As a beat-maker who also shares a similar background to more established Birmingham producers like Swifta Beater and TRC, his initial break came in 2013 when he signed an EP to Spyro’s Dragon Punch imprint, although it was the story of ‘Pulse 8’ that would change Mystry’s trajectory for good. Remixing Youngstar’s seminal grime anthem ‘Pulse X’ is nothing new to contemporary producers – a lot of people have tried their hand at it over the years - but Mystry’s edit connected in a way that few others ever have. It’s dark, nasty and rasping - a track with enough fire in its belly to have MCs clawing to get their hands on it, but enough bite to turn clubs over by itself. The real acid test? Boy Better Know rolling it out as a dub in their Red Bull Culture Clash performance in 2014, a moment he recalls as one of the proudest of his career.
With the touch paper now well and truly lit, Mystry quickly signed his debut EP proper to Stripes Records earlier this year and the rest, as they say, is history. Now chilling with the artists he dreamed of working with, we caught up with him to take stock of his journey so far...
What’s the journey been like for you so far? Where did it all start?
Mystry: I was making instrumentals from the early 2000s and getting them played by Birmingham DJs quite a bit, but I stepped it up in 2011 and 2012. I signed an EP to Spyro’s label, the Larry Hoova EP in 2013, and from there, I’ve somehow ended up here. Oh yeah and of course there was Red Bull Culture Clash - how can I forget that? ‘Pulse 8’ got played as a dub by Boy Better Know, which in turn became the first track on JME’s new album, Integrity>. Neil from Stripes then got in touch with a few big DJs and people directed him to me and vice versa. We met up and it seemed a perfect fit, it’s a good team - he works hard.
Just taking it back to Culture Clash, what was the reaction like? How did it feel for Boy Better Know to play your record in front of thousands of people?
Everything was just crashing. I had too many mentions on my Twitter, all my friends were posting videos on my Facebook wall, there were videos from backstage, videos from the crowd - it was mad. It took a long time to sink in.
What’s the story with ‘Pulse 8’ then?
At the time I made it, I had literally kept all my tunes as dubs and I liked it that way. I felt like that part of the culture was missing a bit, there weren’t many tunes that a big DJ had that you had to hunt or track down, so I’d kept hold of ‘Pulse 8’ for a while. I still try and keep my tunes as dubs to be honest and then wait to put them out at the right moment.
"Dark, driven energy. That’s it basically."
Of all the seminal grime instrumentals, why do you think ‘Pulse X’ still connects so powerfully?
It’s just that tune. The new grime fans will never know about the VIPs or the dubs either. Like, you had ‘Pulse Y’ that Slimzee or Mak 10 would play and absolutely tear up raves with too. ‘Pulse X’ itself is definitely in the top 5 of all time for me though - and everyone should know that.
Do you find yourself writing music with MCs in mind? Or is it more a case of producing records that stand up on their own?
I was a raver, even when I wasn’t supposed to be back in the day. I came up in the era of sneaking into drum & bass raves and garage raves with my older cousins. I’ve grown up with that background but lots of people of my generation either go down one route or another - you have producers who just make stuff for MCs and others who make grime that connects in different ways. I’m trying to do both.
I’m serious about both so it’s hard for me to say. Raving should be a fun time and I think people forget about that - everything becomes about ego, rather than looking at the rave as a time to enjoy yourself. I used to DJ when I was younger, so that helps keep me grounded in terms of the club.
How does your work as a DJ inform your production work? Is there any crossover?
I’m always going play a certain amount of my records but I like to have a diverse selection as a DJ. I might play some dubstep or introduce other stuff to break my sets up. No one will play as many tunes of mine as myself.
How would you describe a typical Mystry set then?
How could I sum it up? Dark, driven energy. That’s it basically.
Ominous, but that’s a pretty powerful description. Do you think that darkness has been inspired by growing up in Birmingham? What’s the city like?
It consistently pisses me off to be honest, it could do a lot more at all times. There’s a lack of unity with everything because the city is split into smaller groups and it winds me up. That said, when you’re doing something and you do it well, everyone quickly gets to know each other, so I’ve always known Invasion and DJ Big Mikee. Big Mikee’s actually always told me to keep at it, even when I’ve doubted my future. When he used to get people like Crazy Titch to spray on my tunes, it’d always gave me a lot of joy because those guys didn’t just pick tunes you know what I mean?
Big Mikee still DJs on Silk City Radio, right? How important has that show been?
Yeah. It’s been the main connection between London and Birmingham to be honest. When I was a kid, Kano and that used to come up every Sunday, even Frisco, Durtty Goodz - every week there’d be a different group, so to me that was always the main hub. It definitely inspired me, because it made me think I could do the same one day.
Would you say Mikee been a big influence on your own career?
He’s always loved my tunes and always supported me. If I was slacking it any way, he’d tell me, but he never has. He isn’t a person to hold back. He gave me the drive. When Spyro, Logan and the rest starting supporting me too, it made things easier too. I was DJing with Hitman, Mayhem and Deadly a lot too back then. We had a studio place called the Oxygen Rooms where lots of DJs and MCs met there to record their sets, it became the place to be when we were younger. Good memories.
"All of a sudden, all the grime legends I used to dream of working with, I chill with. The whole thing is crazy."
Looking at your career more recently, what’s it like sharing a label home with Kurupt FM?
Pretty cool! Me and Grindah talk you know, we got a lot of jokes in. We met at a party and we were both drunk so we didn’t really know much about each other, but as time has gone on and we’ve met up at parities, we’re now on a level.
Any plans to work together? What’s the future looking like?
Who knows! I’ve got a track called ‘Lift’ is doing the rounds at the moment, that’s with Capo Lee - it’s been Rinse FM’s Tune of the Week and even Stormzy got behind it on social media. I’ve got my next EP with Stripes in the works too and the deluxe version of the Pulse 8 EP, two sets of vinyl on the way before the end of 2015 too and then mainly shows. Obviously I’ve got fabric coming up, Canal Mills in Leeds, a show in Bristol and then it’ll be generally working on more music for next year.
Speaking of fabric, how does it feel to be making your main room debut?
(Laughs) Nothing’s kicked in yet, everything just seems surreal. All of a sudden, all the grime legends I used to dream of working with, I chill with. The whole thing is crazy. I can’t explain how it feels to play the main room, I need a big word or something. I’m more excited than nervous and I’ve always had a really good feeling about fabric.
One last parting shot - what’s behind the name?
I live up to it in every sense. One minute I’m there, the next minute I’ll disappear - it’s the same in my music. I don’t have a producer tag, so you’ll never know if you’ve heard my music or not. But a lot of the time, you will have.