MJ Cole chats to Dubzy about his new single ‘Rumble’ and playing The Warehouse Project. He also talks about festivals in Croatia and his stand out moments of summer
One of U.K. garage’s first true stars, MJ Cole’s work spanned Mercury Prize-nominated albums and a lengthy career as a remixer and producer. While growing up in London, Cole studied the oboe and piano, ultimately earning a degree in music from City University. He also immersed himself in electronic music culture, working as a tape operator and engineer for the drum ‘n’ bass label SOUR. Cole founded his own imprint, Prolific Records, and issued singles as Morf, Jilt, Spectra 1000 and Matlock.
While working on Ramsey & Fen’s 2-step remixes for Kym Mazelle in 1996, he caught the garage bug and worked on numerous productions as well as remixes for Soul II Soul, Goldie, Gwen McRae, Another Level and State Of Mind. “Sincere,” one of Cole’s first tracks under his own name, became a Top 40 hit in 1998. Recorded using a sampler and Atari, it was released via AM:PM and was one of the first charting garage singles. Soon after, Cole signed to Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label, who released the “Crazy Love” single in May 2000 and the full-length Sincere that July. The album’s quick, crisp production style earned him a Brit Award nomination as well as a Mercury Prize nomination.
Cole released another album, 2003’s Cut to the Chase, with Talkin’ Loud before leaving the label in 2004. That year, he began releasing a steady stream of singles and EPs on Prolific, including collaborations with Tubby T, Wiley and Elisabeth Troy. During this time, he remixed artists such as Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey, took his DJ set on the road and composed music for television ad campaigns. In the 2010s, he co-wrote songs with Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith, remixed tracks by Jess Glynne and Adam F, and produced tracks for Dizzee Rascal and Katy B. Lobster Boy Records released the single “Alcatraz” in 2016.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into the game?
Yeah, I’ve always been a musician from when I was a kid, kind of thing. Playing piano and got into the tech side of things and was a big Drum and Bass addict when I was younger basically and was lucky enough to kinda grow up when Dance music was just taking off, really. So I was kind of there at the beginning. I got into Dance music and studios and had stuff at home and just kind of of combined my classical knowledge with a bit of Tech in my bedroom and started making records basically, it’s as easy as that.
Tell us about how your latest single came together?
Me and my manager kind of started hearing about AJ Tracey, you know, about a year ago or something and we’d been going to gigs and stuff like that and I just really wanted to get him in the studio. I had a few beats kind of that I knocked up special for him and managed to get him in the studio and we just kind of made this track together, called ‘The Rumble’, that’s very about London and it’s kind of about the underground and it’s just kind of a hard track and it just sort of captures his vocals really well. It was a moment in time and I think it’s kind of a nice representation of London and the energy and the underground.
Would you say that there’s a potential for an album on the way?
Ooh, I’ve been thinking. I made two like ages ago and it’s always something that I’ve been close to doing or I thought I’m gonna begin it and I haven’t, so yeah. In my heart I definitely want to make another long-playing record, an album. I’m not sure when it would be, but erm; I definitely think in the next couple of years that I want to produce a big body of work, so yeah, an album. Watch out, but don’t watch too closely. Traditionally it hasn’t really happened, but I just like making records basically and if I make something good I want to stick it out straight away. So that’s normally what happens, I get some good bit together and then I think, “Ooh, I could stick an EP out now” and then get on with some other stuff. But we’ll see.
Let’s talk about your summer, you’ve been gigging out a lot, how have you found it?
Yeah, it’s been great. I’ve kind of had a really good festival season and I’ve been out in America and stuff, played lots of European festivals and club shows in the UK, so it’s been good, it’s been a good spread of things, from big outdoor stages to tiny little ‘grimey’ clubs, so yeah it’s been really good and I’ve managed to get some studio work done as well, it was hard to find a balance between the two, but I think it’s been a good summer and now we’re in winter, which is my favourite studio time.
Do you have a particular stand out moments from the summer?
I played Boomtown that was really good, first time I’ve ever played there really, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big and so mad, that was really good. I played Outlook in Croatia, that was really fun as well and then I did some London shows. I did XOYO with Todd Edwards, Wookie and Zed Bias, which was great to get us all playing together, so that was cool as well.
For anyone who’s thinking of trying somewhere new, maybe a new festival or holiday resort, what would you recommend?
I’ve got something in Romania that I’m doing in July, that I’ve never heard of before, but I can’t remember the name of the festival. Croatia’s always a good one, they’ve always got it going good out there, Outlook and stuff are really great, you can kind of get a bit of sun and get out on a boat and stuff as well. It’s just an all-round winner.
Could Croatia be the new Ibiza?
There’s a lot of festivals out there and I think, the government and stuff make it easy to run festivals out there, so there’s not many restrictions. So it’s cool, people are allowed to party and they seem to have a good time. You know, there’s Hideout and other things out there and obviously Drum and Bass is pretty strong out there, they have specific festivals for that. Yeah it’s cool, it’s good to get a bit of sun, Croatia’s actually a really beautiful place, so it’s a good place to party.
On the same vibe, but bringing it closer to home, your hometown, London. Where are the best places in London to try out?
At the moment, things keep closing, but there’s still some decent clubs around. Like I said XOYO is still running really strong and the same guys who run that have started taking over The Barfly Camden, which is now called The Camden Assembly. I played that a couple of weeks ago, which is like a little small venue, but its vibes in there basically. Places like the Nest in Dalston, they’re still really small, but pretty noisy, but there’s good vibes in there. There’s plenty of spots basically, in London still, there’s just not as many, but they’re still as good as they’ve ever been.
Back to our hometown, Manchester, I believe you played for the Warehouse Project recently?
Yeah I did, that was great yeah. I played 5 or 6 weeks ago, or something, but yeah it was wicked. I played New Year’s last year there as well, so yeah it always amazing to get up there and its always a unique vibe and I love the venue, it’s mad. It’s amazing, it’s one of a kind and everyone, all my DJ mates, everyone loves playing there, it’s the place to be, it just got a unique atmosphere, so it’s always good to play there.
You mentioned winter is studio time, is that how it goes down for you, do you just take a break from the gigs and jump in the studio and see the family?
Yeah, I try and kind of keep a balance going the whole time. For me when it’s not sunny outside, I get less distracted and there’s something nice about it being cold and wet and rainy and stuff outside and coming into a nice warm studio, it kind of feels even more inviting. Sometimes in the summer when it’s sunny outside, you come into sort of underground air conditioned hole and it like “what am I doing here?” I like autumn and that kind of time of year and I’ve always like Christmas and the holiday times, so it’s always just been a good time for me generally. I tend get some good work done. It’s kind of nice to look at next summer and know you’ve got a good few months, to sort of relax and sort of chill in the studio, just see where the vibe takes you basically.