Mr. Mitch is in a lane of his own making
Mr. Mitch doesn’t have a Vengaboys tattoo.
Not yet, anyway. “I’m very tempted,” he says, a chuckle masking the seriousness of his consideration. If he did get one, it would go on his forearm. “I’m trying to wear my interests on my sleeve,” he explains, “letting people know that I’m not embarrassed to be into this, and I’m going to be pursuing it even more.” If this sounds like a curveball from an artist best known for his tender explorations of fatherhood and for responding to grime war dubs with ‘peace edits’, just listen to the aptly-titled SPEEED – the heady Eurodance banger that closes his latest EP, WORK! – and you’ll understand his logic.
Glasses: Artist’s own, Sweater: Diesel, Trousers: Asos, Shoes: Dr Martens, Jewellery: Artist’s own
For the past 12 years, Mr. Mitch – a.k.a. Miles Mitchell – has occupied an unusual space in UK dance music: simultaneously claiming the kind of grime scene credentials that many would trade a limb for (beats for Skepta, Trim, Manga; co-founder of London’s influential Boxed night), and releasing albums of emotive, pared-back electronic pop that you could file next to Sampha, Blue Daisy or even James Blake (in his less soppy moments). Reconciling the two strands of his output is something Mitchell has never sought to do before. His Bandcamp bio perhaps sums it up best: “sometimes music to make you dance. sometimes music to make you cry. i can never make my mind up.”
Feeling the loss of club spaces throughout the pandemic, though, Mitchell found himself wanting to “make stuff that’s a bit more functional”. He loves DJing but it’s rarely his own music on his USBs. “I never play my own music in the club,” says Mitchell, “because it’s never been purposefully designed for that.” But he hasn’t found this route easy. Still in the middle of an elongated move from London to Kent, which he began in lockdown, he no longer has a dedicated studio, so he’s back to working in his bedroom – his kit concealed inside an IKEA wardrobe.
“Making music is not something I do because I want to make money. It’s something I do because it’s what I am. I don’t feel like I can detach myself from that as an identity”
“Whereas I’ve always just let stuff fall out of my fingers when I’m touching the keyboard, this takes more processing power to actually think about how it’s going to work in a club,” he explains. Hence the name of his latest EP – its capitalised, exclamation-marked title is as much a cry of frustration as it is a command to himself. The release comprises four careening yet carefully engineered peak-timers that span wonky acid, hazy rudeboy 2-step, tripped-out Jersey club and the pulsing Venga-esque, triple-E SPEEED. The artwork, sketched by Mitchell while drawing with his five-year-old son (one of three children; number four is on the way), depicts a slightly crazed-looking oval of a man, the rub of dry felt-tip pens giving him a look that, in many ways, captures the fuzzy excesses of the club.
Suit: Zara, T-shirt: Carhartt
While these are still Mr. Mitch songs – that delicate vocal touch, deliberate pop structures, a penchant for the odd squeaky synth – they reflect a new working process that’s both freer and more hands-on, bringing the previously separate songwriting and performance elements of Mitchell’s work closer together. “I’m changing things on the go, a bit more live, and recording that as it happens,” he says, explaining how he’s relying less on pointing and clicking at a laptop, and more on analogue kit and automation. “I’m doing a lot more with my hands, and it really helps to get me in that same place I’m in when I’m DJing and trying to make these different energies change when I’m in a club set.”
Mitchell has been writing songs ever since he pulled a free music production CD-ROM from a cereal box at the age of 11. He got his hands on a copy of Fruity Loops a year later. His dad, Richard Mitchell, played guitar on lovers rock records in the 80 and 90s, sharing studio time with the pioneering Mad Professor, and, on occasion, tried to encourage young Miles down the six-string route. But as is so often the way with headstrong adolescents, this ultimately did more to send Mitchell down his own path – towards the swung drums and sweet coos of UK garage. These are memories that return to Mitchell now, as his eldest child reaches the age at which he first took an interest in music. He betrays quiet pride in the fact that, alongside big ballads and the odd pop song, his son Milo, who’ll soon be at secondary school, has alighted on a taste for jungle and grime. Meridian Dan’s German Whip is a current favourite. “I did try to give him a grime history lesson a few years ago, and he was just like, ‘I’m not really into music history,’” says Mitchell, laughing off the burn.
In time, though, Milo will learn of the role his dad and Boxed played in stoking the coals for the mid-2010s grime resurgence. One bit of grime lore has it that Novelist and Mumdance’s weightless, abrasive Take Time – a staple of the Boxed nights, which showcased the outer reaches of instrumental grime – inspired Skepta to revisit the grime template for That’s Not Me and the Mercury Prize-winning Konnichiwa, prepping the runway for Stormzy, Dave and AJ Tracey.
When Boxed came to an end in September 2021, the eulogies poured in. But by its very nature, it was never going to last forever. “I think it had its moment,” says Mitchell. “At the time, people were really trying to just push club music in weirder directions, and I always love that we were a part of that. People always look at stuff retrospectively in a romantic way, and it’s cool that Boxed is something that could be spoken about in the same way as Night Slugs or FWD>> in terms of the impact it had, even for people that didn’t even necessarily go. But it was actually, at the time, just a really cool moment when a lot of really new, fun, exciting stuff was getting made.” He cites Conducta’s garage parties and the 160 bpm jungle sound sported by the likes of Sherelle and Tim Reaper as breaking new ground, but doesn’t yet recognise anything with the envelope-pushing edge that stirred those first Boxed parties at the (now-closed) Peckham Palais and (since-shuttered) Birthdays in Dalston. Despite a lack of available venues to experiment in, however, the music that finds its way into the Gobstopper inbox (his label, which quietly turned ten in 2020) has him feeling more sanguine about the near-future of nightlife and the possibility of more catalysts like Boxed appearing: “I feel like there’s one due to come.”
No longer responsible for running a club night, and having recently wrapped up a day job at Apple Music, Mitchell has found himself with more time to work on writing songs. Well, relatively speaking. Time becomes figurative when you’re running around after three kids. Emails from Mitchell arrive in the smallest of hours. “I consider the night time to be my work time,” he says. Weekdays are spent “doing daddy day care” for his two-year-old daughter. At around 2am, when he does finally put his head down before waking to take his eldest to school, his iPhone tells him that “this schedule does not meet your sleep goal”. And yet, social media highlight reels leave Mitchell feeling like he’s not doing enough. Last year’s Lazy, his third LP, shuttled between these feelings of guilt and the stern reminders Mitchell has to give himself that he is, in fact, doing plenty. “It’s pretty hard, but I feel like making music is not just something I do just because I want to make money. It’s something I do because it’s what I am: a musician who makes music and DJs. I don’t feel like I can detach myself from that as an identity enough to feel like, ‘Alright, I shouldn’t make any songs this week.’” Last summer, he moved his drum machine to the kitchen counter so he could work on songs while dinner cooked in the oven.
“I think Boxed had its moment. At the time, people were really trying to just push club music in weirder directions, and I love that we were a part of that”
Still, the relative headspace has been welcome. He’s been building up a catalogue of new dancefloor-focused tunes, leaning further into the mutated house and techno that increasingly form the core of his DJ sets. He’s started sending out finished tracks to labels – something he’s rarely done since emailing demos for his first LP to Mike Paradinas at Planet Mu (who released his first two albums) – and he has two club-ready EPs due for release towards the end of the year. He describes one as an Ibiza EP, and the other as a Berghain EP; both spots are now on his gigging wish list for 2023.
With this shift in tempo, Mitchell has thought about adopting a new moniker (‘Phantom Dance’ was a brief front runner) but feels confident that he’s sufficiently well known for pushing things forward that people will happily come along for the ride. He feels like he’s on the cusp of something new. A fourth album is underway, and promises to tie the errant strands of Mr. Mitch closer still. But, as he works late into the night, tucked into his wardrobe, he keeps a mantra close by: a few lines of ink tattooed in the crook of his arm. Not a Vengaboys logo – not yet – but a simple reminder, written in block capitals: “There are no rules.”
WORK! is out now via Gobstopper Records