In this very special Producer Masterclass for our 250th issue, we’re sincerely honoured to present a bona fide house and garage legend
We get into his supercharged studio as he breaks down a track in this access-all-areas video
Son, can you play me a memory?
In the late 90s, Matthew Coleman, aka MJ Cole, helped bring the sound of two-step UK garage into the mainstream consciousness with the luscious Sincere. Since then, he’s worked with a veritable who’s-who of artists, including Mary J Blige, Mariah Carey, Amy Winehouse and Wiley. We caught up with Matt in his Clerkenwell studio to witness him break down his latest track, Pictures In My Head.
: How did you get into music? MC: “I grew up with music – my dad used to sing in musicals and was constantly playing the piano at home. I started playing the piano when I was five, and as I became a teenager, in the 80s, I discovered dance music – house and hip house… it was just kind of a mish-mash of stuff.
“I was always messing around with my dad’s hi-fi and recording stuff off the radio, so it was the perfect marriage of tech and music to me.”
: Coming from a more traditional music background, what was your initial reaction to dance music? MC: “I didn’t see it as an extension of the music that I was doing in piano lessons and studying at school. I looked at it as more of a fun thing – like a toy to a kid, really. I never cottoned on that quickly to harmony and analysis and stuff like that; I was never really that great at that. My classical training was majoring around performance and interpretation. I was never that great at harmonising Bach chorales and composing in a classical sense. I saw dance music as play time. All that harmony and stuff has only really come to me in the last ten years!”
: What was your first experience with music technology? MC: “I had a Commodore Amiga, and my mate Matt and I messed around with a tracker, sampling bits of James Brown off cassette. He used to bring his Amiga around, and we had a DJ mixer in the middle, with one computer on each channel.
“I met Matt at the Royal College of Music. I got a scholarship there because of my piano playing – it was all quite serious classical stuff, but they had an amazing studio. They had one of the very first Apple Macs and a basic Akai sampler. I realised that the Atari was the way to go, so I got an Atari STE and a copy of Cubase; and for my birthday one year I got a Yamaha SY22, which was my first synth. I caned that SY22 and knew everything about it. I spent days and days editing sounds and doing whole bits of music just using that.
“At one point, I bought a Roland TR-707 and was trying to make hardcore records on a drum machine, and having a bit of a job doing it. Then I realised that these guys were just sampling breakbeats on a sampler. So once Matt and I worked that out, we got a Cheetah SX16 sampler with about 2.5 seconds of sample time.
“When I was 18, I went to City University and did a music degree there, and they had S950s and Macs as well. At that time I was kind of starting to make music a bit more
“I was always messing around with my dad’s hi-fi and recording stuff off the radio”
seriously, and a couple of DJs started to cut my tunes to dubplates.”
Now see how Matt made the impeccably polished Pictures In My Head in our exclusive tutorial video.