When writing a list of live performances in the house and techno scene, it’s extremely hard to do so without mentioning a certain Canadian born composer. Since his early releases on labels like M_nus and Perlon, as well as a large back catalogue of releases on his own labels Itiswhatisis and Wagon Repair; Mathew Jonson’s creative and often avant-garde approach – both in the studio and playing live – has allowed him to tour all over the globe. His next stop is Half Baked Easter Bank Holiday party at London’s Number 90.
Now based in Berlin, some 5,000 miles away from Victoria, British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada is where his journey into the world of music started at a young age. With a home full of guitars, dobro’s and other folk instruments (including a harpsichord in the living room), the door was quite literally open to exploring a wide variety of sounds.
“In a way instruments were my toys as a child. My Dad was heavily into folk and blues – he’s actually touring professionally right now in New Zealand and Australia playing the ukulele, singing blues and making guitars. I played the snare drum in a marching band from a young age and then started playing classical piano. I reached Grade 3 I believe, I can play with both hands and read music on a very basic level. I’m considerably better now than I was back then. I took it upon myself to study again about 5 years ago but this time on my own. The way I did that was that I started writing piano music and as I was able to play the songs that I had written – I made them more and more complicated. I’m not at a level yet where I feel comfortable playing solo piano live, I think it’s going to take me a few years yet before I can do that.”
“In a way instruments were my toys as a child. My Dad was heavily into folk and blues – he’s actually touring professionally right now in New Zealand and Australia playing the ukulele, singing blues and making guitars.”
A five minute walk from his home in Berlin is Mathew’s studio, which he has been building for the last year or so. It’s best described as a 360 workstation consisting of various drum machines, effects units and synthesisers. It was around the age of nine that a digital synthesiser appeared at his family home. After some time a computer was introduced and used for the MIDI sound banks that were installed on it, as well as using it for sequencing patterns.
In the early 90’s Mathew’s crossed-pathed with a travelling salesman and guitar pedal collector that had some sought-after equipment for sale. “I met this guy in Victoria that had picked up a whole bunch of synthesisers. I got a Roland 909 for about €700, a SH 101 for €150, and a Juno 106 for around €100, all from this same guy. I pretty much cleared him out! I actually called him about 5 years later to see if he had any more equipment and he got a bit angry at me. I think he thought I was flipping it on eBay and had made a load of money out of him! I had to say ‘No, no, all this gear I bought from you has allowed me to become a professional musician. Now I’m touring these days!’”
Matthew started playing his equipment with a musician called Tom Green in Victoria. “We hung out a lot. I’m not sure if he is still making music now but we started doing some live shows together. I experimented a lot with the analog stuff. It took me some time to learn. It was so fast making sounds on the digital equipment – everything is already engineered, processed, compressed and EQ’d. When you are working with outboard synthesisers you are pretty much starting from scratch, you have to do all the processing and everything yourself. It took a long time to get nice sounding tones out of the gear. I’m still learning how to do this properly, to be honest.”
It was around the same time Mathew was learning the ropes and jamming here and there in Victoria that he embarked on a joint venture with Danuel Tate and Tyger Dhula. This musical trio has conquered many a dance floor in recent years under the name Cobblestone Jazz and have a strong line of releases on Wagon Repair, some of which are still getting played regularly eight or nine years down the line.
Their workflow when playing is very different in comparison to Mathew’s solo performances, with him and Tyger taking on the more percussive and bass elements. Danuel (who is a jazz-paced keyboard player), takes control of the vocoder and strings. “We don’t have any material whatsoever – I think Tyger has some patterns written in his Tempest but I don’t have anything. I literally go up there and program a kick drum, then a hi-hat, a snare and off we go. I have two SH 101’s, they don’t save patterns, so I write one bass line on one, write another on the second unit whilst listening through headphones and then bounce back and forth, kind of like playing records – that’s the foundation for the bass and the drums with Tyger, then Dan plays on top. It’s very different from my solo live stuff.”
When playing solo, Jonson doesn’t have any sort of rules. He claims he’s definitely not a purist when it comes to his solo work. “Even if I’m playing a stereo track live I’ll still be rocking drum machines and things like that over the top. Sometimes it may be more in between. The difference is, I have a computer, it allows for all different types of things.; whereas with Cobblestone Jazz there are no computers, it’s just drum machines, synths and keyboards. I’ve considered playing the way that Cobblestone plays as a solo act, but I feel it would be too stressful; too much of a headache, it would take a long time for things to develop. I don’t think it would be as enjoyable for people to listen to. People want to party, it’s not about me getting all nerdy and shit so I’m conscious that I’m there to bring the party.”
“People want to party, it’s not about me getting all nerdy and shit!”
Although Mathew hasn’t released any solo work for four years, he is sitting on a hell of a lot of unreleased music; as well as some exciting collaborations and remixes that he has been working on more recently. Midnight Operator is a project that he works on with his younger brother Nathan. Last year they had a release called ‘Behind The Scenes’, that came out on Indigo Raw that was very well received.
As well as his endeavours with Nathan, he has also spent a lot of time in the last two years working on some material with his wife, Isis. “I’m actually going to pick Nathan up from the airport today as he’s moving back to Berlin, so there will be some more Midnight Operator stuff to come. My wife and I are going to try to get Nathan to infiltrate our music as well, he’s a real wizard on the computer so having him around our place for a few weeks is pretty priceless. We have been working on a lot of material as ‘Mr & Mrs Jonson’, we are kind of finishing what could be an album. She’s a singer, I even do some vocals myself sometimes.”
Mathew has also done a remix for London DnB legend Goldie. “He’s one of my heroes. I have no idea when it’s coming out. I’m not sure how much of a plan he has for it – but it’s done and he likes it. It has always been my dream to have my music out on Metalheadz. I really hope it comes out on vinyl so I can look at it with my name on it next to the Metalheadz logo on the label – I will freak out! It would actually be one of the highest points in my life. I have a massive drum and bass collection, I was checking how many Metalheadz records I have and there’s pretty much a whole crate.”
For any musician or artist of any kind, their influences can stem from anyone and everyone that you have come across in your life. Raised in Canada, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of American influence on the music that was heard in Victoria in the 90’s while Mathew was graduating and making his own music. It’s amazing to know that the sounds of Jungle and Drum and Bass shone through, a movement that took the country by storm many moons ago; especially London.
Mathew has played in London a number of times, going back to 2004 when fabric first booked him – a place he now calls his second home. “I love London. I’ve thought a lot about moving there but the thought of driving to Heathrow and back every weekend terrifies me. For me, out of any city in Europe; London is probably the one that I identify with most because of the music – the whole bass-culture, I even like some of the UK Hip Hop. There’s a lot of diversity in London that I really appreciate and miss at times.”
Mathew plays at Number 90 on Easter Sunday alongside Greg Brockmann and Anna Wall. “The Half Baked guys have been trying to book me for years – I nearly had to move out of my house the day of the gig! I was pretty stressed thinking about it. It was a crazy situation but finally, I am playing for them and luckily, everything is cool! I’m stoked to be coming over, I’ve got a lot of new music, all kinds of stuff, some breakbeat bits, some electro, new techno tracks – I’ve been busy recently as you know! I still like playing lots of my old material, however, it’s nice to come to London with fresh material.”
Tickets for Half Baked’s Easter Sunday Special are available HERE!
You can also catch Mathew Jonson playing at the following festivals this year:
Moonland Festival Estonia – Houston Festival – MDRNITY – Freerotation – OFFSònar
Half Baked will also be making appearances at:
Lisboa Electronica – Gottwood Fetival – OFFSònar
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