Mr. Mitch often gets held up as the poster child for the ‘sensitive side’ of grime. His productions evince a melancholic, inward-looking gaze, tapping into the secret sadness behind the braggadocio and machismo that the genre is usually straw-manned as being characterised by. Of course, as he himself points out, it is a lazy listener who arrives at this conclusion. Instead, Mr Mitch’s deft minimalism extends from a rich history of emotionally-charged records, the difference being perhaps his tendency towards restraint – a less-is-more attitude certainly underlies much of this year’s “Devout”. Taking time out of touring to promote the album, the Gobstopper label boss shared some insights on how he works, navigating his busy schedule as touring musician and full-time father, and some reflections on misconceptions of how his particular take on grime fits into the wider scene and pop music in general.
Vocals have always been important to your sound, but on Devout they take centre stage as you use more traditional song structures. What inspired the change?
I think it was a mixture of things, partly to do with me having the space and the environment to record vocals privately, something that wasn’t available to me before. Also, the music I had been listening to during the creation of this album had been largely vocal. A lot of interesting music has been crossing over into daytime radio play, so it’s around me a lot.
I often come across the view that your records are more openly vulnerable than lots of other grime music, but personally I think this is a pretty surface-level analysis. There’s both anger and sadness in all grime tunes, because it’s always been therapy and protest music at once. Thoughts?
I think grime music has often exposed deep emotion and vulnerability in the artists. A lot of the music comes from a real place and talks about their lives, loves and hardships. Emotion and vulnerability on a grime record is not a new concept just one I try to approach from a different angle musically.
Your tunes obviously foreground harmonic and melodic elements more so than other grime music which might emphasise drums. What’s your workflow? Does the kick start it all off, or you mostly noodle on pads and synths first? How long will you spend on a tune? Is it all very fast, or slow and methodical?
I pretty much don’t think about drums until right near the end for the most part. I play around with loads of melodies, layering different things and then take them all away again. I only keep what is necessary, anything extra feels too cluttered. It’s very much the same with drums, I would often build a conventional drum pattern, something that feels like it ‘should’ be there and then tear it all away, because I hate it and just keep the kick drum or something.
A lot of the artwork for your releases has either explicitly or allusively been quite architectural: either images of rooms or just shapes that evoke some sense of openness and / or enclosure. Is this mostly an afterthought, or when you compose and hear music, is it very visual and spatial?
It’s more a representation of the space the music exists in, the space I exist in when making it. What the rooms and buildings represent change over time but they adapt to fit the emotion / meaning.
How do you approach production in a practical, day-to-day sense? As a label boss, in running Boxed, and now that you’re a dad, do you have to institute a routine? Or is it just an “as and when I feel it” type thing?
I spend a lot of my time working on things for my label Gobstopper Records, finding new artists and trying to find the best way to present them to the world. I haven’t quite found a routine for production yet, I try not to force it. Commissioned work, like remixes for example, is different, but for original work I do it when I feel inspired.
You’ve said you’re a fan of ‘pop music, stuff that’s just on the radio’. Does it appeal to the same part of you that selects records for Boxed nights, or are they distinct objects and experiences?
My sets definitely have elements of what’s on the radio, traditional R&B, for example, has always been something that’s part of my sets. And I weave a lot of acapellas from various artists into my sets and try to present them in a new context. I think there’re ways to present pop music in a way that it can work in more experimental sets.