Through his productions, DJ sets and record labels, Midland’s output comes across as unassuming and surprising in equal measure, at once subtle, refined and totally raucous. Midland’s production style has nimbly evolved from one record to the next. “Your Words Matter” his collaboration with Pearson Sound (then Ramadanman), set the tone for his long-lasting relationship with Aus Music:– stripped-back, garage-flavored house, which also characterized his 2011 single “Bring Joy” on More Music. Soon after, though, he flipped the script, joining forces with Pariah for a scuffed-up techno EP that formed part of the She works series on Karenn’s Works The Long Nights label. This dark turn continued on what may have been his breakthrough track, “Trace”, a warped after-hours tune that seemed to emanate from the deepest corners of the subconscious. In 2013 he launched his label, Graded, with the double A-side of “Archive 01” and “Realtime”, both of which became seminal tracks on dance floors around the world that year. This was soon followed by “Drumtrak”, a wonderfully delirious creeper of record. In 2015 he wove bongos and soaring strings into his palette for the first time on the Double Feature EP, comprised of a pair of warm and disco-flavored house bombs. The EP was released on his newly-launched ReGraded imprint, also home to one of the stealthiest hits of that year, Hubie Davison’s “Sanctified”. Midland has also worked on plenty of one-off projects over the course of his career, including remixes for artists from Mano Le Tough to Darkstar (on Warp Records), “Before We Leave” for Phonica’s white label series, and contributions to JD Twitch of Optimo’s Autonomous Africa label and as part of AKASE with Robbie Redway whose debut album“Grasepers”, released by Berlin institution k7! showed a wholly different side to his sound. 2016 saw the release of “Blush” on his Graded label and “Final Credits” on ReGraded, which would go on to be named Mixmag’s song of the year for 2016.
Describe your surroundings right now.
I am lying in bed because I was really ill last night. I had some bizarre fever and I just started to burn up, and at the same time couldn’t get warm. I had some crazy dreams and wasn’t feeling so good so I kind of canceled everything today. I have been watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in bed all day. It’s been great.
What was the first record you ever purchased?
To my memory, the first record I ever purchased was Bart Simpson’s “Do the Bartman.” I think I was about four years old. I got it on tape, but the first CD single I bought was Jamiroquai‘s “Canned Heat.” The first vinyl I ever had was Zig and Zag, two puppets from television who had a song called “Them Girls.” It came on the front of the Frosties box. I found the vinyl the other day in my parents’ house.
Do you believe that success is down to hard work or innate talent?
I don’t think I am innately talented. So…it’s not down to that. I think I do work hard, and I am not ashamed to admit that. I immerse myself in music a lot and I think this helps me to synthesize ideas. I think this allows me to feel a better connection with the crowd when I DJ. I will always make an effort to go and dance, taking a weekend off, or I will go and stand in the club before I DJ. I feel that this really helps me to recharge my musical soul, as it were, and I think this helps me when I go to the studio or to buy records. A lot of DJs can get stuck on the conveyor belt, playing gigs, and then traveling. It’s important, I think, to spend a bit of time on the other side of the fence, enjoying the music like most of the people who are listening to music. It reminds you of why you’re doing the job. The best sets I’ve heard are when the DJs play what I wanna hear at that moment, and it’s only by putting yourself in the position of the crowd that you can understand what they’re really looking for.
How do you dig for records? Do you have a favorite place to dig for records at the moment, or do you use a lot of promos?
I am really not a promo guy if I am honest. I do get sent tracks by close friends and I take the time to listen to them, and I do keep an eye on promos. But I find that I so often get sent promos with these huge descriptive passages and press releases just forcing it down your throat, and I think I have a problem with this authority. As soon as I am told to like something then I just pull back. I like to dig for records in a more traditional way. I find a record that I like and then I will dig into this artist’s entire back catalog, and I will spend an entire day going through these records. If a label crops up a few times then I will open up a new tab and I will go through that entire label. It’s quite meticulous but not so organized. You have to look in areas where you least expect these records to be. For example, someone played an amazing record at a gig recently, and it was taken from some 1994 Italian trance compilation.
How much time do you spend organizing your digital files before a gig? How do you organize them?
I spend a huge amount of time refining my collection on my laptop, especially when I am traveling. I am constantly making playlists and going through playlists I made in 2010 and scrolling through my Rekordbox. There is so much you forget; your brain can’t hold onto all of these memories so you have to keep on refreshing it. I prepare playlists, too, before each gig. I’ll have a folder, like a parent folder, and then under that, I will have about 22 playlists broken down into every conceivable direction you want to go in your set, from “Weird” to “Bangers.” The best sets are where I have a really detailed breakdown.
How do you choose the first song of your DJ sets?
It’s funny because often you’ll feel like you have the first song nailed and then you get to the gig and it all goes out of the window. And actually, I’ve often found that the first song I thought was going to be good doesn’t fit suddenly, so I think it’s good to have options. I have a folder called “Playlist Ultima” which is 70 tracks all of which could be used in the intro context. It’s just like having your tools in front of you. That being said, I never try to repeat myself when I am open sets, so I try to start each of my sets differently. I do, however, have track combinations that I really like and try to remember. Often I’ll write these down after a gig. For example, the other day I mixed Hodge‘s “No Single Thing” with an Âme track, and they fit perfectly together. I wrote it down and thought I’d do it again, although I very rarely remember or feel the need to do it.
Do you edit a lot of tracks to specifically fit your DJ sets?
Yes, I do this a lot. I have a folder of reworks I’ve done this year and it’s up to 40, I believe. Often it’s just arranging, and sometimes it’s just quantizing the first few beats. You can find an old track that needs a little EQing, and these become tracks that are unique to you. I come from drum & bass, and although I am not into the secretive vibe of music I do think each artist should have tracks that are unique to them and their close friends. This brings another problem, however. I have no problem sharing a track ID but sometimes people will come and take a photo of my playlist and this frustrates me. Sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the set and remember why you’re there.
Do you produce music on the road, while you’re traveling?
No, I just cannot do it. I am very sensitive to my surroundings and I don’t feel comfortable away from home. I don’t spend all my time in the studio but I do prioritize it, so this Autumn will see a lot of studio time.