Foundations: MJ Cole

Tracing the legendary producer's sonic roots...

MJ Cole is a continual innovator.

Finding enormous success during the golden age of UK garage, his innate musicality and breadth of knowledge added some incredible new ideas to the genre.

Since then, he's kept experimenting, using The Gin Factory – a studio/creative space in London's Camberwell area – is a base for solo projects, collaborations, and more.

Recently working alongside the likes of Bruno Major, Avelino, AJ Tracey, and more, MJ Cole returns to solo duties on his new EP 'Foundations'.

An incredibly inventive collection, 'Foundations' is "a step away from my more traditional form of writing."

The producer explains: "It’s created from tiny snippets of vocals, no songs or verse/choruses. A return to my beloved way of making tracks from a palette of sounds. A single-handed tapestry of colours and texture. Sampler craft."

A step away from tradition but a means of returning to his roots, 'Foundations' underlines that MJ Cole's work right now is some of his most creative, lucid, and fascinating to date.

Clash caught up with the influential producer to trace his sonic roots…

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Prince – 'Sign ‘O’ The Times'

The walkman was a revelation to me. Being able to listen to your own music wherever you were was liberating and life changing. My early years were based around the cassette as a format. Vinyl was for parents.

This album was firmly glued to my ears for a couple of months. It reminds me of early house parties in London. The middle eight in the title track is still one of my all time favourite moments. It soars. 'Housequake' is up there for me too. Prince had an unparalleled talent for pop-tinged funk. Catchy but groovy.

I get muted colours from this album. It’s not the shiny plastic pop of 'Lovesexy' which followed the year after but it’s revolutionary, majestic and will always be part of my collection.

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The Prodigy – 'Experience'

I bought the 'What Evil Lurks' EP back in 1992. 'Android' was my jam. The early 90’s were the time of Fun City at Busby’s in Charing Cross Road. I caught Liam playing one of his first live shows there. A stack of synths in a sweat-drenched smokey e-fuelled cauldron of underground music.

He played at loads of raves I was at at that time too – The Living Dream, Energy. His music was simultaneously inspirational and mysterious. I spent many a Saturday morning as the sun came up trying to work out how to make music with my Amiga computer that sounded like the night before.

'Experience' was the first full-length album which featured tracks from the clubs such as 'Charly' and 'Fire'. Dipping back into this album brings back great memories. It was an honour to have been around to witness the beginnings of what became jungle and drum 'n' bass. It was all so new, so undefined, so groundbreaking.

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Michael Jackson – 'Thriller'

I had the privilege of working in the very studio 'Thriller' was recorded at. Westlake Studios in LA. Hallowed turf. The speakers in the ceiling of the small overdub booth where MJ liked to lie on the floor and listen back were still there. I waited a couple of days for an artist to show but ended up recording a good chunk of piano in the live room there which appeared on my album 'Cut To The Chase'.

This album is the one. So many top tracks. 'P.Y.T.', 'Thriller' and 'Beat It' remain my favourite selections. Quincy Jones was and still is one of my highest rated producers. He really pulled the best from his artists and his arrangements still blast others out of the water.

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Radiohead – 'In Rainbows'

I came to Radiohead later than most. I grew up on hardcore and jungle. Guitar music didn’t register on my radar. My taste was far more electronic and club-based. 'In Rainbows' nipped onto my listening radar by mistake. It was the time of the iPod Shuffle, Sennheiser Sports earphones and a period of gym attendance for me.

This is a perfect album for headphone listening. Such detail – intricate close drum sounds with wildly panned backing vocals and ethereal upright pianos. Nigel Godrich, the producer, attained new production heights with this record. 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place' is one of my top cuts – starting small with acoustic guitar and erupting into a wall of electric and distorted heaven.

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Jamiroquai – 'Emergency On Planet Earth'

The Fender Rhodes has become part of my sound over the years. I have three of the beauties at home and at the studio. For years I’d loved the sound but never really sought it out.

This Jamiroquai album marked the point at which I tracked down the culprit. The Rhodes is so much part of this sound. I bought my first MKII a few years later. We’d moved onto CD’s as a format by this time and the Discman was the player of choice. Love the funk and soul on this record. Beautiful horn arrangements, a disco drum sound, slap bass and strings.

Caught them live at the Clapham Grand around this time. A big influence on my funkier jazzier side.

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MJ Cole's 'Foundations' EP is out now – purchase LINK.

For tickets to the latest MJ Cole shows click HERE.

Photo Credit: Fil Mawi

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