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Dave Jenkins

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We Need To Talk About Mandidextrous

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We Need To Talk About Mandidextrous

If ever there was a fitting soundtrack to a time in dance music history, it’s Mandidextrous’s Speed Bass concept.

A prominent sound among the new wave of 4×4 / drum & bass hybrids, Mandidextrous’s full-throttle four-to-the-floor D&B signature is the perfect catalyst to our newfound post-lockdown freedom. Full of energy, zero airs and graces or time to chin stroke – just get yourself on the dancefloor, let go of all inhibitions, frustrations and just have fun and embrace the escapism.

It’s what dance music culture is founded on, it’s certainly what free parties are founded on and it’s the attitude, culture and energy that brought Mandi here in the first place. A queer, trans artist, raving gave Mandi the platform, space and freedom to find themselves and carve their own sound and narrative. Since first diving deep into the free party scene in the late 90s / early 2000s Mandidextrous has gone on to coin their own hybrid sound several times over – once with the 190BPM jungle-tek (and the successful cult label AMEN4TEKNO) and most recently with Speed Bass.

Easing their jungle-tek carnage down to D&B tempo, Speed Bass brings together the sounds and dynamics of everything Mandi stands for; D&B, bassline, hardcore, techno and all great ravey flavours in between. Their debut single on ProgRamTechno On My Mind (with BiSH) and Move Faster – is a perfect example of this fusion and plenty more is expected as Mandi launches their Speed Bass label in the near future.

Already capturing the current energy to the point people have submitted demos before the label’s even launched, Mandi and Speed Bass will be soundtracking these unique times for a long time to come and creating these moments with their own night Rave Monster, which rioutously debuted this weekend in Brixton.

It’s Mandi’s time right now. Yet if it wasn’t for EQ50’s mentorship scheme, none of this would be happening. Get to know, get inspired, get on the dancefloor…

Let’s start with free parties! This is where the musical adventure started for you, wasn’t it?

Yeah, totally! I got into it because I got kicked out of my family home when I was 15 and I was living in squats so started doing raves with crews like Survival, Mission, Project Storm around Buckinghamshire, Oxford and the Ridgeway. Then I started getting into the squat parties in London. All of this was around 98/99 and I still go to them now to this day. Now I’m based in Bristol I try and go to at least one or two a year.

To capture the vibe and get inspired or to remember your roots?

All of the above, I think! I like to remind myself of where I’ve come from, to see what’s going on in rave culture and who’s coming through. So many artists who come through cut their teeth at raves. Look at Gray and all the Born On Road crew. They all came through those big raves. My raving heyday was up to around 2008 – that’s when I stopped organising raves and concentrated on my own career.

I know you’re involved in Balter and Boomtown. I love how getting messy in a field can eventually provide skill sets for careers in events!  

Oh yeah definitely, it’s brilliant isn’t it? And for me I had a big turning point in my early 20s. That’s when I started looking into myself and dealing with my gender issues. It led me to stop getting off my head and helped me really focus on who I am. I realised I had a passion for making music and I wanted to develop it. I started networking a lot more and getting involved in things on a different level. I actually played Boomtown for free for years but now I’m heavily involved in the Scrapyard stage with my friend Jason. And at Balter I run the Jigsaw stage for my best friend Elias who runs the festival. I love it and it just spirals doesn’t it? You do one thing and it can lead to three other things. This suits me; I’m a very active, lively, bubbly person who likes to have many plates spinning at once. I love organising things, playing events, running labels and everything in between. I buzz off it.

Amazing. It sounds like all this came from you dealing with your gender dysphoria head-on. It gave you a clear head to get where you need to be…. And where you’re always heading?

Yeah I just needed clarity and to battle through it and work through all this stuff. It’s always ongoing. I’ve never completed this. It’s an ongoing thing and, through finding that clarity and looking into myself and working out what I want, it has helped me project that into the rave scene. A lot of people come up to me and thank me for what I’m doing. It’s mad. For me I’m just living my life and wearing my heart on my sleeve and I like to express as much as I can to everyone and be a person who people can go to and relate to and talk to and be an advocate for gender dysphoria and all that stuff.

When you’re an advocate for something you don’t expect people to thank you, do you? There’s a quote you said in your interview with Nathan X about how you’re still trying to understand you. So is it fulfilling when people thank you, or quite overwhelming?

Both! But essentially the music I create and what I do is very niche. It’s my own thing. The fact I’ve got this tagline that goes along with my whole narrative of being a very open queer and trans artist – which is pretty rare in the D&B scene – it’s just been mad refreshing and mad intense and all the emotions involved in that. But honestly, I love helping people and that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to fly and flag and be a leader and say, ‘This is all okay!’

Beautiful. I guess the frantic nature of your 190BPM stuff was the perfect soundtrack to the intensity of that narrative as you reached this point?

Yeah I guess but I have a lot of energy so that suits me anyway. I pioneered my own sound with jungle-tek and worked with ragga-tek with my friend Simon and other guys on my label. That sound is very full-on, it’s got a lot of energy which does reflect the energy I have. But, as time has gone on, I have started exploring drum & bass a lot more, which was always my first love and the first music I bought on vinyl. My head has always been in that space. And now with the new concept Speed Bass, it’s me trying to slow things down from 190 to D&B speed but keeping it energetic, keeping it 4×4 and continuing to fuse D&B and techno in a way that’s fun and easy to dance to. I’ve got many strings to my bow. At home I make dubstep, hip-hop, techno – I love it but there’s only so much of that which will come out.

Techno On My Mind is a unique fusion with the halftime element, too. Not really heard anything like that before!

Thanks. I think a big part in all of this is the 4×4 D&B crossover stuff that’s happening anyway. I’ve been inspired by artists who have put out these tracks in the past. Dillinja’s Thugged Out Bitch is essentially a 4×4 D&B tune. Lynx has done it a few times, too. I’ve loved that. So when I linked up with BiSH and found he loves the 4×4 thing, too, when we got in the studio we thought we’d bring these elements together in our way. There’s a lot of it around – Dimension’s Offender and Netsky’s Look At Me Go, for example.

Also Buunshin. Sleepnet, Imanu. I didn’t really see the 4×4 D&B sound coming!  

Me neither! The way D&B moves and progresses – I love it. It’s always evolving. There was neuro, rollers, jump-up, now you’ve got people like Dimension remixing Timewarp into a 4×4 vibe. It’s mad to hear people doing this because it’s what I’ve been doing and basing my music around for a long time. Even with the jungle-tek stuff, that’s what it was about – taking my favourite jungle and D&B tunes and fusing them with techno. Now I’m doing it all legitimately, doing original content and not remixing illegally and doing it above board and proper. It’s mad this situation has come along. I’m blessed!

So obviously this has all been accelerated by the amazing work of EQ50. Do you think this would have happened eventually but over a much slower time anyway?

No definitely not. All of this comes down to them. Big the fuck up EQ50! I was at a point on my musical path where I was feeling like I was kinda like peak where I’d got to in the European hardtek scene. I didn’t want to aim myself there but that’s where I’d ended up. But then EQ50 opened a door when I was totally down on the floor and ready to hang up my headphones.

Oh wow. Did they reach out to you?

No, I saw the mentorship program. I was following them anyway because I love what they do. So I thought, ‘Okay I’ll give the mentorship scheme a go and see if I can do it.’ It was an interesting way of networking and exploring new avenues and I’ve been blown away ever since. The help I’ve had from them, and the doors the whole situation has opened for me, have been amazing. Like working with Jim and the guys at Ram and now even talking to UKF, that’s not something I ever thought would ever happen. I was ready to let this roll of a cliff and have done with it all.

Woah! What would you have done, then? This has been your life!

Well this is something I thought a lot about during the lockdown. The whole situation was awful for so many people, and it certainly impacted my mental health, but one thing it did make me realise that among all the things I do, I have a deep love for teaching. I did some online zoom teaching with 15 – 20 different students and I loved it. I love helping people, so I guess I’d explore that a lot more but in the moment I’m mad busy with music and my career as an artist but I’m also very keen to develop the teaching side further. I don’t profess to be the best producer in the world, but I do know some things and I’m very keen to share it.

When you teach what you do you realise how much you know and it builds your confidence, doesn’t it?

Yeah! I’ve struggled so many times with genres and productions over the years. All my friends will tell you how much I’ve torn myself apart at how bad my kick/bass sounds but I actually I do it really well and I just lose confidence. But that’s been building a lot. Just through all of this coming together, it’s given me confidence to carry on and move forward. I don’t know when this ship will stop but I’m so happy to be doing all of this, I’m just sailing!

Let’s sail over to Move Faster, tell us about that track! 

I actually wrote this for the Speed Bass project. I sent it to Jim, he loved it, so we worked on it. When I wrote it I had this old Ram Trilogy sounding track in my head with those big synths. Again, it’s that fusion of 4×4 D&B and the whole idea of Move Faster is my message to the scene – the way we’re heading can’t happen soon enough. It’s super exciting and I can’t wait for the release.

Then your own label Speed Bass comes next?

That’s right. I’ve announced it, I’ve got an EP in mind for the first release and yeah it’ll come not long after the ProgRam release. I seem to have this habit of making up genres and pursue sounds that are unique to me. When I did that last time it worked well and I ended up with label and producers making similar music to me, which was really inspiring. I did Amen4Tekno for 10 years, I’m going to carry it on, but I want to focus on Speed Bass for now as I can see other people exploring this fusion and I’ve already had some submissions. So let’s see what happens.

Bass Militia Records · Mandidextrous – Mañana

People already submitting tunes, too? Brilliant!

Yeah yeah! It’s been pretty mad actually. I didn’t know how well people would receive the sound but it’s been doing really well and the numbers are really good. I’ve had such amazing feedback and bookings are flying out. People are picking up on it. there’s an artist called D’TCH who’s making a similar sound now. Audio Gutter is killing it, also Samurai Breaks is killing it, too. I’ve had some bits and bobs from those guys and I’m gassed this is happening.

Amazing. I loved your set at Hospitality In The Woods by the way. That gave Sunday a good kick up the arse!

That was a mad one for me. For the last seven or eight years I’ve always played the headline slot so, to be playing the first slot, was a very different set for me, but I really enjoyed it and got into it like I always do. It’s something different isn’t it? The D&B scene is a vast melting pot of so many amazing flavours and so many talents and styles but it’s nice to switch things up. When you go back to the start of jungle, it was always a 4/4 beat when it was coming out of hardcore. So with the 90s coming back into fashion and jungle being where it is, it’s nice to be part of this new wave and be able to introduce people to we did back in the day.

It’s the perfect storm, accelerated by the fact that none of us have been able to rave. For a lot of people this is benchmark now…

Yeah that’s it! It’s an amazing opportunity to influence people. And the youth of today on the dancefloor are so open to everything. There’s very little snobbery now and I love that. I never dreamt I’d get to this point. It’s my life, it’s my passion, to do this at this level was never something I’d even contemplated until EQ50 opened this door.

Sick. Would you say this is a new chapter or a whole new book?

It’s an ongoing book which will carry on until I’m being taken to the grave in my coffin with Fresh’s Gold Dust playing! It’s just chapter after chapter after chapter and it’s so cool and nice to actually feel like there’s an opportunity for me to make the next step. Being an underground free party rave artist has been amazing but I’m getting a bit older and, being enthused by labels like Ram and the D&B scene for so long, it’s so nice to come along, dip my toe in and contribute my take on things.

Feels like you’re going to dip more than a toe! You’re diving in! Let’s sign out…

Of course. Mad props to EQ50, without them I would not be here now. Mad props to Ram, huge love to the Nathan X and the Unorthadox queer D&B movement, mad props to yourself and the biggest props to everyone who’s supporting me right now. And if I can just say, if anyone ever wants to reach and chat to me about anything gender, sexuality or queer related then I am here all the time and always want to help. If I can do it, you can, too. Mad love!

Follow Mandidextrous: Instagram / Soundcloud / Facebook / Patreon

Mandidextrous – Techno On My Mind (Feat BiSH) / Move Faster is out Friday October 22 on Program

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