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Hall Of Mirrors: An Interview With Mumdance & Logos
Christian Eede , February 20th, 2015 14:11

For their new collaboration Proto, Jack Adams and James Parker drew on their love of 90s rave music, folding happy hardcore, gabber and jungle influences into their own forward-looking sonics. In an in-depth interview, they talk to Christian Eede about putting the album together

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Photograph courtesy of Sam Hiscox

"I think it's just a hunt for a good venue, there's not too many great venues in London," Jack Adams, better known as Mumdance, says as he, James Parker, aka Logos, and I discuss the movements of the ascendant London 'instrumental grime' night Boxed. Approaching its second year - a huge celebration is in the works with residents Logos, Slackk, Mr. Mitch and Oil Gang set to take over Hackney Wick's Autumn Street venue next month, bringing with them an extensive cast of special guests - the night and the scene around it has already been tirelessly pored over, particularly in the last year or so. As Parker explains though, the recent move from Dalston's Birthdays to Peckham's Rye Wax, as well as the other spaces that the night has occupied in its relatively short history, is primarily rooted in an unwillingness to be tied down too greatly: "We want to keep moving and keep experimenting while maintaining our faithful audience who we really appreciate."

Experimentation is a recurring theme over the course of our lunchtime meeting. On his forthcoming FABRICLIVE 80 compilation, Mumdance draws on the convergent scenes around him and an assortment of collaborators combining the 'weightless' productions that he, Logos and a number of other producers are showcasing through the pair's Different Circles label. These line up next to the beatless experimentations of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Fis and Wanda Group and club-ready weapons such as Riko Dan's long-teased 'Take Time' VIP and a specially edited version of his recent collaboration with Novelist, '1 Sec'. This is all in stark contrast to the majority of the series' previous contributions, mostly built with the Fabric dancefloor in mind, with Adams stressing that he saw it as an opportunity to be as unconventional as he could within that context, as is primarily the intention behind his and Parker's work.

Further to this, we touch on their burgeoning 'weightless' sound (simply named so because, as Adams puts it, the music sounded "floaty"), 'The Sprawl', a recent improvisational, noise-heavy coming-together of Mumdance, Logos and Berlin-based producer, Shapednoise and, most vitally, the pair's first collaborative album, Proto. Released on Bristol dubstep luminary Pinch's Tectonic label, the record is knowingly and intentionally indebted to the rave music of the pair's formative years, old happy hardcore, gabber and jungle tapes dating back to the early-to-mid 1990s. The influence of the early Warp signings that defined Sheffield's storied bleep techno sound - records such as Sweet Exorcist's 'Testone', Forgemasters' 'Track With No Name' and LFO's seminal 'LFO' - can also be picked out on tracks such as 'Move Your Body', 'Border Drone' and 'Dance Energy (89 Mix)' (the title of which recalls the BBC Two "youth" programme that curiously co-opted elements of rave culture just a short time after Thatcher's establishment had finished knocking several shades of shit out of those involved in the early explosion of illegal raves).

Despite not experiencing that early rave and acid house period first hand, it's impossible not to be drawn in as the pair share anecdotes about first raves and recount their discovery of the gabber, hardcore and jungle that has fascinated them enough to build an entire studio around realising those influences. Proto, though, is not something rooted in the past, but a record that feels as forward-looking and futuristic as the genres that inspired it sounded on first discovery.

I noticed that the 'weightless' sound that's a focus of Different Circles is kept to a minimum on Proto and only really crops up on the closing track, 'Cold'. Was there a conscious decision behind that of wanting to showcase a more frenetic side to your productions?

Mumdance: I guess it's all just different branches to what we do. We wanted to make Proto a collection of club bangers. The weightless thing as well doesn't necessarily have to be an ambient thing, like 'Cold' is a very aggressive tune, but still weightless in a sense.

Logos: Also, we just work in lots of different ways and a lot of the collaborations Jack and I have done have been harder tunes, so everything we've done since even 'In Reverse', where there's no real beats in that track, but it's still very heavy. It's quite hard for me to separate one side of our work from the other side.

M: We don't usually have too much of a plan so we'll just go into the studio and see what happens really. We might get some noises together beforehand, but I think the focus on this album is always gonna be on the dancefloor, so we wanted it to be aimed at the DJs and the clubs. It's not like a journey, we see it more as a collection of bangers.

Jack, this is your first full artist album, so I wanted to address that and see how working on this compared to working on other projects?

M: I see it as my third because of the two mixtapes that came out before, Twists & Turns and Different Circles. They're mixtapes, but I see them as albums. More than anything, there was a case of me not having enough confidence to put them out there as albums and not enough patience, so I just wanted to get it out there rather than have to wait for labels.

Was it difficult sitting on all these tracks for Proto then in that sense?

M: Well, I think it was important that I could get it out there playing it all in clubs.

L: Yeah, and that's very quick as well.

M: I'm getting used to it. Where I'm from a very digital now-now-now background, Pinch has taught me the value of holding back a dub for ages, keeping it for the clubs and people wanting it more. So, 'Turbo Mitzi VIP', that just built on its own, the Riko Dan version of 'Take Time' - I barely played them on radio. I don't mind if people are putting it on YouTube and listening to it really, but I guess now, more and more, I'm learning the power of something just being kept for the rave.

L: And these days, you convince yourself that's still possible. It used to be that radio and raves were the only real conduits for getting stuff out there, so it was easier to hold things back. I think now, it is still possible, but I think you've just gotta have the self-confidence to think that people will still want to hear and buy these tracks after all that time.

Well, people like to try to box in music and 'grime' has primarily been that descriptor for you both, but I personally wouldn't describe what the two of you are doing as grime, in so much as there's too much going into Proto, for example, with the 90s rave and techno influences, that instrumental grime, the weightless stuff. Are you consciously trying to draw on as many sounds as possible?

M: I think, more than anything, we're discovering that it's not actually up to us to class what our music is. That's up to everyone else. Music's so subjective and sometimes I think that if you try to get a point across too much, people are just gonna disagree with it.

L: Also, I think some people are just purists by nature and that's fine. For example, some of my favourite DJs will just hone in on one sound. Classically, Youngsta was that person and he was massively influential in how he did it. But, as producers, we just go to the studio and make what we make. I'm never getting nervous because I'm not making a track that's not at 140. People who go to Boxed, maybe traditionally most of the sets played there are in that instrumental grime vein, but when I play there, I'll always be playing what I want to.

James, how did working on Proto compare for you with Cold Mission, in that it wasn't a solo project?

L: When I was working on Cold Mission, I had already been working with Jack and we'd been putting stuff out, so in terms of how it compares, I think it's a faster process. You've got less opportunity when you're collaborating to sit in your studio all night tweaking something. We're both busy, so we have to find the time to get together in the studio and that can be quite a challenge sometimes. I think the speed at which we worked on it has always been reflected in the music itself. We try to be experimental, but we're not trying to make stuff that doesn't physically have an impact on the floor, so that was the main difference - the speed and the shared feeling that we wanted to be producing club tools this time.

M: More and more, I'm realising that working fast is the key because ultimately, I was watching a lecture recently while I was on a Red Bull tour and I think it was Francois K who said that music is just capturing a moment, that's all. So, it's best to work quickly and not worry about certain factors so much, because you can stress and stress about things that ultimately don't matter. The music is supposed to be directed and I guess the holy grail is to come out with something that gets the dancefloor moving but is interesting enough to listen to at home as well, away from that environment.

Building from that, taking a track like 'Hall Of Mirrors' from Proto, it's quite abrasive in terms of dancefloor impact, so when you're producing, either together or individually, are you always looking to have that kind of effect and not necessarily following straight-up dancefloor conventions?

M: The things that stick out to me from my history of going to clubs and going to raves are those times that you're on the dancefloor, you hear something and it just leaves you like 'what is this?', so traditionally you'll get those drum & bass build-ups where it goes low, then it goes stupid, then you think it's gonna drop and it doesn't drop - the things that catch you out. So, also, polyrhythms in techno that leave you trying to make sense of where the beat is and the kick drum comes in at a different time, so the times of disorientation. So, we try to embrace that by throwing sounds and sonics in that disorientate you.

L: I think that track was originally built around a, kind of, Jersey influence, so an uptempo club track, but it just keeps going. It has its drop at the start, but it doesn't repeat on that expected four-bar basis.

M: I was thinking about this today actually. When we used to start making tracks, so 'Proto' for example and 'Drum Boss', there's the same arrangement where the first half of it is to disorientate you and the second half, it sort of straightens out into a club track so you can mix out of it, so that was an angle that we were coming from quite a lot.

I'm gonna guess that some of the tracks that make up Proto had been floating around for quite a while before the album deal with Tectonic was put in place, so how much of it, if anything, was built around the idea that you were making one collective body of work?

L: Pretty early on, we started thinking about how it would all fit together and how it would be perceived and have the right context.

M: There's this aesthetic that runs through it in the way that's it been mixed down and how we've produced it all. That's the one constant, so obviously it references a lot of sounds but the mix-downs and the hardware that we used on it all, because we wanted it to have the colour of old hardcore and jungle for the sole reason that that's what we grew up with.

So, that's the sole, overarching theme that brought it all together and made you settle on those 10 tracks that make up the album?

M: I think so. We never wanted it to be 'a journey'.

L: I think, partly as well, the opportunity to do it on Tectonic probably influenced us quite a lot in terms of how we wanted to present it. We were never gonna make an ambient album - we might do that in the future - but I think for this, we were gonna make something that's our own statement but also fits in with what we know Pinch has in mind for Tectonic, going forward. We wanted to make sure that we could bring something to that.

When you were putting it together then, do you think producing with somebody else's vision also in your mind shaped the results quite considerably?

M: Well, we all have very similar tastes, so it was a pleasure to do it that way. That's why Tectonic was a perfect fit for it. Also, taking Cold Mission, that's an album, whereas, to us, this isn't necessarily an 'album' but more, as I said before, a collection of bangers, and maybe when I work on a solo album, it will be more of a journey. But, I think with this, we wanted it to be a functional collection of club tracks.

James, was Proto a considerably different experience to you then in comparison to working within that barrier of the conceptual artist album?

L: To an extent. I think every producer when they're in the studio will find that their experience from track to track can be very similar. So, the concrete experience on a day-to-day basis isn't that much different, but when you take a step back, it's more like the obvious differences are in collaborating: being able to rely on somebody else to take the reins when you're tired or feel like you're running out of ideas.

Let's talk about the album's title then, because it makes your references quite clear.

M: That's the loose idea that ties it all together. We're both quite intrigued by those times. A lot of my favourite music comes from that time.

L: Yeah, Jack's already referred to the colour of old hardcore and jungle records, and also early techno.

I hear quite a lot of early Warp references in parts of the album like those first releases from Forgemasters and LFO.

L: Yeah, I was really interested in the link as well between Belgian and US techno in the early days and people like Lenny Dee with his releases for labels like Nu Groove. That linked for me with hardcore, like Manix, 4hero, people like that. It's quite interesting because, at that time, techno, hardcore, rave were all quite mixed up and what later became that kind of polyrhythmic techno that Jeff Mills played and the industrial sound hadn't really emerged yet, but you could hear it coming through very early on.

M: Also, I think some people are mistakenly thinking that we're trying to tear the house down and build a new one, but we're not. We're just experimenting from the obvious influences we have. So, when eskibeat came out of dark garage, that was all just people experimenting with pre-existing genres. You'd have to come into something, like, deaf or just free of long-term memory to write something fully original. You're always gonna be leaning on your previous experiences.

With that late 80s/early 90s rave era being so heavily drawn on, you were both obviously too young to experience that first-hand, so how did you come into being so interested in these times and the music around it?

M: I was into it from the age of about 12. My first experiences were of getting a rave tape, going around a mate's older brother's house with this Fusion tape, which was a rave on the south coast, by Ramos and Supreme I think. From there, got a paper round, saved up for decks - just the standard thing for a lot of people. Got some dodgy belt drives and then, when I was in year ten, I got my first work experience in a record shop in Brighton called Happy Vibes. Above the record shop was a studio and the guy who owned the studio owned the record label SOUR, which put out 'Original Nuttah'…

L: A lot of stuff by T-Power as well.

M: Yeah, and he saw that I was standing around in this record shop so he just sort of took me under his wing. I started flyering for various nights and was just helping out around the studio and Brockie & Det would sometimes be there, so I got to see how they worked. At one point, I got more interested in putting on raves and being the promoter, but I was balancing that and producing which I suppose is a slightly weird combo. But from that, I came to London and worked as an events manager and it all went from there.

L: My school days were quite dominated by guitar music, but I came across hardcore raves like Vibealite and I strangely remember some tapes from Dutch raves as well.

M: Yeah, lots of gabber floating around at that time.

L: Was it Thunderdome, that rave? What's the Dutch rave that went on for years?

M: Yeah, Thunderdome.

L: I think, at first, I wasn't particularly sure about it and I was stuck on guitar music. I really got into jungle in around '96 and it all went from there, so the first rave I went to was a hardcore rave by Happy Hardcore. The sound system was probably better than most of the parties I've ever been to. It was just in a massive hall somewhere and it was loud as fuck.

Jack, I remember reading an interview where you said you felt that a lot of DJs were playing sets entirely built around straight, drum tracks where there was no diversity in sound. So is it always central to you to push against that?

M: When I was listening to those tapes, you'd get, like, Carl Cox, Colin Dale and then Fabio & Grooverider all on the same line-up and they'd be banging out all different kinds of music and that was something that stuck with me. Also, when you're growing up, a lot of people would say that a set should be 'a journey' and that's been ingrained in me, so I feel like that's what I have to do. I think it's also a case that you don't just need relentless noise all the time. I like that, don't get me wrong - if you look at my phone, I've got stuff like gabber mixes, most of it is relentless noise - but you need the troughs to have the peaks. You need the difference, the contrast, otherwise it's just not interesting to me. It's an overhang from rave, so when the free parties got bigger, they just knocked as many DJs on the flyer as possible and that's where the whole hour-long set came from.

L: Yeah, in drum and bass as well, that's a very English thing to play hour-long sets to the extent that it makes up most of the weekend sets I get booked to play.

I suppose that idea extends to Boxed as well where you have a bunch of residents and the guests playing in that one room.

L; I think with Boxed, it all blurs into one in a good way. We're kind of like deliberately trying to make it a continuum through the whole night.

As in, you've all worked so closely that you all understand each other enough to be able to do that?

L: Yeah, we don't tend to just book in someone random because they're a big name.

I wanted to talk about the collaboration with Shapednoise, 'The Sprawl'. How did that come about and what was the intention behind it?

M: That was commissioned by a guy called Michail [Stangl] for CTM. He was quite clever actually because he must have spotted that me and James were into Shapednoise after we featured him in mixes and he got in touch with us all. I met him in Japan actually and he suggested it there, but the long and short of it is that it was his idea and I just thought it was a fucking great idea. It was an absolute pleasure to put together and perform. It's nice to have a separate avenue to explore that noise side of things.

L: I think we're trying to do something that's not necessarily making noise for the sake of it because that's quite easy to do. I don't think anyone's come from our side of the street in terms of the club tunes we build and wanted to transplant those into a more ambient noise context. It's interesting to do it - whether it's successful or not, I don't know.

M: We're still taking that feeling of grime, hardcore and jungle, but applying it to more industrial sounds, applying it in a noise setting. It's really fun to do though. The three of us, no MIDI linking, so we're all on our own.

It's all very improvisational then?

M: Completely improvised. We thought it was gonna be a really small show but there was about 800 people there and we were playing after Carter Tutti Void. We were closing the festival, so I wasn't sure if they thought we were gonna do something a bit more club-ready.

Touching on present-day influences from other scenes, like mahraganat for example, has that altered the way you work?

M: With them, they don't even worry about 16 bars or whatever, they'll just work until they think it sounds finished and that was something that was quite hard for me to get my head around for a few days. But, it was actually quite liberating because all of these rules have just come down through the ages where we shouldn't be restricted by rules. They just do what sounds right to their ears. They work really quickly too.

That's something I found working with guys like Jammer as well where you'd wait for them to get in the zone, but when they're ready, it's like 'now' and you're just capturing that moment. He doesn't worry too much and sometimes you'll get the most amazing tapes from not planning it all too much. Generally, the best bit of a tune you'll make in the first half hour or so and then the real struggle is finishing it. So, when I made 'Take Time' with Novelist, that only took two or three hours.

That was for everything?

M: Yeah, not mixing of course and I had a few sounds prepared, but it was putting it all together, arranging it and laying down the vocal. The same with '1 Sec' as well - that was the second track we made together, 'Take Time' was the first. Generally, if you don't have a plan, you can't worry about things not going to plan. I think it's mainly part of getting better because it used to take me weeks to finish something but now, it's trying to turn things over in a day.

L: Yeah, we try to achieve the first print in that time.

Is working with vocalists something that you've been interested in doing James?

L: I've got some things I want to do sonically in terms of achieving a certain sound before I consider that because I'm not fully sure I'm there yet. I'm quite interested in doing some more backseat stuff for bands though because I think that could be interesting.

M: Yeah, we've spoken about that. I feel like I've banged out a lot of music over the last year or so and it's nice to get your teeth into something different. For example, I really like what the Haxan Cloak just did with Björk. But, we'll see how this goes. Pinch seems to be happy with it.

Is he your benchmark in terms of getting that seal of approval?

M: He has a very specific ear. He was one of the first people to pay attention to what we are both doing and I think this album sounded like a Tectonic record because 'Legion' was what the whole album stemmed from really.

L: Yeah, it all flowed from that and it seemed to speak to Pinch, so I think it was something that pushed his buttons as far as bringing a Metalheadz context into a current club thing after dubstep.

M: 'Dark Energy' is clearly a throwback tune and a nod to [Joey] Beltram and Mark Bell, but the rest of it isn't about throwback. You'll find some jungle is being made now with new technology, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but it might sound too clean. I think it was important for us to use old technology but make sure we were looking forward. But, when we talk about the future, it's not in a sense of 'we are the future', but more that the music we're referencing was obsessed with the future and we're big science fiction fans - 'The Sprawl' is a reference to a set of William Gibson novels.

L: Yeah, we wanted to use it to try to get sort of 90s mixdowns as well because if you work with software, it's really easy to make things sound high-end and people might look back at that as a signature sound of this time with things sounding high resolution, but when you're thinking about vinyl and the club, sometimes you have to lose those things.

M: So, we've spent quite a bit of time and money building up what is essentially a 90s rave studio and that's how we like to build tunes because it's a really important sound to us.

L: Ultimately, you go into the studio to make what you want to make, what you feel motivated to make.

Proto is out now on Tectonic. Mumdance and Logos will launch the album at FWD» at Dance Tunnel in Dalston on February 26; head here for full details and tickets