Born deaf in one ear, recording artist Mala owns two record labels, mixes music in front of crowds of thousands worldwide and is one of the founders of one of this decade’s biggest underground scenes. Not bad for a guy whose sound engineering teacher once told him he would never be able to live life in stereo.
I remember tuning into a pirate radio station in the early 90s which was playing hardcore and early jungle music and it resonated with me the way no other sound had before. When I was 13 my friends and I stuck different stereos together and used them as turntables and a year or so later I began to write down my own lyrics.
I just kept going deeper and deeper into sound; it was a very natural progression. There was so much music that struck a chord with me, like old sets from Grooverider in 92-93; I had never heard music with so much energy. At my [then teenage] age the pace of it really suited my character.
Back then there was a handful of us writing a particular type of music for a very small audience, record labels weren’t interested in what we were producing and because there was no real outlet the only way to do it was to do it yourself.
I went on a sound engineering course where my teacher once said to me, “you’re never going to be a music producer being deaf in one ear because you need to understand stereo”. I just laughed at the time because I was already making music.
My friends, Coki and Loefah, and I put together a club night in Brixton called DMZ. We later started up a record label of the same name and pressed 500 records. Those sold out, people like John Peel started talking about us and now here we are, six years later, still making and selling records and putting on club nights.
In 2004 I signed some music to Aphex Twin’s record label and they asked me to DJ a launch party at The End, which has one of London’s biggest sound systems. I was scared, conscious it might be difficult because usually people mix by listening to the room with one ear and their headphones with the other. But I decided to just go for it, with the headphone slightly on my good ear. Now I pick up sounds like a kick drum or a snare that keep up the metronome for me and then follow it; the more I do it the more natural it becomes.
The thought that my hearing might suffer more from the job I have has been a recurring nightmare I’ve had all my life. Because I always play on such a big sound system I make sure I wear a good earplug but it is a constant worry.
My schedule is so busy; some people might go out on a Friday night and it’ll take them the whole weekend to recover but I’m usually booked to play on a Thursday, Friday and a Saturday, then I have to find time to make music, run my two record labels and have some time for family and myself!
I never in a million years imagined the music I was making would be liked by anyone else; I thought it was just a strange, abstract expression of how I felt that wouldn’t work on the dancefloor. I can’t explain how surreal it is on a daily, weekly basis to go to places where people know who you are, know things about you and want to hear you.
Mala’s career path
- 1995 – played monthly at many under-18 events with established jungle and drum and bass DJs
- 1999 – started writing music
- 2003 – Released his first record as “Digital Mystikz” on Big Apple Records
- 2004 – Set up record label DMZ and produced his first DJ set
- 2006 – started DEEP MEDi Musik record label which now has a roster of ten artists
- 2007 – Music became full time