Mumdance X Novelist – Take Time

Mumdance X Novelist: minimalism in the ends

© Tom Weatherill

Words by:

“Your tooth. What’s wrong with it?” Mumdance cross-examines Novelist’s recent ailments. His address to the 18-year-old Lewisham MC is forthright yet affable. Novelist quacks heartily at the producer’s protective probing. “They had to drill a hole in my tooth,” he explains. “It’s getting better. If I bite down too hard the nerve hurts but I’m getting a root canal. I’ve had to cancel bare Flatbush Zombies shows though.” The two artists begin an unbroken discourse that seems totally impenetrable.

After a year of collaborative releases, their friendship seems robust, bound by their ferocious work ethic and ardency towards grime. Their pooled work throughout 2014 lacerated the humdrum of 4×4 electronic music, culling melody for intensity. The marriage of Mumdance’s sparse production style with Novelist’s breakneck vocal delivery saw the light of day with the XL Recordings endorsed 1 Sec EP. “I actually met up with XL before Jack and I released Take Time,” Nov recalls on their first partnered tune. “XL caught my online activity with The Square [Novelist’s Lewisham stationed grime crew]. Then we released Take Time and it shut down the roads.”

Novelist and Mumdance, real name Jack Adams, met through Boxed London’s co-founder and ‘grime archivist’ Slackk following a guest session for NTS Radio. The pair instantly cemented a vigorous working relationship, producing their debut single, Take Time, in one swift sitting. “It really made XL want to get involved with everything Jack and I were up to,” Nov reflects on the dynamics between himself and Adams. “We were just free-rolling it. We went to the studio with no presets. Just vibe out and make something. So it’s a blessing that XL linked up. Sometimes it can go left or right with labels. You’re never really sure. But we just did whatever we wanted to do and the response has been mad.”

Being embellished with an XL-approved release certifies Novelist’s nascent future and is a heavy tick off Adams’ bucket list. “I’ve achieved two of my lifetime ambitions,” Adams chimes in, “having an XL record and having a little silver FABRICLIVE tin to my name. It means a lot to work with both of those institutions. My first memories of music were me and my friends at primary school sharing an earphone listening to The Prodigy’s Experience on a walkman. So the XL logo has been something very prominent in my psyche as I’ve grown. A lot of records I’ve bought have been on that label so it’s been great to be a part of that continuum.”

Unifying the magnetism of Novelist, the blooming adolescent, with the cultivated wisdom of Mumdance is a winning formula for Adams. Having instigated his career as a bass-sodden remixer signed by Diplo during the Mad Decent heyday of 2009, the producer traversed the international club circuit before falling silent around 2011. The name Mumdance was seldom voiced again until his aggressive return in 2013. Amidst the b2b collabs with Pinch and Logos, the self-released Twists & Turns record, and the decision to utilise outmoded sampling hardware in his live sets, something seemed darker, evidently tenacious about Adams’ reform. “I think I’ve got the weirdest career trajectory out of anyone that I know,” both Nov and Adams laugh. “I’ve been lucky in some things but essentially that luck will only take you so far. You have to work.

“I’ve learnt a lot from great people and have had a lot of great experiences. But early in my career, I was just working for ages trying to achieve something that was in my mind but I was unable to express musically. I wasn’t technically good enough as a producer. During my first wave I had to do a lot of remixes and learn on my feet. I wasn’t really as good as some of my peers. That was frustrating for me.”

So Adams took time off to revise the sound of his Mumdance project. “It made sense for me to just sit back and try and work out a sound which is mine. And I think people respect me more for keeping the Mumdance name during this transition – even though it isn’t the best name. But I’m not ashamed of where I come from. Others may disown their past, disown their tastes. I think some people use taste as a tool to belittle another person. That’s entirely wrong because music is music and everyone has their own opinion on it. You get the best music when you make it for yourself. When you try to fit in to a pre-existing set of ideas, disowning your tastes, that’s where you’ll suffer.”

© Tom Weatherill

Novelist consistently approves his friend’s assurances. “Exactly, Jack. I’d MC for my mates in my bedroom. Now I just get to do it for more people. And some producers just understand where you’re coming from technically. They might not completely get the culture but if they understand what you’re doing on the mic then that’s all you need. Then you can direct them.”

Thankfully, the Mumdance and Novelist pairing hardly required any direction. Every asset of the 1 Sec EP was perfectly mutual. “It’s called Mumdance X Novelist because we both have a hand in everything,” Nov explains. “Jack might suggest a lyric. I’ll tell him to move a bass sound around. It’s both of us creating it at once.”

Their results are protracted reassessments of grime constructed over isolated bass notes and scrambled drum loops courtesy of Adams’ latest hardware setup. “The main thing these machines offer is timbre and texture of sound; it has a very specific tonality to it. It’s natural for me to use this older hardware. It’s what sounds right to my ear. It’s a reflection of my taste.

“Freestyles, link ups, grime has always been there. It’s not just a sound. It’s the mandem in the ends” - Novelist

“I think that’s something that adds to the space in the tunes we write. Whereas a computer takes five minutes to create a drum loop, it might take me two hours to make something on a bit of hardware. I always find that software loops come together so easily that people always add too much to it. What we’re doing is an exercise in minimalism. Stripping things back to its very bare bones.”

“Yeah 100%,” Nov interjects. “For example, a lot of people don’t even realise that 1 Sec is basically two bass sounds and a couple of sound effects. No percussion.”

Adams resumes, “And that’s confidence more than anything. Nov is an instrument to the tune. When the 1 Sec instrumental was released I added a load of sound effects to help carry the tune. With Nov there, 1 Sec is like a setting for him, like a scenery, like a firework display. It’s almost like seeing what you can get away with.”

By applying attributes of rigid minimalism to their sound, the duo seem to be the harbingers of an evolution in grime’s established stylistic tropes. Yet the contentious subject of the genre’s false resurrection remains a tiresome talking point for both parties. “I’ve been doing pirate radio since I was 14,” Nov responds restlessly. “It has always been there and hasn’t randomly just returned. There’s always been something happening. Freestyles, link ups, grime has always been there. It’s not just a sound. It’s the mandem in the ends. All we do is spit bars. For people to call it a resurgence is a stupid summarisation about something they have no idea about.”

“It’s always a bit of a minefield,” Adams insists, “because people are very passionate about grime. But core scenes are always going to be there; from garage to hardcore to drum’n’bass. Obviously it’s essential for journalists to talk about new movements to help the sound get coverage but I can understand why it gets people’s backs up. Grime’s definitely moved from a London sound to a UK sound and taken its first steps into a worldwide sound. You have people like Rabit in America, Strict Face in Australia and they’re all bringing new ideas to the table.”

Despite grime’s misconceptions, both overseas artists and heritage forerunners are set on escorting the genre to the frontier of its potential. “Careers come in waves,” Adams believes. “I’ve had a wave before. Nov’s on a wave at the moment and there will be many waves to come. Nov and I are at the beginning of this stage of our career. You get given the tools and the opportunities but it’s up to us to take them. In my mind there’s still a lot more to be done.”

“Yeah,” Nov laughs casually, “a whole new wave.”

1 Sec is out now via XL Recordings. Mumdance appears at Field Day, Victoria Park, London, 6 June

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