Obsessed with precision: MJK’s three-deck mixing connects dubstep, grime and techno

today20/11/2023 9

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One mix that stands out for me with your use of three decks is the Ilian Tape mix where it seems like you have a different mood or genre set up for each CDJ.

I was genuinely very, very proud with that one because it was the first time that I really put my heart and soul into using three decks and it came out just how I wanted it to. I plan out all my sets by jamming. Whenever I do a radio show it’s completely off the cuff but that’ll come from the best parts of what I’ve done in maybe two, three hours of jamming. A lot of times I’ll get little brain waves when I’m live, so I do also think it’s important, even if you’ve planned two hours, to do the spontaneous mix you’re thinking about and see how it works because that’s how you find all the great moments.

I’m very pro planning, but I think the way you plan should be so spontaneous and free that if I need to deviate from any one of these jams I can.

A lot of the time I like to pitch tracks up by turning off master tempo on the CDJs and making them faster. What I’ve recently got into now is pitching them down and trying to see what they sound like when they’re slower. I like giving tunes new contexts.

In this mix I play ‘Footcrab’ at 120 BPM. I’ve always loved ‘Footcrab’ but I’ve never really played it that much, not for any particular reason, but now at 120 it’s a completely different tune and it does completely different things. That’s what I love most about DJing, that sometimes that you can flip a tune on its head.

A lot of the time these things don’t sound good too. I’ll never show you the ones that just don’t work but I can go through a thousand tunes playing them at all types of different BPMs and you won’t get anything.

Now that you’re a three deck wizard, do you think playing on two decks is boring?

I still like doing stuff with two decks, for example on Tasha’s show we were going straight one for one the whole time. You can definitely enjoy both. I think the great thing is that whether you’re playing two, three, four, five, or six tracks together, what matters is the journey between tunes.

You can still do some mind-bending stuff with just two tunes. Growing up, my favourite sets were definitely performed playing just two tunes. For me now, I like doing stuff with three decks because I’m very much a momentum-based person and that way I can keep it moving.

One of the most eye-catching parts of your sets is when you employ fader chops usually associated with grime DJs, quickly bringing in and out a tune, but with 4/4 techno.

That was just the result of trial and error too. When I was doing a lot of grime it was wig power station, obviously hold tight General Courts, hold tight Grandmixxer, hold tight Neffa-T.

When I was doing grime it was really really fucking technical. Rolling, chopping, quick mixing. A lot of the time I’d be playing straight eight-bar tunes, making new tracks by chopping in different signatures to change what you heard.

I guess I still chop just as much, but as I have a lot more tool-y stuff now, a lot more 4/4, I can really make a groove. I can do a lot more than chopping two grime tunes, and it’s a bit more dance-oriented.

There’s different rhythms going around.

Yeah, I think the beauty is that the training that I had from playing grime and mixing in that way meant that when I started playing techno, it was second nature to try the same sort of technical flourishes.

I didn’t realize the scope of it until I watched DJ Bone’s Attack mix. If anyone hasn’t watched it, please do it’s fucking amazing. Skee showed me that when I was in Munich and my mind was blown, I thought “he’s playing techno like grime.” What he does is insane, I’ve never seen stuff like that. A lot of the old techno guys are doing stuff that Neffa-T does now, they beat juggle and have the same tunes going all time.

It’s so good to see that the similarities from both the cultures are there. There was a realisation that people can and have been doing what we’re trying to do. I was like “yeah, I want to be on that flex, I wanna try that shit!”

You’re officially a Rinse FM resident now.

Yeah, I’m really excited, especially because I’m super proud of the first show. Me b2b Zed Bias… at no point did I envision this happening. They say don’t meet your heroes but this was insane. There was so much chemistry and I was just nerding out with him, showing him all of the Zed tunes that I had. I was going like “I want you to know it took me ages to get this one”, stuff I’d been looking out for and bugging people about for years.

He was even surprised that I was drawing for these. Having someone like that and speaking about all these tunes that you hold in such high esteem was one of the best feeling to have and then on top of that the show was fucking great. So on every level even sonically and for a personal level. It was a great show.

Alongside Zed Bias you’ve already played b2b with re:ni and Tasha, is there anyone else that you’d like to play with on your show?

For sure. I’m in a very unique position where I can come on Rinse FM and invite someone I’ve always wanted to play with. I want to make my show a place where you can come and do whatever you want and get into stuff I’d never play and do those things I’d never do. I still really want to do a lot of two hour solo shows but yeah I’m definitely excited to get some guests on.

The Zenkers definitely stand out as someone I’d want to play with, I’ve got a couple of others I want to ask on the show but I don’t want to spoil it… you’ll have to lock in. I do need to do part 2 of my b2b with Tim from Tim and Barry on Rinse, we played together on their NTS show a while back.

What can we expect in the future from MJK? You’ve just gone full-time music right?

Yeah, as of maybe four weeks ago! This is my job, listening to and playing music. I hope it lasts forever. It’s an insane privilege, especially given all the hardship going on right now that I can do this.

My b2b with Neffa-T at The Cause has just been announced, I’m really excited about that.

In terms of production, when I made the ‘Patchworks vol. 1’ EP with Skee it was the first stuff I’d made in a while. I do want to get my space together so I can make something by myself and I’ve got things I’m gonna do with other people too.

I really want to explore different types of music and get back into my normal producer bag, I haven’t had the time since I’ve had to work for at least 40 hours a week. I don’t have that excuse anymore, so it’ll be nice to see what I can do with this freed up time.

I was doing seven to four hours and again because my job was so demanding, I was so busy, very customer-facing and I had to deal with a lot of people. I was responsible for a lot of things, I couldn’t go part-time, it was hard for someone to cover me so if I had a show a lot of the time I would have to go back to work. When I was doing cover shows I’d be working and luckily get off just early enough to come in and do it.

I’ve done a lot of all nighters and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. The last year I’ve very much been grinding. I would be preparing for shows on my lunch break at work, going and doing the shows after. It was non-stop and I got very little sleep but the beautiful thing is that because I never said no to an opportunity I am where I am now.

As much as I love to complain, and people always complain about their jobs, I was very blessed. I was in a position of privilege the whole time, but it was a lot of work. I was happy doing that when I started and things were beginning to move slowly move again. After moving to London the only show that I really played that year was with the b2b2b2b with Victor, Oblig and Skee Mask at The White Hotel [in Manchester] for seven hours straight.

They must’ve given Skee a residency or asked him to do the show, and he just chose me, Oblig and Victor to play with him. We just did it and there wasn’t really any buzz or anything to follow it. I didn’t have a radio show. It was such a great b2b but I didn’t get any interest off it. That’s not to complain, even at that point I was very blessed.

Finally, how would you describe your mix?

I’d like to think of this mix as an amalgamation of all the sounds and experiences I’ve had up to this point. I’ve been working on it for a while and I’ve found and explored a newfound appreciation for playing at a slower tempo but keeping the context the same as when I’m playing at my normal pace.

I’m always working on trying to find the perfect balance with every set or mix I do and although I know there is no such thing I very much enjoy the journey regardless. I guess that would describe this the best, it is a snapshot of my musical journey and a reflection of the things I’m working towards.

‘Patchworks vol. 1’ is out now via Obligated Records, buy it here

Tibor Heskett is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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