With releases on Dirtybird and PETS and remixes for the cream of modern music talent such as Fenech-Soler and Mausi already under his burgeoning belt, this is one producer already impossible to pigeonhole and difficult to ignore since bursting onto the scene in early 2013. Seemingly arriving from nowhere, Friend Within has made a lot of friends in a very short space of time. From guesting on T.Williams Rinse FM show to radio plays by Skream & Benga, Annie Mac, B Traits, Mistajam, DJ Cameo and Monki as well as having already DJ’ed in pretty much every major city in the UK, there’s no denying the dent this mysterious producer has made. With further support coming from RA, XLR8R, Dancing Astronaut and Trap Magazine to name just a few, Friend Within has been living up to his name following an invitation to feature on the ‘Monki & Friends’ Red Bull collaboration project. Working alongside Karma Kid and Yasmin, their track ‘Feeling (So Special)’ blends the best of all three artists in a bona fide summer anthem that’s already picking up serious radio, DJ and online love even before it’s available as a free download via the Red Bull Studios website (out now). Friend Within is gearing up for his forthcoming EP on Hypercolour in mid-June, plus a release on Disclosure’s own Method Music imprint with the colossal ‘Renegade Master’ refix that’s been hammered by everyone and continues to build anticipation going into the festival season. Despite already having had a hugely successful career in a past life, Friend Within is about to do the near-impossible and make it two.
Why did you decide to launch a label now, what can we expect?
The tracks I’ve been putting out over the past 18 months have all had great support on radio and streaming sites, but I still love to make music for dark, sweaty clubs. I wanted to make a home for these underground jams. It’ll just be my own tracks to start with and I’ve got 3 EPs ready to go for the rest of the year. All the tunes have been heavily road-tested in said sweaty clubs.
Why did you name your label Undercuts and explain the barbershop theme?
As I mentioned before the tunes are all about underground cuts for clubs. I love a good pun so the name came easy! The barber theme stems from the ridiculous mustache I have growing on my face. A good old-fashioned barbershop is a damn cool place with a great aesthetic so it made sense.
Why did you partner with Toolroom on the label?
My last 3 releases have been on Toolroom and I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone. They have a great team of people behind the scenes that run the show and they really got the idea of Undercuts. They know I’m not just about making hands-in-the-air bangers so it’s a great match.
What lessons good and bad have you taken away from working with other labels?
It’s tough being a record label now. The biggest ones now don’t just release music, they’re a brand that put on parties, manage artist, run production courses and more. This can open up a lot of opportunities for an artist but you may also get lost in a release schedule that puts out a tune every week or 2. Ultimately if your music is good enough it will shine through but don’t underestimate how important it is to be with a label with a good promo team. Also, if you’re doing a remix for a major label don’t expect any kind of communication about when you mix will be released or where people can buy it!
Broadly speaking, do you think the traditional album format – beginning to end – is suited to dance music? Can it work, does it work?
I think it still can work. There are still people doing album projects, but maybe they’re a bit different to what they would normally put out. Like, Yousef seems to be working on a project which is maybe outside of what he is normally known for. So maybe people are using it to explore different musical avenues for themselves. Whereas my one was just, you know, a bunch house tracks I’ve made. But I think there probably is still a place for it yeah.
Before Friend Within you were making a different kind of sound; the sort of electro, fidgety stuff under your own name. What was the reason behind the change in style, was it just changing tastes?
Yeah essentially, it was just the sound I was into. EDM was just coming in and things were getting like a lot noisier and louder. And I guess I probably could have gone down that route if things had gone differently. But people like Disclosure were coming along, and Eats Everything, Shadow Child was just starting out, and they were big influences.
And if you felt compelled to push your music in a new direction – like with the move from Lee Mortimer to Friend Within – would you ever consider a name change or a different alias?
I think I would consider another name. I probably wouldn’t do the whole not announcing who it was, because that was a big part of it, the mystery behind the Friend Within name to start with. Especially when I was sending tracks to the labels they’d be like ‘well this is clearly somebody who kind of knows what they’re doing, it doesn’t sound like someone who’s just got a copy of Ableton and made some tracks. You’re a bit more accomplished than that’. If made a different style I would consider a different name, but I wouldn’t keep a secret of who I was. It would hopefully all feed back in for me as an artist still, and I think Friend Within would still be the main focus. You never know; if something else took off massively I’d just go with it.
What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond that, with making new music releasing new music?
Obviously, I’ve had a couple of things on Tool Room, so focusing on that side of things. I’ve got a few remixes coming – I think a couple of them have just surfaced, and there’s a few more to come out. There’s not really another big project, you know like the playlist or anything at the moment. So yeah, just continuing to sit in my studio trying to try to make tracks. Doing my day to day thing really.
How does it differ with remixes and creating a Friend Within track from scratch? Obviously, it’s gonna sound like you because it’s you producing it, but do you try to put your mark on your remix in any way, make you sound like you?
Yeah, I don’t really worry about that too much, I just think if I’m I’m doing the remix it’s gonna sound like me. But I do really enjoy doing remixes, you’ve got so many amazing parts to work from. And I don’t tend to remix too many dance tracks because I find I don’t enjoy doing them as much. I’m trying to think of examples I’ve done in the past… but when you’ve got a really good part, or a really good vocal and I find it kind of flows quite easily, what I want to do. So I’ll go through all the parts and hear something and I’ll think ‘right yeah that’s what I’m using’ and then you know, it just sounds like Friend Within in the end.
Does stuff like that ever lead to you then creating something entirely from scratch – say if you hear a sound you like and it gives you inspiration for your own stuff?
I don’t think that’s happened yet actually. Because they’re usually not house tracks, to begin with, they’re usually [songs] with quite a prominent vocal or something. I’ve never actually worked with a vocalist, it’s always been sampled vocals that I’ve chopped. So no, I don’t think it’s ever happened in that way.