To say Mumdance has been having something of a purple patch lately is selling the lad short. Truth is, following him since his return to the music scene proper in 2013, with his fully realized statement of intent Twists and Turns, is as much of a workout as his recent tunes are in the dance. See, with Mumdance, none of this feels throwaway. From cracking out one of the raddest grime vocal tunes in ages with Novelist to spreading the vibes of Egypt's Mahraganat scene - even spelunking the depths of drone's catacombs with fellow sonic-explorers Rabit and Logos—everything Mumdance has a hand in lately feels very, very vital.
Ahead of the release of the Take Time EPwe've got the first listen of creepy banger "The Sprawl," and the lowdown on everything Mumdance from the man himself. Everything we know about right now, anyway. For all I know, he's just announced a Motown/grime hybrid collaboration with his mum in the last five minutes. But everything else—oh yes.
THUMP: The first time I remember seeing you DJ (and consciously hearing your tunes) was in Kool Kids Klub, what seems like an eternity ago. This must have been around the time you mentioned in another interview that you were falling out of love with touring and making music. Without wanting to go to hard early on, do you mind if I ask what caused your disenchantment with the scene then?
I think the main reason was that I was still developing as an artist and chasing a sonic which I wasn't actually technically good enough to realize, which was really frustrating. I was touring loads and I got burnt out. I also feel that, when I came through, I was pushing a sound which drew from regional music from around the world, which was not something I took lightly. Any music that I drew influence from (predominantly Brazilian and Mexican) I went and visited the places; spending time learning about the music and the culture, going into the studio and collaborating with musicians from the area. I wasn't just downloading a sample pack from the internet.
I enjoyed my work in Egypt especially, too. Going to Egypt was like literally nothing I had experienced before. To work with some of their most talented young musicians was an honour, and taught me a lot. A lot of what they are doing had parallels with grime, so even though we didn't speak the same language we both understood where each of us was coming from. The language barrier was quite tough initially. Having to speak through translators is a weird experience, especially if you are talking about quite specific musical concepts, but I think in a way it added an element of aleatory to the proceedings.
Anyway, a few years down the line, I felt there were a ton of people coming through presenting a watered down version of these sounds and ideas. It felt opportunistic. It turned into a scene which I didn't want to be associated with so much. Don't get me wrong, I still listen to a lot of music from around the world and keep in contact with all the friends I've made, and support the music and producers who I feel are still pushing their sound in its purest form, but I just felt I needed to reset and hone my craft.
What was going through your head during that time out, and what led you to the tunes you're building now?
I wanted to go right back to the drawing board. I decided to use binary opposites as a creative tool to define the foundations for my method, aesthetic and sound palate. The first wave of my career I made music entirely inside a computer, so for my second wave I decided to do the opposite and not use a computer—which in itself is a job. All the equipment took a while to save up for and find, as all the stuff I use is super old.
When did you know it was the right time to start putting out tunes again? And why?
Well, I was sending out tracks to labels and DJs over this time, but literally no one was replying to me. I guess because I had quite drastically changed what I was doing, and people already had preconceived ideas of me, which sometimes take a while to change. I think also because everything went really 4x4. A whole new wave of artists came through off the back of that, and what I was making just didn't fit into what they were pushing.
I wrote "Springtime" and "It's Peak" three years ago, and they only came out this year. It can be quite depressing when you are sitting in a room by yourself, in the middle of nowhere, and getting no reaction from your music. That's when I took the decision that I was going to stick to my guns, move back to London, compile it all into a mixtape and put it out myself. I wanted to put out a body of work that didn't have to rely on the Julius Caesar "thumbs up/thumbs down" that trends can sometimes dictate.
Even know they are Novelist's bars, I couldn't help thinking "Take Time" was a little reference to that period you took off too, or was that just a happy coincidence?
It was a happy coincidence but equally, as soon as he said it, it was something that resonated with me completely. As I said, there's a lot to be said for just holding back and taking time to develop your studio skills. You need to know the rules before you can break them, but it's equally important to develop your musical knowledge and taste. You could be the best producer technically, but that's only half the battle. It's important to be aware of what's going on around you and what came before you. Overall, I think the key thing with making good music is just to be yourself. If you are making music to fit into someone else's idea, people can spot it a mile off.
I love that Novelist has really embraced the Boxed sphere of grime instrumentals, especially given that a lot of those tunes were probably built without MCs in mind. But he rides that wave like a proper MC. He flows with the tunes.
100%—Novelist is a pro. He can ride whatever you throw at him. He's a switched on kid and he's super young, so he's only going to get better. Hold tight OG Skitz too—he does that pitch-shifted voice skit in the "Take Time" breakdown. He only recently got back on the road after a stretch, and it's good to see him getting back into the swing of things.
When I work with a vocalist, I like them to take centre stage. I look at it like a firework display: with the vocal in the centre, and all these big bangs and explosions going off around it. I've been moving away from traditional musicality—like harmony, melody and arrangement—in favor of timbre, sonics and space. Focusing more on sound design and minimalism. I think that works well alongside a vocal, as it allows you to focus on the message that the vocalist is trying to convey.
So are you working on any more tunes with Novelist, or any other MCs?
Yeah, Novelist and I have been in the studio. We've written a new one called "1 Sec" which is a bit more gritty than "Take Time" but is still super stripped-back. I think we are looking to maybe tackle something which is a bit bigger than the EP format. Pinch and I have also recently made a 128bpm banger with Riko Dan, which I am very excited about. Riko has always been one of my favorite MCs, so it's an honor to work with him. I'm in USA at the moment as I write this and I got a few sessions lined up with some rappers and vocalists over here too, which I'm very excited about.
I've noticed a shift in clubbing recently, especially with you, Logos and some of the Boxed crew, that clubbing is becoming more focused on tunes again, and less on the DJ as a spectacle. I hardly ever see a laptop at Boxed, which would always be a distraction, and even with your live 909 set at Fabric last year, hidden behind the Room 3 booth. It all seemed crowd-driven rather than a time to "showcase" anything, which was so sick. Is this intentional? How much thought do you put in to a set beforehand now?
I put a lot of thought into tune selection and how a set's going to flow. I'm playing a very wide range of tempos—from around 110 up to 170—and it's a skill within itself to make things naturally progress over time and still be coherent. I think the next thing for me is that I really want to start doing much longer sets, like four or so hours; where I can really take time to build peaks and troughs, then do live jams half way through and have time to take things down weird spaced out avenues to ambience, and build them back up again.
Tell us a bit more about your live jams on the 909.
The live thing is still evolving. I really enjoy doing it. It's quite shambolic, but I like it in that manner. Most electronic live shows are pretty much flawless and perfectly synced. I find the improvised route much more rewarding. I've decided to strip the equipment back to the bare minimum: a drum machine, a sampler, two decks and a mixer, I guess in a way reflecting how stripped back my music is at the moment.
My inspiration for it was seeing Jeff Mills live on the 909. It was amazing for me that he can command huge audiences with the use/misuse of such a simple bit of kit. It reminded me a bit of skateboarding; how you manipulate a simple piece of wood to do complex and abstract things. I wanted my show to be the same in terms of its simplicity, but I appropriated it so that it was my own. Novelist and I have started working on a little live thing too, which just focuses around me doing live improvised 909 jams with Novelist spitting on top. We just did a little session for Resident Advisor, which should be surfacing soon.
Another thing I'm loving about your sets recently is how much drone you're playing. After hearing that crazy beatless Rabit track at Boxed too, it really feels like another branch is forming on yours and other like-minded producers' sounds. How long before there's a full drone warm-up/cool-down set in the rave?
It really breaks the set up. They almost feel like the new breakdowns, as a lot of the more drum-based stuff can be very relentless. Drone is nice as it can be really engulfing and intense, or really relaxing and spacey. It can convey a lot of emotions. I feel like there is a lot of room for beatless music within clubs depending on how you play it. I want to convey it without an ounce of pretentiousness—that art-school, "more well-read than thou" way.
Music snobbery in general I find really tiring and immature. I want my sets to be where high brow and low brow collide; so just as you're reaching to scratch your beard, I'll drop in something really banging and you'll have some random sweaty dude, with his shirt off, gurning at you and MCing in your ear. It's really amazing to have the opportunity to go on Rinse FM regularly and do sets which don't necessarily have to be so club focused, too. It allows me to delve a lot deeper and really show people what I am about. To help build a culture around the sound that I'm pushing. Talking of beatless tracks, Logos, Rabit and I have just collaborated on a beatless track called "Inside The Catacomb," which will be surfacing very soon.
What other things are you working on? What's next for you and Different Circles?
After the Take Time EP and the Pinch b2b Mumdance CD, the Springtime EP is getting a vinyl release on Unknown to the Unknown, as there seemed to be demand for it. To make it something worth owning I've made 20 locked grooves, which are going to take up an entire side of the vinyl.
Then after that, Logos and I are evolving Different Circles into a label. Our first release is at the pressing plant right now. I think it's going to be a very limited vinyl-only release, which we will be distributing ourselves. As it's the first release, I think it's going to be one of those "when it's gone it's gone" vibes. That's the initial plan anyway, but it's still a bit up in the air as we feel the release is really strong, so it's almost criminal to limit it to 300 or so copies. We'll see how it's received.
DIFF001 comprises of six beatless devil mix tracks from six of the artists that Logos and I feel are making the most intriguing music at the moment. I'm extremely excited about it as, for all the attention that instrumental grime has been enjoying of late, there still isn't that much that you can go and physically buy and hold in your hand. Quality control is going to be the number one aspect of Different Circles. I don't see any point in putting out something that isn't top notch. There is too much music in the world as it is, so it's our job both as a DJs and now I guess "label managers" to act as gatekeepers, and filter out all the noise.
Mumdance - Take Time EP is released on Rinse on June 16th.
We really do love grime on THUMP you know: