Author: David Bola
Picture Credit: Marin Driguez
Hi M I M I, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. I just listened to your set at C12 for Nuits sonores & European Lab Brussels, and something struck me. Listening to your selection and how you mix tracks, I noticed an approach that’s just as interested in “rhythm” as in “texture”. What’s your relation to sound(s)?
M – I like sound design a lot, textures and layers really move me. Club music is also very sentimental, and there are ways of conveying messages other than just “dance for the sake of dancing”, we can also convey emotions. Through sound design and textures, you can reach these little moments of peace, and moments of interrogation.
D – A large part of the club music landscape is functional in the way it’s conceived. For instance, we’ll create a 4-4 rhythm for people to dance to. So then we forget a whole part of what creating sound is all about…
M – Yes, exactly. I really like the idea of deconstructing and then rebuilding something again, turning it into something a little more textured, maybe less easy to dance to, but at the same time much more poetic. Deconstructed club music* is something through which I really discovered myself.
I’m actually trying to work on intent. To be more present, without having too much control. It may seem a bit contradictory. I orient, but I don’t block.
I realise that I haven’t yet asked you about where and when you started working with music, and about how you got into the club scene. How did it all start for you?
M – I started mixing because I was organising non-profit parties in a place called Casa Nicaragua. We sponsored students in Nicaragua and held a party every two months with a collective – Bal des Vivants – at Casa.
Casa Nicaragua is a non-profit organisation in Liège that supports the Zapatista movement* and several projects in Nicaragua, including a scholarship program called Nica Beca. They own a house, and in the basements they organise Cumbia and Latino parties. The whole Spanish-speaking community from Liège (and even from Brussels) gathered there.
I met the daughter of one of the founders, who had the idea of hosting a party to support Nicaraguan students (Nica Beca). They knew of an area of Nicaragua that lacked a university, so students had to travel very far to study but couldn’t afford to.
Our mission in Liège was to organise dinners, meals and concerts to raise funds. As the youth of the Casa, we organised parties with food included, for which you paid whatever you could at the door. With the funds raised, we were able to sponsor 3 students.
One day, a DJ stood us up, so I burnt some CDs and played them. People liked it. Then I started playing left and right, in squats… First I was mixing with CDs, then I learned how to put music on a USB stick, and how to use turntables. Labok from the Lait de Coco collective came to me one day and said, “Ah, you’re a DJ, you play club music… Come join us.”
So Romain (Labok), a Frenchman from the Lille region, started the collective. He wanted to create a club scene in Liège. Before, we didn’t really have club music, you couldn’t hear dancehall, hip-hop, pc music, or reggaeton anywhere. For example, if you wanted to listen to African music, you had to go to an African cafe. During the Lait de Coco parties, you could hear everything, that’s what people really liked.
I joined the collective in 2017, and that’s when they threw all these names at me, styles of music, different labels… I was bombarded with information. I felt hindered by this guidance, it put pressure on me. The intention I had when I started was not to become a DJ, I just wanted to contribute and share the music I liked, without having to delve into codes, to talk about styles and genres. I have a super naive approach and I like to hold on to that, I think it’s precious.
Since you learn new things as you evolve, you also become less “naive”. How do you preserve this naivety?
M – In all forms of artistic expression, you need these moments when you return to your roots. I have my tools too, which help me keep this slightly more naive spirit, meditation, retreats and spending time in the forest. That’s what soothes my spirit and helps me keep a playful childlike side. It doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s quite the opposite, these are fundamental techniques that bring a lot of balance in my creative process.
D – Learning to be a DJ is often a personal journey. There are not a lot of classes you can take, and turntables are really expensive.
M – Every time I touch turntables it has this effect on me. I don’t have any at home and it’s my favourite instrument. I don’t have access to that. It’s too expensive. I try to find residences where I can play them, and I’m trying to save up to pay for them because it’s becoming mandatory. For the time being, every time I get to a club there’s this moment when I have to relearn the instrument.
While researching this interview, I found an article you wrote for a blog on herbalism. After what you said earlier about textures and sound design, I wonder if your relationship to nature also plays a role in your work?
M – These are all things that help me tackle questions surrounding creativity, fluidity and instinct. I trained as a herbalist, but I didn’t finish the course. I continue to practice on my own, I search for information and often attend seminars.
My relationship with nature is something that I like to bring across, both in my sets and in my productions. I really like field recording* (or soundscape*), I play with it a lot. An iPhone is just a tool. When you want to create, anything can become a tool, you just have to have fun.
Speaking of nature, tonight you started your set with a recording of birdsong, it almost felt like we were in a forest. What can you create with these sounds?
M – It’s like a kind of therapy. In fact, I want it to be a journey and for it to start with an atmosphere. I really like walking in nature and I think it can be nice to recreate this environment in a club. It makes me feel good, so I imagine it might have the same effect on the audience.
One evening, I played a lot of songs at 150 BPM, and then I put on a field recording piece. People left because it got a little slower. At that moment, I spotted a girl in the crowd who was crying her eyes out. She came to find me and thanked me, explaining that she was having a bad trip, and that this moment made her feel better. It’s important to remember that at times, there are people in the audience who may need something lighter.
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Zapatista Movement: The Zapatista uprising broke out in 1994 in Chiapas (Mexico), the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force. The movement opposes exploitation, racism, the oppression of women and people of all genders, militarisation, destruction of the environment, and the marginalisation of indigenous and rural populations ruled over by landowners, politicians and Mexican and transnational companies.
Deconstructed Club Music: Also known as post-club or deconstructed music, it is an experimental electronic dance music genre, characterized as a post-modernist counterpart to house and techno.
Field Recording: The the term used for an audio recording produced outside a recording studio, and the term applies to recordings of both natural and human-produced sounds.
Soundscape: A soundscape is the acoustic environment as perceived by humans, in context. The term was originally coined by Michael Southworth in the 1960s.
About the Author
David Bola is the content editor of We are Europe. Formerly working at Radio Nova as a freelance journalist and hosts a monthly residency on Piñata Radio‘s sound waves, with Ludotek, a show focused on video game music.