When it comes to low-end science, few artists can match up with Mala. The DMZ co-founder and Digital Mystikz member continues to garner respect from across the board and his latest album, Mirrors, finds him experimenting with the Afro-Latin rhythms of Peru. This week on RBMA Radio’s First Floor, the Deep Medi boss speaks with Shawn Reynaldo about the genesis of his releases on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label and the artistic motivations that guide his endeavors as both a producer and label owner.
Listen to First Floor on RBMA Radio here every Thursday at 1 PM EDT.
What made you want to return to Latin music as source material?
It wasn’t really returning to Latin music that I had in mind, to be honest with you. When Gilles Peterson and Brownswood asked if I’d be up for doing another record for them there were a couple of suggestions that were thrown on the table. They were all a little bit too obvious. When me and my partner met many years ago, she always spoke about Peru. A lot of our close friends are Peruvian. She herself had been to Peru a number of times. She told me about her experience and her adventures there. We hadn’t been. We have two children and a lot of her friends had moved back to Peru; she used to live with some Peruvian guys and girls—a couple, actually.
They moved back to Peru. They also had children. It was in the cards to go out there to visit her close friends. That was one of the reasons that I knew I would always go to Peru, and the second reason was, growing up where I grew up, we were never told anything about Peru at all. The only thing I really knew about Peru was, obviously, the Incas, Machu Picchu, and unfortunately, as bad as it sounds, on Croydon High Street you might get the odd native Peruvian playing the pan flutes. It would generally be a really bad version of a Bryan Adams record or something, you know?
It felt like a perfect opportunity to explore a new world and take my family away, incorporate my family into the record. I put that on the table to Brownswood and they were shocked and surprised that it was Peru. Why Peru? From there, the more digging I did, the more interesting Peru became.
This record was actually finished last April. We waited over a year to actually put the record out.
How long did you end up spending down there?
The first trip we went was in November or December 2013. It was literally just after I’d finished touring the Mala in Cuba record. We went with my family for just under a month. That was the initial introduction for me into a few different things about the country, as well as the fundamental recordings I made. They were made in that first trip. I was introduced by Gilles to a guy named Martin Morales. Martin Morales is a Peruvian guy. I think he has actually the biggest collection of Peruvian music outside of Peru. He runs a record label called Tiger’s Milk.
Gilles knew him from many years ago through the music link. I got introduced to him. I went to his house and he kind of gave me a little bit of a crash course on Peruvian music. I knew nothing about Afro-Peruvian music until he introduced me to some artists and to some music. The same with the whole cumbia music that you find in Peru. This introduction from Gilles to Martin was really important. It just so happened that on my first trip to Peru he was also there. We crossed over by two days, so he set up a meet-and-greet situation. He was kind of scouting some new producers and musicians for his record label, and he attached my project on the end of it.
I was surprised how many people knew of my music and the history of DMZ. I was surprised at the amount of people who were really curious and interested in getting involved in the project. To be fair, it was very different from the Cuba project, in the sense that I was very much in Gilles’s world when I went to Cuba. He had already been going there for a number of years. He had really had his links, his musicians who he’d worked with. This was much more of a situation where it was kind of go out there and really discover what is out there for yourself. I was really surprised how giving and how much people really wanted to make a contribution. It really made that part of the process very easy, very enjoyable, and very educational at the same time.
The Deep Medi label which you run is turning ten this year. I was looking over the discography and I noticed that you haven’t put out a ton of music via that label in recent years. The last two albums have come out on Brownswood. I’m curious why you don’t release more music on your own label.
My label manager asks me that, and a lot of the artists ask me as well. To be honest with you, in a way, I actually set up Deep Medi to be a label which would be for my more experimental adventures which I was doing ten years ago, but it never worked out that way. At the time when I started Deep Medi I was also doing youth work. I was working with kids that had been kicked out of school, in trouble with police, domestic violence, all of these types of situations. I was running a kind of music studio where kids would come down and we would run workshops.
My mentality for a record label was always not about control and ownership. It was about providing a platform and providing an environment for people to develop, progress and be themselves. I guess that’s what Medi became. It wasn’t about my music. Even now, it’s not about my music.
It’s become about my love for this music. I feel very honored that people put that kind of trust and that kind of faith in you. I also know what it’s like to be a producer and an artist. You have all of these dreams and goals. You’re aspiring to be something. To do something with yourself. You know these things are deeply personal to people. There’s a certain amount of love and care that has to go into putting out music. Deep Medi’s never been about just signing a track and whacking it out.
I have relationships with the musicians on the label. Watching people develop, grow and move on over the years is something that I take a deep sense of enjoyment out of. That it’s that cycle is important. By people being able to do something that they love day in and day out, I hope that in some small way it makes the world a better place. I know that may sound kind of cliché, or something like this. I genuinely believe that if we’re able to find those things within our self, I think it makes us more open and potentially more giving, and feel like we’re more part of a community than maybe some people do.
I still think that you’re able to be successful and create a big opportunity for yourself by finding likeminded individuals, and that working together you can make things happen.
What is the current status of DMZ and Digital Mystikz, and do you think you will ever with your solo music go back to making that style of dance music again?
I feel like I’m at a different point in my production career, anyway. I love making dub – it’s not about “I’ve been there and done that,” because this music for me is continuous, it’s endless, it’s never ending. There’s always new music to be made. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been asked to make albums and I’ve done two consistently, even though it hasn’t been consistent with my audience. They’ve had to wait. There’s been a big gap. There’s been three years. This record was actually finished last April. We waited over a year to actually put the record out.
DMZ will always be DMZ. The way that is, the way that people see it and remember it, is it’s always been bigger than the four of us. When I say the four of us I mean Coki, Loefah, Pokes and myself. It was always everybody’s contribution, and that was the audience that would come down. There were other producers and DJs. It was the journalists, the photographers, and the bloggers at that early stage that would come down and really made it what it was. Again, we just provided that platform. Within myself, everything I do is kind of with that same mentality. I think we will do more events and there will be more records. Maybe not now, maybe not in the near future, but we’ve never shut the doors on DMZ. It was something that we never forced. It was something that was always really allowed to take its shape naturally and move the way that it wanted to. When it felt right to step back from it, we did that. Some people think we’re mad because we actually stopped doing the events when things were getting peak.
In hindsight, it was perfect timing. We did our ten year anniversary last year. I think 2000 tickets were sold in almost about five or six hours – we had nearly done the whole show. It’s something we leave open and it will always be open. I think it will always have fond memories for many people, as it does for us.