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Dave Jenkins

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Victorious: A Deep Conversation With Mampi Swift

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Victorious: A Deep Conversation With Mampi Swift

V is for Victory.

Mampi Swift’s first original tune in over a year, and the first tune from his forthcoming album Victory Rose, it absolutely thumps. And it does so on an overtly dramatic level…

Charged up with signature choral and orchestral theatrics, packing a lewd XXXL bassline and steeped in emotion, energy and heaviness, it’s been one of the hardest tunes he’s ever written. Not hard as in banging. Hard as in suffering deep loss and grief hard.

Written in the wake of losing his father Victor, Victory Rose (Rose is his mother’s middle name) marks the start of a whole new chapter for Swift. Musically and personally. In fact chapter is too light a word. A whole new book for Swift is more appropriate; in the year that’s passed he experienced huge leaps in his health, both mentally and physically and appears more comfortable and confident in himself than any previous encounter I’ve had with him.

Admittedly I’ve said that a few times on this site now. In our first UKF interview in 2016 we went deep into his comeback and talked about why he’d stepped into the shadows for a while in the first place. He seemed buoyant, buzzing and ready to be back on the attack and an album was imminent.

That album that was delayed. In 2017 he experienced a near tragic incident of medical negligence which almost left him for dead. We chatted about in the last similarly deep interview we did in 2018 where he promised the album would land within the year and explained how he was in a good place and ready to be back in the game.

Then life threw him more curveballs. Within a week of his son being born, he lost his father and it made him address and everything about his life; his mental health (something which he’d never been public about even in the deepest of interviews), his overall health (he’s lost six stone in recent years) and his music.

Naturally that last album he promised has been scrapped entirely. The new one is a much more heartfelt, raw and honest portrayal of the man who first burst through in the mid 90s and rose to the top of the DJ premiership where he presided for well over a decade. A man who became feared for his technical acumen, deadly double drops and larger than life presence. Yet, behind the scenes, was suffering more challenges that he’d ever admit to himself.

V is for Victory. V is also for Very deep chat. Here’s where Swift is at right now…

Every time we chat you’ve been through some pretty severe challenges!

It’s life I guess, right? You know what it’s like, it’s these things that shape us. Since we last spoke I lost my old man and it made me think about a lot of things he instilled in me. The importance of achievement. Doing well. Picking yourself up. That’s what he passed on to me, that how I dealt with it.

Last time we spoke you’d recovered from a near death infection and you’d only just picked yourself up from that!

Yeah a month after that call my son was born and then a week after that my father passed away.

Wow man. The emotions must have been crazy. Full of love and loss.

Honestly man. It was tough. You’re getting pulled all over the place. But something good must come out of the darkest situation and we’ve got to be there for our kids and our partners.

You’re also self-employed for another level of pressure…

Yeah and I’d been in hospital for the best part of 2017 and that had a knock-on effect on work in 2018. Everything kinda stopped. And just when I was getting going, it hit me again.

What were the moments where you could feel yourself turning a corner or getting back up?

This is morbid but when I was with my dad’s body, in my mind I could hear him saying ‘this is it now son, you’ve got to get back up, you’ve got a wife and family to support, you can’t let them down’. He was like that. If I couldn’t visit him he’d be like ‘don’t worry, as long as you’re working and supporting your family, that’s all that matters.’

Did he appreciate your craft?

I didn’t think there was any appreciation. If I’d have been a lawyer or doctor that would have been the one but at the time I felt he didn’t get it or appreciate it.

Was he first generation from his family to move to the UK? If so, he faced massive challenges himself. I’m imagining he was a stoic man.

Totally. He came to England. Signs with no blacks, no dogs, no Irish. He came through that and for me to say ‘I want to be a DJ’ he must have thought ‘are you having a laugh son?’ So I never thought I had his respect in that way. But actually, during a low moment last year, I said this to my wife and she showed me something on Facebook. She had shared an interview of mine, one of yours actually, and he made a comment along the lines of ‘we celebrate you Swift’. So perhaps there was more appreciation than I thought there was.

Old school attitudes isn’t it? Every generation gets better at communicating and articulating their feelings. We’re better than our parents at it but our kids will be even better…

My dad said that too. He said once ‘I’m glad I’m closer to my kids than my dad was with me.’ It is that generation thing.

And now you’ve named a particularly banging tune after him.

Haha yeah. There’s a lot of emotion in there. I wanted to celebrate his life. I wanted to tell a story. There’s emotion in the structure, the intro, the breakdown, the drop… I threw everything in my heart at that track.

You once told me than when you’ve finished a tune you leave to incubate in a vault and won’t even play it for a bit, let alone release it. But this one couldn’t have had that process, it’s been too soon…

You’re right. I actually started writing it and trying to express myself a few days after he passed away, playing those choir chords on headphones and trying to make sense of what was in my head. I continued working on it when we went to Ghana for him to be buried which added to its emotion. I just kept hacking at it until I felt it translated what I was feeling. Even if it meant playing one chord at a time.

That took you through the grieving period?

It did. Having that ability to channel that energy and anger and confusion and love into something was priceless.

Same with writing. I can’t imagine life without a creative outlet to get all that out of your system and express yourself…

Can you imagine? It would boil over and fester and turn into something pretty toxic wouldn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I was still lashing out at people without meaning too and was still grieving heavily but channelling this helped more than I can ever say.

So I’m guessing you scrapped the album we discussed last year and it’s a whole new thing?

Yeah that’s completely scrapped now. So Victory Rose is basically my parents. My dad being Victor and my mum’s middle name being Rose. This whole album is for my parents. Something I can acknowledge them with in my work. And acknowledge them myself musically too I guess. Everything that make me ‘me’. It’s from my heart. It’s me, not for a certain time or trend or scene.

Writing to any time or trend is a trap anyway, right?

It really is! I hear subconscious in people’s music all the time; you can hear people keeping their breakdowns and their intros short, or using certain sounds, so people will play their tunes. Everything’s getting shorter and shorter. When I came back with Gangster a while ago and I heard a lot of DJs playing it, but everyone was mixing out of it before the amen in came in and the tune kicks properly kicks off. It’s like they couldn’t wait 32 bars!

Classic. But… As one of the early champions of the double drop, you kinda influenced the style of mixing in a way.

Yeah I guess in a way. But I never cut things out so quickly. I mixed things and let them roll out together. Like The One; I actually only made that for dubplate, I made it for mixing. I have made a lot of tunes for mixing in that style but I’d never cut them out after 32 bars! There’s tunes for mixing on the album actually; one called Loftgroover which kicks off after only 16 bars.

A homage to THE Loftgroover?

The very same. That man could dark out the whole place. It was too much for some people, but I understood it. Just stomp stomp stomp!

I never saw him play but remember him from tapepacks. His tapes were the least played. I always felt you had to be there to get it.

And usually on drugs haha! And even then, a lot of people didn’t get him. But you need artists like that to see how far it can be pushed.

Can I push you for a release date on the album?

Ha! If I had my way it would be out now all in one big drop. But I think it’s best to build things up with a few singles and try and get people listening. I didn’t make it for any adulation, but I do want people to hear it. And I think it’ll be interesting to see what younger fans think of what one of these old time so called ‘legend’ geezers is up to.

We’ve had this conversation about ‘legend’ status a few times now…

Yeah I’ve been thinking about that. Every time you say I sound a bit brighter, happier. A bit more positive and that I was coming through things. And you’re right. I haven’t been happy, I wasn’t for a long time. This time last year I was uplifted but I’ve made even more leaps mentally. That was something I hadn’t been open about in previous interviews. I hadn’t accepted my mental health issues. I’d say things like ‘I wasn’t feeling it’, ‘I wasn’t in it.’ But over these years we’ve seen a lot more openness which led me to be more honest.

You could read it between the lines but it was clear you weren’t ready to talk about it. I think society and the industry has made massive leaps in being able to discuss it now.

Yeah we have and that’s so important. And when I look back I’m not even surprised I got ill. It’s very lonely existence; you travel on your own, you play on your own, all the tracks on my label were pretty much me. I was on my own. I wasn’t part of a crew. Not out of choice but I did become very used to my own bubble, my own world, my own determination to make sure my mixing was perfect. Nothing could penetrate that. Then of course there was the other side of party culture which isn’t good for that mindset.

All that’s changed, right? I heard an interview with you recently where you were talking about drinking kale before a show! Exercise is amazing for the brain isn’t it?

Oh man! It’s amazing for everything. I’ve lost six stone mate! Being in hospital was the turning point for me though; that was the wake up call. I started studying my body, my dietary intake. I take it so seriously.

You talk about your infection as if that was a health scare. That was medical negligence through, right? A wake up call for a lot of men is a heart attack or something really serious. You were in good shape before the infection weren’t you?

Yeah I was. I was in good health. I was playing football and working out but not on the level I’ve taken it to now. You know when you can feel your body changing and you feel much better in yourself? It’s worked wonders for me though both personally and professionally. It’s given me a much clearer head as a DJ which makes me more inspired as a DJ because I wasn’t feeling it for a very long time.

Really?

Yeah my head has been awful from a DJ perspective. I had to take a long look at why this was. Was I not trying hard enough? Was I getting the wrong bookings? Back in the day I’d go out with one mission; to mash up the dance. A few years later I’m starting to think ‘this crowd aren’t totally into me, maybe I can play this? Maybe I can compromise on this?’ That’s the wrong mindset to go in with. It started to feel like a chore.

That takes all the fun out of DJing! You were on the wrong line ups basically…

Yeah it did take all the fun out. It took strength and positivity I was getting from other areas of my life to make me think ‘no! Be yourself! Don’t try and be anyone else.’ If I’m enjoying it, other people will enjoy it. If I’m completely in it, people pick up on that.

Also what’s changed recently is the new generation of artists and fans who’ve come through in the last few years are way more interested in the source and roots of drum & bass and things like dubplate culture more than fans were say five or 10 years ago…

That’s great to hear. I think people are into authenticity again, people are hearing things and digging back a bit. A bit like that first time you hear an old record Dr Dre has sampled and it blows you mind.

I’ll never forget the first time I ever listened to a Bob James record and spotted so many breaks and samples… I still get goosebumps when I think of that revelation.

That’s it man! And if people are appreciating that more, that’s amazing and we’re in good hands. And now we have almost 30 years of drum & bass to draw from. That’s what I do in my sets; the classics and all the great new stuff we’re hearing at the moment. I love giving a history lesson, joining the dots and showing how rich our culture is. What I do hope is that people don’t forget the names. I hope it’s not just a one way street and that the originators are respected and not just ripped off or lazily referenced.

I think they are man. Look at the consistent respect Randall has had for instance.

Totally man. And when it comes to dance music, most people don’t care how old a DJ is… They just want a DJ who can do the business. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 50 or anything in between.

And now with your fitness you look about 20!

Mate! I saw some pictures of me on Facebook memories and it hurts! I showed them to people and they were like ‘this ain’t you mate’. I’m actually proud of that. I never took a photo for over 10 years. About 2005 until fairly recently. But people would take pictures of me DJing and I hated seeing every one of them. I’m a completely changed man. I carry myself differently. I feel like a different man.

I first met you in 2005 actually. Yeah you were pretty big.  

Exactly! So you know what a change I’ve had in every way. I hid it but I was severely self conscious. And to make it worse, I go and get called Mampi Swift!

Hang on, I always thought Mampi meant strength?

It means fat mate! Look it up. It’s a cuss! It came out of a jokey cussing match we had in the room. So I was constantly aware of my size and shape and I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. At all. And not just size but my colour as well in the areas I grew up in. I would often be the only black person in the group, for instance.

There’s a lot of contributing factors that made me painfully self conscious. But I’ve worked my way through this to become the man I am now. My health, my mindset, my attitude, my confidence. I’ve come through all of this and I’m happier in my skin than I have ever been. And I appreciate it so much more now. I take it all in and savour it and enjoy it. Any positive comment I ever get touches my heart and reinforces this feeling. I used to look at the negatives too much, I’d look at things like ‘I didn’t get to where I should have or could have’ but now I love the fact I’ve got this far and what I have done.

Nice! That’s a flip on previous interviews where you’d reflect on what you hadn’t achieved. That’s a massive difference.

That’s crazy you’ve noticed that.

You were never bitter but there was always a sense of regret, which isn’t there this time…

Well even that remark about being a legend meaning you’re old. To me that’s always felt bitter.

I took that as more of a punky kinda ‘anti legend’ vibe. I didn’t get the bitterness, I got a vibe like ‘don’t call me a legend cos I ain’t done yet’

Ha well I’m glad it came across that way because to me I felt like it was bitter and negative. I wasn’t ready to be called a legend. I was trying to get back on my feet and building myself back up.

To where you are now. I’ve said it before, I’ll no doubt say it again, but you do seem happier and balanced.

Balanced is the key word mate. It means so much; balance in life, mental balance, stability the company you keep, the honesty you have with yourself. That’s so important to me and it’s never happened in my life before; I feel like me. I’m happy being me.

Be happy: Victory is out now

Follow Mampi Swift: Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter 

 

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