'Sankofa' is both a word and symbol native to the Akan language of southern Ghana that stands for the notion that it is OK, in fact imperative, to keep looking back at the past as we move forward. After speaking to London-based producers Mumdance and Logos, and understanding how they approach sound and songwriting, DJ Mag is reminded of this term since it applies in many way to their modus operandi.
Together and separately, this duo is turning the tropes of grime, bass music, techno, jungle, hardcore and beyond on their head. They're utilizing much of the skill-sets these genres relied upon during their nascent days to create a gamut of sounds that reek of innovative newness. Their collaborative LP 'Proto', which comes out on Pinch's Tectonic label, is a culmination of many of these experiments, and DJ Mag is on hand to investigate the story behind some of the most interesting music currently being made in the UK.
Much like sankofa stresses the importance of acknowledging our roots, understanding Mumdance and Logos' respective histories is integral in seeing how they've ended up where they're at today. Although they both grew up on a lot of the same jungle, hardcore and techno, they progressed in parallel scenes throughout the mid/late 2000s until they met in 2012. Logos (James Parker) was heavily into dubstep, and spent its halcyon days going to FWD and DMZ. Mumdance, meanwhile — aka Jack Adams — actively attended drum & bass nights in the capital such as Movement, whilst DJing and producing under Diplo's Mad Decent umbrella. He took a break from the spotlight and moved to Brighton for two years in 2010 to figure out a new direction that rang truer to his personal tastes and his musical maturation over the years.
A newly focused Mumdance moved back to London in 2012, ready to jump back into the fray. Logos spent that year co-founding instrumental grime night Boxed, as well as releasing an EP with an abstract and deconstructed take on grime on Dusk and Blackdown's boundary-pushing Keysound Recordings label. Kismet occurred one evening late in the year when Mumdance happened to tune into Dusk & Blackdown dropping the Logos track 'Cloudbursting' on their Rinse.fm show. “I heard it and thought, 'Here's a man after my own soul making music that I would've made',” he reminisces. “I'm a firm believer of acting on something if it feels right, so I contacted him pretty much straight away. He came round within the week, and the first night we hung out we wrote 'In Reverse' and 'Move Your Body' during that one session, and it just went on from there over the last two years.”
'In Reverse' proved to be the first collaboration between the producers that saw release, with its inclusion on Keysound's 2013 compilation, 'This Is How We Roll'. Its epic wall of otherworldly noise, pricked by sporadic sub-bass freak-outs played backwards with a percussive crescendoing effect, garnered a lot of attention from a wide range of people due to its 'I have never heard anything like this before, but I somehow get it' effect. It, and all of the duo's subsequent releases, hinge their success on this idea of making something fresh out of a pre-existing template in a way that's as exciting as it is strangely familiar.
“We want to make spacially untethered club music,” Logos rationalises. “None of us are interested in solely looking back — we're trying to do something that's banging on the dancefloor, but also has bits that are genuinely new. Not that I have anything against techno, because I don't at all, we want to do something that's more a representation or a step beyond 4/4. We're not trying to tear down the walls and build completely new buildings, we're trying to push existing ideas forward, yet within this UK soundsystem tradition that incorporates drops — and that sort of impacts in ways that haven't been done before.”
Fast forward to the present and, after releasing a fair few more tracks together, as well as major solo and side projects, Mumdance & Logos are releasing 'Proto', a compilation LP focusing on their more club-orientated output. Fans of their Rinse.fm shows, parties and DJ gigs will recognise a fair few tunes that have been floating around the ether for a while, including the other fruit from the duo's initial 2012 recording session, 'Move Your Body'. Although 'Proto' has beats on the majority of its tracks, unlike their more ambient productions, it is still aeons away from a conventional dance music LP.
“The stuff we make isn't really four on the floor groove-orientated,” explains Mumdance. “It's more based in sound design than anything, and that's why we spend days making just sounds. We like making weird noises, and the subsequent challenge of putting them within a context into their own space. For 'Proto' we have concentrated more on the dancefloor, even though the arrangements are more entropic and future-facing. We have definitely tried to make the holy grail: something interesting enough to listen to at home, but banging enough to keep people moving.”
“I see 'Proto' as a continuation from when we started making music like 'In Reverse' on Keysound,” Logos expounds. “That was deliberately heavy dancefloor material. We weren't even really thinking about grime particularly in that context, we were more referencing in an interesting and not slavish way things that inspired us from the early 1990s. A lot of early American techno, stuff that wasn't as syncopated, like Joey Beltram.”
“Yeah, Joey Beltram was definitely a huge influence,” Mumdance agrees. “Holy Ghost, a lot of that early Tresor stuff as well. The album is called 'Proto' because it's about the times when there weren't any particular rules. For instance, when jungle started, everyone was doing all sorts of weird things to it because there were no rules attached to it yet. Everyone was exploring these seemingly endless possibilities; meeting up at the cutting houses and asking each other, 'How the fuck did you do make that sound like that?'
Gradually all these fledgling movements became more of a style and moved from entropy to redundancy, and it introduced a paradigm that the artists had to fit into. Then it evolved into genres like drum & bass, where the rules were so strict that it became all about the production. A 'who could get the loudest kicks or snares?' sort of thing that existed within the confines by valuing production over ideas. What we're interested in is those brief periods of time when people were just doing what they wanted and it was truly about the ideas. A lot of the early grime, jungle, hardcore was incredibly creative, with horrible production and sound, and that shit is seriously timeless. These genres that we're influenced by always wanted to make something that sounded futuristic and new, so we tried to keep that mentality whilst applying those old school colours, aesthetics and production techniques to make forward-facing tracks.”
Although described as “a set of club tools” by the two, 'Proto' is presented in a way that it can still offer a satisfying start-to-finish listen, as well as provide a DJ with a hefty set of encapsulated pieces of ammo. “I didn't have much to do with the programming there — it was Logos' and Pinch's thing,” Mumdance points out. “It works great though with 'Border Drone' starting it and 'Cold' at the end. We were having conversations for about three weeks on how to order the tracks, but I was definitely more into chucking it out there, so I'm glad that Pinch and Logos made a point to order it correctly because I think it paid off.”
One track in particular sticks out from the rest: 'Dance Energy (89 Mix)' sounds as obviously retro as its name implies. “That's an intentional homage to those proto-eras that influenced us,” Mumdance discloses, “especially the period surrounding bleep in the wake of Mark Bell's recent passing. Both Logos and I are fans of vintage hardware, so we're using what they were making to make these bleep tracks — bar recording it to tape. Everything else is exactly what they would have done.”
Logos adds: “I'm quite a fan of willfully fantastical titles. So '89 Mix' implies there's different mixes of this track, but in reality it is the only mix of the track. We wrote it really quickly — it took about four hours to write it.”
The rest of 'Proto' brims with the kind of pioneering energy that Mumdance and Logos have referred to throughout our chat. Its closing track, the beatless 'Cold', taps into yet another side of the duo's recent creative manifestations. 'Weightless', as it's been dubbed by them and championed by journalists and heads alike, references this style of club tracks bursting with space and silence whilst lacking percussion or grooves. Much like the rest of their output though, even with the lack of drums, the pointers are there: there's sub-frequencies, builds, drops and other pointers that dictate when to dance and how to ingest and experience them like you would anything else on the dancefloor.
“James [Logos] always made that sort of stuff,” Mumdance nods. “For me, the weightless thing came about via my Rinse.fm show. We both come from a time when DJ sets are a journey. Nowadays people just bang out drum tracks for an hour and it's just noise. You need to have different stages for things to have an effect, and to vary it up you need to use DJ tools... so I was using these largely ambient tracks as breakdowns before switching up what I was playing. I initially called them 'palette cleansers' before we called them 'weightless', and would play a block of them at a time. Everyone asked us what this section of my show was, so I called it 'Weightless'. The idea was there before the word.”
“Mumdance and I have influenced and taught each other about music a lot,” Logos explains further. “There's cross-pollination of both of our ideas. We've taught each other different production techniques we didn't think about before. Now we have a way of working that's a hybrid of both of our styles, and it's coming out in our solo work as well. It's really interesting because weightless came from that. I came at it from more of a soundscape and drone angle, and Jack [Mumdance] was also always into it, but more from a shoegaze background. It's almost like the same feeling and mood, but we approached it in two entirely different ways. That's why we work so well together.”
Weightless eventually made its way at the end of last year into the title of the debut release on Mumdance and Logos's record label, Different Circles. A cast of like-minded innovators, including many up-and-coming younger producers, supplied their takes on this notion of 'beatless club-tracks' to make up the ground-breaking compilation. Just a few months old now, the second and third Different Circles releases have already been planned out. Up next is an EP from Logos, which features a remix from Berlin's Shapednoise, followed by a set of “anthems” from grime contemporaries Rabit and Strict Face.
At the time this interview was conducted, Mumdance and Logos were busy practicing to join the noise and industrial-techno-leaning Shapednoise on-stage at Berlin's CTM Festival. Mumdance explains: “We're doing a thing with myself on a modular synthesizer, Shapednoise on his own modular, and Logos with a 909 and a Tempest. It's going to be interesting with all these different bits. We've done live gigs individually, but not together yet. We haven't got direct plans for touring yet, but it's something we've talked about for a while — moving into the art and soundscape world.”
“Yeah, well, it's something different as opposed to just playing DJ gigs,” jokes Logos.
Alongside Logos's upcoming EP, and some other potential releases in the pipeline, Mumdance is set to release a 'FabricLive' mix in March. “It's an extension of my radio show and what I play in the clubs,” he reveals. “It'll start out with ambient/weightless, move into that 130bpm space Logos and I were operating in for 'Proto', transition into grime, and finish out with hardcore. Also [grime MC] Novelist and I have an EP that just came out on XL. We recorded a special version of the lead track on that EP just for the 'FabricLive' mix. It'll also see Logos's upcoming Different Circles EP.”
Making a joke about how the world's going to be sick of them by the spring after each of their flurries of releases, both Mumdance and Logos mention that they'd like to move into producing beats for vocalists and possibly even rappers. It's easy to imagine how brilliant a Björk or Kanye track spearheaded by their rule-renouncing, genre-defying version of sankofa would be. Given their well-deserved exponential success, both together and as solo artists that constantly influence each other, it's entirely possible.
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