Always On The Grind: An Interview with Mala
Mala. Photo: Huy Cao
I had the pleasure of catching up with who I consider to be one of the founding fathers of bass music as we know it only a couple of days before his Gritsy show in Houston. From South London, Mala is not only a DJ and producer, but runs two labels: DMZ and Deep Medi Musik. Additionally, you might recognize him as being half of the dynamic dubstep duo Digital Mystikz. Last year, DMZ celebrated 10 years of throwing the most iconic bass shows, which transformed not only the UK bass scene, but music scenes all around the world. In this interview with Mala, we catch a glimpse of not only what’s in store for his future sound, but how his experiences and relationships have transformed his craft.
Free Press Houston: What kinds of things inspire you to create your unique bass sound?
Mala: It’s become so ingrained with who I am. I think it’s a combination of all things. It can be something simple, such as a conversation that you have with somebody and there’s a sentence or a couple of words that really trigger something meaningful or in your imagination. Also, growing up listening to jungle played a massive part in the design I was making. In London, we are very lucky to have a massive Jamaican community that came over [from Jamaica to London] in the 50s and 60s. We have a real live sound system culture, which we have had for many years. Our rich history and culture that is within the same lineage as a jungle influence me as I was growing up listening to jungle, sound system, roots, reggae, dub. In a way, you can say it’s a natural progression. Especially, when I look back, it makes complete sense that I do what I do.
FPH: Your first album was about your environment in Cuba and your second one was based on Peru. What do you think your next album will be inspired by?
Mala: I’m not sure yet actually. A couple of years ago, I went on tour in India. In Bombay, I ended up doing recording sessions for the day, but I ended up unknowingly, until it was happening, I was recording some really incredible musicians that are 6th, 7th, and 8th generation who have had music in their family for hundreds of years. I have been sitting on those recordings for some time. But, I honestly don’t know where I am going to head next.
FPH: The Boiler Room set you did this past June received a lot of attention. Has it changed anything for your or the UK bass scene?
Mala: The Boiler Room has asked us to perform since they started. And I’ve always said no. They are huge now in terms of going from a few people to having offices in different countries. It’s definitely a massive growth and I think that what they do is great. The whole concept as well. I always said “no” because a lot of the times, the Boiler Rooms that they are in don’t have a good sound system. The reason we were able to do the Deep Medi Boiler Room is because they really agree to provide everything to make it as authentic as possible, and that for me is key in everything that I do. I have to make sure what I am trying to translate is accurate as well. I think it’s very important to make sure the people that you are working with also care about making sure that everything is done properly. I don’t think it has necessarily changed anything for me, but it was a good experience and I am grateful of the kind things they said about me. I would definitely do another one.
FPH: What do you think of Gritsy’s “Wall of Bass”?
Mala: I love Suraj and all the Gritsy crew. I’ve played at Gristy shows for many many years now. I’ve played there on my own as well as with my partner Coki. I used to play there before they had their wall of bass, so I have seen their growth and changes that have happened. These are the type of people that enjoy and genuinely care about that the music sounds as good as it can possibly sound for the audience that are coming. That’s something we see all over the world that not enough promoters and clubs value their audience because sometimes you get to these places and you think that the sound systems and the environment is just shocking. Ultimately, it’s about the audience who pays their hard earned money to come and hear a night of music. I think that at least a venue or promoter should make sure the sound is good, you know?
FPH: What kinds of problems have you encountered in your career?
Mala: From different points of view, there are challenges we must face, whether it’s something from the label’s point of view or because I also promote my own events. I have had a record label for years, and I have been DJing for over 10 years, so having just one of those roles, there’s a lot to juggle, but doing all of them simultaneously, it can be a lot to juggle at times. I try and just focus on the positive lessons that you learn from these negative moments. I always think it’s best to handle things from a diplomatic and honest point of view, rather than burning bridges and getting up in someone’s face. I think there is a time when you need to tell somebody what’s what. I think that’s the problem with the scene, because you deal with your work on a personal level, people tend to work together and immediately become best friends as a result of that and I think that’s a lie. I have learned over the years, most people aren’t your friend, they usually just want something.
FPH: What do you do when you aren’t working? Is there anything you do just for fun?
Mala: To be honest with you, I work so much and all my time is spent working. Being in the music industry, I have just always on the grind. There are those standard things like watching films or reading, but it really is a blessing that what I love became my work. I really don’t see a difference anymore. It’s just my life and I feel very very grateful.
You can check out Mala this Friday, November 18 along with Kahn and Neek as Gritsy throws the bass event of the year at the Ayva Center (9371 Richmond).
by Nadine Obeid