Everything Mala touches seems to have this innate sense of peace, a certain depth that cannot be faked. The dubstep pioneer is one of the most influential figures in UK bass culture, through his work with Digital Mytikz and his own always-evolving solo career.
The thread running through all this, though, is Deep Medi, the label Mala launched back in 2006. Opening in a period when dubstep was a defiantly underground flavour, it has grown to encompass many of the producer’s tastes and passions, guided by a commitment to future-facing sonics and that unrelenting lust for sub-low frequencies.
Reaching its 100th release, Deep Medi has prospered in an enormously difficult era for independent music, a resolute sight on the landscape of underground culture. In the beginning, though, it was an adjunct from Mala’s own position within dubstep’s blossoming innovation, born from a desire to release some of the dubplates he was cutting to power those formative raves.
“I was doing youth work at the time,” he recalls, “and I was getting sent so much music because of everything that was going on with (seminal dubstep night) DMZ, and I just wanted to provide a platform for other producers, really, for some of the music that I was getting sent.”
“I actually thought that I might put some of my more experimental productions that I was making at the time out on the label as well, but it never materialised. It ended up just becoming a home for all of the artists that I’ve worked with over the 11 years.”
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Driven by Mala’s curatorial instincts, Deep Medi’s catalogue has enormous breadth, moving from straight up dubstep rinseouts to impeccable grime futurism, all out noise, and even some areas of ambient composition.
“I think the music really defines the record label,” he explains. “I think the music always defines any record label. I’d like to think that there is a common theme or thread that aligns all of the music that I’ve released over the years. If you listen to a Goth Trad record, and then you listen to something from Kahn or a Gantz record. So, y’know, in that respect I’ve tried to always keep open-minded but I’ve never really tried to define what my open mind means.”
“If I’m able to play it in my DJ sets then it’s quite likely that it’s something that I would like to release. In terms of identity, I guess if anything it shows people a side to my music tastes, because there isn’t anything that I’ve ever released that I haven’t wanted to scream and shout about because I absolutely love it.”
“For me, that’s the most important thing, and one of the most enjoyable things about having a record label, it’s that you’re free to do exactly that without the worry of having to finance a huge staff or worry about maintaining a certain kind of clientele or reputation. The music has always spoken very loudly and clearly for itself, and it’s not my credit to take, it really is credit to all of the artists that I’ve worked with over the years.”
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A slim, at times solo, operation Deep Medi is driven by Mala’s thirst for the new, for the unheard. The A&R process is remarkably simple: he gets a tune, plays it out, lives with it, and develops a relationship with both the music itself and the creator.
“The dubplates that I cut and play, that really is the A&R for the label,” he insists. “I hear a track that a producer sends to me, I play it for six months, and in the meantime we’ll be discussing what we might plan to do throughout the course of the year. So a lot of the releases are generally processes that take a considerable amount of time.”
“One of the things that is important to me is that it’s not just about signing a flash in the pan – I really like to work with an artist who has got a vision of where they want to go, and also work long-term with people. Most of the people who record with the label work on several releases across more than a couple of years.”
Deep Medi, he continues, has never been an imprint who would seek out hype and then discard it. “From a label manager point of view I think it’s unfair to invest in something and then chop somebody only a few months down the line because what they’re doing now isn’t working for you,” he says. “I’d rather be patient to see if a relationship develops musically, and also personally as well. These are people who I get to know, and want to work with them to help their careers grow. I never jump on anything like that. I always take time. And that’s often the frustration with young producers, they have that mentality where they want everything quickly.”
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Ironically, though, one of Deep Medi’s most successful releases fell into place within a matter of days. Released in 2016, Sir Spyro’s ‘Topper Top’ saw Teddy Bruckshot and Lady Chann spray over an ultra-heavy grime beat, and it became one of the year’s defining bass releases, a system rinse out that was adopted by crews across the globe.
“We heard that on a Deep Medi boat party,” he recalls. “Kahn was playing it, and the track got like three or four reloads. At first I thought it was a Kahn track, but he was like, nah it’s Spyro. I didn’t know how to get hold of Spyro so I sent his agent a message, just saying I really I like this tune and introducing myself.”
“You never assume that people will necessarily know you,” he admits. “I know a lot of people in the grime world but not necessarily on a regular basis that we’ll connect, kinda thing. So I just reached out. I wanted to cut it on dubplate, to be honest with you, just to play it. That’s what I asked for. And within an hour they’d sent it back going: yeah, play it, cut it to dub!”
“Literally, I just got a call about three weeks after I got the dubplate saying: ‘Do you want to release it?’ It was one of those things that just fall into your lap. And that’s never happened in all my years of putting out music. It’s always been a process of getting tunes from young producers, getting tunes out there and seeing how they work in the dance, and playing them in a certain way for the impact to happen. You give it time and momentum to build up the desire. This one was very, very different.”
Managing to outlast passing fads and trends Deep Medi’s resolute mission is showing no signs of abating. New releases are planned, new projects are mooted, with the label set to hold a special all-star event in Brixton next month. Taking time off at the end of last year to be with his family, Mala is ready to embark on a fresh chapter, with little else but his own instincts to guide him.
“I needed some time to really get a bit of clarity and collect my thoughts, because you can just keep going and keep going and keep going,” he admits. “Gilles Peterson and Brownswood have asked if I would be interested in doing another album, following the two that I’ve already done for them. That’s definitely something that I’m going to get involved with, I imagine, at some point this year.”
At this point, Clash can’t help but drop the name of Digital Mystikz into the conversation… could Mala and Coki re-unite for some new music?
“We haven’t done a Digital Mystikz record for ages!” he exclaims. “But yeah, of course I speak to him all the time, he’s still to this day one of my closest friends. And yes, that would be nice. We’ve always spoken about doing a more extended Digital Mystikz project, so maybe 2018 is about time we make it happen.”
Ultimately, though, Mala doesn’t want to be constrained; with the aesthetics of his production style continuing to broaden, he wants to try something new. “That’s the interesting thing that nobody really discusses when you start out on this journey,” he says. “I’ve changed as a producer, really. 10 years ago I just wanted to make stuff for the dance, and dubplates, but as I’ve got older my music tastes have changed. The music that I sit down and write when I’m in the studio isn’t the same type of music that I play in my sets.”
“So it kind of poses some interesting and challenging questions for myself, because where am I going to go? What is it that I’m going to do? I’m not quite seeing where the wind blows, I’m getting focussed and looking forward to doing something in the studio.”
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Deep Medi hit Electric Brixton, London on February 16th.
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