Ten years ago, Mala (AKA Mark Lawrence) set up legendary dubstep label DMZ, a moniker of his production outfit Digital Mystikz with his high-school friend Coki, alongside Loefah (known widely for bass label Swamp81) and Sgt. Pokes. It happened by accident, as Big Apple Records shut down just after Digital Mystikz’s first release on the label and their first club night in Brixton. With little to no industry experience, they took matters into their own hands and began to release their own music and share it with their mates. Originally named Malibu and Coke, they were house party legends but at the time, that was about it. They kept their night DMZ going in the depths of South London, alongside Loefah and Sgt. Pokes, playing a mix of bass-heavy tracks: 140bpm, jungle, dnb, dub, and somehow it worked.
Lawrence has his fingers in many pies; including his own, hugely influential imprint, Deep Medi Musik. Even though he produces almost exclusively 140bpm and is widely known for doing so, this doesn’t tend to limit him. He’s played with a diverse range of musicians from Chicago big man Theo Parrish, through to world music fanatic, Gilles Peterson and Manchester garage producer/DJ/lecturer, Zed Bias. I was keen to find out more about these collaborations, the Gilles Peterson one in particular has been widely lauded as it resulted in his debut LP, ‘Mala in Cuba.’ For reasons outlined here I never got the chance to ask him, but this interview over at Inverted Audio tells us a lot about the reasoning behind the LP, the process and the obstacles faced when recording.
You started your first DMZ night ten years ago. How has the scene changed in that time?
The amount of people who are into the sound, it’s not just in London, not just different age groups. A lot of times, when I put on events now – like the last DMZ events we’ve done or even Deep Medi – it’s not just in the UK, it’s around the world. There’s so many people who are coming to the shows, you know? When we started this we were youngsters ourselves.
So the biggest change for me is the amount of people who have connected with the music. And not just my music but the movement as a whole, the different mutations and styles.
Plastic People has shut down and The Arches has recently followed due to licensing laws. It’s widely reported that they’re two of your top places to play. What are your opinions on the legislations and how has it affected the club scene as a whole? Do you find new legislation affects your process when you put on events?
I don’t really know why these things happen so it’s hard to comment without getting too political… Plastic People was one of the best spots in London for me for many years, both being as part of the audience and playing there myself. It’s a shame.
You always have to think about legislation – unless you run the venue yourself and you have complete control, it’s always about creating a working relationship with the venue manager and there’s always other things to consider. For me it’s always about making it as authentic as possible in terms of the music.
How do you make the clubbing experience authentic?
A big sound system. It’s not about having VIP areas. I like the DJ space being in the same space as the audience, there doesn’t need to be a visual light show. I prefer there to be an ambience; just subtle, simple things really that allow people to connect with the music.
What is about 140bpm that you love?
It’s a tempo that a group of us somehow gravitated towards, in the early days it was obviously subconscious because we wasn’t really thinking about what we were doing. There wasn’t a moment of constructive or critical thinking – it was more based on feeling. Still, to this day I make music based on feeling.
Of course, I understand my approach to making music, through years of experience. These days, there’s a certain science I apply when making music, whereas before I didn’t know anything, it was purely freestyling.
Well, for example I now know that a compressor works in a certain way. If you know how to use it, you’re able to enhance and manipulate sound to translate what you’re trying to put across. Basically, understanding the tools that I’m using from a technical point of view.
What’s your favourite tool or plugin?
I don’t have a favourite tool, making music is a combination of tools – those that are visible and that you can touch and feel and those that you can’t, that are completely abstract. I’ve got a few plugins that I enjoy using. One of the ones I love to use is Soundtoys.
You’re deaf in one ear and this point has never been touched on in an interview. Has being deaf in one ear affected your DJing at all?
I’ve been deaf since birth so I haven’t really known any different, since as long as I can remember. When you are something, you live life.
What’s the difference between Mala and Digital Mystikz?
As well as being our own individuals – Mala and Coki – I have also been very lucky to connect with people on another level, like a oneness. Digital Mystikz was something that started many, many years ago, before we event started making music. Me and Coki have known each other since we were 11 years old, we met in school. Whatever it was – football, whatever – there was a unity we had. That continued developing throughout our music career, before people knew what we were doing, when we were playing parties and writing lyrics and so on.
So I guess with Digital Mystikz there is a difference – there’s two people. Two lots of contributions and you have to consider somebody else’s vibrations as well but when we play music together there’s a oneness so [being a difference] isn’t something I think about.
I prefer playing as Digital Mystikz. It’s always better to share, especially with your loved ones.
Do you have any long-term plans?
You never plan nothing! Our first event in Brixton was planned three weeks before – and the same with the label – it was just that we were making music and we had one release with Big Apple Records and then they shut down so it was really a means to keep putting our music out there. So again it was a necessity, it wasn’t planned.
What do you do to switch off?
As I was growing up I reached a point in my life that how you behave and how you act and how you interact and how you nurture relationships – not just relationships with other people but also yourself and with nature around you has an effect.
So I think in life that there’s an importance and a benefit to being mindful. because it’s make you aware of yourself and others. That’s just my opinion.
Anything exciting you at the moment?
I’m always hungry! Hungry for new music, I’m hungry to discover musicians and producers that are just starting and haven’t played out yet. I’ll keep finding it for as much time as I’ve got. I still feel like I’m 18 in terms of new music.
Of course, I’ve changed a lot since then, we’re always evolving and learning and creating.
As mentioned before, 2015 is the tenth year of DMZ. What’s the best thing you’ve done in 10 years?
The best thing that I’ve done in 10 years? Have children. Have a family. That’s the best thing. Beyond words, beyond understanding. I feel blessed and very privileged to be able to experience such a joy. To get to know your children is just something else.
Conducted on behalf of Party for the People, and online ticketing site where profits go to charity. Check them out here: partyforthepeople.org.uk