How We Met: Mala & Gilles Peterson

'The party was blaring out and it got so big the police were called'

Gilles Peterson

The Radio 6 DJ and founder of record labels Acid Jazz, Talkin' Loud and Brownswood, Peterson (right in picture) began his career in pirate radio in the 1980s before joining BBC's Radio 1 and gaining a huge following for his show 'Worldwide'. He lives in south London

There's a lot of mystery surrounding Mala. Compared with some of the guys he's mentored, such as Skream and Benga, you didn't read interviews about Mala. Yet he's been at the forefront of dubstep as it has expanded globally.

I love his music, so a few years ago I went to one of his club nights as a punter. Seeing him behind the decks felt like a religious experience. He was more than a DJ or a producer; he was like a priest up there, creating this old Jamaican-British sound-system feel.

A few months later I invited him to my studio to do a podcast for my label. Afterwards we spent a lot of time at mine talking about music. I've been brought up on the south-London Caribbean-flavour sound-system culture, so it felt like we were in the same zone.

You could call us both ambassadors for British club culture. I travel round the world for most of the year and Mala does, too. So we play the same clubs, such as Cielo in New York, on different nights.

All most people know about Cuban music is the Buena Vista Social Club, and I was keen to find a different take on things. So early last year I got in touch with Mala and said, "Do you want to do something that'll take you out of your comfort zone?" I sent him a ticket to Cuba and said, "Let's go for a few days and see if it touches you – no pressure."

We walked around eating the food and checking out the music. We booked a studio and laid down rhythms with some local musicians with the aim of each creating an album. Mine is more about live performances, Mala's was about mixing his formulae to live music.

Mala's a real perfectionist. While I'm happy to let something go when it's only 70 per cent good, he won't let it go until it's 100 per cent. I love that about him, though it was a real struggle getting that album out of him – it took a year.

A lot of musicians and DJs these days are about the marketing before they think about the music, but Mala's sound is pure underground, and I think things are about to get bigger for him.

Mala

The co-founder of dubstep production duo Digital Mystikz, Mala is one of the scene's most famous producers. The south-London born DJ lives in Antwerp with his wife and two children

I've been listening to Gilles's radio shows and his compilations for years. I always like how he seamlessly joins the dots between something totally new with something that sounds more familiar, such as with his Brazilian compilations.

We met a couple of years ago when I was invited to do a few shows with him at the BBC. I could see he'd taken the time to research what I'd been doing and he knew my music, which I appreciated. He's very experienced in the industry but he comes across as very youthful in his love for music. And [looks-wise] he isn't doing bad for 47 either.

Early last year I got a random phone call from him asking me to come out to Cuba, which was a complete surprise. He wanted me to meet musicians out there and create an album alongside his. My initial reaction was, what's the catch?

I rarely work with outsiders or other [music] labels – I release my own music – as over the years I've met people from the industry whose intentions don't come from [the right] place. But I felt Gilles was genuine. I was like, " You should know, Gilles, I have no idea about Cuban music!" So he took me on an initial trip out there with him, to educate me about Cuban culture. It felt like going on a school field trip.

We ate together most mornings and met all these musicians, and we talked about food, music and football, as I was on Millwall's books for seven years and he's massively into football. We got close and now he's a brother. We went to one house party in the Havana suburbs and it was nothing like what you'd find here; they had a proper sound system blaring out, people drinking up the rum and it got so big the police were called.

I'm more reserved than Gilles. I'm not exactly shy but he's a pro who's used to talking to big producers and musicians. But inviting me on this project was a life-changer. It showed me the fire these [Cuban musicians] had, and that their message still translates to every youngster who feels trapped, like I felt when I was growing up in London – and Gilles has helped me tap into that.

The album 'Mala In Cuba' is released on Brownswood Recordings on 17 September. (havana-cultura.com)

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