It’s easy to overlook quite how seminal the 90s were in birthing pretty much everything that has since come to dominate UK culture. In just a matter of years garage, jungle, UK funky, bassline and many more genres would explode out of one another like firecrackers. On the coal face of it all was electronic spearhead MJ Cole, whose pioneering 2-step sound went on to influence everything from grime to dubstep to bands like The xx. His breakthrough track, “Sincere”, was one of the first proper garage songs to penetrate the UK top 40, and even now it is the track played religiously at 6am during every house party from Hackney to Hartlepool.
Over the years, Cole has established himself both as one of the most consistent producers in Britain and a mastermind for bringing through new talent. He’s produced tracks across the spectrum for artists like Dizzee Rascal, Katy B, and Example. In 2014, he co-wrote and produced “Nobody But You” for Mary J Blige, alongside Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes. Wiley and Kano are big fans, and just last year he teamed up with the ferocious young grime MC AJ Tracey to create “The Rumble” – a dark and industrial colossus that showed just how diverse his sound has become. “I like to throw those things in now and then and surprise people,” he explains. “The harder the better for those tracks. I really like that dirty and distorted sound; angular, energetic, anti-establishment.”
Aside from dropping “Bouldaz” on Disclosure’s Method White label, “Alcatraz” on Redlight’s label Lobsterboy, and the aforementioned “The Rumble”, Cole’s last two years have been spent on a secret side project. In the heart of central London, he’s taken over and renovated an old abandoned gin factory into a mecca for new artists and producers. Aptly named The Gin Factory, it is a 12 studio soundproof hit factory reminiscent of Cheiron Studios in Sweden. Danny Howard (Radio 1), SG Lewis, Bruno Major, Mr Hudson, Blonde, Red Light, Mele and many more have called this place home at some point over the last few years. “It’s a good vibe,” says Cole. “People are constantly nipping into each other’s studios to tune vocals or play keys or sing.” It’s here, on the basement floor in a spacious room decorated with synths, pianos and old records, that MJ Cole is crafting his new album. The first single, the piano-driven “Undo” featuring Alyss, dropped earlier in the year and showcased Cole’s ability to inject musicality, colour and a booming chorus into a classic garage framework.