Though often lumped in with a supposedly dubstep crowd around the time of his Night Slugs release, Mosca's music has wriggled its way through 130 BPM, hip-hop, dancehall, taut techno and most recently on a forthcoming EP for Hypercolour, something approaching tech house. His grasp of all these disparate musical styles has earned him a fanbase that loves him as much for his chunky basslines as his liquid grooves. His versatility most recently helped land him a prime time monthly slot on BBC Radio 1's In New DJs We Trust. Ahead of a busy summer involving the debut of that radio show and appearance at the 2012 Glade Festival, Mosca sat down with RA's Andrew Ryce to talk about getting rowdy, playing grime in America and why pigeonholes are necessary.
Let's go way back. When did you start making music?
I was 14. I was in a band, but we didn't have a drummer so I bought like a little... God, what was it? A Yamaha thing. I forget the name of it now, it's like this big green thing with a floppy disc drive. That was a while back. So I just started making beats for the band, which was shit because it couldn't really sound like live drums or anything. I started doing more electronic stuff, and I was making jungle and a lot of hip-hop, some 4/4, housier bits, some real weird stuff—just like exploring sound. I bought a mic and was just knocking it into things, and then tapping plates and recording them, and then pitching them down and creating a drone, like a 12 minute drone out of one hit, you know? The first track I actually finished was "Square One," so from there it was all just loops, little ideas and that kind of thing.
"Square One" is a pretty weird track for your first release. Were you worried about it not being able to fit in anywhere?
I didn't think it was that weird, you know? That was when UK funky was coming through and listening to Marcus Nasty's sets on Rinse, he was playing stuff from... well... you didn't know where it was from half of the time! But some of it turned out to be South African house, some of it turned out to be weird US stuff, slightly better-produced stuff. Back then it was just bare potential—people were calling it funky, but the stuff Marcus was playing, that's the stuff that really inspired me, and that's where "Square One" came from.
What kind of stuff were you playing when you started out? And when did it turn into what it became now?
I've been DJing since I was 18, and I'm 25 now. I started off with a lot of grime, bassline and dubstep. 'Cause I went to university up in Sheffield, which is where 4/4 bassline is from—before then I hadn't really heard any of that too much. A lot of 140 stuff. A lot of grime—instrumental grime, there wasn't that much vocal grime being released on vinyl, and I started off on vinyl. It was the same thing with dubstep: I look at my collection now, and I just got shit records that I didn't really wanna buy, but it was the only thing I could have bought that was new back then when there were so few releases coming through. But I also played jungle, hip-hop, lots and lots of dancehall; I've got boxes and boxes of 7-inches and 45s.
I remember your FACT mix, it was something like 56 tracks in a very short period of time. Do you still DJ like that? That really fast quick-cut style?
It depends, I often do, yeah. With dancehall you have to do that. With garage and 2-step and with grime as well, and Baile funk, everything that's kind of... it's cut-uppable. If that makes sense. There's no six-minute synth wash over it or something. It's just like Baltimore as well, Baltimore club, you can cut it in and out and it's just great to mix like that. But then with deep house and techno and that kind of thing it just doesn't feel right mixing like a new track in every minute, so it depends.
What's appealing to you about that style?
On a crowd level it creates kind of a hype... that's what people want, especially in London. People are impatient in London, man. It is not the same when you go to Germany, or places where house and techno are more the "normal" type of music. Here we've grown up with dancehall and garage and jungle. There's a great house and techno scene as well in London, but in general if you think of that London sound, you don't think house and techno.
What does it look like if you play in Germany then, as opposed to London?
Well, there's always that dilemma in it, cause you don't wanna go to Germany and play house and techno, because they're used to that and bored of that, you know? So there's a certain feeling that you need to rep the UK and be playing funky and these sounds that they don't really have out there. But then, for you, on a personal level, when do you get to play house and techno? Not in London raves when you need to play garage or something.
So, what's your ideal set like?
I do prefer a little intimate show. This weekend I was in Copenhagen and just played in this place called Dunkel, which is maybe 100 capacity or something. It's like a normal bar with a nice sound system, just off a small street. It was wicked! You know when there's the vibe? The sound wasn't even incredible.
But it worked.
And it wasn't like a geeky thing. People didn't know all the tunes or anything, it wasn't like a trainspotting type thing. I ended up playing like two-and-a-half hours more than I had scheduled for, and just kept on playing and the night went on 'till whenever in the morning. I got back on for another B2B set with the promoter at like half eight in the morning and just started again... Those kind of shows are memorable, I think—when you've got the audience right there. What I don't really like is these huge big stadium shows or doing festivals... not that I play in huge big stadiums. But when you need to do a festival, [that's] like 2,000 people or something.
What is your favorite place in the world to DJ?
I like Glasgow.
Just 'cause people get drunk. A lot of people get drunk everywhere, but they're not drunk idiots in Glasgow. They're naturally drunk. [laughs] And they're just up for a good time. They've got that great balance of knowing all these mad underground techno tunes, but they're also drunk.
[laughs] Sounds like a good time.
Have you played in North America at all yet?
Yeah, I've done New York a couple of times, San Francisco, Washington and that's it.
How did you go over there—did you find the audiences receptive, did you have to play differently, maybe play more dubsteppy kind of stuff to satisfy the audiences?
No, I don't play dubstep, but I did play a lot of grime. It's kind of an easy way to bypass that, because I think a lot of people see dubstep as this massive, massive scene... anything is dubstep. You know, something that's 120 BPM, that I would call house... well, if you're a UK producer people would go "oh, so this is what dubstep sounds like, now"—120 BPM. So, when I play instrumental grime, I think probably a lot of people will think I'm playing dubstep, you know? Some halfstep, I think probably people call that dubstep anyway, so... I can play a lot of grime in the US.
Have you ever thought about making some more straightforward grime tunes to inject yourself into that scene, or is that something you're staying away from?
No, of course. It's coming this year, with some vocalists definitely. I'm not gonna do an old-school grime thing. People have kind of seen me as this guy that does the old-school thing, like, "Yeah, you've brought back garage" or something like [that]. I think that wasn't really the intention, so I need to be careful about doing anything too throwback. And with that, I did a dub reggae remix of "Spartan" by Spooky, like a '70s, '80s kind of thing. So it's kind of thin ice, you know what I mean? It's dangerous.
it's really not a problem.
I do it myself, you know?"
And so, when you're making a track, do you kind of approach it with a certain genre or style in mind or you just go where it takes you?
When I started out, like I said, it was this kind of open time. Marcus Nasty on the radio, mad beats, it didn't have to be anything, didn't have to be 4/4. It was a certain tempo structure obviously, between probably 125 and the early 130s, but apart from that you could kind of do anything. I definitely wanna get back to that at some point, but I would like to get a few releases under my belt, to fit into certain things. I'm not out here to be this guy that makes music that you can't pigeonhole. I'm happy with being pigeonholed, it's really not a problem. I do it myself, you know?
But you can't really tell from your releases.
You need to... they're necessary—pigeonholes, I mean. They've got this bad name but they're so necessary. Because when you don't have one, people get more annoyed. When you just say: "Oh, it's this type of music that brings in all these elements," people don't know what that sounds like in their head. They haven't got the imagination. You need to be able to say "it's a variant of... bassline, or grime or something."
But then, every one of your releases is quite different from the last one, so how do you reconcile that?
I don't! I don't, to be honest [laughs] And fuck, yeah, I don't feel I have to. All those different aspects, like, I'm sure people have tried to do it and failed, but what I don't really wanna do is start making different names for my techno releases, for my bashment releases. I think now in 2012 it's just not necessary.
Possibly not, but I think it's worth a stab. No one else is doing it. But I can see the seeds that have been planted, and people are starting to do that. Maybe not in the same way as doing a slow house release or deep house release and then a dancehall record or something. But people are definitely... I mean, it's 2012 man! Why can't we do all of this? People's sets I've seen are getting really varied. I don't think every producer needs to produce every type of music, I think that's ridiculous. But if you want to do it, then why shouldn't you be able to do it? It's so simple, it's so black and white for me, it's not any weird thought process behind it—it's just, why not?
How do you feel about the way that the whole UK music thing has exploded all over the world and now it's basically in the spotlight—do you feel that it's a good thing for the UK music scene or is it becoming kind of diluted?
I can't badmouth it because it's so obvious that it's a good thing. I'm fond of the UK, I'm here, I'm in this lucky right place at the right time. That's why my whole career exists. All in all "UK Bass" isn't even that bad a term. It makes a degree of sense. I mean... "future garage" or something like that.... Jesus. Bass, it makes sense: it's from the UK, it's got like these fatty, bassy sounds in it, I mean, I know it's stupid cause I know that funk and soul relies on bass, it's one of the key elements but...
It does make more sense than "future garage." [laughs]
Yeah, yeah. So can't say anything too bad about it, but the trouble is when people start sounding like each other. I know that's how you build a scene, but back when jungle started... a few people brought out these kind of mad breaks-y records, and then a few people built on that, and then that made jungle. With this, because it's a bit more open, you would expect it to be this wonderful thing that's happening with no rules.
[But] going back to '09 listening to Marcus making this weird, weird house music basically that brings in all these elements, I wanna go back to that. If you want a guitar in your track, that's cool, you can do that. Now in UK bass you cannot have guitars—that's one of the rules. You have to have 808s, big Julio Bashmore bass, a US rap sample repeated, cowbell, a little Burial garage sample and a Deadboy synth that goes "eeewwwaaooo," bending all over the place. And those are the rules now. And you do get a lot of, it's just the same old same old that I get sent. There's so many people making music now, that it's flooded.
You've had a lot more releases in the past year than you did on the first year when you had the Night Slugs release. Has your success in terms of bookings and gigs been increasing over time consistently? Are you more successful now than you ever were before?
Yeah. Yeah, I think this Radio 1 thing has helped a lot. Still don't know why I got that. Then if you listen to Radio 1, it's just funny, it's like a very safe station. When Mary Anne Hobbs wanted to play this CRST remix on her show... I sent it to her and she was like "yeah! It's amazing I wanna premiere this on the show," and she sent it back saying, "Oh you know what? It's got a gunshot." They couldn't play it because it had one gunshot in. So I had to edit it out.
How did that gig with BBC Radio 1 come about? How did that happen?
I don't really know! I did a show for DJ Q, a cover show, he was gonna be away for like two or three weeks and had to get people in to cover it. So I went in to the pilot for that for one… From there on they said we'll keep you in running for this In New DJs We Trust thing. I was like, OK cool, whatever, like... I'm never gonna hear back from that. Just down the line it was four months, five months later they just called, "Yo, you start in April, how does that sound?" For me, that doesn't really compute in my head. I don't mind going with catchy tunes, or something that could be a crossover tune but it's not, I don't really play the big anthems. That's I guess what my view of Radio 1 is.
How are you going to approach the show then? Are you going to do a different thing that you would normally do because it's Radio 1, or just be yourself and hope they like it?
Within limits. I'm just gonna try and keep it as rolling—and quiet—as possible. When I did shows on Rinse, it had that attitude of not being overly talky: just play music, mix the music, give people shoutouts, say the name of the track. That's enough for me really. I don't need to be there having features, and interviewing guests and asking them stupid questions like "What's your favorite type of pasta?"