Monday, 27 June 2011

TEA with Midland

From a journalists prospective today's electronic music is making it harder and harder to pigeon hole certain artists, so much so, music writers may well be the only ones left using superfluous genres titles to explain music to others. 

Harry Aguis aka Midland is one such artist adding to the genre-flux headache editorials are faced with, most likely enjoying a laugh or two along the way at the attempts to categorise him.

With only a handful of releases, Midland is an active member of the emerging British power crew - spearheaded by the likes of David Kennedy, Ben UFO, Floating Points, Joy O, Pariah and Blawan - that's at the cutting edge of contemporary UK house and techno, closley flanked by their European counterparts Cosmin TRG and Kassem Mosse.

On the tail end of his Australasian tour, TEA caught up with the softly spoken and well mannered Englishman to talk snobbery, growing up as a bush kid and teenage tomfoolery.

So this is not your first time in Australia, correct?

I have been here once before when I was about fifteen or sixteen, I was part of a jazz band that toured with a rugby team. We came out and basically got destroyed by all the Aussie teams and tried to get into clubs using fake ID's, I borrowed one from a Mexican kid who had a really comical moustache.

Did it work?

No, well it worked in Canberra and Cairns but the Sydney clubs absolutely latched on to us.

Not much gets passed those Sydney boucers. So you have a degree in history, tell us about that. Is WW1 and WW2 now your house and techno?

I studied history because it was one of the subjects I enjoyed at school. I’m all about modern history, mainly American history from around 1900 to 1960. I try to use history a lot in terms of how I look at situations, it’s more about what contributed to an event to create something rather than just looking at the event itself. I think that’s probably how I approach my music making, if you understand what has come before, you are able to use that as an indicator for what to do and what not to do. It’s well and good to take influences from Detroit and Chicago but you must give them your own spin.

Is history something you would like to take further?

Studying history gave me the opportunity to move to a cool city like Leeds, meet new people, have fun and DJ. If I’m honest I’m not really an academic. I’ve got a good degree and enjoyed parts of the course but my time at uni was spent DJing and having a good time. When study needed to be done I got it done, I wasn't one of those students who studied above and beyond the call of duty.

Tell us about your time living in east Africa.

I lived in Tanzania until I was about thirteen. I lived very close to the beach and didn’t wear shoes until I was nine. I then went to boarding school but would come back for holidays where it was three months of surfing and running around like a little bush kid. From there I somehow made my way to the university of Leeds. A lot of people are really happy to go to university in Leeds but when they finish they think of it as a bit of a backwater and head straight to London. I wasn’t like that and enjoyed the city, it’s a great city with cool people that has going on, and it’s cheap! If I hadn’t stayed in Leeds I wouldn’t be doing music now.

Has living in Tanzania influenced your taste or style of music?

I think I have taken a lot from everywhere I have lived, good and bad. I lived in Greece for a while and it was a bit of a lonely place to grow up as a teenager, but I have taken a love of food from Greece. I find with music that I take in whatever I can from where ever I can, if I like something I like something. I couldn’t just take my influences from house and techno, that would just make my music potentially really generic, so growing up in different places and around different sounds has hopefully made my music more varied.

You worked at Leeds famous Wire nightclub. Tell us about those days.

I had always been DJing in Leeds, drum and bass at the time but then I stopped which meant that gigs dried up instantly, this also correlated with me starting to make house music. Working at Wire was me needing a job post uni which gave me free time but also gave me enough hours so I could pay the bills. It also meant that I didn't have to work full time as I wanted to write music during the day as well as wanting to be in a musical environment. I used to get in from Wire at five o’clock in the morning, I find it hard to sleep past ten AM so I was literally surviving on five hours of sleep for a year and a half, there were points where I was like “what am I doing”. I had signed a couple of tunes away but they weren’t coming out until later, so just before the Phonica release dropped I was so close to throwing it in and getting an “real” job.

Well we’re glad you didn’t. Would you say that year and half or working nights, making music during the day and living off five hours of sleep was one of the most important periods of your music career so far?

My time at Wire was mostly spent working at the indie and weekly nights as well as a few specialist house, techno and experimental nights. Most of the time it was ear plugs in and ‘lets get through this’ as I had been making music all day. I’m really not built for night shift work as I get really drained, which is a bit of a silly thing to say when you’re a DJ, however lovely people are involved at Wire which was one of the things that got me through it. What it taught me with music is that sometimes it must be treated like a real job with real deadlines. Some people say you can’t put deadlines on creative things but unfortunately sometimes you have too. There’s been times where on a bank holiday all of my friends are going out but I had to sit at home doing pre masters for an EP for nine hours. I remember waking up on the Monday morning that the EP in question went off to get mastered and thinking if I hadn't done that work it wouldn’t have got out in time. So yes that period definitely taught me discipline.

You mentioned how you were a Drum and Bass DJ turned House DJ. Did any particular tracks, artists, albums or parties play a big role in the change?

At the tail end of when I was listening, playing and producing drum and bass I was all about artists like Intra:mental, Alix Perez and dBridge, interesting people who are pushing boundaries. I was always into the deeper vibe, so when I moved over to house it was like a slowing down of everything. I was listening to more albums where the tempo would hop around. I’ve always said that the Moderat album is something that really affected me as well as albums like Caribou' and Solar Bears because they are loosely electronic yet have such a strong narrative. I find people making this kind of music often have a narrative to their productions. I suppose it's this approach that has influenced how I approach making music now.

Your Australian dates were with progressive house star James Zabielia, Detroit techno legend Robert Hood and tech house don Tom Budden. How does playing at a night like this with no specific sound effect your set compared to playing parties with artists whom share a common sound.

When I’m picking tunes for these types of gigs they are slanted toward the housier stuff, my common theme is you can play music that is a bit different, you just have to give people a warning. You can jump from techno to house and all other things, you just have to blend them well and I think people are increasingly realising that this can be done in sets. This month in terms of gigs and the difference between them has been one of the most challenging but most enjoyable. I started off the month playing FWD>>> which is London's longest running dubstep and Garage night, it’s now splintered into house but it's still got a very urban slant . From there I went on to support Omar S at XOYO and then hopped on this Australian tour whilst finishing off the month at fabric on a Saturday night. I think what this shows is how much cross pollination there is going on at the moment, where you have people like Scuba & George Fitzgerald playing the Saturday night at fabric which has been a pretty staunch house and techno institution up until recently. It does put pressure on DJ’s, myself included to think about your selection and how to adapt it, especially since we’re all putting out music that seems to cross the genres quite often, but its definitely a positive atmosphere to be writing and djing in!

Scuba once said he would rather be the dubstep DJ at a techno night rather than the other way around? Does this mean you are the house DJ at dubstep parties?

The nights I have played at and the people I have played with are so vaguely under a dubstep banner, artists like XXXY, Paraih and Blawan are all pretty much playing house/techno/electro etc now, yet they are classed that way because they made their name through “dubstep”. How people perceive you tends to be the way you are catorgorised. For instance, I checked out my new release on Juno and it’s in the Dubstep and Grime category, that release couldn’t be more housey if it tried, it may be because I made a record with Ramadanman and now that’s now the perception of what I make. I’m played a back to back to back set with Paraih and Blawaan in June and have found it all mixes together really well. I try to make sure I’m not thrown in the deep end with gigs where it’s going end up as some kind of compromise.

The Your Words Matter collaboration with David Kennedy received some great press and I’m sure the question on everyones lips is will we see a follow up?

At the moment David is very busy and I’m very busy. We do live together and we are moving to London so once we settle in it may happen, but there is no set plan. With Your Words Matter we were at his parents house with not much to do so we thought we’d write some house music for fun and that was how we approached it, by just having fun. It was amazing to see it signed and become quite a big tune.

Tell us about your relationship with David Kennedy and how much does living with someone as prolific as him help push you musically?

Musically we are quite different in what we do. We don’t always want to talk about music, that's something you do enough of when you see your other friends and DJ’s. We are quite private about our music, not to say we don’t show each other what we are working on but at the same time we are doing our own thing. I think we both share a common theme of trying not to do the same thing twice. I feel that I am doing that but it’s hard to look at your work objectively. We both have a broad taste in music and we can’t settle on one style. He is one of my closest mates and is doing incredibly well, so in that sense it does push me because it shows hard work and sticking to your guns does pay off.

David looks to be right in the thick of it at the moment as he is a big player in cultivating this fresh house sound people are talking about.

Yeah, at the moment there seems to be this UK super crew of Joy Orbison, Floating Points, Ben UFO, Pangea and a few others, they’re all digging really hard for music and making some great tunes. Likewise non UK producers such as Cosmin TRG are making amazing music which fits in with the UK sound really well, his new Rush Hour release is one I have been playing every gig.

How much do you feel apart of this power crew?

Ha! I know most of them really well, and we exchange music but I don’t really feel like I’m part of any specific crew. I’m really involved with the Aus Label, I'm going to be working closely with them in the future and feel it’s a really cool group of people to be involved with. I think being up in Leeds and not really involved with the “scene” up here after years of involvement in the Leeds drum and bass scene has given me a good musical perspective, albeit a quite an isolated one. I am really honoured that all of my EPs were signed by people who I'd never met, the music was signed purely on the music. Often I’ll be out talking with someone and then realise that they are a producer or someone that I admire, and that’s cool. I’m not big on networking, I just like meeting people passionate about music. I'm moving to London very soon and in that sense it’s really nice to be moving down amongst a lot of friends who have been made through enjoying music.

How much do you think labels like Phonica and Aus Music are doing for this sound coming out of the UK?

They are both really pushing it. Phonica has quite a few labels now with Phonica, Phonica White and Local Action, all of which are pushing different sounds. Phonica is one of the London hubs for new music run by really good people with a good ethos. Same goes for Will Saul and Aus, he has such an open music policy and his release schedule is so strong. I have been a big supporter of the latest SCB release. There are so many good labels putting in the effort at the moment and I only really want to work with people who are involved with vinyl, and who really care about quality control.

Have you thought about starting a label?

Yes it is something I want to do and I’ll start seriously thinking about it at the end of this year and hopefully put it into action next year, I have a few ideas of how I want to go about it. I think with running a label you have to really trust the music as you will be spending the money to press it up. Quality control is a huge factor too, I mean I get so many promo’s from digital labels who are releasing two to three EP’s a month, to me that is too much.

Your latest Through Motion EP on Aus Music featured a classic Tevo Howard remix and he was undoubtedly the perfect choice to rework the track. Who was behind that decision?

Usually before a release we compile a list of remixers we’d like to have work on a track and Tevo Howard was one of them. Remixes can be hard as people you want may be busy or possibly won’t like the tune, so when Tevo agreed we were chuffed.

I've read that you have a bit of singing experience from your days in a boys choir, can we expect to see any Harry Aguis vocals in the future?

Well you already have on Through Motion, but sounding a bit weird, druggy and emo (laughs), I’m still a bit embarrassed to sing on any of my tracks. I really like the idea of a male and female duet. I had been reading a few interviews with guys like James Blake and Jaime Woon as well as thinking about it myself, the timbre of a voice is just a sound, if you detach all emotional context it’s just another sound that you can use. A lot of the sounds in Through Motion are actually my voice that have been stretched and effected, so a lot of the atmospherics are mangled versions of my voice.

So how have you found yourself developing your sound?

There is usually a common thread in my music and that is atmospherics. I buy a lot of music, so with my sets and what I am producing I’m still finding my feet, but I guess I will always be finding my feet. I have an idea of where I am going and I will be doing some other things once I move to London. There are a couple of vocalists I want to work with as well as playing around with some crazy electronica. It’s sounds so cliché but if I write an album it must have a real narrative to it, so I really need to be in control of my production and need to know what sort of direction I want to go in. I find it hard to look at my music objectively, I sent a new track of mine to my manager not thinking it sounded very me but he got back to me saying that it was sounding very Midland, so maybe I already have a sound, I couldn’t tell you, I’ll let others decide.

You have mentioned that you would like to work in music outside of electronic music production with the possibility of sound for film or producing bands.

I recently co-wrote a track with Ben Westbeech for his album which is coming out in the summer on Strictly Rhythm called "Stronger". For that we recorded around twenty different vocals, I also scored some cello which he then played as he's a trained cellist, we also worked with all sorts of synths and atmospherics. It's pretty deep and still gets my hairs standing on end, which after so much work I guess is a good sign. I learnt a lot from Ben about processing vocals as he has worked with them before, he knows his vocals. If I stumbled across a band that I liked who wanted to do an EP then I would definitely be up for doing something like that, it’s good to keep it varied and I really like the idea of bringing someones creative vision to life.

Still being relatively new to the international scene, how have you found it? Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll?

I have been working a lot harder on my DJ sets over the last few months as it has been getting busier. I still find it bizarre that people want to fly me out to their country put me up in a hotel and promote my name, it’s absolutely mind boggling. I don’t think it's fair to then turn up tired or rude and then get really drunk. I’m literally the least rock 'n' roll you can get, I’ll probably leave my hotel room tidier than when I found it.

What’s next for Midland?

I'm lucky enough to be playing in Copenhagen, Barcelona twice, Ibiza as well as a couple of festivals. I have remixes coming out for Tiga’s label Turbo Recordings and a little Berlin label called Something Sounds, as well as a release with Pariah at some point too.

What is your favourite tea?

I didn’t drink tea up until last year and I’m now a big tea man. I have two favourites at the moment, earl grey which has turned me into one of those people that don’t drink tea, who then start and suddenly turn into a snob (laughs). I have also been brewing some loose leaf darjeeling, what a ponce (laughs).

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  1. nice interview
    seems like a nice fella
    certainly is making good music atm

  2. Interview is a fantastic and i am totally impressed by this interview. I will also looking for this type of great interview in future.