When rising Bristol drum & bass duo Mystic State crash-landed into 2017 they had no idea they would be signing the year out with an album. Hells, even when they swaggered through the summer, fresh from launching their own label Chikara Project and exploring slower tempos and more leftfield palettes, they still had no idea they were going to sign the year out with an album.
Then Addictive Behaviour – a label equally risen in stature, hype and future focus as Mystic State themselves – suggested they do a series of collaborations with the label’s main affiliates. Philth, Xanadu, Data 3, Third Degree and Wingz.
And so their debut LP Versus was born. A succinct, rolling, dynamic eight-track affair, the album takes the duo’s spacious, atmospheric sound (an aesthetic inspired by their roots as young dubstep fans growing up in bass music’s finest city), subverts it and adds a new layer of perceptions. You can still hear the duo’s trademark signature – a sound that’s been diligently chiselled over the last five years on labels such as Flexout, Blendits, Demand, Proximity and Halogen – but it comes with added energy and variety from their peers.
Now about to crash-land into 2018, we called the duo to find out more about how the album developed a life of its own and what they might have in store by the time they sign next year out.
You’re friends since school so guessing you’ve both been on this musical trip together? Which one of your was the first to dabble with beats?
Will: We both fell in love with music around the same time but Mike was the first to translate that love into actual DJing and producing.
Mike: Not by that long, though. We’ve shared the same voyage of discovery really. That’s what the whole Mystic State project is founded on in a way.
Will: I’ll never forget the day I came round to Mike’s house and he’d downloaded Logic. It was a gamechanger like ‘okay this is some next level shit! What can we do with it?’
With the album you’ve gone from collaborating with each other to collaborating with other people… How’s that been?
Will: Very natural really. If we’d have planned anything like this out and get in touch with people to recruit them and been really meticulous then it would have been forced and unnatural.
Mike: That’s the main thing with music full stop, right? You can’t force these things.
The whole album was a happy accident wasn’t it? You’ve only started appearing on the label relatively recently…
Will: Eye Contact was the first tune we had on the label, on their Rotation compilation. We’ve actually known the guys for ages but never thought about doing a full length project with them.
The label set it all up, right?
Will: Yeah Clayton (label co-founder) wanted to see some of the artists work together. He’s really passionate about collaboration and he already had some of us working together anyway. So it came from there. Detail sent me some ideas and by the time he sent it I was vibing off the top of it and it was pretty much done.
Mike: It’s really interesting. It brings out different sounds in each other, every project has been really insightful in that way. They all kind of take on a life of their own.
Will: I find it amazing working with different artists. Like regardless of their level of ability you’re going to learn something. But with these guys, all of whom have been in the game so much longer than us, it’s like fuck dude, you’re crazy! Some of the shit they pull out.
Mike: All of them smashed it. Especially Xanadu.
Will: Yeah he blew our minds
Yeah you’re dealing with some pretty big boys. I don’t want to say schooling, but….
Will: No do say it, you’re completely right. We got schooled by everyone!
My only complaint with the album is that it finishes too quickly and stops before I want it to. If you could fill it up with some dream collaborations who would they be?
Will: Djrum. Without of a shadow of a doubt. He’s my favourite producer and his new single is gamechanging
Mike: Yeah he’s an incredible inspiration – cinematics, samples, atmospheres. He’s smashed it. Another artist I’d love to work with is Kid Drama, he’s such a talented producer. Everything he’s done has blown me away since Insta:mental
Agreed! Tell us about the Chikara Project, your new label
Mike: Will’s the head honcho all the way with that. It’s a brilliant idea and it’s a cool space for our music.
Will: It’s nice to have the freedom. We can put anything out if we like it. We don’t have to think about what labels might like or not like. We can go weird or leftfield or experimental. Anything can go on it. We’ve found that we’ve carved quite a specific sound out for ourselves quite early on so it’s nice to have a place to put out music that doesn’t conform to anything
Yeah, going right back to early releases like Wormholes and Sleeper there’s a very clear sound from the off. Quite rare for early releases to show such a strong signature.
Will: We always knew exactly what we wanted to do from day one I think.
Mike: Yeah we’ve always seen eye to eye with the foundations and knew what type of vibe and feeling we wanted to translate. We’ve been fine-tuning it ever since.
Can you pinpoint tracks where you were elevating?
Mike: Right back to the Flexout Audio release. Don’t Start with Gremlinz. The halftime sound is a bit crowded now but it was feeling pretty new to us back then and to see tunes at half tempo kick off so much was pretty eye opening.
Will: Yeah that was a pivotal time when we felt like we were really solidifying what we’re doing and bringing our sound together.
So how’s 2018 shaping up? This time last year you didn’t even know you’d be releasing an album…
Mike: We didn’t even know until a few months back! It took us by surprise and developed a life of its own.
Will: You can’t forecast these things! But we’ve got a few releases planned for next year, a Flexout EP in January, a Demand release late Jan. Then stuff on our label. We might actually write another album, you know…
Mike: Well that was always the original plan to begin with and we can’t see why we shouldn’t stick with that. Who knows