23 and 24 March will finally see the arrival in New Zealand of an international dubstep artist. The artist in question is Mala of Digital Mystikz from the UK, one of the styles most well known global ambassadors.

At this point, I guess some of you will be asking, ‘what is dubstep’. In a certain sense I am loathe to describe dubstep as music because its true beauty is its lack of formula and freeness of form.

As Mala put it to me, ‘The true freedom of this music is the ability to always write differently and move beyond set templates. The point of music is to create sound freely, if it works it works and that’s all that matters‘.

Regardless for the sake of description for those of you interested who are not familiar with the sound, dubstep could be considered a development of the darker South London based two-step sound but with more dub, reggae, dancehall and ragga elements. The focus of the sound is far more instrumental then another style it is often compared to known as grime.

Digital Mystikz have really brought out the reggae and dub elements in the music and considering Aotearoa’s bias towards roots music could be considered the perfect introduction to dubstep for this country. To be even more blunt they have just completed a stellar remix of Cay’s Cray’s by Fat Freddie’s Drop, and as we know, a move like this is always a huge aid in any group/artist earning New Zealand’s love.

To put things further into context I am going to drop some of Digital Mystikz promotional material into the interview to further help you place these artists and the music in context.

Digital Mystikz’s love of reggae, dub, early jungle, and dark garage has created an evolutionary sound that mashes extreme amounts of sub bass with hyper-spaced riddims, rattling your rib cage with an earthquake of musical harmony.

Having drawn the road-map to dubstep with thunderous tunes on the likes of labels Tempa, Tectonic, Rephlex, Big Apple and Planet Mu, Digital Mystikz have setup DMZ, the label and club night. Held at Mass in London, the night has reached legendary status, with no less than 1000 punters up for each dance. The label features genre-defining outings from Mala’s epic Anti War Dub, to Coki’s Shattered and Loefah’s half time minimalism on Horror Show. DMZ have defined the true sound of dubstep – undiluted and RAW as a lion’s lunch!

Further to DMZ’s own successes are their recent releases on the legendary Soul Jazz, a label always on point in predicting the future of bass culture. With coverage from Radio 1 DJs Mary Anne Hobbs, Zane Lowe, Pete Tong, and Gilles Peterson, the DMZ ruffness is booming from the echo chamber at unprecedented levels.

I first spoke with Mala from Digital Mystikz a few weeks ago. At first, I was a little confused by the amount of noise going on in the background, but Mala put it into context quickly.

‘I’m a youth worker during the days. I work out in the ghetto areas teaching the kids about electronic music production as a way to try to channel their frustration and anger into something positive. It’s a tough grind you know, most of the kids are 13-19 and about 95% of them what to make Grime and the other 4% are mostly into Hip-Hop. In general it’s a really raw gunman sound and they’re wild you know. No respect for nobody, not even themselves. I worry about what’s going to happen to a lot of them over the next two years.  

You see music has always been a form of escapism for me from my day to day reality. I just love it you know, heading into those darkened venue rooms and soaking up the bass and pure sound.

When I am in that environment I feel like I’m free and nothing else matters. It’s my meditation against the struggle, my escape from Babylon. This music has always allowed me to sink into the moment and just enjoy the now for what it is with no reflection on the past and no worries about the future.

I try to push a real light at the end of the tunnel vibe and bring a serious positive and conscious sound to dances, and beyond that a physical sound you can really feel, true sound system culture’.

At this point in the conversation we were cut off due to a phone error on my part and plans were made to re-conference when the following week when Mala got back from a short trip to New York City to play some shows.

As fate would have it his return flight to London was canceled due to an airline strike and he ended up in NY for several more days before flying direct to Belgium to play more shows.

As a result, the rest of this interview was compiled via email. I present below the transcripts for your reading pleasure.

What can the audience expect from a DMZ show? 

I am not one to hype myself or talk about what will happen as I think music should speak for itself and you never know how it will be on the night. One fact I do know though is I will have box of music on dubplate that the people have never heard before.

What are you looking forward to about playing in New Zealand?

I look forward to bringing my sound to a New Zealand crowd and spreading a positive vibe. I also look forward to meeting the locals, seeing as much of the country as possible and eating good food.

Where do you see your sound going over the next year?

I have dates booked in Japan, Australia, Russia, Canada and USA.  We also just did a DMZ event in New York, at which everyone had an amazing time, good peoples and good vibes. I am also busy in Europe with France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Estonia. This year I am really getting to see other parts of the world. It is truly is a blessing, I feel very lucky and I hope I can continue to spread the positive DMZ vibe.

What are some artists you would recommend to someone who enjoys Digital Mystik’s music but isn’t that knowledgeable on dubstep?

Loefah, Kode 9, Skream, D1, Pinch, Benga, Kromestar, Hijak, Goth Trad and Tunnidgem. There is a lot of good music out there.

How did you hook up with Fat Freddies Drop for the Cay’s Cray Remix?

It was out of the blue. I was asked to support them at the show they did at Brixton academy in Brixton, which is a 5 minute walk from where we hold our DMZ dances. I knew nothing about Fat Freddys Drop.

Anyway, I was sent some music from Charlie Kartel and he said if you like anything on there let me know and I’ll send you the parts. I got the album the next day and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard them before. I loved the sound instantly and so did most people I played it to.

So distinct, such a deep vibe. Real soul music, NZ soul music. Since Cay’s Cray’s was being released, I was sent those parts to experiment with.

Doing a remix is totally different from how I would normally approach making a track. Instead of just creating freely, I found myself writing with a more definite intention and purpose, which is something I’m not used to. I listened to all the parts and felt a great sense of responsibility to create something I thought would show what I thought was amazingly special in the track.

Joe Dukie is deep, his vocals are amazing, so much depth, pure soul. I listened to the accapella for ages thinking there is nothing I can do. It sounded too good to touch. One night I just got on a beat, found the space and mood that I had in my head and created.

Writing music is weird to me, it’s so natural, a track almost writes itself. Hearing one sound triggers me to find the next sound, which I know because of the sound I just used, but at the same time, you don’t know it until you hear it.

The next afternoon I worked on it and things just seem to flow out, I built the track around the vocal. I really wanted to change it up from the original so I played additional parts and added in the melodica (which he played also). I wanted to add my surroundings and soul to it.  I only used the vocals and a little bit of the trumpets at the beginning. I remember spending good time on it, because I wanted it to sound tight.  I was honoured to be asked and in a way didn’t want to let anyone down. I managed to get a version done that was liked. So it was released with some other remixes. I loved the whole process. Getting to work with such amazing audio was a blessing.

I remember the first time I played it at DMZ and the track changed the mood of the dance, it was and still is very different compared to what gets played by most of the DJs.  People flash up lighters and sing a long to it now, the vocal is just so deep.

Freddy’s are the shit man, to play just before them and seeing them live in South London playing to 5000 people was inspirational, they were so tight and it was different to see a band with no live drummer! Mu’s beats are tight, as I said I love Fat Freddy’s Drop.

I have played their music to a lot of people. The whole experience has giving me some priceless memories.

Mala from Digital Mystiks performs in Wellington 23 March @ Sandwiches and Auckland 24 March @ Galatos.

Martyn Pepperell