MJ Cole and Boom Monk Ben guest at Mixed Bizness
The musician on about garage, Mercury nominations and piano albums
Dance music moves on fast and a problem for any artist who comes to define a fashionable genre is how to keep up with the times and not get left behind. For MJ Cole, 37-year-old Londoner Matt Coleman, the first flush of success was swift and overpowering. Gaining acclaim as a pioneering UK garage producer, he released his debut album Sincere on Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label and watched as it was swiftly nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000 and held up beside Leftfield’s Rhythm & Stealth, Coldplay’s Parachutes and the eventual winner, Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast.
‘I’ll always be proud of that,’ says Coleman now. ‘The club of Mercury nominees is a good one to be a part of.’
Yet at the same time, it raised expectations to an almost unmatchable degree. One album followed, 2003’s Cut to the Chase, and then Coleman took a step back. He still produced and remixed others’ work, but without maintaining the same high profile himself. Until now that is, following the release last year of ‘From the Drop’, a track with Wiley on Coleman’s own Prolific Recordings, and the co-written and produced ‘Something in the Water’ on Example’s Won’t Go Quietly.
So what does the 2011 MJ Cole set sound like? ‘Pretty much not garage,’ he says. ‘I do play some older garagey tracks, but these days I’m much more up front. Bits of funky house, dubstep, hip hop - new stuff mixed with a little bit of old spice. The music I’ve been making these last couple of years has put me in touch with a network of people who are doing similar things.We swap tracks with each other and that inspires me a lot, keeps my finger on the pulse.’
Who are we talking about here? Just mates, or … ‘Well, I share a studio with nine other guys here in London, so people like Graeme Sinden (of The Count & …), DJ Zinc, then people in the States like Drop the Lime, Diplo, Toddla T. Music has broadened out so much these days but in a good way, and these guys all reflect the styles I like – bass-led and underground, but with a tempo that moves all over the place. That suits me, because I can occasionally reference back to the garage sound without actually having to play an old-school set. That was something I got bored of doing.’
Later this month Coleman will be releasing Satellite, an EP on Prolific, which he describes as four instrumental tracks of ‘wintery stuff, quite deep and textural’. Also on the cards will be more production for artists such as Tempa T and Example, and a long-planned piano album. That’s piano, not piano house: in a past life, Coleman was taught at the Royal College of Music and appeared on the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year.
‘Yeah, it’ll be fairly simple, atmospheric stuff,’ he says. ‘Just me on a piano, maybe a bit of reverb or chopping up and reversing. Going back to my roots.’
And might that third album be unveiled some time soon? ‘I’m warming to the idea. I like releasing EPs that capture where I am that month and then let me move onto something else, but maybe at some point a bigger statement will be required.’
MJ Cole plays Mixed Bizness at Glasgow School of Art, Fri 18 Feb alongside Hint (Tru Thoughts) and resident Boom Monk Ben.