodus and Ruffage played a massive part in shaping my early influences but as I’ve gone on it’s a combination of not being able to afford going out, working night shifts in a club for the year before this, but also just that I’m not so inclined to go out and listen to loud music after spending all week in front of my speakers making tunes. Leeds is a great city for music, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s specifically a city thing, just a growing up thing.
You mentioned a release forthcoming on Aus, any other news? Would you consider teaming up with Ramadanman again? I know you’re buddies with Pariah, ever considered heading into the studio with him?
Ha ha, well after the Aus compilation Will Saul has asked me to start work on a solo EP for the label for sometime in the earlier part of 2011 which I’m seriously honoured by. At the moment me and David are super busy and so, although there’s no direct plans, who’s to say that we might not find a weekend or a few days and just decide to write a tune together? Re pariah, he actually stayed at ours after DJing the other night and we spent a day in the studio and had a great session and have the makings of something quite special I think so watch this space…
Sounds interesting…and finally, could you give us your Top Five Tracks at the moment? (not yours mind…)
1. Ramadanmand & Applemblim – Void 23
2. Julio Bashmore – Battle For Middle You
3. Discreet Unit – Shake Your Body Down
4. SBTRKT – Hide or Seek
5. Agoria Ft Carl Craig & La Scarlars – Speecheless
Thanks very much Midland, it’s been a pleasure. We eagerly await your set in the Pelski Room at Counter Culture on 6th November.
As do I. thanks for getting in contact and have a good weekend