AJ Mutated talks about his move into being a solo artist, issues he has with the industry and how he fell in love with drum & bass from hissy re-re-re-re-recorded mixtapes in Estonia.
He was one half of the Mutated Forms project, a duo known for their insanely diverse sound. He’s returned to the scene as AJ Mutated and is sounding fresher than ever. In less than a year he’s already churned out loads of quality tunes for labels including Innovate Audio, ProgRam, Serial Killaz and Lifestyle.
Despite all these tunes, AJ Mutated has a whole load more coming soon. We decided we had to have a chat with him about his transition to a solo artist, juggling full time work and a music career and why we need to stop labelling everything.
what was your first thought this morning?
The realization that it’s Monday morning and I didn’t get anywhere near as much done as I wanted this weekend and that I’m gonna have some serious catching up to do this week.
We feel you! What's got you motivated right now?
Knowing where I could get to if I put the graft in right now.
How's your summer schedule been?
Outside of my normal dayjob working in marketing, it’s mainly a ton of studio work: working on my next 2 EP’s, several remixes, a sound design project for Loopmasters, a ton of collabs (that I’m being super-long with – if you are one of the people I have started music with, then soz lol). My production to-do list keeps growing exponentially and I’ve had far too many things to deal with in life to get through it as much as I wanted to.
You were one half of the mighty Mutated Forms, which was making big moves since around 2005, you're now firing out bangers as a solo act. How are you finding the solo artist life?
Technically, our very first releases were in 2004 – it was a very obscure album released on a Russian label as Mutated Forms Project called No Limits (please don’t dig it out, we must have been about 14-15 when we made it!). As you can imagine, going solo after producing in a duo for like 15 years has its pros and cons, which are very obvious:
Cons: you don’t have anyone to help you progress with the tune, tell you what’s missing properly, sending it to mates for feedback is not the same – no one to start stuff when you get stuck with a writer’s block etc. Obviously, the work rate isn't the same. Like, when we were making our debut Spearhead album Holograms, we both worked full-time, but as I worked days and he worked nights, we ended up progressing with music almost round the clock and that was a bit of a well-oiled machine in terms of juggling normal jobs and music.
Pros: mainly independence and freedom. It’s incredibly difficult to come to a finished product that you are both happy with when you work in a duo, so there’s the obvious inevitable arguments between 2 people who might have slightly different visions of what a tune should sound like. Also, every move you make is a bit of a gamble. I have the proclivity to make ridiculous impulsive decisions. I like the idea that if I sign away for something stupid, I will only have myself to blame and I won’t drag anyone in with me.
One of the biggest parts of Mutated Forms success was the scope of music produced, is that something you'll be carrying over into your work or are you condensing your style?
Yeah, I guess we must have one of the most versatile back catalogues in the game, as much as this might make me sound like a bit of a [insert random interview-appropriate insult]. I remember when we met Hospital records about potentially doing an album for Med School (not going ahead with it was another questionable decision) and they explained to us that our constant 180 degree changes confuse people. To quote Tony Colman: “confusion equals damage”. I heard Chris Blu Mar Ten say the same thing in an interview about how them doing different styles was actually detrimental to their success. Back then I found it extremely upsetting and frustrating that sticking to a very narrow particular sound would actually get you further in the game. But from a business perspective I understood it quite well. Looking back over the years, I probably had the most fun circa 2009-2011 when we released tracks like ‘Ready When You Are’, ‘Doubts’, ‘Wastegash’, ‘Duct Taped’. That was the most “me” era of Mutated Forms that I wish we never deviated from and as AJ Mutated I kind of wanted to carry on from where we left off back then, but more advanced production-wise. I guess it is likely to be a little less musical, a little darker and a little heavier (I read that last bit in Trigga’s voice in my head).
You've already dropped massive tracks, 'Catch 22', 'Uneasy', 'Bleak' and you're latest is the mad Move EP on Innovate Audio. You must be living in that studio?!
Thank you! I have certainly been considerably less social than usual and basically abandoned Netflix with all the shows I want to watch just piling up. I have to juggle working full-time managing a massive project and pretty much putting full-time hours into music outside of it. Only managed to finish this EP in 1 month as I was working from home after surgery end of February (taking metal plates and screws out of my leg after an injury I had in 2016) – you do tend to have a lot more time when you don’t have to commute. “Move” is a bit of an ironic name, as it was the one thing I couldn’t really do for that month. Also funny that the title track, which seems to get the most love from people, was made as a little warm up in less than a day, high as a kite on strong painkillers and walking around my apartment on crutches. “Malicious” was the most complex tune production-wise on the EP (closely followed by “Dusted”) – yet not many people seem to mention it. “Dusted” was written very randomly when my good friend Dan Deadcell came round with a big bag of groceries as I was unable to leave casa de la AJ at the time and we just sat down and wrote the whole thing. Well chuffed with the result, especially on the percussions and general vibe. That was the one missing flavour on the EP in my opinion.
Have we got more AJ Mutated madness to come?
RAM have snapped up a gritty jungle tune I made for their ProgRam 100 album. Me and Exile have a collab coming out on Viper and I’m currently working on my next 2 EP’s. I’m nearing completion on a remix for Serial Killaz with MC Spyda on the vocals. Been planning a big conceptual project with another music video with MC Busta that we finally need to execute: I have the tune written, he has the bars written, we came up with quite a unique concept for the track and the video, but we just need to finally record it all and do it. Me and Hijak MC were talking about different projects together, which I’m trying my best to find time for. I’ve started 2 collabs with Mean Teeth, which I really want to finish as both our studio sessions have been a ton of fun. I’ve also been having a fair bit of fun working on Ableton Operator patches for Loopmasters – totally different experience when you can just come up with all sorts of noises without having to think how you’re gonna use them in the track.
You're Estonian born, Birmingham based. What do you think of the party scenes on each place?
It’s even more complicated than that. I was born in Berlin, to a Russian-speaking family, with my ties stretching all the way to Ukraine and Caucasus, grew up in Estonia, then went to uni in the UK and now I’m fully Brummified 12 years on. Estonia has a very healthy scene given the size of the country. A lot of decent international headliners on the regular. I find the people there a lot less approachable and stand-offish (you are way less likely to make best friends with randomers in the smoking area than you are here). Drug use isn’t quite as blatant and obvious as it is over here, haha. The UK is obviously a whole different kettle of fish. Biggest drum & bass scene in the world, which has a bit of everything for everyone.
When was your first encounter with drum & bass?
It was in 2001. I was around 12 and people didn’t really have much of an internet access in Estonia. “Drum & bass” was this big myth; is it a band? Is it a genre? You mean electronic music can be fast and broken beat and versatile and not just 4x4 kicks?. People at our school would pass around a few awful sounding re-re-re-re-recorded tape cassettes where the sound was 50% hiss and we just fell in love with it. I later found out at least 2 of those were old DJ Dara mixes and now he seems to follow my recent output and support it and I told him about this and it was pretty cool! It was more towards 2004 when we’ve started learning about artists and labels and dreamed of one day experiencing the UK drum & bass scene first hand. I remember being big on the Bristol rollers / World of Drum & Bass sort of stuff back then over everything else. 19 years on and I still can’t imagine life without this music.
How would you could change the world?
Rather than the obvious and more global answers (that would never happen anyway) – I would love to see less people caring about having to pigeon-hole and label everything they hear and stop arguing over genres and subgenres. If genres never existed, imagine the limitless possibilities for creativity! At least in drum & bass, people need to stop obsessing with having to categorize everything they hear. Just enjoy the music!
If you could play anywhere in the world, where would that be?
There are some very obvious European destinations I haven’t played at: Barcelona would be pretty cool or anywhere in the Netherlands. Somewhere like Reykjavik would also be pretty sweet. Globally, I’d love to play in Canada and some US cities like NYC, San Francisco and Seattle.
What are you most in love with right now?
Turkish / Mediterranean food. All of it is amazing!
What would you fill a swimming pool with?
My first thought was Jaffa Cakes. Showed these questions to a friend and she went: “the last one is definitely Jaffa Cakes!” – she knows me too well.
AJ Mutated latest release, the Move EP is out now on Innovate Audio - Buy
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