“Most of the time the four walls of the studio are the only audience most beats get played to.”
MathMan cut his teeth in Irish music as part of Dublin rap group The Animators. As a group, they set the bar for alternative Irish hip hop.
In many respects by not going by the ‘hip hop rulebook’ they gave younger artists the confidence to be and do weirder things, helping accelerate the scene to the exciting position it’s in today.
Now helping curate festival stages (like this weekend at Bulmers Forbidden Fruit), while also keeping up consistent productions and maintaining a musical relationship with fellow Animator Mango, MathMan has been a busy guy. After the announcement of his new series Beat Club on August 19 in The Bernard Shaw, we decided to catch up with him to see what it’s all about, plus get his thoughts on how he sees the landscape of Irish production in 2017.
You’re something of an OG in the Dublin beatmaking scene… The changes in Irish hip hop are well documented, but how have you seen the landscape of production change in the country over the past decade?
You know what, it’s been really great to watch and be part of the growth over the last number of years. For me, three significant things have really changed the landscape of music production here in Ireland. Firstly and most importantly, more than ever before there’s an underlying sense of self-belief and ambition that’s really driving producers and music makers here in the country (similarly on the MC side of things). The inherent motivation to be the best you can be I believe is allowing our music to stand shoulder to shoulder with everything else that’s out there right now.
Our expectation of self is improving our standards across the board – whether it’s composition, arrangement or sonic quality. We’ve got talent here, and the world won’t be long hearing it.
Secondly, the producer’s attention to detail is better than it’s ever been. When I say attention to detail I mean the sonic quality of the music being produced here has come on leaps and bounds. Producers are investing time, energy and money into the quality of their audio. In years gone by I think a lot of producers fell down on that side of things.
Lastly, I think the fact that it costs a hell of a lot less to make music these days than it did ten years ago plays a significant role. Anybody with ideas can now invest a small amount of money to get going. It’s not about expensive technology or studio time anymore. It’s about ideas and creativity in your own bedroom. The power is in the hands of the producer more than ever before.
Do you feel like being a producer allows you to be less pigeon-holed in style, like an MC might be?
It depends really. I think producers need to ask themselves that question at some point. What do I want to be, and what do I want to be known for? Your production style is a personal decision – an extension of self. It takes time to find that though. Personally speaking, I’ve never wanted to be pigeon-holed. I enjoy music too much to want to make the same thing all the time. I like to experiment and try new things.
If you look at my back catalogue it’s a smorgasbord of genres. From breakbeat and dubstep to grime, trap and boom-bap. I guess producers have a little more flexibility than most, but I don’t think any artist should be pigeon holed – whether they’re a producer, singer, MC or whatever. It’s your art, so you’ve the freedom to take it anywhere you want.
With that said though, I think all producers find a space that they’re naturally comfortable in. A space that they excel creatively. That’s why we get the production trademarks that producers become known for. We all immediately know a Dilla, Preemo, Swizz Beats or Lex Luger track as soon as we hear it. Inherently, your own style and vibe naturally comes to the fore.
What type of hip hop production trend would you love to see come back? And what trend do you wish was permanently removed from the annals history?
Haha, good question. It’s not necessarily a ‘production’ trend that I’d like to see come back. What I’d really like to see is producer and MC super-duos make a return. I love the concept of a producer working almost exclusively with one artist at a time – devoting all their creative energy into making a full and rounded album for one artist.
I think a lot of that idea has become lost in the last number of years with the ‘gun for hire’ producer mentality. I’ll get this producer for the slow jam and another producer for the turn up club banger… I’d love to see Timbaland & Missy come back out with a team effort. Likewise Just Blaze and Jay Z, Swizz and DMX, Common and Kanye… These duos had an inherent understanding of each other. Their individual styles embellished each other’s talents. The music we got was incredible. We’re starting to see it come back again a little with 40 and Drake and Metro Boomin and Future, which is good.
The trend to permanently remove? Cheap, contrived Hip Hop and EDM collaborations. Literally there are no winners here.
So the Beat Club, how did you first come up with it as an idea?
I was at an event recently and I bumped into GI. We were chatting about the days that we used to battle against each other at the Lyricist Lounge. The LL was an event my bro John Ennis and DJ Flip set up back in 2011 to showcase talent in Ireland. We were like ‘there’s nothing like that anymore – nothing for new talent. Let’s get something going’. So, GI said if I set it up then he’ll co-host with me. It was a no-brainer.
We both remember those battles really fondly. Some of the best nights I’ve had. We got to meet great talent from across the country and go head-to-head with them all in friendly competition. People going fucking mental when beats drop. Adrenalin through the roof. It’s a great feeling. That’s why I’m really excited for Beat Club – I think when people hear the quality of the music being made here they’ll really respond to it. And producers will experience first-hand that adrenalin rush when a crowd goes mad for one of their tracks. Those battles did a lot for me and my development as a producer, so I’m hoping it does the same for others.
Producers are notoriously introverted at times, spending hours locked away perfecting their sound, how are you expecting to draw these talented hermits out?
Haha, so true. Most of the time the four walls of the studio are the only audience most beats get played to. I can’t argue with that though, I’m exactly the same.
To be honest, I think the opportunity being presented is enough to draw people out. It’s a chance for an audience of your peers and like-minded people to hear your music in an informal way. There’s no pretence or expectation. Come down, play your tracks, meet other producers and artists, make some connections, have a few brews and a good time. The event is happening in the Bernard Shaw, so even outside the people coming exclusively for the event, you’re in a venue where the people around are going to support what’s happening on stage.
The competitive element of the Beat Club is interesting; it harks back to the early days of hip hop… Was this intentional?
Yeah, it was. We’re offering two formats on the night. A non-competitive showcase element and then a 16-person elimination tournament. Hip hop was built on the battle. Whether it be soundstystem, DJ, MC, graff’ or breakin’. I think the battle gives it the competitive edge it needs to draw the best out of the producers. It makes them bring their A-game.
If everyone brings their best, then standards get higher. And that’s when we really start to push things forward.
Places for performing at the Beat Club on August 19 in The Bernard Shaw showcase are now full, but a limited number of places are left for the battle. For more details see the Facebook event page or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Anthony O’Connor