Danny Turner meets Jack Adams (aka Mumdance), an artist who has brought a fresh perspective to UK grime and rave through his minimalist yet contemporary approach, based on the principles of musique concrète
Recognition came early for grime protagonist Jack Adams. Better known as Mumdance, he was inaugurated into Diplo’s stable 10 years ago via his bootleg remix of the Black Lips’ Veni Vedi Vici feat. MC Jammer. However, as an artist, he was attracted to the ‘awkward’ rather than the mainstream, which left Adams feeling peripheral to the testosteronedriven club environment and remix culture.
During a three-year sabbatical, Adams worked on creating a more authentic sound – resulting in the adoption of specific vintage gear, computercentric production tools and modular synthesis.
As a result, Adams found his niche, skewing the gritty underbelly of grime, rave and hardcore through a minimalist prism coined ‘weightless’. His desire to explore has never waned, as eclectic collaborations with Pinch, Logos and Shapednoise have all proved.
Where did you learn your craft and cultivate ideas from when you first started?
“I guess the main reference point was the hardcore continuum, which encompassed ideas coming from rave music, hardcore and UK breakbeat. The main inspiration was UK sound system heritage, and from there the romantic ideas that I held were abstracted outwards. Another big influence was musique concrète and people like Pierre Schaeffer and Bernard Parmegiani. I found the idea that you don’t necessarily need harmony or melody and can focus on timbre and mood very interesting.”
Were you a fan of Autechre – their work seems like a possible segue between your abstract approach and dance music?
“I love that shit, but never really followed it at the time. I got more into Autechre later, thanks to a mate of mine called Russell Haswell. I like a chin stroke myself, but at the time I was more fascinated by drum & bass and techstep. But all my mates were into Autechre and Squarepusher.”
Your debut release with Brodinski, Eurostarr, sounds completely unique to this day. Was that very much a meeting of minds?
“I’m more fascinated by collaboration than imitation. At that time there was a scene bubbling up in Paris and I’d often see Brodinski playing in clubs around Europe, so we decided to make music together – that’s actually why we called it Eurostarr. It was my first collaboration and the only time I’ve done that online, because I think it’s more important to collaborate with people in person.”
Is it true you started making music in a shed?
“I started, like a lot of people, on a Dell PC using a cracked copy of Fruity Loops that I got off a mate. I used to have a shed at my parent’s house that I could use as a room and I’d sit in there for hours on end. I’ve always had an interest in gear, and over the past 10 years, every time I earned any money from music I put it back into my studio. On my early releases, I only used software, but I took two years off because I wasn’t happy with what I was doing.”
What aspect weren’t you happy about?
“There was a moment in UK dance music that wasn’t inspiring me and I felt like I wasn’t in fashion. Promoters didn’t want to book me, so I took a bit of time out. I wasn’t ready when I first came through. I was running around doing all these shows and did about 12 remixes in one year, which I didn’t really like doing. That period was good in that it was a baptism of fire, but I felt like I still needed to really learn my craft. I also started integrating hardware into my setup. My early EPs sounded fine on software because I wanted a shiny, high-definition sound, but when I realised that rave and hardcore was the stream I wanted to follow, I couldn’t get the timbre of the sounds right. For example, the Korg M1 piano is consistent throughout hardcore, but when I used Kontakt to recreate those sounds it just wasn’t right.”
So you felt digital couldn’t recreate the sounds in your head?
“Digital sounds wicked, I’m not against it, but for what I wanted to do, the colour and timbre of the sound was quite important and I didn’t feel I could reach that with what I was using. That led me to research what all my heroes had in their studios, for example, the Akai S950 sampler. I felt that was the key to my second wave of music. I did a mix tape called TwistsandTurns, which was all about me coming back with a new sound, and all that music came from the Akai and the Ensoniq DP/4.”
Many artists seem to struggle to emulate analogue in a digital environment…
“My preference is not necessarily analogue, it’s actually early digital hardware. Analogue is a buzzword for a lot of people who don’t really know what they’re talking about. I see it as a toolbox – you wouldn’t use a saw to hammer in a nail. To me, Vangelis is the epitome of the analogue sound, but most of drum & bass, jungle and hardcore wasn’t analogue, it was made on samplers, Mackie desks and effects units.”
Presumably because those genres developed when digital tech first became popularised?
“That’s it. Hardcore was sampling house records and I only ever heard the hardcore versions. It was years later that I actually realised that Sweet Harmony was sampled from CeCe Rogers. I did buy analogue when I didn’t really know what I was doing. I got a Moog Voyager and loved it, even though it wasn’t what I was looking for. Then I started getting into early digital synths like the Yamaha DX7.”
You spent periods living in Mexico, Brazil and Egypt. How did that influence your music?
“I went around the world during my first round of
DJing, which was my first experience of travelling really. I also lived in those countries because I feel that if you really want to learn something or understand a culture, you have to go there rather than try to appreciate them second-hand. I could do a separate interview about that, but to summarise I suppose I’d say that in Latin America music flows through every part of society. Music is very important to people in the UK too, but it’s more of a multi-generational thing in Brazil and Mexico, whereas it’s tailored to young people in Europe.”
You’ve had to persevere to gain acceptance. How important is it to follow your own path?
“The first time I came through I was very much in fashion, but when you’re in fashion, you can just as quickly go out of fashion. Ultimately, music is a business and a currency, and you can quite easily get cut out from what’s going on. That made it important to carve out my own path.”
Was the ‘weightless’ concept the result of that?
“When I started the Different Circles label, I coined the term ‘weightless’, which has been widely misconstrued. Everyone calls it weightless grime, but it’s not really a genre, it’s an aesthetic. To me ‘weightless’ is a way of doing things; the notion of trying to approach things with minimal percussion, that’s very spacious with lots of sonics. It’s minimalism, basically, and that doesn’t have to be grime or noise or anything else. There are hardly any drums or percussion on most of our releases, but there’s loads of sub bass and it’s still based on club arrangements – it’s just a different way of approaching sound system music.”
What is about minimalism that appeals to you?
“Minimalism has been an obsession of mine for as long as I can remember. That’s why I focus on timbre, where a lot of the focus is on the colour and feeling of the sound rather than adding chord structures. Some people can bang out an hour of 4x4 drum & bass for eight hours, which has its place, but it sounds a bit boring to me and I don’t feel I need to add to that. And some electronic dance producers just make variations of the same song 50 times and that’s their career. I’m not trying to prove a point, but I’d get bored of doing that too.”
When you collaborate with a grime artist like Novelist, does your interest lie in evolving the music away from the popular preconception of that genre?
“If you listen to most of my recent work, the only theme is the hardcore continuum and minimalism. It’s all about deconstructing these genre tropes and ideas and putting my own stamp on them. But I feel that I’m still learning and expanding my language, and collaboration is perfect for that. Every time I do it, it’s totally organic. For example, I’m doing a new metal side project called Bliss Signal with James Kelly of Altar of Plagues. We met at the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo and both like metal, so we went to his studio in Berlin, made two demos in two days and subsequently managed to write an album. I’ve also done a pop track – a power ballad using a string quartet, grand piano and an electric guitar, just because I wanted to see if I could take the weightless idea into the real world using real instruments rather than a computer.”
How did you get involved in audio advertising?
“It fell in my lap really. The director of the advert for their ACG brand approached me because he’d heard the track I did with Novelist, 1Sec, and wanted something that was stark, futuristic and monochrome-sounding. Again, if you listen to it, it’s a musique concrète piece with drum & bass abstractions. Although that area is something I’d like to get involved in more, my main interest is DJing at the moment; I’ve been really enjoying it lately. “
You also created presets for Roland’s launch of the TB-03 and TR-09?
“I’m quite well known for using the 909. The 909 kick drum is the basis for everything in dance music. To me, it’s the perfect kick drum. Each one it spits out sounds different, every machine sounds slightly different and the way you can process the kick makes it a good starting point for a track. When I was in Tokyo, I was taken to the Roland studio and they asked me to do some presets for them – grime patterns basically, but more functional and aimed at the dance floor. The 303 presets I made were more squat party acid house at 150 BPM rather than your traditional Mr. Fingers-type house sounds.”
What sparked your recent interest in modular?
“Everyone calls it weightless grime, but it’s not really a genre, it’s an aesthetic”
“I was looking to get something different to what I already had. I wanted to go off the grid a bit, but Eurorack is very confusing to get your head around so I thought I’d start with a ready-made system and got the Make Noise shared system, which I bought with the money from the Nike advert. There are two concepts of East Coast and West Coast synthesis, the East being the Moog and electric piano and the West being the weirder Buchla sound. Make Noise subscribes to the West Coast synthesis idea, which was exactly what I was looking for – then I just got hooked using this stuff and started working outwards from there. Since then, I’ve changed the Make Noise system and created a whole new toolbox of modules for live work.”
Modular isn’t known for giving definitive results; using your adapted case live seems brave!
“I find live electronic music to be quite sterile. Nine times out of ten, it’s recorded music with a light show, which is more like pantomime. That’s fair enough and I like a lot of it, but doing that doesn’t interest me so I’m taking a more punk attitude where everything’s improvised. The modules are alive and all I can do is tickle them in a certain direction, which is a bit like a roulette wheel. You can try and poke it in the right path, but if it wants to bite you it will. Obviously you can learn how to manipulate it, but it’s not fun when it goes wrong – that happened at Berghain in Berlin a few weeks ago when it wouldn’t do what I wanted it to and it sounded like shit. To be honest, that was pretty frustrating and embarrassing.”
You’re putting yourself in a position that every producer or DJ tries their utmost to avoid...
“I wouldn’t have written the music that I do if I was scared I was going to look stupid in front of a thousand people. That attitude is what pushes you forward and you have to view it as a positive. The set’s not always completely improvised. For my Bliss Signal project, there are elements of both. Between the tracks I’ll improvise completely using the modular, but we’ll also replay using an Elektron Octatrack because a lot of the music’s song-based. But when I do a solo live show, it’s completely improvised. I’m manipulating the modular, making interesting noises and it’s different every time. Usually I’ll build a patch at the soundcheck and work from it during the show.”
When you see people with racks and racks of modular gear, you wonder what each system offers that’s radically different to another…
“I’ve got a lot of modules because I enjoy using them and I’m really interested in the timbre of the different filters. It is very subtle, but one module can change a whole system completely. The Make Noise Morphagene and Phonogene are used for sample-based granular synthesis, the ALM Busy Circuits’ Akemie’s Castle is for FM synthesis – using Yamaha DX100 and DX7 chips, and the Mutable Instruments Elements Modal synthesis is a texture generator. I even have a Mackie module, which makes things sound like they’re running through a