Paul Catlow (‘DJ Catalyst’) and Mike Rogers (‘MR2’) are a duo known as, ‘Able Danger’. Both originally Drum and Bass DJ’s from the mid 90’s onwards who met at the turn of the Century through a Pirate Radio station called ‘Rude FM’ they were playing on. Their paths had also crossed briefly beforehand whilst DJ’ing at various local events in South East London where they both grew up. I took out some time to interview MR2 about their musical influences and new EP which has just come out, ‘Mirage’ which you can download directly from their Bandcamp page.
Tell me a little bit about your history and how you got into music production from DJing?
We had both dabbled with production throughout the noughties, Catalyst was producing with a couple of members of his crew and I’d been working on and off with DJ Lethal who I’d later go on to run Surround Sound Recordings with. I suppose it was inevitable that the next step would be to form our own production unit so it was around 2008⁄9 that we decided to form ‘Able Danger’. We’d hop backwards and forwards to each others studios which were no more than really basic bedroom setups. We’d spend long smoke filled days, sometimes 16 hours plus to try and find and hone our sound. The initial plan was to concentrate solely on Drum and Bass but we’d both been heavily into Hip Hop before the Jungle explosion so it was only natural that we would decide to diversify into other genres eventually. We were both lucky enough to have grown up through the Golden-Era of Hip Hop so that was always going to influence not only our sound but also the production techniques later on down the line. We’ve always considered our approach to music as traditional, learning the tried and tested production methods, going out and spending hours on end trying to find the right records to sample. Using traditional pieces of kit like the MPC, chopping our own Drum samples etc. We do have a lot of time for the more new school approach of Sample packs, that’s how we started really, it was only after a while that we realised that everyone else had access to the same sample material and decided to culture our own sound library. That way we could come with something fairly unique and hopefully it would kind of stand us apart from the crowd. It was a great way of discovering new music and cultivating our musical palettes. That is truly one of the great benefits of digging for records and sampling, it widens your musical taste so much and in turn gives you many more avenues to explore.
Who are your most prominent musical influences?
My first Hip Hop influences have to be Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim and a lot of the greats from the mid to late 1980’s era. Chuck D was an icon to me growing up, I loved the Rock fuelled vibes of the early PE stuff. Also, the political message has been something that’s stuck with me a lot throughout my life. I was also a huge fan of N.W.A. when they first came out, Ice Cube was another extremely politically active MC which suited my mood as a rebellious teenager (Ha!). There are obviously other greats from that era, Gang Starr are still my favourite Hip Hop group of all time, for me DJ Premier is just a legend, that guy just oozes Hip Hip from every pore. It was such a sad loss that Guru died so young, I really do hope there’s some yet to be released Gang Starr material due for release at some stage. Others include A Tribe Called Quest, I really love QTip’s production, he’s definitely in my top 5 of all time. Another great is Pete Rock, he totally changed the way records were being made and it’s great to see him and CL Smooth back together, the World needs another Pete Rock and CL Smooth LP, it’s been far too long. Black Moon are another group who I followed religiously through the nineties, I have massive respect for the Beatminerz and the whole Duckdown family. Dilla has to be on the list obviously, I’m one of these Dilla fanatics, he actually passed on my birthday back in 2006 so I always have a little moment to remember his legacy each year. It’s amazing to see just how much his production still influences music today. I can’t forget to mention D.I.T.C., Lord Finesse has always been one of my favourite MC’s. I’ve been a big fan of Showbiz and AG since Runaway Slave and Diamon D’s ‘Stunts Blunts & Hip Hop’ is still one of those LP’s that’s slept on by most Hip Hop newcomers.
How has your sound changed?
It took us a while to develop our own sound, in fact even after 7 or 8 years I still don’t think we’ve completely defined it, we’re always learning, being creative. I think many producers sound a lot like someone else when they first start, I don’t think I was any different when I first started writing Hip Hop beats, I would try and make something Premier sounding or something that sounded like 9th Wonder’s production but I think you quickly learn that it’s detrimental to our own development if you try and imitate others. One thing that I like about our sound it’s that it’s constantly evolving, every time we sit down to start another track or project we’re looking for something completely different, we’ll purposely fall back from using certain records to sample and try and draw from something a little more leftfield, I think originality is key, try and find something nobody has used before. That was the idea behind this latest EP, we’d built up a hefty stash of records from the Middle-East.
What is it about the Middle Eastern sound which appeals to you?
Paul and myself are huge fans of the Arabic sound, I’d love to go there and go digging one day or perhaps even work with a traditional vocalist from that part of the world. It’s so different from the way we do things in the West which is what makes it so unique and special. I have family in the Middle-East so maybe it’s time I dropped them a line. You have certain record shops in London that cater for World Music but more often than not they’re very limited and quite pricey. Also, as you can’t listen to record in many record shops these days you’re reluctant to drop £10+ on a record, sometimes you can take a punt and hope you might get lucky.
I certainly think our sound has a meloncholy feel to it at times and a lot of people say the same thing, we both like Music that takes you on an emotional ride, there’s something intertwined in that particular sound that puts us on a higher plain when making music. It could be anything, a real deep chord, a vocal sample, just something that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. We’ll be writing a track together and we’d find something, quite randomly and just look at each other and laugh, that’s when we know we’ve found that ‘Able Danger’ vibe.. we don’t need to say anything to each other, you just know.
Hip Hop has changed a lot in recent years, everything evolves, which artists to you listen today and what about them appeals to you?
I still buy a shedload of Hip Hop, I’m an avid follower of labels like Mello Music Group and Stones Throw Records, one of the most exciting artists these days in my opinion is Anderson Paak who’s tracks are kind of a hybrid mix of Soul, Funk and Hip Hop. I’m really digging his stuff at the moment. The LA scene is very strong right now. Marco Polo and DJ Skizz are putting out some great music from the East Coast, they both keep things Boom Bap. If you don’t already know about these guys you should check them out. Apollo Brown is another producer I’m really feeling at the moment, his solo stuff and also the material he puts out with his group Ugly Heroes. I got to big up Skepta, Kano and a lot of the Grime heads from the UK who are putting out some quality music. New skool MC’s like Joey Badass obvioulsly, Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Bishop Nehru, Your Old Droog, Currency, First Division from Canada, Adrien Younge, MoSS etc. At heart I’m still a Boom Bap head but there’s a great deal of more left field stuff around these days which I love.
Tell us about your new EP?
This new EP is a mix of old and new really, obviously it draws exclusively from Arabic records we’ve had lying around for a while. Again we wanted it to be a mix of both chilled out and uptempo tracks. That way there’s a little something in there for everyone. There are a couple of tracks on there that we made 3 or 4 years ago, we’ve recently plucked them from the vault and given them a 2016 makeover. Paul’s been literally bugging me for ages to clean up a few of them, the only reason I haven’t is because we didn’t have the right project for them to sit nicely in. Luckily the Mirage EP was an outlet for them and I’m glad they’re finally out there. A favourite of ours on there is ‘Second Hand Kicks (Jared’s Beat) which came about when a workmate of mine gave me a bunch of old records he’d found lying around outside his flat on Rye Lane in Peckham, I made it in like 10 minutes on my MPC, added a bassline in Ableton and it’s probably my favourite track on the EP. We’ve actually had some interest from some vocalists who want to put some vox on it so there might be a rehash at some stage and possibly a video too. The title track Mirage is definitely a piece of me, a dreamy track which took me about 15 minutes to put together, the samples just worked, producers reading this will know that when you find something that just works it comes together so easily. If only it was like that all the time, a joy to make and one of my favourite tracks I’ve worked on. It’s always the tracks which come together in 10–15 minutes which end up being the best ones. The artwork by the way is a throwback to an old Blue Note Records release, I won’t tell you which on but if you look hard enough through their back catalogue you can see where we plucked the idea from, a little nod to one of my favourite labels.
MR2 thank you very much for your time, it’s been a pleasure!