Freedom: Reginald Omas Mamode Iv Talks
I’ve been a fan of Reginald Omas Mamode IV ever since I heard his massive 2013 single ‘Do You?’ on the tenth edition of Giles Peterson’s ‘Brownswood Bubblers’ mixtapes. It had a stripped back sound that was instantly catchy, with a thumping bassline and rumbling drum patterns it caught my attention. All the while vocal harmonies shuffled below, Reginald himself sings on the top, of course. As an introduction to his music the song is a pretty good place to start…
Fast forward from 2013 and after three EP releases the Peckham based producer has finally dropped his self titled debut album on the Five Easy Pieces label. I caught up with him to talk about his new album, musical philosophy and thoughts on where he fits into today’s crowded electronic music scene…
Hi Reggie, how’s it going?
What’s that noise in the background, is that a mosque?
Yeah, I’m in the Middle East. I’m on a roof so you can hear the sounds coming from the mosque really clearly from up here. They usually wake me up around 5am every morning doing the same thing. It’s a really funked out sound, I’ve already sampled it.
So you have a new self titled album out following on from the ‘Do You?’, ‘All Together Now’ and ‘As We Move’ EP’s where you have already built quite a distinctive sound. What’s the inspiration behind that and has it changed for the album at all?
Well music kind of comes around. Mostly it’s the music I’ve been listening to at the time, like with this album I’ve been listening to a lot of roots reggae. It might not show in the music but it’s an influence I’ve been feeding off so people like Burning Spear, Johnny Clark, along with a load of classic 60’s and 70’s jazz, like the Bluenote label, Herbie Hancock albums. There’s a little bit of a nod to that in there I think. I wanna make music that’s maybe not easy to listen to but perhaps has a childish nature to it, so people can connect to it quickly. When I say childish I mean like, if kids, like little kids can move to it, then you’re doing something right.
Is that why you like to keep your tracks on the whole quite uncluttered? When I think of one of your biggest tunes, ‘Do You?’, it’s a really stripped back tune but is still very catchy.
Yeah, well things can be simple but they can be so complex at the same time. Like you may just have three drum sounds, but the spaces in between in between is where you build your own complexity. It’s the same with bass and treble. With small simple sounds you can build infinite things. It’s not something that I’ve thought about too deeply it’s just something that comes out, and that I enjoy in other music too.
When you’re making tunes do you play most of the instruments yourself or do you mostly sample? Some of your stuff sounds like it was recorded live but other stuff sounds heavily sampled.
It’s always a mixture. Sometimes it’s drum hits that I’ve sampled from being played live, sometimes I’ll just sample one note from something, just a string noise or a flute noise, and build on it. A while back I bought a Fender Road, so I might just play something on that, record it and put a beat on that. As far as drums go it’s mainly MPC but I’ll record live stuff over the top.
When I’ve seen you play live before you’ve just DJ’d, but then I’ve seen you do some sets where you’re singing with a mic over the top, with your album tour will you be playing live or still just on the decks?
I’m in my thirties, so I come from a generation where all the live shows I went to were hip hop shows. Like I’m from Bristol and there was this one club that during that 90’s used to get all the Rawkus peeps like Jeru The Damaja, Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest, and it was almost that format of the DJ and the emcee, and I’ve always just thought that was the most attractive, so to be honest I do like and am a big watcher of live music, but for me, I wanna keep that hip hop thing going. At the moment it feels right just to be playing the beats, and focus more on having a connection with the people and not have a worry about performing it right. When you’re on the mic during and in between songs that’s when you can build that connection with the audience, so that’s how I’m going to keep it for the moment.
I remember when I spoke to Seven Davis Jr, he is kind of similar to you in the sense that he has a good voice but prefers to only use it relatively sparingly over his beats, do you think you’d ever want to have your voice come more to the forefront of your music?
Well Seven Davis as an example, he’s been classically trained as a gospel singer. So he’s come through the church system in America, and I’d never put myself on that level. I’m just someone who used to sing along to jingles on adverts as a kid, I was always singing. For me singing is more like an instrument within the music, I dunno if it shows but I’m not trying to push my voice to the forefront, I’d rather have it all molded in together. I think maybe lyrically I could expand, but as far as calling myself a singer, I wouldn’t even do that. There are so many far better vocalists out there. For me, it’s like I want the listener to sing it better. They hear it and understand what it could be, like if it’s young girl with a good voice she could probably sing it better than me, and I think that’s a nice idea in music, that what I’m giving you is just the beginnings.
Your sound is a more easily identifiable as hip hop, funk and soul, but I’ve seen you play out with far more dance oriented acts, so where would you place yourself in terms of a musician?
I wouldn’t place myself within a dance bracket really. For me that tends to be more a way of getting gigs rather than anything else. Most of my music is more listenable than clubby. There is a the odd thing I do that isn’t, and to be honest I’ve done projects that haven’t come out that are a lot more dance orientated. But I’m not a house head, I’m primarily hip hop. I know hip hop started with dancing but nowadays it definitely not dance music.
It’s not dance music but there have been artists like Flying Lotus that have maybe bridged the gap between the two.
Yeah maybe. I’d not give myself a bracket if I’m honest. It would be nice to give myself the freedom so that maybe one day I could call myself a jazz pianist, for example. I’d like to just leave it open so that I could just adapt to wherever I’m playing, whoever I’m with.
So are you saying that dance music is a lot easier to get gigs for than hip hop?
Yeah for sure, no doubt about it. If you make house music, you can get bookings. I’ve got a humble, small following, but someone of the same level who was making strictly dance music would get a lot more bookings. Because people wanna get drunk and high and dance at raves, and they always will. Like you see the tag ‘down tempo’, that kinda music it’s harder to get regular spots at clubs, and it’s not like you can just go to a jazz club and play records and spit over the top.
I first heard your stuff on one of Giles Peterson’s Brownswood Bubblers mixtapes, was he instrumental in helping you to get noticed or was it more you doing it yourself?
I think it’s all hand in hand. I been making music for a while with my brothers, you probably know Mo Kolours. So when he was starting to get some airplay, Kutmah came over one night to have a drink and I just gave him a bunch of music and I think he did a gig in Europe with Giles, and he just passed on these rough tapes of mine and the next thing you know Giles is playing ‘Do You?’ on the radio. The funny thing is Five Easy Pieces, the label who ended up putting out my EP, they heard it on the radio. I think it was 6 Music or BBC Radio 1 whatever Giles was on at the time. At the same time I’ve been doing stuff with 22 Music, so I can’t really put it down to one thing, one event, but Giles is a good guy, he means well and always has a lot of time for everyone and always wants to hear new music.
I know you’re from South London where a lot of other guys like Bradley Zero, Al Dobson Jr and Henry Wu are based who have a similarly laid back style to yours, is that a scene you felt a part of or were you always just doing your own thing?
Yeah I mean I know all them guys. I knew them before they set up their labels. I’ve lived in Peckham for 12 years, I think I’m the only one apart from Henry who's still in Peckham now, so I can’t separate myself from them. I wouldn’t say I was directly involved in the Rhythm Section guys in terms of their label, although I’ve been to their nights and they are really good fun. But it’s an evolving thing. I was there before Peckham even had the railway line, so I was escaping, making music in my studio, there was no thought of putting it out. And Peckham was a quiet place, there were no night clubs or anything, whereas now it’s basically Dalston and Shoreditch number two.
I know you said you aren’t really apart of the dance scene but play at lot with those that are, does that change your perspective on all the recent club closures going on in the country? Like do you think it only affects dance music or is it more widespread than that?
I don’t think it’s anyone fault, but it’s sort of an epidemic in humanity to always look to the past to find out what’s gunna happen in the future, in a way. If we look at the evidence, new things like dances, cultures, music, they come as a result of closures of bigger institutions. Take Fabric, there’s always going to be people wanting to go out, hear new music and have new experiences, so it’s only going to give rise to smaller events happening more. It’s not like people are going to stop making music and DJ’s are going to stop playing. I think what is upsetting though about London is that financially, culture is being squeezed out of the city. By culture I mean things that come from the youth and the people. Like Peckham has this thing going on now, but in 20 years time if it keeps going like this there will be nothing there again. Fabric was set up for ravers who had been marginalised by the police when all their free raves in the fields had been shut down. So clubs like Fabric came around because the powers that be wanted to stop a culture coming about.
Do you think that is it quite cyclical in that sense? Like one thing closes and another opens?
Yeah hopefully in an optimistic way that is what will happen. Like if Fabric closes there will be something that springs up in it’s place to be a remedy for it. But in a way a lot of the clientele in Fabric in the last five or six years of it were tourists. It wasn’t coming from the city itself, it was on the young person's tourist checklist. So for me it wasn’t a strictly London cultural thing towards the end.
But do you think that ultimately musicians and creative people in cities are facing overwhelming odds to survive these days?
Well in the past creative people had the a stronger welfare system to rely on, to fall back on, but it’s getting hard to do that even. The music industry is becoming really helpful in a way though, because you can make music in Hawaii and put it out yourself and play to the world. At the same time as a local culture in a city is harder to maintain, you could go live in a field and still give your art to the world, so there’s a kind of balance happening. But in terms of roughing it out in the city and making something or yourself, I think you need to have a couple of strings to your bow nowadays. Like the people I know that are making it work have other things they do that earns them money. For me, I’ve done other art things like set building or construction whilst making music on the side. All I’d say is if you really wanna do something you will end up finding a way because it’s something you really wanna do. It’s not easy, but really this is a first world problem. There’s people living in war zones, who don’t even get the chance to even think about these kind of things.
I guess now days we are all our own businesses, we can’t really afford to just have the freedom to just focus on something creative without there being a bottom line.
I think it’s also what your idea of success is. You could be a guy with a guitar who plays music to people in the street and moves them on a daily basis, and that could be your measure of success, but then some people may not think that is a successful life, and that they need to have financial rewards to think of themselves as a success. For me personally, if you are into music to get cars and nice clothes then maybe you aren’t into it for the right reasons.