Music by VICE

96 Back’s Noisey Mix Is a Thoughtful Rave

The Sheffield-born, Bristol-based producer’s new set comes in celebration of a colorful, geometric record called ‘Excitable, Girl,’ due out soon on Central Processing Unit.

by Colin Joyce; illustrated by River Cousin
Feb 22 2019, 4:30pm

The producer and DJ Evan Majumdar-Swift works efficiently. He started making dance music at the age of 17, and within six months, the Sheffield-born producer was already making twisted, otherworldly tracks good enough to land him a home on the stellar local imprint Central Processing Unit. That EP—billed as 96 Back—came out last year, showcasing Majumdar-Swift’s knack for melodies that are both geometrically precise and genuinely emotional—a rare ability for a producer with his eyes on the dancefloor, let alone for a debut release.

Now 19 years old and keen on proving he’s not sitting still, Majumdar-Swift is already back with an expansive new set of tracks in the form of Excitable, Girl, his debut full length, out March 1 on CPU. Across 12 tracks, he views dancefloor history through a prism—drawing new colors and shapes out of the resulting refractions. His music is often viewed within the long-tradition of Sheffield’s dancefloor experimenter—it’s where Warp Records, long-running institution of electronic auteurs, was born after all. On some level this is his heritage; his dad Matt Swift was a long-running party promoter in the city. But Excitable, Girl proves that 96 Back is more omnivorous than that. He does draw on what he’s called “poncey IDM” (you can hear some of that in the melodic contortions of “Matryoshka”), but on the whole it’s so much more open-hearted—hands-in-the-air even—than such influences might indicate. He’s got a knack for taking more academic forms and making them feel ascendant.

In celebration of that achievement, he’s also put together this week’s mix—an hourlong set that traverses old influences and current favorites all across the rave spectrum. There’s ecstatic drum and bass breaks, ghostly techno passages, and trickily programmed originals that feel as if they’ve been hacked out of pure code. Majumdar-Swift says it’s best consumed on a couch, but by the time it kicks into higher gear, it’s kinda hard to stay off your feet. Listen below, alongside an interview about his journey into making this sort of colorful music.

Noisey: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
96 Back: Ideally I'd say somewhere nice and cozy, [with] a good quality sofa and some plants.

Is synesthesia a real thing and if so, what color is this mix?
I think so for sure! Maybe in a more abstract sense than a literal one. I'd like to think the mix maybe starts off quite pastel blue and gets gradually more saturated and brighter.

Was there any specific concept to the mix?
I think my main goal putting the mix together was really to try and document an accurate a-z of my influences and tastes, I didn't want it to be hung up on one genre for too long.

Do you have a favorite moment on this mix?
Somewhere in the center of the mix I play a few breaks records that really remind me of early 2000's UK skate videos. All that stuff, as cheesy as is it is, is really close to my heart and something I have a load of fun playing!

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

A couple of different write-ups of your music have mentioned the fact that your father was a promoter in Sheffield. I guess what I’m curious about is, if you were around dance music from a young age, do you remember your first moment of magic with it? I guess I ask because it’s so easy to think of what I was like as a teen...regrettably just inherently rejecting anything my parents were into.
I guess, being honest, I was really similar to you in that respect, as were most teenagers I imagine. I really rejected majority of dance music as a whole for a really long time, even though I was constantly surrounded by it due to my parents. I remember in my early teens I got really into stoner rock and post punk, again likely because of skate videos. Then at some point of my own accord I naturally started veering to the more electronic side of the genres I was listening to and continuing to discover more until i was really starting to discover a love for dance music. One day I just realized, "Oh shit, my dad's really into the same stuff I am, what a coincidence!"

I feel like that’s a natural path that a lot of young people take in terms of discovering themselves.

I saw somewhere that you’d only started producing music six months before your debut EP on CPU, is that accurate? How did you settle on a sound and identity so quickly?
That's kind of accurate. The first track on that EP was written around 6 months into when I really started to get into production when I was 17. I then wrote the other three tracks a little bit later. Up until that point I'd had a really hard time trying to define what I wanted to make, I was into so much and I just wanted to make everything. It was only when I began to set clear goals in terms of what I wanted my production to be did I start to see any semblance of consistency. This was also around the same time I started to DJ a little more as well, so I guess you could say that as I began to focus on what I wanted my influences to be it reflected itself in my production. When I first started I used to make a lot of dub-techno.

Tell me about this record. What sorts of sounds and themes were running through your head as you started making this?
Producing this LP felt incredibly vital to me in terms of my creative goals and outcomes. It sounds strange but I almost feel far more creatively challenged when I try and sit down and write tracks for a single or EP. I think my natural way of producing tracks almost lends itself to the narrative that comes with an Album. I find myself asking how the tracks feel consistent and tie together in such a short space on an EP, leading to, in my eyes, them feeling rather disjointed. I wanted the whole album to feel quite playful and almost tongue and cheek in its melancholy, and I feel for that to be properly conveyed it required the down points that frame the LP with the tracks towards the start and the end, to really emphasize the energy I was trying to get across in the more upbeat tracks on the record.

One of the things that’s most striking to me about your music—kinda regardless of the function of a given track, whether its more dancefloor-friendly or more ambient—is that you favor these like beautiful but kinda sad melodies. I guess I was wondering what pushes you to include such a deep melodic dimension to your tracks?
It's a tricky one that, I do get very hung up on how I write melodies and overall how I arrange my tracks around them. Often there are times I wish I could write a club track without that level of melodic content but I don't think I'm able to. My natural instinct when working on any track is to try implement some interesting melodic progression that feels like it moves throughout the track and can carry a lot of emotional weight. What was interesting about the first CPU EP was that I can hear myself trying to do that in those tracks, but I don't think I was developed enough as a producer to really get across what I wanted at that point. But that’s not to discredit those tracks, I still think of them fondly, and it a lot of ways serve a more club-orientated function that I would struggle to capture now.

At the end of the day, I want to make music that is memorable and evokes a feeling that can stick in a listener’s mind, whether that be in a clubbing environment or home listening. I do actually get extremely hung up on process, I would like my music to be as technically interesting as it is emotionally. I was writing the album I got more proficient and capable of writing the melodies I wanted to write so have only more recently began focusing on cohering that with a more technical stance on production. That's really something that I want to see develop in my music.

What else is in the works? What drives you to work so fast?
To put it simply, I love making music. I love being involved in the scene and everything that includes. There’s not usually an hour in the day where I don't write down something on my phone to think about later in terms of production. I'm really fortunate to be able to have the time to work on music as much as I want/can and I really want to make to most of that, it isn't a luxury everyone has. I've got a lot of projects in the works that I'm really excited about and should hopefully see the light of day soon!

96 Back's Excitable Girl is available to preorder on the CPU Bandcamp. It's out March 1.