The music I care about most is emotionally led: an interview with Mr. Mitch

Son Raw speaks to the man behind Grime's most emotional album yet about growing up in Catford and moving forward as a musician
By    December 1, 2014

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Photo by Pani Paul

I’ve been following Mr. Mitch’s music for ages now, but 2014 marked a real  turning point for the DJ, producer, and longtime supporter of instrumental Grime. Off the back of last year’s Peace Edit series, he began to explore an altogether chiller sound, one that drew from Grime’s sonic template without being beholden to its tempo or standard forms. Meanwhile, his Gobstopper label went from strength to strength, dropping a series of releases that each pushed back the boundaries of Grime in their own way, whether through ambient explorations, 80s boogie funk, video game inspired melodies or distorted experimentation. Then there’s Boxed, the club night he co-runs that’s rapidly become Grime’s answer to Metalheadz at Blue Note or FWD at Plastic People. In light of all of this, and ahead of Parallel Memories, his excellent debut album, I spoke with Mitch about all of the above and more. – Son Raw

First up, where are you from? How’d you first come in contact with underground music growing up?

I’m from Catford South London. For underground music, I used to listen to a lot of R&B growing up, my parents listened to Soul. It wasn’t until I was about 10 that I even heard Garage. I was sitting inside at JD Sports and I think it was the first time I even recognized something as being a mix – I thought “this tune is amazing, it’s like 2 tunes in 1!” I asked the guy at the shop and it was a DJ Spoony Ayia Napa mix CD. I didn’t even know what a mix was before that, but it put me onto Garage from there and that was my entry point into every style that came from afterwards I guess.

R&B and Garage are an interesting starting point – there were links there in terms of producers making refixes, or even official remixes.

For me, when I started producing at 12 or 13, I never said to myself I was making Garage. I was just making whatever was around at the time, which wasn’t really Garage… it was that So Solid sound. It’s when Grime was first coming around really.

You started at 12? That’s kind of amazing.

Yeah, I just got a copy of Fruityloops somehow and started messing around with that. Before that I got a free copy of “Hip-Hop DJ” from a cereal box!

You mentioned So Solid, what other producers or acts were you rating early on in Grime – everyone’s got different touchstones and your music really stands apart from most current production so I’m curious what you were into.

It was still the big Hip Hop guys I was rating producer wise. I was really into Timbaland – he was my biggest influence at that age and still is a massive influence on what I do. Everything about his production… I used to listen to Tim’s Bio on the regular. In terms of dance music, it was Garage I guess since I didn’t really know any other dance music, I really loved Sticky’s production – Golly Gosh and Triplets. The stuff he made had a lot of great melodies, Wookie as well – I’ve always liked people who utilized melodies well.

That’s become a big part of your sound as well. The Timbaland thing is interesting because his tracks could work at UK tempos, they sounded like 70-80BPM to our ears but they could be double timed in Garage sets. From those early influences, how’d you make the leap from listening to DJing and making tunes?

I used to produce a lot with friends growing up. Even at that age to be honest, I used to think I was really good! But I never did anything with my music, I lacked confidence I guess. I actually used to do some stuff with Flukes sometimes, he blew up when he made Wifey Riddim, he used to go down to Sticky’s studio a lot. He’d say come down but the idea of going to a big studio with a mixing desk was intimidating to me so I turned him down. I missed out on those opportunities I guess, and just stayed stuck in my room, churning out music. It wasn’t until I went to uni that it kicked off. I was in media production and in second year I just asked myself – “why am I not doing music?”

I spoke to Loom, whose EP you put out a few weeks ago, and he mentioned meeting you in University? 

We actually met when I did a music production course. I did one year of it and then I was like – “nah, enough of education!” It taught me a few things to be honest, but a lot of what they were saying was stuff I picked up myself anyways. It works for some people but I don’t know if it was right for me.

Were there any other names around at that point?

In college? No one I can think of, there were a lot of rock musicians and producers around. I know Last Japan went there but we never met at the time.

Your first tracks started coming out around 2010, which was an interesting time for Grime in that it wasn’t getting much outside attention but the instrumental side of things really started bubbling. How did you get about sending tunes and what led to Fright Night and Skittles appearing on Gobstopper and Butterz?

I didn’t even know about sending tunes to DJs. I didn’t have a clue basically, on how people got their music heard. It wasn’t until 2009 that I heard Elijah and Skilliam putting out a few mixes, and getting on Rinse – it seemed like they were on the same vibe as me so I started sending them music, they started playing it and they picked up Skittles for their second release on Butterz. I guess once you get played on Rinse a few times by Djs who have a good following – and those guys had a really strong following of new producers – people are open to your sound. I started networking with other producers and just I decided to self-release Fright Night, which was the track people liked, and get a load of remixes from people who I was speaking to. And that’s where Gobstopper came from basically, there weren’t that many people putting out instrumentals at the time as well, so I figured why not give it a go?

Looking back, in terms of that generation, you were one of the first digital labels putting out stuff.

Definitely, it wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t thinking “we’re going to be trailblazers” or something like that. I just thought “this needs to happen more.” Basically.

It’s also interesting that your sound has kept shifting in a lot of ways. A lot of producers come out with a basic aesthetic and refine it – for instance Swindle started with Funk and now he’s working with a live band, Royal-T always had a 2-Step swing and now he’s making proper Garage, etc. But looking at a track like The Last Stand which was pretty much a pure banger, and comparing it to your recent work – that’s a huge shift.

A lot of the stuff that I actually released on labels, or even on my own label, was stuff I’d made with a purpose. The Last Stand I made specifically to go off, and it was a forced effort to make tracks to suit the environment at the time. I still made a lot of weirder stuff that I didn’t know what to do with, so it just sat on my hard drive. Be Somebody from the EP that just came out was made around that time in 2010. A lot of the stuff on that instrumental mixtape/album I put out – Searching – was made around 2011-2012 as well. The stuff that was released was forced, but most of the real music…I was sitting on basically.

Was there a breakthrough moment when you decided that you had to put out the stuff you really liked?

Every Peace Edit that I put out really surprised me, in terms of the reaction that it got. When I made the first collection it was just weird slowed down versions of Grime tunes and people seemed to really like them. I wasn’t expecting that – I just made them as a direct response to the War Dubs situation… but people reacted well and that surprised me so I kept doing what came naturally from there, doing what I really wanted and stopped thinking about who was listening.

And today, no one really remembers any of the war dubs, but the Peace Edits still stand out as really unique. When I spoke to Slackk, he mentioned a similar situation perhaps a bit earlier, in his case he was making Funky, where he just got fed up and decided to make the music he really wanted to make.

That’s basically it. I stopped caring about which DJs were going to play the tunes or what labels might be interested in releasing them and just concentrated on doing what I wanted to do. And I guess Boxed helped with that, because it put us as artists and DJs on a certain level where people still had their eyes on us. I didn’t NEED to make these tunes for someone to hear me. At first you just want to be heard so you make tunes you think people will like, but once you have people’s ears you can just give them a piece of you, I guess.

In terms of what you do at Boxed as a DJ, has that approach bled into what you do, or is it 2 separate things?

My DJing is starting to come around to that way of thinking. At Boxed I still play tunes that will go off but I also like playing the early set where I get to play weird tunes that no one can dance to. A lot of the time when I do mixes, that’s more reflective of my taste as a DJ but a lot of that stuff doesn’t really work in a club. You’ve got to tailor it, you’ve got to keep it your own but add stuff that does work

I imagine you get sent tons of tunes now since everyone wants to hear their track at Boxed as well.

Yeah, yeah… but I am very picky so if I do play your tune, it’s cause I really like it!

In terms of the album, there’s a ton of Heartbreak on Parallel Memories in tracks like Don’t Leave and Denial. You’ve mentioned in the press release that you imagined the tracks as scenes from alternate existences but the emotion on display feels very real… how much of it stems from experiences in your life?

It’s weird. The imagery develops with the track, I make what naturally comes out but there’s no heartbreak in my life! But as I’m making it the scenes in my head feel very real and they often involve parts of my life that ARE real. For example when I listen to Denial, I get this image of my fiancée and my son packing their bags and leaving the house and as the song progresses and more things fill up the track, they get closer and closer to the door until it ends and they’re gone. That vivid imagery fills my head every time I play the track and it makes me wonder where it’s all coming from. That’s where the Parallel Memories theory comes from.

When I first listened to the album, I was going through some trouble with a girl and to be honest, it got to the point where I went “Raah! This is really good but I can’t listen to it right now, it’s messing with me!” I tend to listen to club tunes because they don’t affect my emotions but I couldn’t do that with your album. It really doesn’t pull any punches.

It’s definitely an emotionally led album. I guess a lot of the music I care about the most is emotionally led and I just want my music to make you feel something. Because I’ve never really been a person who’s into dance music… I’ve never been a person who goes to a lot of raves or listens to dance music in general, so this is the music that has the biggest effect on me. Growing up, I didn’t listen to a lot of dance music but I used to listen to a lot of electronic Pop, I used to love Hot Chip, I still love Metronomy and there was a time in my teens where that’s all I listened to. I guess that’s where the Pop sensibilities in my music comes from, and the less aggressive side comes from.

Which brings us full circle to your influences. It seems like based on everything you’ve said, it’s almost odd that you ended up in the scene you did, because Grime tends to get associated with a lot of machismo, and aggressive emotions.

It’s my environment as well. In my age group and in my area there were a lot of people who were into Grime at that time. It’s just what you listened to. It’s hard to explain though, why I got into it. I love the music obviously, but there’s a side of me that isn’t this typical Grime guy. From the other part of my upbringing, even though I was brought up in an underprivileged area of Catford, I went to a private school so I saw the privileged side in that sense. I don’t know if that had a contribution to my music at all, why it’s not aggressive – because I’m not that kind of person at all.

There’s definitely sides to Grime where I see a connection though. One tune that your album kept reminding me of, indirectly, was Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv U, which is basically about a boy who’s angry at a girl. Your album trends more towards hurt than anger, but those are two shades of the same overall emotion.

For our readers who aren’t in the UK, is Catford a rough area?

Yeah! Catford is based in the borough of Lewisham which is the most violent borough in all of the UK so… there’s a lot of crack heads around! *Laughs*

Fair enough. Says it all, I guess.

Yeah, when I made that tune, Catford. It was kind of a joke tune… but before I called it that – it was originally named Crackford, just because it was based on all of the cats who love a bit of drugs in the area. I mean, in Catford the biggest thing is a lot of alcoholism. A lot of alcoholics who queue outside the pub at 5 in the morning, but even though it’s an underprivileged area there’s a lot of good here. It’s still a good area.

You were ahead of your time on the Catford tune – Run the Jewels is doing an entire cat-themed remix album.

Tell them to use my beat! They can take it!

You also used a new version of your Sweet Boy Peace edit on the album. That track [originally written by Dark0] went through a ton of versions, from the original to the Boxed VIP to the recently released Weightless version and now this. How did the Peace edit come about and how did you decide to use it on the album?

It’s one of those melodies where you can do a lot with it. I was making the Peace Edits and that was one of the melodies I was using and I ended up making an entire tune out of it. Mike Paradinas from Planet Mu got a hold of it and he wanted it to be on the album, so I spoke to Dark0 to see if he was alright with it and he was. Thought I might as well change the name though.

How did you actually come in contact with Planet Mu? When I saw you signed I thought it made perfect sense, but by the same token, it’s not the first label people would have thought anyone from the scene would come out on.

I made a plan for myself at the beginning of the year. At the end of 2013 I had a few tracks together and there weren’t any immediate takers. So I decided to release The Room Where I Belong EP myself on Gobstopper and use that EP to get myself an album deal. I hit up Planet Mu and Mike was into it. I sent him about 20 tracks and he said he liked all of them apart from 1, so that was amazing.

As a label they’ve got such an amazing catalogue and such well respected electronic musicians on there, and I want people to view me as an electronic musician and view Grime as an electronic genre that stands up against the rest of them.

It’s a good home for a long form album as well.

Growing up, I used to sit at home as a teenager downloading a lot of music and a lot of ALBUMS really and that’s how I digested my music. I wouldn’t go to a club to hear music, there were a few radio shows I’d listen to but basically it was mostly getting albums on Limewire.

Now that you’ve put out your own record, how do you imagine people listening to the album? It’s definitely not clubby and really I’ve found myself listening to it most at night… particularly as the weather’s getting colder. It’s definitely the most atmospheric thing you’ve done.

I’m not sure really! I know it’s a headphone album. I want people to take it all in and sit back and close their eyes and listen to it. A lot of the time when I listen to it, my eyes close and I don’t realize it. If I have trouble sleeping there’s a few tracks I can play and it’ll help so I guess it’s one of those chill out albums. It doesn’t have an intention – you can take it however you want to take it but to me, it’s definitely a relaxed vibe.

I never want to impose my imagery on other people because music is so based on interpretation. I’ve actually seen a lot of people react to “Don’t Leave” and not recognize the sample, and get the words wrong, but I’d never correct them.

Finally, I want to talk about Gobstopper. The label had a banner year and one of the aspects that stood out is that every release challenged the conventions of what Grime could be in some way. There wasn’t much in common between Strict Face doing ambient stuff and Matt Wizard doing funk or Dark0 sampling JRPGS, but somehow at the end of the day it all made sense together. How do you go about signing tunes?

I’ve been receiving a lot of music from different people. MattWizzard for example started sending me tunes in 2012, there was one called Candyland I used to play a lot. The ones I picked were just the ones that really stood out to me. The way it worked out, was that I never really wanted Gobstopper to have one sound. I wanted all the artists to have their own identity. If I have a label with 5 artists that sound the same, they’d all blend together, so instead I want to explore all the aspects of Grime, it’s such a broad genre.

Last question… when you played The Butterz, Rinse 17 launch show on Rinse and opened with The Last Stand. EVERYONE freaked out. Who ran for the mic and demanded you send them the tune?

I think that was Spyro! He already had that tune in his email too!


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