Yaroze Dream Suite is a collaboration between London-based producers Mr. Mitch and Yamaneko. Their debut, self-titled EP, released through Local Action records, is a seamless melding of each individual’s style, bringing together wispy ambient textures, immaculately produced synths, and precise drum programming. The album moves through four distinct imaginary worlds, refracting grime’s sonic structures to emotive, atmospheric ends — imagine a beatific suspension above a slow-motion solar eclipse.
I talked with Mr. Mitch and Yamaneko over Skype, and we discussed the project’s genesis, the merits of collaboration, and grime’s historical intersection with video games, alongside a variety of other topics. A generosity of spirit suffuses their responses, an openness and appreciation for each other’s talents as well as an enthusiasm for the work that they’ve produced together. Whether discussing their individual approaches to DJing, the importance of Boxed (the club night and record label run by Mr. Mitch, Slackk, Logos and Oil Gang), or the genius of Murlo, both producers displayed a thoughtfulness and attention to artistry that bodes well for the future of this collaboration.
To get started, I wanted to know where the name Yaroze Dream Suite comes from?
Yamaneko: On one level it’s a reference to this Sony PlayStation special model that let people at home affordably create their own games. I’ve always been drawn to that sort of thing; I like bedroom, DIY productions. The first music both of us made was on eJay software and things like that. So it felt like a nice callback to that, but it also roughly translates from Japanese as “let’s do it together.” For both of us, this was the first real, in-studio, direct collaborative project we’d done, so it felt like a fitting name, just celebrating collaboration. And then “Dream Suite” is just, it’s a bit dream suite, the music.
How did the collaboration, going into the studio together, happen?
Mr. Mitch: That was kickstarted by Tom [Lea, head of the Local Action label], but we were both into each other’s music and had met each other a few times at Boxed. There were a lot of comparisons being drawn between our albums when they came out, and we were both really into each other’s work, so it felt like we were on the same path or had the same mindset. So we wondered what it would be like to collaborate and what would come out of it.
Y: In the end, it felt like a really concrete vision that neither of us would have done solo.
Definitely, it’s really hard to pick apart who’s doing what on the album. So when it came to songwriting, was it a question of dividing up the songs, or was it more a case of throwing sounds at the wall and seeing what stuck?
Y: We had two laptops set up and we’d just sit next to each other, and for example, Mr. Mitch would jam out a melody and I’d play around with some drums or samples here and there, seeing what sort of stuff fits together. And then we’d go into our own laptops, one would use the monitors and the other would use headphones, and we’d work on stuff quietly for a bit and occasionally nudge each other and go “what do you think of this?” Once we were finished with our own sounds, we’d swap them over and treat them slightly differently. Each element has both of us on in some capacity.
That’s interesting, because I know that both of you do edits. Do you think that’s present in this collaboration, getting something from the other and then treating it almost as if it were a sample, something to edit?
Y: Almost, this one did feel a little bit more like we were working towards a shared end product.
Y: So it did feel more like it had a general music writing element to it.
M: I do enjoy doing edits, but it’s more on a remix vibe and it’s kind of more me putting my stamp on someone else’s tune, whereas this is a proper collaboration. It didn’t feel like I was editing Yamaneko’s tunes, and I don’t think it felt like he was editing mine.
Y: Not at all.
M: It was a proper collaboration.
Y: There are certainly bits in certain tunes where you forget who did what because it’s gone through so many different variations, but all talked about and discussed. It felt like a joint effort.
I was wondering about “In The Moonlight,” which features vocalist Hannah Mack, how did that collaboration about?
M: I was at the Rinse.fm studios — my day job was to work there. They had someone in the music studios that day; they were just getting her in to try out some demos, to see what she was like as a singer and to see if they could work with her on some future tracks. And they realized that they didn’t have any beats, so they asked me if I had any beats that she could use, and I gave her a few, and this is the one that she picked out. I came in a couple of hours later to hear how it had gone, and she’d already laid the sax down and the whole song basically, and I was really impressed with what she’d done.
That sax riff is great because it just comes out of nowhere.
M: Yeah I was not expecting to hear that on there at all.
Y: Controversial sax, [laughs]. It’s fitting because we do like having real world elements, but for them to sound slightly off, slightly outside of reality, and that’s exactly what she came through with, with both the vocal and the sax.
What do you think you gain from collaborating? What’s present in a collaboration that’s not there when you’re working by yourself?
M: Just new ideas, I guess. The reason why the project sounds nothing like our solo projects is because we’ve had different ideas coming in from the other person. My solo projects will sound a certain way, and you’ll probably always be able to tell that it’s a Mr. Mitch thing because they’re totally my ideas. Working in collaboration with someone on something creates a whole new thing in itself.
I know that in interviews Mr. Mitch has talked about DJing as a different aspect of his art and Yamaneko has the Talbot Fade project. What do you think is valuable about having other outlets for things that don’t fit into your “day jobs”?
Y: For me, the context in which things are heard and presented is really important. With each of the individual projects, you can help craft that, and give the sound its own little world. That’s really important to me, and it was the same with this project. It just existed in its own little pocket. It helps you have a deeper understanding of some of the ideas that you’re thinking about, and you’re really pushed to achieve a potent message in one small thing rather than blurring it all a bit. Our DJ sets are very different from our music as well.
M: For me, I feel like I need to always be creating, no matter what area it’s in. With my DJ sets, I try and treat them as creatively as I can and make new music from pre-existing music. That’s why I’m very much into blends, and I know Yamaneko is the same. Even with the label, [Mr. Mitch runs Gobstopper Records] I put a lot of creative input into each release and the stuff’s very important to me. If the music ever became business, a part of me would die. [Laughs].
Going back to DJing for a second, do you feel like your approach to it has changed as your solo careers have developed?
M: Mine has definitely changed over the past few years. When I first started DJing, I was pretty much doing 100% grime in a set, and it was always around 140 [bpm]. I had to find a way to fit my own music into a set, which meant exploring different tempos and genres a bit more within the context of a DJ set. My sets are definitely different than a few years ago — they’re more eclectic, but still cohesive.
Y: With me and DJing, it kind of went the other way around. I was DJing long before I was producing. I do the odd radio show here and there, just low key. When I was younger, I was doing the 120 to 140 journey, peak-build sort of stuff. That’s why I think the first album had tempos that were all over the place, because I was thinking about each different moment in a set, and the places that the tunes could work. It’s the same with this. That’s always been a thing: having a wide spread of tempos that have the right impact at the right time, in the right context. These sort of tunes almost feel like little, not secret weapons per se, but stuff to put in those sets and find a context for. That’s the sort of tunes that I like making personally.
Returning to something that Yamaneko mentioned about working through ideas in your music, I know that Mr. Mitch has talked about his album [Parallel Memories] having a strong visual component — imagining scenes that haven’t happened. And the Yamaneko album is very much inspired by video games, which also have their own particular sense of place. What sorts of scenes or places did you have in mind when you were producing this album?
Y: The artwork captures quite a lot of it, actually. We discussed that we wanted it to be very visual because both of our work is influenced by the idea of soundtracking an environment, place or emotion of some sort. With the Yaroze stuff, we wanted the artwork to capture, in a subtle but evocative way, the sort of themes that we were discussing while writing the tunes. The elements you see in there, like the mirror, the ferns, the owls, the starlight, and the smoke coming from the mirror is very much rooted in what we were thinking about visually when writing the tunes.
M: I definitely remember both of us saying [cult British game show] Crystal Maze at one point. [Laughs].
Y: Yeah, Crystal Maze is sick, having those kinds of formats, four colors, different sounds — that stuff’s always in the back of our minds when writing tunes. Each tune on the album is probably a different zone of some sort.
Are there other musicians who operate in that visual sphere that you’re into at the moment? I’m thinking for example, of people like J. G. Biberkopf.
Y: I’m into that stuff. I definitely like environment-based music. Most of the music I listen to is just me regressing into video game soundtracks and ambient stuff, or soundtracks to films. Most of the stuff I appreciate is from composers who are writing themes for a specific purpose. I’m also into Logos, Kuedo — the guys who are doing the same sort of thing but on an album level. Mr. Mitch as well, from day one.
Drawing it back to video games, which video games are you playing at the moment? Do you have favorites from this year?
Y: This year I’ve been quite deep into Dark Souls 3 and Bloodbourne. It took over most of my life this year [laughs]. That definitely had an impact on the Yaroze stuff, because I was playing Bloodbourne heavily at the time, which deals a lot with dreams and nightmares.
M: I’m definitely not a gamer in the same sense. I used to think I was a gamer until I met some real gamers. The only game I’ve got time for at the moment is Pokémon Go [laughs]. It took over my life for a month, and now I’m back on track and not playing, really. That’s probably the only game I’ve played all year actually. I was coming home and I should have been making music and instead I was walking around lots.
What do you think it is about video games and grime that seem to go so well together?
Y: I think it was just the timing of when this sort of stuff came out and obviously influenced a very creative generation of artists. There’s a lot of emotive, very emotional music in grime and a lot of it stems from nostalgic references. The early Mega Drive stuff - look at Joker’s work, look at Ikonika, look at Dizzee [Rascal] sampling Street Fighter. That sort of stuff is referential, but also a celebration of the sort of sounds that inspire and give off a vibe. Particularly when it comes to early video game stuff, a lot of what I listen to can only be achieved with one sound chip, one sound card. You’re so limited, and I think both of us like using very strong limitations and trying to unpack as much as possible from that.
Y: Yeah, that was right at the end of her set. That was amazing. She’s wicked; that was one of the best club sets I’ve seen. Really fucking good. You see everyone just going mad, loving it — it just captures that little memory in your heart and celebrates it. Again, it’s best used in small doses, like at the end of a set, just for the right emotive impact.
M: I think it exists beyond just a nostalgic thing. I’ve signed tunes in the past, or I’ve played tunes and people are like “what’s that tune with the Final Fantasy sample?” and I never played Final Fantasy so that has no link to me. The music itself is just that good, it needs to be played. It’s definitely more than a nostalgic feeling. The music of the time was amazing.
That’s interesting because grime, and the kind of music you make, definitely has a nostalgic element as well as an impulse to push things forward, and I wonder, talking about melodic production, who you think is doing interesting work in that space, which maybe references grime without necessarily staying there?
M: In the grime world, people like Strict Face and a lot of the people who I’ve signed to Gobstopper are utilizing melody in the way that I like. The reason that I haven’t put out that much on the label this year is because I’ve been finding it hard to find people who really excite me and are doing new things. There’s definitely people around, the same ones who I’ve released before, like Iglew or Loom. Murlo is a boss with melody.
Y: Murlo is just a fucking genius. Too many talents.
Staying on the melody side, did you have particular influences — genres or people that you brought in when you were recording this?
M: My influences are never direct. Whatever influences I have are kind of unconscious, so I’ll just throw down a melody quickly on a keyboard, and then maybe afterwards I’ll feel like “this sounds like so-and-so.” I never really try to bring in a certain influence.
Y: With the mix that we did, a lot of that was openly displaying some of the stuff that influenced us, but with our own take on it. A lot of that is just edits of existing tunes or 33 rpm rips of existing grime tunes. There are certain elements from the tunes that inspire us and we’re trying to showcase them as best as possible. The stuff in there is definitely — melodically — what filters through a lot.
What about drum programming? I definitely got a whiff of Shackleton on “Spirit Temple.”
Y: Spirit Temple was a mad one. The drums came together so quickly. That was the first studio session we had. We had the piano melody and Mr. Mitch laid down some flutes and a kick and a clap. You can tell the kick and clap are all Mr. Mitch. There wasn’t an influence on that; it was more what vibed at the time really. It came together so quickly and it just worked. Both of us try and create our own rhythms. We don’t want to ride on anyone else’s success, that’s for sure.
Going back to the studio, is that something you particularly enjoy about the grime scene — different people coming together who you wouldn’t really expect to see collaborating?
Y: I think that was a good thing about Boxed, in general. It brought together so many different producers on so many different waves — hard, soft, whatever grime. It was just loads of people making interesting music and everyone was vibing off each other’s stuff and genuinely, very earnestly into it. A lot of collaborations happened through that melting pot, and it was exciting for sure. There was so much good stuff being made, stuff that hasn’t come out yet that involved people meeting there that you wouldn’t usually put together. It was a catalyst for a lot of people, and it’s led to some good shit.
Y: That lineup is just incredible.
On that, can you give us anything to whet the appetite? What can we expect from that night?
M: I think you can just expect a lot. [Laughs].
Y: Beautiful chaos. A mashing of ideas.
M: What’s great about Boxed parties is that people always try and create a new set for it. I know Mumdance in particular, he definitely smashes it every time he plays. People create new music for it, or they make new edits for it, and I think that the back-to-backs that are going to happen will make something different. Most of these back-to-backs haven’t happened before. I’m really excited to see what’s going to come out of them. Myself and JD. Reid, we haven’t played back-to-back before and I don’t know if we plan to practice or not, because I think it’s sometimes better when it’s a bit spontaneous — you get the best results out of it.
Was it a question of the Boxed guys and Tom from Local Action coming together and deciding who you’d love to see play back-to-back?
M: Pretty much. We wanted a lineup that was exciting to us and sets that we actually want to listen to. People going back-to-back who will bring the best out of each other or bring something different out of each other.
Can we expect to see Yaroze Dream Suite playing out? Is the project going to continue after this release?
Y: Yeah, definitely. I definitely think that we’ve got a lot more to give as a duo, production and performance-wise. We bounced around some really good ideas when doing the mix, and I think that we could definitely bring new ideas to the club, or wherever we end up playing. We would love to do that at some point soon.
M: Yeah, sure.
Y: Whether that’s back-to-back or in some sort of live capacity. We’re working on stuff.
This project would obviously work in a club, but I wonder if you’ve thought about other spaces that you could present it in?
Y: Yeah, I’m into other spaces. I like the mix that Mr. Mitch did in Paris, where everyone was having a nap. I was really into that.
Finishing up, what can we expect in the next few months? More Yamaneko stuff? More Gobstopper stuff next year? What’s in the pipeline?
Y: My next solo album is all wrapped up now. That’s coming out in November, through Local Action. We’re both working on other stuff. I know Mr. Mitch has got some new Gobstopper things lined up and another album himself.
M: Yeah, I’ve got an EP coming out on Gobstopper, from a duo that will be announced soon. I’ve also got a load of singles planned for Gobstopper next year that are experiments in club grime. I’m trying to make things more exciting for myself again, trying to find more music that’s exciting me in the club side of grime. My album is almost finished now as well, so that will be out early next year.
On that, as someone watching it from outside, there’s so much good music coming out at the moment, that one almost gets fatigued at times. Is that something that you feel or are you still getting excited about things regularly?
M: No [laughs], I’ve been finding it hard to get excited about music. It’s when the rare gem comes along that really excites you, that’s when you know that you’ve got to do something with it.
Y: I’m the same. I mostly listen to music that would just get me through day jobs. I’ll go back to game soundtracks and still be inspired by them. In term of new music, I keep a constant look on SoundCloud, there are some great people on there. Getting older as well, the stuff that really shines is rarer, but it shines even brighter for it. It’s still a really cool time for music though, for both of us.