Following the release of his latest LP ‘Mirrors‘, on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, Mala once again found himself in unfamiliar lands. Something somewhat familiar to him.
Pete: How do you cope with all the travelling during festival season?
Mala: I’ve been travelling consistently for 10 years now, so in a way it’s normal for me to be on the road and bouncing from hotel to hotel. It’s a very isolated experience. It’s very difficult to explain the ins and outs, and little things that keep you up and bring you really low. It’s all part of the same equation really. But you know it’s all about making sure you eat well, making sure you sleep as good as you can. All those small things help. They help for longevity.
Pete: Yeah having spoken to quite a few artists, they seem to go through these phases, and i’s only until they reach their 30’s that they settle down and get less caught up in the party lifestyle. Kerbing those habits.
Mala: With nightlife and going out – everyone associates that with having a good time – how ever that translates for you. From a young age we’re educated in that way so when your hobby becomes your career, you’ve almost come conditioned in with the nightlife mentality that you’d have been in when you were 16/17. But I don’t think these issues are exclusive to travelling artists. I think that’s an issue across the board in life in general, and it’s very easy no matter who you are to let these things control you more than you control them.
“Funny, I meet so many people who say to me, I don’t like dubstep, but I like what you’ve just done”
Pete: Was it an easy decision to go full time into a DJing career?
Mala: It was natural really. I went full time in 2007. I’d been made redundant doing youth work and it just happened at the first time I’d been booked to do international gigs. So with these both happening concurrently, it was almost a sign for me. And I’ve not really had to do anything since – and with both DJing and producing plus the DMZ, Deep Medi, the events around the world – has been an interesting and challenging journey. And this is more a lifestyle than a job. I feel like this is where i’m supposed to be.
Pete: What are the key elements to a good event?
Mala: I’m a firm believer that space and energy have a relationship. The same room can have similar frequencies each time you go back to it. And its the same with the old DMZ parties. I’d go back and feel that there was an energy that keep getting stored, and kept getting added to each time we went to do another event. So I think that’s one of the reasons why I feel quite deep and powerful experiences when playing on the Mungos hifi soundsystem.
Pete: I wanted to look at the buzzword ‘genre’. And journalists in the past have questioned you on your affiliation to Dubstep. What place does the term genre in today’s music culture have? Do we need it? And perhaps what are the problems that come with the term?
Mala: I guess my only example which I experienced growing up and which changed my mind, is when people talked to me about techno. And my association about techno was so different to what I understand it to be today. And I think sometimes when given any description, title, or putting something in a box – there’s also the risk of excluding a type of people, culture or race. Funny, I meet so many people who say to me, I don’t like dubstep, but I like what you’ve just done. Similar thing you know, they would never of gone to check me. their association of dubstep is X, Y, Z. but actually in dubstep you’ve got a,b,c,d all the way to Z. And this is how I feel about most music in general.
I guess in some respect genre serves some purpose – obviously from a marketing aspect. I think nowadays we’re seeing more of a blend in genres. In a way, genres are becoming more and more intertwined over the last 10 years. People like Skepta and Stormzy. UK artists blowing up over seas. To me its no surprise. Boy Better Know, Wiley and all these have been doing this for years. And back then, Americans didn’t accept it, but now the beats are closer, and there is almost less separation now. And that’s great. Its given these UK artists what they deserved years ago.
“I couldn’t of done that when I was in my mid 20’s cos I hadn’t acquired the experience I needed by that point“
Pete: You mentioned the connection between genre and marketing there. When we look at artwork, there’s heavy prices that can be attached to an original Warhol or Grayson Perry. We don’t see this with music though. Whilst you have collectable vinyl, you don’t so much see this in music. What’s your thoughts on this?
Mala: Well with music its different. Of course there is people making money from music, but its different now. Record sales have changed and most stuff is for free. It comes down to the original work. If you grab an original piece of artwork, the material and product obviously contains the original spirit, soul, energy and creation in its form. And it’s not a replica. By default however, in music we have to replicate our creation onto different mediums for it to reach people.
Pete: Lets look at your new album Mirrors. You went to Peru. You didn’t know much about the place before getting there. The same with your previous Cuba project. How do you prepare for these trips. Do you session a lonely planet guide beforehand or just go with an open mind?
Mala: With an open mind. The way i’ve lived my life up until this point has certainly prepared me for these trips. To go to different lands and cultures and integrate with local people and allow situations to arise where they feel comfortable enough to share music treasures, histories and stories with me. So you know I couldn’t of done that when I was in my mid 20’s cos I hadn’t acquired the experience I needed by that point. So these things come at the right time you know, so just take it when it comes round you know. So I thank Giles as he came up with these ideas.
Pete: Do you have a sense of pressure, with Brownswood funding the project and Gille’s expectations? you mentioned you were at a breaking point during it?
Mala: Yeah both albums did that to me. Well there was no pressure from Gilles and Brownswood. I was very honoured to work with them. Because when we did that first record we knew the timelines, and how long to wait. I never got pushed form Gilles. He didn’t follow up with me with stuff like ‘what have you been up to for the last 6 months’. When I felt like I was ready I would send something over. And I just delivered it to him when it was ready and he was happy to take that final product as it was. I was very lucky to have that situation as alot of people don’t have it that easy.
Pete: So before taking this to Brownswood Recordings, did you share it with the people you’d met to get their feedback?
Mala: No. Once they’re completed, that was it really, and I’d submit it. When its my own project I need to be quite militant in saying this is it, its finished. Not to say i’m not open to hearing peoples feedback, both positive and negative, but I don’t focus on it too much. It can also be that thing where you’re right near finishing and someone is like blah blah blah, and I really don’t need that when I’m near the end.
Pete: And whilst certain critics reviews like the Guardian have been given Mirrors positive feedback, RA on the opposite has reviewed it with some disdain. Do you read reviews? And how do they effect you?
Mala: Yeah I read the reviews. I don’t read them as gospal, but I take both the positive and negative. I understand that it’s just one persons point of view. Same time, I know myself. I’ve sat on music for 6 months, and then all of a sudden listened to it at a particular time either day or night, and all of a sudden that tracks made sense to me and its released on Deep Medi and then known as a classic. You get what i’m saying. In that fashioning listening is subjective, and we as ourselves are constantly changing. Moods change. I think it’s great that interpretations are there, and I feel grateful that both positive and negative are written about me.
Pete: Do you like being interviewed?
Mala: Sometimes, yeah [laughs]. Depends on the questions. After all these years, there’s so much that has been said, and explored. I think sometimes it must be difficult for someone to find a new angle.
Pete: What’s your opinion on the place of music journalism today?
Mala: I think it has it’s place. And that it’s just a person following their path of self expression. But I guess one thing that you do see is alot of places copycatting, and following a formula. And that’s just unfortunate, and you get that with music producers as well. Mirroring each other. End of the day, no matter how you choose to express yourself, try to tap into your intent, the reasons for why your doing something, and if you’re doing it for the right reasons then so be it and keep cracking on.
Pete: If you could go back a decade, what would you tell the younger you?
Mala: Focus on sleep. Because that’s the one thing that has really shifted in my life. All the irregular hours, studio sessions, the lifestyle. I would of told myself to just monitor that as my career developed.
And another thing I wish someone would have told me, is the fact of how being on the road can really effect your progress in the studio. That’s a horrible feeling to have to discover yourself. When your deep in it and people expect a certain standard and quality of music from you, it’s a really harsh reality to discover you don’t feel as in control and creative in the studio as you used to. And not knowing the reasons for that and then realising it’s actually because i’m exhausted, and haven’t been sleeping. You know, looking at those circadian rhythms, where your body can only regenerate, and let off certain chemicals to repair itself at certain times of the day and certain times at night. There’s really beneficial things to our recovery of self on a daily basis. Getting rid of toxic brain fluids you know. Just resting our organs. These things can only happen at night, and that’s why we’re more alert in the morning and active during the day. There’s a reason for that. The natural order. Natural rhythm, of the universe. I’m nearly 40. Of course, 10 years ago I just keep going. Because it was natural. And I mean I’m not interested in them drugs that keep you up and alert. Not that i’m against it. Each to their own. But that has just not been how I’ve got through being tired. We don’t know what that does to us over a long period of time.