There’s a lot of talk about the post-everything, ‘call it what you want’ scene. But cringey attempts at categorisation aside, it’s fair to say that British upstart Midland is the best reflection of that spirit you’re likely to find. His production flits between melodic, technical house, bassy churns and lush electronics, and his DJ sets are wide ranging; immaculate fusions of electronic goodness old and new. Here are some words from the man himself ahead of his latest EP for Will Saul's Aus label and an upcoming set at Bloc.
Before my sets I will always select a completely new bunch of tunes to the last set and then put them in a vague order. When it gets to playing it will always change, but I still like to have an idea of where I want to be going, even if I get there a different way
Dazed Digital: It’s almost a cliche to start an interview with you by mentioning how diverse your sound is etc - But how does that work when you’re DJing? Do you naturally just flow between styles at will or do you consciously plan it out?
Midland: Well, I find when I'm DJing I always like to try and have a narrative to my sets, to try and tell a story with peaks and troughs. The best DJs I have seen, people like Dixon, Villalobos, Michael Mayer on a good day are pretty untouchable in this sense. Before my sets I will always select a completely new bunch of tunes to the last set and then put them in a vague order. When it gets to playing it will always change, but I still like to have an idea of where I want to be going, even if I get there a different way.
DD: Are there any particular narratives - literary, cinematic, musical, or other - that have directly influenced you musically?
Midland: I find the whole interplay between music, literature and art very interesting, in the way that they can inspire each other. I recently read an amazing book called The Curfew by Jesse Ball, recommended to me by my brother. The whole way he played with, and clearly respected language was fascinating. I came away from that feeling totally inspired in music, both listening to and making. It’s just the same with photography. I recently saw a series of photos by Bruce Davidson titled ‘Subway’ which were shot on the New York subway during the 1970s, at a time when it was considered a pretty dangerous means of transport in terms of people getting robbed and hustling. They were just full of grit and grain, and were like film stills - not just pictures, but stories.
DD: Do you think audiences are more open-minded to different styles in one set - or indeed one track - now more than they were in the past?
Midland: That is a tough one to answer. I think to some extent people have always liked variety in sets but maybe the climate hasn't been conducive to it, or people haven't felt they can go that way until recently. It’s much more common for people to do it now, but this also presents problems as sometimes sets can jump around with no warning or direction and that just leaves people a bit stumped.
From my perspective, I think humans don't like sudden surprises, they like surprises they can sort of see coming but yet still surprise them - if that makes sense. It’s a control thing. In that regard, I think if you are going to change direction you need to give them warning - don't just go from disco to techno, find a tune that bridges them and then change gear.
DD: Your music is often described as ‘intelligent’. What are your thoughts on the importance - or otherwise - of intelligence in electronic music?
Midland: I don't think my music is intelligent - it actually makes me embarrassed, as there is so much truly intelligent music out there. Intelligence is a very objective thing. For instance I find Radiohead’s music intelligent and engaging but lots of people think it’s depressing and boring. I can't understand this view, and they wouldn’t be able to understand mine, but it doesn't make them any less credible. I think that more than anything it’s important not to be lazy when making music.
It could be a tracky club tune or a 10 minute piece of electronica - both have their places. Music that’s built with attention to details is so much more interesting to the listener. You might spend one hour panning the reverb on your kick drum, and it might only be heard by someone on his or her headphones on a train home, but it is still worth doing.
Text by Lee Smith
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