As the list goes on, there's no unifying it, but one thing does become clear: Midland is still very much exploring the electronic world around him. He has no one agenda, no diehard principles. He's just making music that pleases him. "When I make music I don't go into it with any plans. It would be easy to think oh, 'Sasha's playing my tunes, I'll go off and make something he'd like,'" he explains, perched on a sofa in the house he shares with old friend and Hessle Audio chief, Ramadanman. "But I don't get that feeling. For me, when you're making music, you get to a stage in the song where it's cool; it's working, but unless I really get that feeling in my chest, that hairs-standing-on-end feeling, then I'm not really achieving my goal. Distance is a big part of it—leaving stuff a while before sending it off so you can listen to it in different contexts; see if it still works."
It's no real shock to learn, then, that Midland has gotten to this diffuse musical standpoint by following many different paths. As a child living in East Africa (where his father worked as an engineer) overnight journeys to safari parks were soundtracked by Abba, The Beatles, ELO, Beach Boys and "stuff with a strong emotional tie, with structure. I like that in music." Upon returning to boarding school in the UK at the age of 13, though, it was anyone from Led Zeppelin to Fatboy Slim on Brighton Beach. Cue the oft heard tale of a sibling's (or five, in Agius' case) influence on young, impressionable ears through a series of hand-me-down Prodigy, house and techno tapes.
Of all the music he heard on those tapes, it was drum & bass which grabbed Agius' attention as he left school for university. As such, during the ensuing twelve months under the moniker Apt Pupil, he managed to establish himself on the Leeds scene with regular radio shows on Frequency FM and "about five productions I was happy with."
But the restless Midland soon came to another crossroads. During a year out, he went to trek across Spain, leaving his iPod at home "specifically as a way of distancing myself from music for a month." Upon returning, his heart had moved on from drum & bass, and his head was lost in a different musical sphere. "I was just listening to 4/4, anything sub 140. Moderat's album was pretty instrumental in my shift, then I went to stay with Ramadanman [at his folks' house in late summer 2009] and we made 'Your Words Matter.' I'd always liked that speed and..." he pauses, "it just felt right." Will Saul agreed, releasing the track on his Aus imprint in April 2010.
The title to that pivotal track isn't unimportant for Midland, who for eight years sang in his school's chamber choir. "When singing reformation choral music, you have all these eight voices intertwining and complementing each other. You're on tenor one with no accompaniment, it's just... deeeeep. I'd love to explore that," he enthuses, before drifting off to talk of the many other projects he feels he has inside him, from producing for others to making film scores. "I like the challenges of bringing someone else's creative vision to life."
For now, though, he's making music for himself. And that means that everything you'll hear—the chillwave vibe, the garage skip or the house soul—is going to have a little bit of grit. "When I'm looking for sounds or hits, I'm drawn to things with a bit of crackle. Sometimes I record from soundcard to tape deck, to tape deck two then back into the computer so stuff has that fuzz to it, trying to tap into a part of your brain or a memory you didn't know was there."
If you're wondering what role the man in the next bedroom, Ramadanman, has in all of this, so does Midland. "When you're living with someone like David you end up thinking 'Am I pushing myself? Am I experimenting enough?' but then you realise that's his thing. I'm happy doing my different thing, and that's what's important, that I'm doing what I love."
Sounds romantic, doesn't it? But there were darker moments. After completing a history degree, it was decision time: real world and proper job or underworld and (possible) music career? "The whole idea of not getting a safe job was to focus on music, so I was doing night shifts at [Leeds club] Wire where I was up until 5 AM, living like a bit of a zombie. I thought all year 'you have to write, you have to write' and I began to feel drained. I was working on it all day, and then going to a club all night. I felt bombarded and, when I was sweeping the bog at half three in the morning, or clearing up some pisshead's sick, I had to remember why I was doing it."
As we go into his modest bedroom studio (decent monitors, a borrowed mic, a MIDI controller donated by Paul Woolford, Reason and a Mac) to listen to some current Midland favourites and works in progress, the lack of an underlying narrative to his music becomes the elephant in the room once again. "My inspiration is scatty and of-the-moment," he reflects, tapping increasingly eagerly to the beat of some Sei Es Drum wax. "I get caught up in [productions] and don't know where they're going. It's about finding that groove that you enjoy. If you're in your room doing the dance when writing it, then you know people will do it on the dance floor when listening to it."