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Max Baker & Grafta MC – Remain Unharmed

Max Baker & Grafta MC – Remain Unharmed

Two big up and coming talents link up with Jamie to discuss their progression within the scene, latest signings and even a spot of jazz. Diverse as they come! 

Check it..

It’s been a while since lockdown started. How have you both been filling the gap so to speak in terms of not being able to attend events? Been enjoying the live streams and documentaries? Taken up a new hobby?

Max

“Time scares me because it feels like yesterday we went into isolation, and yet somehow it’s been well over 3 months. Live streams have definitely helped fill that void of hearing new tunes and blends from other producers and DJs so I am forever grateful for that side of social media, especially all the fundraisers organised for services such as the NHS. To be honest I think I’ve watched more non-dnb documentaries over this period of time, Formula 1 is so interesting, who knew?! Cycling has become more and more apparent with the weather being amazing so that’s taken up a nice chunk of the weekends.”

Luke

“I think it’s really important to make sure you have a mix of working and socialising. I’ve been getting out of the house as much as I can, mainly so I can get fresh air and clear my head. I like to sit in different places as it helps me write music. Other than that, live streams have really helped artists and ravers to listen to all the amazing music being created during this lock down. I am very excited for future releases and what is to come for the scene once the pandemic is over.”

Have you found you have had more or less spare time on your hands? Has it been a good time mentally to get creative?

Max

“Personally I have been very lucky to have been working from home and in the office every now and then so life has been pretty normal for the most part. I also took quite a big break (for me) during the early part of lockdown to rest my ears and chill out really, I found myself in a creative rut so I didn’t want to sit in front of projects and change two things and then close it down, not really time efficient for me. I’ve had a lot of sound design projects open to get down any initial bass and pad ideas if I’m not in the right headspace to start a new tune. However, since then I have recently been finishing up 3 EPs for various labels, and close to finalising them all.”

Luke

“In my normal 9-5, I have been working crazy since lockdown. I work in transport and I think it’s the busiest I’ve ever been, but that is because so much staff has been put on furlough so you end up with double the work to do in the office. However, many artists have been pushing their music to new limits during lockdown and I certainly am aware of how hard everyone is pushing. Mentally, this has made me want to push my own music even further so I’m slowly learning the ropes of producing and have lots of collabs and a couple EPs in the works with my vocals.”

Remain Unharmed” creates that killer hook on your forthcoming Section 23 release. Was this in any way linked to your feelings about ongoing events or something totally different? The promo for this release included some pretty unique DJ specials, how did you put pen to paper for some big names?

Luke

“The initial idea was to write a 16 bar hook relating to people who try to develop themselves, get pushed down but still remain positive and strong about their passion. That led me onto the catch phrase ‘Remain Unharmed’, so I built my lyrics around that subject.

I really enjoyed creating the specials when I was asked – it was a real pleasure. I wanted to keep the lyrics roughly the same as the original track but base it on my own feelings of the artists and create something they would enjoy listening to and playing. I also wanted to try and catch each artist’s attention to the track in a smart but short way so I’m glad everyone was happy with the outcome.”

Moving on.. Cambridge certainly has a huge history when it comes to the roots of the scene, especially dating way back to pre jungle days. What was it like for you coming into contact with drum and bass for the first time? How did the magic happen?

Max

“Growing up in Cambridge I really did not have much knowledge on drum and bass until the later parts of secondary school. Even then I was heavily into jazz and funk and really didn’t get on with electronic music. However, studying Music Tech A Level at Hills Road and going to Warning’s back in 2017 really started to show me the light on how diversified and unique the genre was. Listening to the mixing and the quality of the tunes through Warning’s insane rig was the turning point and I’ve never looked back.”

How was Dartford growing up Luke? Has there always been a big drum and bass scene?

Luke

“Dartford is definitely not the best for a night out. A few people in my school started raving at an event called UTR which was a underage rave in London. I went along one day and loved every moment of it. I really haven’t looked back since. My love for the music inspired me to become an artist myself. I’m pretty sure Monk Audio is the only drum and bass label in Dartford.”

On the subject of roots, how important are local influences to you both? Any major players that have inspired your journey so far?

Max

I will never forget the day a close friend showed me The future sound of Cambridge. Commix, Nu:Tone & Logistics have always been at the forefront of the original Hospital and Cambridge sound.

Their pads and intro’s have heavily influenced the way I build my tracks up and helped me with the arrangement style for sure. Although I have not been creating drum and bass for long, I would love to leave a footprint in the same manner they have, inspiring others and continuing Cambridge’s scene progression through the decades.”

Luke

“Local influences are important because it can give you the confidence that someone from your hometown has managed to break into the scene. I know a few jump up artists like Nu Elementz & Majistrate live close by and they were big inspirations to me growing up. Harry Shotta lives around the area too and he is phenomenal with his word play and flows.”

As individual artists, what’s led to shaping your vibe? Anything outside of drum and bass that’s played a big part? Who would you say were your heroes in the scene? 

Luke

“I loved jump up to begin with. Everyone around me was playing it and all the local MCs were going for that route. The more I practised on radio, the more I realised I preferred to host a set and let the music breathe more. During this time the Monk Audio boys really helped me to see the bigger picture of drum n bass and I just kept falling in love with the darker / liquid style. While discovering more about drum and bass, I was also listening to lots of UK rap and grime music. Dave, Stormzy, Mic Righteous, Aitch, Jaykae, Skepta, AJ Tracey, Wiley, K Koke and English Frank to name a few!”

Max

“I grew up listening to Incognito, Steely Dan and Porcupine Tree. Completely different vibe to drum and bass, however, the synths and drum grooves heavily inspire some of my ideas still. I like to try and achieve a raw and acoustic feel to a lot of my drums especially. Within the scene the likes of Serum, Alix Perez, Trex, Randall and Break have helped me in terms of inspiration and mixing style for sure. There are too many sick artists to mention. I started producing and DJing at the same time, so having those people to look up to has helped my different styles all merge into one.”

Luke, you’re a keen follower of grime, right? How do you add that kind of pattern into your lyrical flow? It’s been said you know how to ride the beat, regardless of the situation – do you think your 140 tastes have played a part in nurturing this ability?

Luke

“Yes, if I am being honest I do think a lot of the grime MCs are better than drum n bass MCs. They have deeper stories and better word play. I get my inspiration from this and try to put both genres into 1. I also try to make sure all my words are clearly heard because I don’t like it when you can’t hear what the MC is talking about. It’s frustrating unless the MC is pulling off a wicked flow.”

Grime is heavily grounded in the UK in the same respects jungle once was. Do you feel that the sound can easily crossover in the same way drum and bass has over the years?

Luke

“A lot of our grime MCs took inspiration from our jungle MCs back in the day. I think as the new generations come in, we will see a lot more grime MCs come into the drum and bass world. I think grime is very popular at the moment and is inspiring the young massively. Eksman’s son is a great example.

I do think the grime MCs will be pushed towards the jump up style though rather than liquid etc. In my opinion, grime MCs will suit the jump up style a lot more than any other sub genres in the scene.” 

One final grime question.. Is the grime scene as heavily guarded by the ‘old guard’ as it once was? Wiley seems to always be on a single handed mission these days!

Luke

“I think there is a confusion between the older and young generation as to what grime is. I feel the younger generation see rap and grime music as a real money maker now. Whereas, the older generation see grime as rapping about real crime, violence and life experiences. Now a lot of rap is made up, a lot of people know what the listeners want to hear. It’s just about writing it in a track, bragging and giving the people what they want. For me personally, I think you’re either a grime artist or a UK rapper. There is a big difference in an artist chasing for money and another artist telling you real rap stories, so that’s just my own way of dividing the two types of rappers.”

Max, it’s a totally different vibe with you isn’t it? Classically trained with major skills on the wind instruments? Do you find yourself wanting to make jazz and bass (a genre DJ SS rolled with for a while!) or is it more about using a ton of pads to your advantage?

Max

“Yeah I played the saxophone throughout most of my music journey as a kid to now, and other instruments along the way! Funnily enough I’m actually starting to compose arrangements for live recorded projects, so I’ve been talking to my mates that are at Trinity Jazz Conservatoire to get them onboard hopefully. By this summer I would love to have integrated the two and to experiment with other time signatures, something refreshing and new but separate to my electronic projects. Maybe something for a different alias?”

Being keen on music theory and the science behind production must help when it comes to making those melodic intros you’re famous for I. Do you think those skills have helped get your head around how other producers shaped their sound when you were getting into the scene?

Max

“Famous?! Maybe a future status I’d love to live up to ha ha! It definitely helps in terms of efficiency and laying down ideas that I hear in my head. I have actually found over the years a lot of the melodic ideas stem from harmonics and distortion that you can faintly hear created by the pads on their own, so sometimes the project helps flow the ideas itself. Being involved with music at such a young age and always growing up with it helps your ear naturally find chords and melodies for sure.”

Do you think that the sound of drum and bass varies based on location or would you say it’s more of an international sound in 2020?

Max

“There are definitely some origins of drum and bass that derive from different countries and counties of the UK however no matter where you are, you will be able to listen to anything in this day and age. So many international DJs and producers are connected with each other so the chances are if someone has made a tune in one country, the sound can influence a producer in another country to pick up that vibe and maybe make something similar. Definitely an international sound for sure. I feel the scene is bigger than a lot of people think!”

Luke

I personally think as a whole, drum and bass is one international sound. There are lots of artists from all over the world producing music which all of us can love in all different areas.

I feel the sound does vary depending on cities and countries and this is just down to the required taste of the event organisers.”

Luke, being an MC how have you managed to deal with the void in respect of not being able to perform over recent months?

Luke

“It has been a struggle, I really miss performing and cannot wait to get back on stage. I’ve been writing lots of new music so I can be the best I can be, once this is all over. I’ve been networking, finding inspiration and setting myself goals and projects to work on. I’ve been writing a lot of liquid lately so you can expect to hear some heartfelt releases from myself. Even Max & I have collaborated on a nice liquid track.”

Max, the recent signing to Nicky Blackmarket’s Kartoons and local Cambridgeshire label Section 23 must have been welcome news, right? How do you deal with the pressure of writing tracks on demand and sticking to deadlines? Must be quite a buzz regardless!

Max

“I honestly cannot imagine life without music, let alone producing it, so for anyone to enjoy my music enough to sign it means the world. Having an absolute legend like Nicky rate and support my stuff is huge. My uncle used to buy a box of white label records at Blackmarket every month back in the day, so fair to say he was happy to hear the news when I told him. I personally have a schedule for my tracks and the stage of where they are at, whether I update that all the time is another question ha ha!”

You’re both part of the Monk Audio crew, a homegrown label that’s done really well for itself over recent years. What makes this crew so special to be a part of? Is it like a small family of junglists?

Luke

“Monk Audio is my family. If it wasn’t for Monk Audio I would probably be sitting on the sofa still watching everyone else achieve their goals instead. My friends came up with the label and I’ve been here from the very start trying to push it with them. We all want to see each other doing well and have group chats for advice and just making each smile. Big shouts to the management Erritate, RCB and Denzel for making Monk the label that it is today.”

Max

“Yeah like Luke said, it’s more than a label that pushes drum and bass. Ever since the first day of them messaging me for my Outgoing EP release back in 2018, they have been unbelievably helpful and willing to push anything I create, and help me get my first shows and gigs. It’s crazy to think in such a short amount of time it has created such a lovely relationship between all of us. I can honestly say they are all some of my best mates. We all grow together.”

For those looking to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give in respect of linking up with a label or event promoter?

Max

“I joined online forums and Facebook groups from 2016 to start pushing my sound, be it the terrible garage I made to the beginning attempts of my drum and bass stuff. Online communication is the key in this era and posting videos and clips with any video tends to help get people’s attention. Contacting smaller labels at first and talking to local event runners can really help you get into the scene and make a name for yourself. Any feedback they can give you in terms of tunes or mixing will only be beneficial. Off the back of that you have started to network and from there it can branch off to anything.”

Luke

“For me I’d say, work hard, practice lots and network with people who you’d like to work with. Not unrealistic targets but ones who can help you get your foot in the door. When you perform at an event, make sure you get photos and videos so you can expose it on social media. This way you can advertise yourself better for more events and grow your experience. It’s important to network with event promoters but not to beg. Also, put up mixes etc. Build yourself a catalogue.”

We talked about heroes in the scene earlier. Who would you say would be your go to artist to work alongside? Be it in the studio, live on stage or even on a mixtape!

Luke

“Too many talented artists to pick one but DRS, Visionobi, Inja, Haribo & Duskee. – These people are all killing it for me and would love to learn techniques off of them and perform with them one day. My favourite producers to work with would have to be, Lenzman, Break, Bredren, Bou, Voltage. I could go on forever though. So many talented artists out there.”

Max

“Coorr, I’ve had to think about this quite a lot to be honest. As I said before, way too many to even think about, but currently Alix Perez is just so unique and I feel you can never really know what to expect from him and yet you know it’s his tune when you hear it. I’d love to pick his brain for knowledge and just bounce off his vibe at some point in the future. What a dream collab that would be.”

Given that nearly everything is accessible these days, how do you both network online? Do you find it a daunting task or are you even interested in it?

Luke

“I enjoy networking online. I feel it can be tough to get through to the bigger artists but for up & comers I feel online networking works really well. Everyone has an online account and music can be passed around so easily via emails which makes it really easy to collaborate on music.”

Max

“Yeah although so many people see it as being the social media platform for mums these days, Facebook is how I pretty much message everyone, share content and post most videos etc. I love talking to new people in the scene, especially when you can tell they are just as passionate about the music as you are. Slowly getting to talk to bigger labels and artists really helps build confidence and experience in general.”

Again, one for the new starters here. Anything you can suggest to get people ready for communicating with other artists? Established or not.

Max

“Finding people with the same amount of following as you or similar style can really help you learn together. Collaborating or going to each other’s houses/studios will be so beneficial, the copious amount of things I’ve learnt from my good friend OB is unreal. Also, do not be shy to criticise others, and vice versa, it’s all a learning curve. If everyone says your music is great you won’t think to change anything. Never take constructive criticism negatively. It’s easier to start with local producers. From there, travelling around and supporting your fellow artists really helps make your music relationship stronger I find.

Luke

“I think the best way is to try to build a friendship or some sort of connection with the artist. Then you can send them your work and see if they’d be up for working with you. If they say no, don’t take it offensively. Ask for criticism, listen to it and improve on it before going back. 

Finally, what can we expect from both of you for the rest of the year and beyond?

Luke

“I’m working on lots of dark hooks and liquid bits right now with other producers. Expect lots of collabs and releases from me in the future. I’m learning the production side of things too so maybe even expect to hear some of my own drum and bass music.”

Max

“Working on a few collaborations and a secret project that will slowly creep into the scene. As mentioned before, I will be arranging some live jazz jungle/dnb vibes this summer as well. A good catalogue of tunes/EPs to be released in this half of 2020. Next year I’m looking to start up an event in Cambridge with some mates so lets hope this all dies down in 2021.”

Any shouts?

Luke

“Massive shouts to Max and James for including me on this release. Big shouts to all the Monk Audio family which has supported me from day one. My final shout out is to Erritate for always guiding me in the right direction.”

Max

“Big up Luke for supplying the vibes for this track. Shouts to all my friends and family that have supported all my music up until now, be it my jazz days or now. Shouts to Phil Marshall for teaching me an insane amount of music theory throughout the years. Lastly, big up the main man himself Jamie for this lovely interview and releasing the tune!”

You can follow Jamie Section 23 on Twitter, @JamieS23
Jamie S23 is part of the editorial team at Drum&BassArena, has a huge collection of vinyl from the 90’s and spends many hours wishing music still came on cassette. He’s stupidly into fitness and most importantly, a devoted Dad. Reminisce about air horns, lighters and The Sanctuary with him via Twitter or Soundcloud

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