Mum­dance

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

Future Music - - IN THE STUDIO WITH | MUMDANCE -

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

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