There’s a certain league of D&B DJ that’s beyond premiership. End bosses. Grand wizards. Foundation layers. Professors. The men who were there at the very beginning as drum & bass started to find its sound, its message, voice and place in the chaotic electronic spectrum.
Randall, Grooverider, Fabio, Goldie, Hype, Bukem, Andy C, Roni, Bryan Gee, SS, Nicky Blackmarket… Mampi Swift. Men usually first in the queue for dubs, they worked tracks to become the mythical benchmarks they have since become. All armed with labels and productions of their own, they set the framework.
All men in that list have created legacies and continued to innovate and plough fresh ideas and talent back into D&B 25 years later. But only a few have done so consistently year on year. Everyone in the creative long game will experience a trip or two into the wilderness over the years. Especially if you began your career as a teenager and you’ve been on the global DJ merry-go-round ever since.
Such is the case with Mampi Swift. As a producer he set benchmarks with brutal cuts such as The One. As the man behind Charge Recordings he delivered early tracks from Fresh, Sigma and Friction. His double dropping signature as a DJ has had an indelible effect on the D&B mixing style. Yet, after a short break from the game working on hip-hop projects in America, he decided to quit in 2012.
Then, just after what was supposed to be his last ever show, a fan – named Charlie – approached him and told him not to quit.
“He broke down everything I meant to him. I’d been in his life! He told me when I disappeared it killed him,” explained Mampi last time I spoke to him 2012. “It was too deep. It was supposed to be my last gig! He told me all this stuff and I had a tear in my eye driving home! I was trying my best to block out what he was saying. I was feeling that guilt. It got to me so much that in the space of four weeks I was thinking again… I got some unfinished business!”
That unfinished business ended up taking four years, cancelling a comeback album release and completely re-schooling himself in new production techniques. Now he’s ready to return with what he describes as more material than he’s released in 15 years. In a year when we’ve seen many OGs return, this is one of the deepest and most honest comeback tales so far…
Last time we spoke…
I still haven’t found the guy to this day. Never popped up on Facebook or anywhere. His name was Charlie, I’ll never forget it. He changed my life. I wrote a tune to big him up – Here’s Charlie. Still no sign. I speak to my fans a lot on social media, I think it’s really important to have that level of interaction; if people care about what you do enough to get in touch, then you should respect that. But Charlie has never appeared.
Perhaps he never will?
I have debated whether he was real or not you know. Maybe it was me just going really mad?
Even if it was, you’re still here now. Not showing any more signs of quitting?
Still here. Still eager. The game has changed so much since we last spoke. Just in four years. I’ve been back to school again… In terms of your minimal level of requirement as a producer, as a businessman, as you market yourself, it’s all gone up several gears. It’s a challenge when you’re old and set in your ways! I took time out to learn what was going on in the game and that’s why I didn’t put my album out. I knew if I put History out there and then, it would be lost in the noise within a day. I needed to know what the album was about, what I was about. It’s not just about producing big tracks now. You’re throwing your work into a very big ocean and it gets ripped away by the tide very quickly.
Sometimes the hype and news of an album seems bigger than the release itself…
I’ve noticed this but I think people really miss the musical factor. There is some mindboggling production happening but the musicality and carefully carved bodies of work are lacking.
Or musicality is being invested in toplines and chart positions?
Yes. I do get those guys though – they’ve taken the pop angle and the most successful ones like Fresh and Sigma have taken it further than anyone imagined. If you’re going to do something then do it properly, right?
You signed one of Sigma’s earliest releases… Could you sense that in them even back then?
Definitely. They had a natural musicality. You could hear them playing, they weren’t drawing notes in, they were playing riffs. 10 years later I’m not surprised in the slightest to where they’ve got.
What else have you learnt in the last four years then?
I’m a completely different person. Life gets the better of us sometimes, let’s be honest. You learn from mistakes and bad situations and progress. Career-wise I had to neglect a lot of things in order to re-learn everything musically. At points you think it’s easier to give up. But I’ve kept on fighting because I want to continue to make music that’s relevant and up to the current standards. It’s harder than quitting but I’m a fighter.
This is all mad to hear because – certainly as a DJ – you’ve always seemed completely on top of everything.
Oh I’ve been millions of miles from that for a long time behind the scenes! Playing all the top raves and travelling around the world doing what I’ve done since I was a teenager taught me nothing about actual real life. You learn what is what when those shows don’t come in and you’re the cause of that.
When was that?
Around 2007 I started feeling a foul taste in my mouth. I was having a bad time in my personal life and I let that affect my professional life. Some guys know how to keep the line but I didn’t. I didn’t know how to deal with it. Those five years I was out of it and caused a lot of bad energy and made some bad decisions as a businessman. I should have been developing Charge way more than I did, for instance…
Charge was responsible for early tracks from Fresh, Friction and Sigma!
Exactly. I had a great track record for finding raw talent. But why wasn’t I developing this? I should have been running nights and really sorting out my brand like the other guys were. But I used to work alone. I didn’t have any team of guys. I was 100% solo… And probably shouldn’t have got to where I’ve got to anyway! Things are very different now, I have a great team behind me and we are all running at full charge! Expect a lot of exciting things to come.
Look at Andy C. We came through at a similar time. Set up labels at a similar time. He worked that mould perfectly though and created a whole team, a movement, a brand and everything. That’s what I should have been taking cue points from. I was just happy to be paid to DJ around the world at the time. I wasn’t thinking about the future as much as Andy and those guys were. Fast forward to today; as a producer I know I’m on a better level and I’m about to release more music than I have in about 15 years, the album is ready, everything is ready… It’s those final touches to make sure it feels like a real body of work. I want to make something I’d enjoy as a music lover and something that reflects what I’ve done in the past, what I want to achieve in the future and everything in between.
That’s a lot to represent and reflect on!
It is. I’ll tell you something… Coming to terms with the whole legendary status isn’t easy. Being a legend isn’t cool – it means you’re old and you’ve been around too long! I’ve come to terms with it though. I did at the Drum&BassArena Awards last year when I was inducted into the Hall Of Fame. It’s pressure; if people call you a legend then you need to act like one, right? Which was all a bit mad for me because I didn’t really notice the effect I’d had on anyone before this decade. I’m always shocked people even know who I am! But yeah, I went through this mad process of thoughts and realisations and decided age doesn’t mean anything and to lead by example.
A lot of it is happening this year – Full Cycle, Bad Company, Pendulum all returning…
Definitely. They’re bringing back those raw ingredients that made drum & bass. And now the production game is upped – the musicality is next on the agenda. Remember when you’d come out of a rave and people would be humming a big riff they’ve heard that night? That’s what we need to get back to and I know a lot of people – artists and fans – agree.
Amen! So who would go in your own personal hall of fame?
Randall, each and every time. Andy C too. Producer-wise, Doc Scott for his work between 92-97. But, in terms of consistency, Fresh is my guy. Always has been, always will be. When I look back at all the music I’ve played over the years, Fresh productions have always played a key role for me and killed my raves.
Speaking of raves, we should probably mention Moondance. They sorted out this interview!
Legendary raves. To be around as long as they’ve been around still putting on major events like this is a huge, huge feat. In light of the sad news of Fabric you remember how fragile these businesses are and how brutal the climate is for venues and promoters who – let’s face it – put us all in jobs. Massive respect to Moondance.
Finally… You’ve mentioned the album but let’s have specifics. What’s coming up?
Firstly remixes: Following Rene LaVice’s killer remix of Soldiers, Mob Tactics have done a Play Me remix which is just ridiculous. Insideinfo has just sent me a remix of The One which is incredible and Mindscape has totally smashed his remix of Gangster. I’ve also got some insanely talented new guys coming through…. There’s Rushmore, Fuse and Mollie Collins who has risen quicker than I’ve seen anyone rise in my whole career. I’ve also got a duo who came to me a few years ago and we’ve been developing. They will be revealed very soon.
I’m investing in tomorrow. I can do my thing and as long as I’m working hard and doing my best then I’ll get by. So now I’ve got pay it on and help the next generation. Charge won’t develop properly without fresh energy like this. As for my own productions, I’m constantly stepping up and developing my sound and musicality. I haven’t got a release date for the album but it’s called XX -History to Future and will be out before the end of the year. Following that we’ve got amazing EPs from Turno, Coda and many more. Keep listening.