The MTV Iggy Artist to Watch dubstep duo talks working with top electronic music label Ultra, being in Elysium, and scouting new musical vistas
Words and Interview by DJ Pangburn
In the space of a few years, New Zealand natives and MTV Iggy Artist to Watch Mt Eden took their brand of brash dubstep from a heavily trafficked YouTube channel to the Ultra record label. It’s been an astonishing, meteoric rise. The speed of which could really only have been made possible by the instantaneous nature of the internet. In that time, Harley Rayner and Jesse Cooper, two kids who had been friends since age 11, suddenly found themselves jet-setting around the globe, playing shows, and having their songs remixed by the likes of AarabMusik and Heroes and Villians.
In June, Mt Eden dropped their most recent EP, Walking On Air. Similarly explosive in approach to earlier work, it added even more momentum to their international sonic assault. And, as if that weren’t enough, the duo’s track “Sierra Leone” was featured on the soundtrack to Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium.
We had a chance to chat with Jesse and Harley while they enjoyed a little downtime. We talked about the new EP, seeing Mt Eden in the Elysium credits, and their upcoming album, No Mans Land.
What was it like seeing the Mt Eden name in the Elysium credit sequence?
Jesse Cooper: We just saw the movie two days ago, and we didn’t know the song was on it. A few of our friends told us that it was on there, but we didn’t believe it until we saw our name on the credits. The feeling was that it was great to be on a big Hollywood movie. We’d never had a chance like that before. It was a really great accomplishment. And since we were the only people in the cinema, we all clapped and gave ourselves a pat on the shoulder. [Laughs] I was really happy.
Harley Rayner: I thought the whole soundtrack was really cool, like the movie, and it was an honor to be included alongside acts like Burial and Lorn.
What scene was “Sierra Leone” featured in?
Rayner: It was when Max talks to Spider when he’s trying to get up to Elysium.
Right, when Max goes into Spider’s hacker layer.
Rayner: Yeah, when he goes into the spider’s nest.
Mt Eden — “Airwalker” Live
Are you guys currently on tour in the US, or are you living in the US these days.
Cooper: We’ve been living here for the last year. So, the US is our homebase.
You recently dropped the Walking On Air EP. Was your thought process different in that recording process versus past releases?
Cooper: I think we just worked way harder on the new EP than we did before. And that leads to more creativity and more ideas. And then we had Ultra pushing us, helping us with our social network, and offering feedback on our music. Before, we’d do a bootleg YouTube thing as opposed to an actual, official release. So, just knowing that it’s going to be put up on a big platform made us try harder for perfection.
Rayner: Yeah, I think all of our recent releases have had a lot of help from Ultra. We’d never had a record label behind us before. A lot of our tune were released on YouTube and made available as free downloads.
How are you enjoying the label experience as opposed to the DIY release approach?
Cooper: Yeah, it’s kind of cool. It helps having the YouTube sensation and all of the followers, because that, along with good music, is what is what the label is looking for. We’ve got a big social network on our side, so that helps out with album sales.
Rayner: Before we came to Ultra we already had a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, and all that, which was pretty strong.
Cooper: Right, and that was the beauty of our social networking—it was all built from the ground up. Everything was done legitimately without any money edited into our promotions.
Is Ultra doing a vinyl release for any tracks or EPs?
Cooper: I’m not really sure. I heard a couple of our fans say that they’ve got some vinyl, but I’m not sure if it’s homemade. [Laughs]
Rayner: Ultra is awesome about getting things out, but we often don’t know about this type of stuff.
What are you at work on now?
Cooper: We’re currently at work on our full album, No Man’s Land, which will be dropping January 2014 or late fourth quarter of this year. It’s got how many house tracks? [Laughs]
Rayner: We’ve done every genre, basically. We have hip-hop, house, dubstep, electro, ambient—anything and everything.
Did you guys going into the recording process of the album with the intent of exploring genres?
Rayner: I think it just took so long that we had something of everything. I mean, we’ve been trying to make an album now for a couple of years. We just kept progressing and putting out free downloads instead of putting them all on album, but now we’ve sort of left that behind. The whole album process is pretty painful, but I guess that’s why we’ve gone through a lot of genres. We’re really picky about the tunes that we’re putting on the album. We’re choosing between a couple hundred songs from the last few years.
When the album drops, and you present these new batch of songs that cut across genres, what do you think the audience reaction will be? For instance, if you drop a house track in the middle of a set, what do you think will happen?
Rayner: People will start jumping. [Laughs]
Cooper: We always like to have a good mix of everything. It also really helps that Ultra is getting remixes by Heroes and Villians, AarabMuzik, and other artists—it gives us a small variety to choose from for our sets.
Rayner: The main thing that EDM artists do is adapt. What I mean by that is the crowd will always change in terms of what music they like, but it’s just a matter of changing the drum beat but keeping the Mt. Eden style.
Cooper: Just a different tempo and feeling.
Rayner: We’ve still got the same style—the dark, euphoric feel. It’s just a different BPM.
It seems like you could definitely direct your fans toward new sonic vistas with genre experimentation.
Cooper: Yeah, take them to different places by us doing different things—we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Find out more about Mt Eden, and learn some Kiwi slang in this exclusive video interview. Watch our full MTV Iggy Artist to Watch playlist and check out the behind the scenes photos. You can also get the EP, Walking On Air on iTunes.