Eight years since his initial release on Dispatch Records (then alongside Sceptikz) and with a number of other releases on the label since then, Belgian producer M-Zine’s output is prolific to say the least. Hammering out dark, techno infused, percussion heavy techstep since 2011, his music is not only hard and impactful but is also laden with intricate attention to detail and percussive finesse.
Listen to any M-Zine production and you will notice that drums are VERY important to this man, and the new ‘Umbra’ EP is no exception. While the deep undercurrent of these tracks step and roll as you would expect them to, the high-end percussion constantly evolves across the breadth of each track. It is that evolution in sound that draws you in and keeps you there. This EP also sees the producer embrace old skool breaks, acid techno and a distinctly late 90’s/early 00’s vibe.
We caught up with him to discuss studios, software, influences and aspirations.
So, you’re from Belgium! A hugely important area of the world for Drum & Bass, because of the huge influence the 90/’91 Belgian Techno scene had on the UK during those formative years and beyond. Even now some of those synth stabs are being re-cycled in many modern drum & bass tracks. Were you influenced at all by those sounds growing up in Belgium?
Hey, yeah, Belgian and proud of it! There’s such a cultural heritage there that couldn’t be ignored by me, even if I wanted to. I recommend anyone who hasn’t watched the documentary ‘The Sound Of Belgium’, to go watch that if you really want to get a bit of a clearer picture of what Belgium was about in the ’90s. Hugely influential records for the UK rave scene, such as “Mentasm” by Second Phase and “Dominator” by Human Resource were all released by Belgian label R&S Records. The club scene in the ’90s in Belgium certainly was a big thing back then! So yeah, growing up hearing these dark musical pieces certainly had a huge influence on me, the starkness of the music is what grabbed me most. To this day much of those early synth stabs are still leading their own little life, which is cool.
What other influences have you drawn upon in your time as a D&B producer?
Life in general I think. I can take inspiration out of pretty much anything that crosses my path, from YouTube, documentaries, other music then d n b, even a good conversation that sparks ideas inside my head. The thing I take most inspiration from is collabing though, preferably in the same space. It just opens up so many ideas and thought processes, and just expands my view more & more on what music is and how I can achieve the sounds I’m hearing in my mind. Being a bit of a geek about everything can help as well. Although going down that rabbit hole really has nothing to do with being creative, it just helps me better understand the tools to get creative. I have these massive geek-out sessions where I’m not really creating, rather experimenting with new VSTs, samplers etc, getting to know them, collecting samples for the creative sessions.
Who are you rating right now in terms of creative output?
To be honest, this whole COVID-thing hasn’t really had an impact on creative minds I feel, rather it’s even given them more time to be actually making things, so I have to say there’s a lot of sick music being released these days if you dig deep enough. DLR is doing some sick things with Sofa Sound. All the producers releasing on that label defo have a feel for funk, so yeah glad to be a part of that little family vibe. Alix Perez’s 1985 Music is also on some flex with their creative output and 31 Records also had some rather nice tunes released already this year, too many to mention to be honest. Like I said there are some quality beats surfacing in these uncertain times!
What is the scene like in Belgium right now?
It’s pretty vibrant, even though there’s not really any parties going on. The government has been hugely supportive of the creative sector in Belgium, so there have been possibilities to throw on very professionally handled live streams, such as “Bredren Invites” at the legendary Fuse nightclub in Brussels, which has been inspiring to say the least. It really does feel like a small family get together each & every occasion. The entire production of that live stream was an absolute joy to behold. There’s new labels being founded, such as Midas Touch Recordings and there’s some new producers coming up with some interesting ideas, such as GOBS de BXL who has just released an EP on James Marvel’s Space Pirate Recordings. There’s One87 making some cool beats and besides that he’s running the legendary Star Warz concept, which is ready to launch as soon as the measures start loosening up. So yeah, I would say there’s hope that there’s still a scene there when this madness eases a touch.
Tell us a bit about your studio set up and how it has progressed across the years. What key pieces of hardware/software would you say are key to your sound?
To be honest, I work all in the box, so I would say my custom-built Mac is my key piece, along with a nice UAD Apollo Twin, an AKAI APC 25 Keys and a couple of ADAM speakers paired with an active Mackie subwoofer. I haven’t been using the speakers much lately though, because I just bought these OLLO Audio S4X headphones, which have really changed my approach to writing music because of how neutral-sounding they are. I will use the ADAM’s for final checks always though. Nothing beats that subwoofer rumble. In the box, my main instrument would be Ableton’s sampler, as all my music is still very much sample-based. There’s something to be said about the ghost of the sound you sample from the actual music.
You mostly work alone now. What is your general work ethic? Are you 9-5 or are you a night time creative? How do you approach making music as a rule?
There’s not really a set time to be honest, whenever I feel like it, whenever I get an idea. I will sometimes even be laying in bed trying to get to sleep and then suddenly my brain just switches on and I have to get the idea out of my head. It’s also very seasonal. I’ve found over the years that winter is high time for me in a productive fashion, maybe it’s the darkness, but it just helps.
How has the pandemic affected the way you’ve been writing music?
Positively I’d say. I have never written this much music in a year in my life, and it’s opened up my perspectives a bit more in terms of creative sampling, just being able to spend more time digging into the things that interest me. Adversely, not being able to play out the music you’re making to people in a club is a bit depressing, and sort of makes you wonder why you’re actually making this music in the first place. I quite quickly came to the realization that I’m making my music for me, and if this resonates with anyone else besides myself, that’s just an added benefit, but not the objective. I’m just happy to be getting listened to by anyone; it’s the highest form of appreciation.
So, you’re back with Dispatch for this latest release. You’ve come back to the breakbeat for the title track. Previously your drum tracks have been a key part of your sound. What made you use the ‘Apache’ this time around?
Because It’s my favourite break, simple as that. The funk in the bongo just gets me every time. I loved reprogramming it to a totally different groove.
If you had to describe the feel of the rest of the EP, what would you say?
Stark, bleak, bass-driven.
Finally, what are your plans for the coming months?
There are a couple of EPs in the works for Sofa Sound, Guidance Music & Midas Touch Recordings. Besides that I’ve been writing a lot of music which hasn’t yet been signed, so who knows what the future brings? I don’t like planning ahead too much.