Mistabishi: ‘I grew up in a teenage bedroom full of speakers and stuff to make noise with’
In 2008 former City banker James Pullen signed to Hospital Records, one of the biggest labels in drum ‘n’ bass. In August the following year he was nominated ‘Best Newcomer’ in the Drum ‘N’ Bass Awards following the release of his hugely successful debut album, ‘Drop’.
However his tenure at Hospital was short-lived and he soon retreated to the underground, re-emerging in 2011 with his second album ‘Trip’, a continuous mix of industrial, hallucinatory drum ‘n’ bass, featuring tracks with titles like ‘Industry Whore’ and ‘RWD The Revolution’, alluding to both his strong political opinions and his experiences as a producer for a relatively mainstream record label.
Today you’re more likely to find him performing at underground raves and festivals than in London’s superclubs. I caught up with Mistabishi to discuss politics, the underground music scene and the ever contentious issue of ‘live’ electronic music.
How did you get into music production in the first place? Did you have any formal training?
I’m a hobbyist. Amateur audio enthusiast. Audiophile geek. I grew up in a teenage bedroom full of speakers and stuff to make noise with.
You shot to the forefront of drum ‘n’ bass with the releases of No Matter What and Drop on Hospital Records and then the DNB Awards nomination. It must have been a pretty intense time for you – did you enjoy it?
The dizzying heights of DNBA nominations! In 2008 I’d only recently been made redundant from long-term employment, so was spun out for most of that time. I was lucky though, ‘cause I had this folder of music I’d made towards the end of 2007 that I was just sending out to mates, and various people were keen to play them at their events; specifically at Heaven in Charing Cross, where Hospitality were putting on drum ‘n’ bass events. They reminded people of the Rage parties circa 1996; hence the banging piano tunes and amen tracks I was making back then!
You’ve really embraced free parties since leaving the Hospital fold. What’s the underground scene like in 2012?
Utter chaos. Beautiful in its diversity in London. I’d been exploring that side of things since 2009 when I started to think that Bangface was the most enjoyable legit party to go to, and also seeing the Scumtek phenomenon. Up until then I had only dim schooldays memories of that kind of culture. I think where Hospital and I had a go at doing ‘old rave’, guys like Scumtek were doing ‘true rave’, all very ad hoc, last minute, as off-the-radar as possible and on a massive scale. Practically impossible in this day and age in the UK, making it all the more of an achievement for them, all at a time when everyone had less money than ever to party with.
What about in other countries? Have you had a chance to explore free parties abroad?
A few. France holds court to certain Spirally [Spiral Tribe] UK ex-pats who help with parties there so that’s a good starting point. There’s the likes of Frenchtek and that kind of breaksy-gabba sound they do over there.
You’ve been quite outspoken about the role of DJs as ‘live’ performers. Do you think traditional two-decks-and-a-mixer DJs will ever become obsolete?
When it comes to playing pre-recorded music, all I’ve ever asked is: ‘Does it really matter?’ Whether it’s off CD, vinyl, minidisc, 1/4″ Quantegy or a hard-disc, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just playback of music that I’ve made at home for a sound system party. It’s inescapably playback. It’s a record. No amount of playing other records over the top of those records is gonna stop it from being the playback of something I’ve made. I’m fine with that. I spent a long time getting certain records to sound the way I wanted on a sound system. Mixing music isn’t just playing two,three, four records at the same time for me. It’s the mundane process of dealing with 20 plus channels of audio that you’ve recorded and then trying to make a record out of them. That’s the reality of it, and it’s by far the most interesting part of it, for geeks like me anyway. As for the ‘live performance’ thing, I think that’s still open to debate as far as electronic music goes. There is a very rich world of noisy toys out there, well beyond the confines of recording mediums, some of them far more interactive than others.
You’re a big fan of the Korg EMX-1. Why do you prefer this to more popular hardware?
I’ve never seen anyone use it at a legit event. It’s all Pioneer and Apple logos these days, so to use something with a Korg logo on it feels quite nice, seeing as they were largely responsible for the sound of electronic music from 1962 onwards. It’s something to throw into the whole ‘can electronic music be live?’ debate too. I remade some tunes that have formed the backbone of various people’s DJ sets on it to try to show that it is actually possible to play other people’s records in a way that isn’t just playback. It probably just confused people more than anything! But it works a sound system nicely, has lovely low-end pressure in it, is suitably raw-sounding, and more than anything is just a lot of fun to use, so I’ll continue playing with it until something more fun/functional comes along.
Who or what is interesting you musically at the moment?
I found the whole Drag/Witch thing to be really interesting musically. Guys like Salem and CRIM3S. The scenester side can be a bit style-over-content at times (as with everything) but I just like where the music is coming from. There’s a lot of love in it, for better or worse… usually worse! It reaches further in than anything I’ve heard for a very long time. It’s like early Sub Pop made on a laptop whilst in bed with your lover after a heavy weekend or something. It’s a bit more ‘A-Level’ than the rave stuff that’s doing the rounds now, which can feel a bit GCSE sometimes. It’s the kind of world the music of The xx and Burial inhabit for me, although way more dramatic and extrovert in its ways. Very strong stuff. Whenever I’ve gone there it comes out too polished because I spent too much time making rave, but it’s a fascinating place. Google ‘CRIM3S’- they’ll put you on track.
What about elsewhere in the realms of culture? You make lots of references to politics and films in your music and on social media.
Culture in the sense of bacteria maybe! I’m getting more lefty as I get older. My personal politics are just of the individual. Largely Kantian. For now anyway. I haven’t been able to stomach a utilitarian outlook for a while. I’ve never felt that the greater good I was working for was particularly ‘good’. Maybe I consumed too much dystopian/utopian sci-fi as a kid and didn’t play enough team-based games. I was practically weaned on Star Trek morality tales. That’s a utilitarian paradise right there and we’re nowhere near that! I dunno, I like hippie shit. I’m not old enough to vote Tory yet. I could waffle on in a pissed-down-the-pub fashion about this all day really.
The remit of your Noh Music label seems to be pretty broad genre-wise. What would you say holds it all together musically?
Just me holding it together really. I haven’t released anyone else yet. But it’s just a flag to fly that other people might see and think that maybe their music would suit it, and to just give myself an outlet that no one else can contrive for their own agenda without asking me first!
Do you have any tips for people thinking about submitting material to the label?
Try to make something with a clear motive and try to put some kind of reality in the content. Find a poet or writer and use their lyrical content etc. Work with actual people as opposed to stage school types or people who have Pop Idol fantasies. That’s my biased advice anyway!
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
I’ll hopefully put out another LP of material suitably different from anything else I’ve done before under the Mistabishi name. And of course more Korg tweaking.
‘Trip’ is available now on Noh MusicTagged in: Drum 'n' bass, Hospital Records, James Pullen
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