Imagine it. You’re 21. You were introduced to drum and bass a mere six years ago. You’re lying in bed and Jack Workforce sends an email saying he wants you to release a four track EP on his label.
This is the story of Aidan Morris AKA Azifm, a producer who is set to be the first ever external guest on Must Make. It’s a rare and exceptional entrance into the drum and bass scene, being trusted by someone of such calibre like this; however, one listen to the EP reveals why.
Azifm is yet another talent from the ever-growing pool of producers coming through in New Zealand, a country that made the whole world jealous when they were plastering rave videos across social media while most of us were still stuck inside doing Zoom quizzes and baking banana bread.
His back catalogue is thus far small but consistent, having put out his first self-release Touch in January last year, featuring the choppy drums of the title track and the pulsating roller Moon on the flip. Since then, his output has included another self-release, and tracks on local NZ label Lunchbox Records and Safire’s Plasma Audio.
The aptly titled Making Way EP is Azifm’s most impressive and well-rounded release yet. Apparent across all the tracks is his love of creative sampling, mesmerising drum work and musicality – all things that Jack himself has excelled upon through his sprawling career as Workforce and one half of SpectraSoul. It feels remarkably fitting for Azifm to be the first guest on the label, and we can’t wait to see where this leads him in the not-so-distance future. Check our full chat below:
Hello! I spoke to The Upbeats for my last interview so it’s great to keep the New Zealand theme rolling. They were the ones that introduced you to Jack Workforce right?
Yeah, so I’ve been mates with Jeremy from The Upbeats for a couple of years now, sending him music here and there. He introduced me to Ben Safire who gave me a release on his label Plasma Audio, and then I asked Jeremy for Jack’s email and ended linking up that way.
How has it been working with Jack?
It’s really exciting. Having that kind of guidance from someone I looked up to has been so much help, and every time I get positive feedback I get so stoked still.
You’ve only been putting out music since last year and the production quality has been excellent from the get-go. How long had you been working on your craft to get to that point?
I’d say probably three and a half years, I always kick myself that I didn’t get in sooner though!
What did you first send over to Jack?
I sent him around four tunes, and two of them made it to the first draft of the EP. One of these was Take It Back and the other we ended up scrapping because I just didn’t like it anymore. I sent them over the New Years period, and he replied around three weeks later saying he really liked the sounds of Take It Back and that he wanted me to write three more for the label. I saw the message when I was in bed and I was like, ‘Oh fuck’.
Wow, that’s what every producer wants to hear. I can only assume you were a fan of his from the SpectraSoul days?
Yep, definitely. I’m really stoked he’s trusted me with it. It’s a big thing for me, Jack is legendary in the drum and bass world.
I’ve seen on your socials you’ve been playing some big shows recently.
Yeah, I’ve been quite lucky because of the COVID situation over here. Everything got cut off and then all the festivals had no one to book, so I got some really cool shows at places like Rhythm & Vines festival.
Are you a DJ or producer first and foremost?
I started DJing around the age of 16, and then managed to sneak into the clubs when I was 17 and play some sets. I had that moment as a DJ where you realise you can only go so far with it, so I had to have a look at producing. It’s no surprise I ended up falling in love with that as well.
To take it back even further, tell me about your musical roots.
I did some piano lessons when I was a kid and I remember I really didn’t like the tutor, so I told my parents I wasn’t going back. I absolutely kick myself for that though, that would have really helped with the music theory in production. I played a little bit of guitar as well but nothing too serious. My parents have always been into music with my old man being in a band, but that’s about it really! I picked up little bits here and there and had some idea of how melody should work, but I figured the rest out from there myself.
How about drum and bass, when did you first get introduced to it?
It would have been around six years ago now.
Not long at all then!
No definitely not, I’m only 21! We used to have illegal raves out in the country in Christchurch which was how it all started for me. We’d rock down to the riverbed and there’d be someone DJing there to around 400 people. To be honest, the drum and bass I first heard was not my taste. It was more jump-up and neuro, but I remember thinking it had some cool ass energy. Slowly, my tastes changed over the whole process of discovering the genre and I discovered the older guys, falling in love with the whole jungle side of things.
Are there any genres outside of drum and bass that inspire you?
I’m really into my 60s/70s soul and funk, all the stuff that inspired the amazing, technical hip-hop producers like RZA and Madlib. Hip-hop probably inspires me the most outside of drum and bass, especially the old stuff like Big L, Wu-Tang Clan etc. I’m not constrained to one electronic genre, anything goes.
Do you ever produce outside of drum and bass as well?
I’ve tried my hand in a bit of house, techno, garage etc, but I don’t have the knowledge to chase it properly yet. I don’t know the samples and all the rights and wrongs of the genres. It’s nice to play around with the BPMs a little bit, but I do like to stay between 160 and 175.
There is something to be said about learning the intricacies of one genre, you really need to learn the roots of the genre to understand the process – drum breaks, sampling etc.
Oh yeah, for sure.
I can feel that love for sampling in the EP. Do you thrive more in sampling or sound design?
I definitely thrive more in sampling, that’s always been my stead. I taught myself everything with production and I didn’t really know what I was doing; therefore, sampling was something that made sense to me. I like sampling the old stuff, playing around with it and seeing how I can flip certain sounds. It can be a super interesting and rewarding process.
How do you approach a blank canvas in your DAW?
I know lots of people start on drums, but for me it’s the vibe first. I might start with drums if I’m feeling stuck, but I like to have a jam out through samples or maybe play my synth to get melodies and hooks in my head. Half the time, I find I’ll start on one vibe and then I’ve switched it half an hour later and it’s a completely different tune.
There’s a big focus on drums and old school breaks on the EP. What’s your favourite break?
Ah shit, that’s tough. I would say the Think break, and then the Apache close behind.
Hints of Kōwhai is one of these more jungle-influenced tunes, amazing vibes on that. I’m interested to know a bit more about that name.
So Kōwhai [kow-fai] means Yellow in New Zealand’s indigenous language Te Reo. The thought behind that was while the tune has quite a melancholy & moody vibe, there’s still hints of happiness. It could also be interpreted as the Kōwhai tree which blooms in spring which conveniently lined up with the release in spring here in New Zealand. I know the word would cause some confusion in the UK but stoked to rep some Aotearoa!
The EP closes with Unpopular which is one of the gnarliest tunes I’ve heard in a while and super innovative. How do you personally try and push the boundaries and create new sounds?
I guess it’s just through playing around and experimenting. The process of writing the EP was very tough. If I tried to force myself into the studio for it, I would find myself in this box where I’d try to make a certain tune and it would never work. I now go in and try to not think at all and treat it like it’s not going to be anything serious. Usually that’s when I find something, but it’s production at the end of the day… you never know. Sometimes you slug away for three hours on a drum break, you decide it’s rubbish and then you hit something by accident and suddenly you’ve got an idea. I also try not to listen to drum and bass.
Have you built up a lot of tunes throughout this EP process then?
Yep. I’m sure you can imagine Jack is a very picky man! We’ve got a lot of offcuts that are basically three quarters finished. Something I learnt the most when I was making the EP was that at the start, I would try to make a certain vibe – a big dancefloor tune that will get played out for example – and I just couldn’t. Whereas, when I sat down and decided to make something I truly liked, that’s when Jack would say he liked it. I just want to do me, and I feel it’s a lot more important to do that.
You’re in lockdown right now of course, but have you managed to play the EP tunes out?
I’ve managed to play them out before the lockdown, yeah. They all got good reactions which was great to see, and Jack’s been sending me a few videos of people playing it in the UK which is wicked. I’ve never had my music tested like that before so it’s really cool to see the reactions.
Are there any other producers from New Zealand who you think could blow up soon?
There are too many people to name! For a while it felt like New Zealand didn’t have many producers but this whole new wave has come through and everyone is smashing it big time. There are quite a few people that are pushing boundaries for me. There’s Hound who is making some quality tracks, proper underground and put together amazingly. Willy Mav who’s been getting big love from Andy C & Tonn, his stuff is super unique but smashes the dancefloor every time without a qualm! Ebb/Scout is killing it too, proper rave music in the 130-170bpm range. Shortball is another one making really unique tunes. I could list forever, but I’ll leave it there. Big love to my Southern District Skank Board as well though!
What’s next for you?
I haven’t got anything else locked in right now. I started to take a bit of a break about a month and a half ago, and before that I was basically in the studio every day. I exhausted myself a bit and I haven’t even looked at my DAW in the last couple of weeks. I’m just feeling the waters for a bit now. Maybe I’ll go back to Jack with some more tunes or maybe I’ll try somewhere else, we’ll just have to wait and see won’t we!
Azifm – Making Way is out on Must Make on October 15: Pre-Order