DJ UMB needs the world as much as the world needs DJ UMB.
The UK selector developed a taste for sounds from musical traditions all over the planet. His life’s work revolves around bringing them together through the universal crunchiness of really raw electronic music.
Along with Vincent Koreman, UMB runs Generation Bass, a blog dedicated to the discovery of electronic music from obscure corners of the globe. The two scour the globe to find artists who make fresh beats in bedrooms and dank basements worldwide. All of that cultural influence finds its way into the mixes compiled by UMB. The newest one is due out in February.
Transnational Dubstep explores the fusion of the cut-time dubstep beat with styles from Japan, India, the Middle East, the Carribean and more. On one track there’s a melancholy bansuri wailing over buzzing synth bass. On the next, cowbells and Latin percussion swing into effect. On the next, bells and violins battle for the sonic foreground. You’d have to be some kind of music scholar to name every instrument in this collection. We caught up with DJ UMB and asked him to shed some light on what it means to be a truly global-minded DJ.
Do you own the bejewelled skull on the cover of Transnational Dubstep?
Well, I suppose I do now because it’s becoming pretty synonymous with me. It’s owned/created by a fantastic artist called Amy Sarkisian, but I’m going to talk to her about selling the exclusive rights to me. ‘Cause although she created it, in reality I own it. [Laughs]
Go and check out her works here. I just want to point out that she did that skull in 2005 and so it was way before Damien Hirst did it, so who knows, maybe he ripped her off! I’ve used most of her skulls as covers for my “Dubstep Monday” posts on Generation Bass. People were just gobsmacked with the sheer beauty of them. As was I, when I first discovered them.
When the idea for the compilation came about, there was only ever one cover that would do the job. So I tracked her down and convinced her (basically I begged like a dog) to allow me to use it as my cover. I also had to seek her permission to change the color. She agreed ever so gracefully and with full majesty. The original is mint-colored and it’s just as beautiful — but for the album cover, the shade of aqua suited best.
Transnational Dubstep is the most eclectic dubstep mix we’ve ever heard. Where did you find the artists/songs that you included?
Wow, thanks so much, I’m so glad to hear that. Well, I’m one of the most eclectic DJs you’re ever gonna come across. Joking of course.
Most of the artists on the compilation I discovered almost two years ago. Some discovered me, knowing what I was into. Some like Celt Islam, Bandish Projekt and Barbarix I’ve known personally for a longer period. Others were introduced to me by various people in the industry after they heard my mixtapes.
I’ve been into global sounds for as far back as I can remember. There’s just something about music from foreign shores that excites me so much and so I have always been interested in that. I suppose in way, it’s my way of finding my own utopia on this earth through music.
For me as a DJ, I have always found African, Arabic, Indian, Balkan, Latin and Far Eastern sounds far more fascinating. When they’re fused with Western beats, it’s my idea of heaven.
Also for me, it’s like to trying to paint the kind of world I’d like to live in through music — where there is no prejudice, racism or intolerance, and where people take each other for what they are without prejudging on the basis of skin color, ethnic/religious background or nationality. It’s a perfect world for me. I know it sounds a bit hippie, but there isn’t anything wrong with that in my opinion. I just want to live in that kind of world.
What qualities does a song have to have to catch your ear and make it onto one of your mixes?
It just needs to move me in some way — emotionally, mentally, or physically, that’s all.
I think I go for quite melodic stuff with a lot of musicality. Brilliant production also helps, because it needs to sound right and there needs to be sharp clarity within the sound. It also needs to sound different or unique and not generic. I really don’t go for generic stuff unless I’m dropping a mix and a segment of it requires it.
I also go for stuff that is not so obvious and less well known because, for me, half of the enjoyment is the discovery and sharing of it. So if it’s plastered all over the Beatport Dubstep Charts or everybody knows it already, then that’s a bit of a turnoff for me and I’m less likely to use it in my mixes or blog about it. That said, I would still play it out.
These days you hear every kind of traditional music mixed with 140 BPM dubstep beats. What do you think it is about dubstep that makes it meld so well with other styles?
Dubstep just seems to have the space to allow that cross-pollination to occur. Like house music, it just seems able to adapt itself to most things and that’s why I love it so much. It can meld itself with pop, global roots, reggae, soul, rock, punk, funk, and so on. It just has that magic ability to mutate itself without losing its essence.
There are many divided camps on the scene, all vying for the dubstep title. I feel that is a bit of a shame because dubstep is all of those things, but they don’t seem to be able to understand that. Sadly, like politics and religion, music can also be divisive too, and so you get neo-fascists and elitists in music too.
We try to avoid that on the blog because we just wanna chronicle what we feel is great music and give everybody a platform and not choose any sides.