A ROOM OFF THE DANCEFLOOR
From sparse, dancefloor focused dub techno, to rough, primitive campfire bass, London-based Midland’s music quickly found its calling, garnering releases on prolific labels Phonica and Aus Music. Much like his housemate – Hessle Audio label boss, Pearson Sound – Harry Agius’s electronic journey began with an avid passion for sweaty drum & bass and jungle raves, and these distant student memories still live strong in his productions.
Midland’s most recent EP, ‘Placement’, maintains that UK grit, despite its flawless execution, and although the Leeds original has come a long way in just over a year, we’re expecting a whole lot more as the summer unfolds. Discussing choral scholar careers, dream labels and moving his music away from the club stage, Trap gets at the guy with his feet firmly rooted in new house, yet with a cautionary elbow gently leaning on classic bass.
You’re well known as a producer now, and your sets are highly regarded too – how does making music affect your craft as a DJ?
I don’t think it affects it that much, obviously it gives you a certain understanding of structure and maybe a slight insight into different components of tracks, but they are very different things for me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are mutually exclusive, but there are many great DJs who make no music and many great producers who can’t DJ.
How do you approach the ‘b2b’ sets? We caught the one you did with Pariah and Blawan ages ago, which was a lot of fun. Is there a sense of competition in these sets, or do you sit down and briefly plan where it’s going?
Well, I have only done a couple and they are quite different to solo sets. I don’t think there’s an element of competition, it’s more that you have to raise your game when playing with artists you know and respect. With that one, we had a mix together and got a vague idea of where we wanted to go with it, but essentially it was all off the cuff.
We’ve heard that you come from a musical family and did a five-year stint in your school’s chamber choir. Do you have any classical training? If so, does it influence you as an electronic music producer?
We aren’t necessarily musical in the sense that all my siblings play instruments and my dad’s a composer of anything, we just love it and there was always music on when I was growing up, from Fleetwood Mac to Electric Light Orchestra to Simon and Garfunkel. I was a choral scholar at school so sang a lot (like five times a week) but never stuck to an instrument. I wanted to learn the piano and was meant to get free tuition as part of my scholarship, but the musical director wasn’t on that so I missed out, sadly. Still time to learn though!
I think what singing taught me was how harmonies and melodies interact and the importance of dynamic contrast in music. We once sung a piece by John Tavener called ‘The Lamb’, which starts off very dissonant and then gives way to the most beautiful harmonic section. It was a real eye opener on how you can use things that sound harsh or wrong to contrast with rich melodies.
Is there a distinction between composition and production in your opinion?
Definitely. A good mixdown is important, but it’s obsolete in comparison to how you arrange and build your music. Arrangement for me is the single most important part of the process – how the track builds and where it takes you – and trying to keep people interested while not alienating them.
You produce entirely on your computer, right? How do you achieve that analogue ‘liveness’ in your tracks?
I do indeed. It’s quite odd, recently a lot of people have been asking me how I get that analogue sound when I pretty much produce 100 % ‘in the box’. It’s basically down to the fact that I like gritty warm sounds, so when I produce I find myself gravitating to sounds and synth patches that are a little less clean or predictable. Sampling drums off vinyl is a good place to start. For my new EP, I recorded a lot of guitar sounds with my brother and then mangled them up in Logic. I have a few techniques for ruffing and warming up sounds but they will have to stay secret for now.
If you could be released on any label, past or present, which would it be?
That question has the dangerous potential to make me sound like a desperate fan boy, ha ha… That said, it would be amazing to one day release an album on a label like Domino. An electronic album, not a ‘dance’ album; that’s where I see myself going. Not away from the dancefloor but just to a room off the side of it…
And finally, should we expect an album from you in 2012? Does the idea of writing one appeal to you as an artist?
It’s definitely not something I’m considering this year. Although, saying that, I do have lots of ideas on my computer that have never come to fruition, but that I keep for later use, so who knows what capacity they will be used in. I really want to be in control of my production, or at least have a real idea of where I want to take it, before embarking on a project like that. No rush.
Words: Sophie Thomas