A Yorkshire Melody – An Interview with Mella Dee

Doncaster in Yorkshire is hardly the kind of place that inspires ideas of a creative hub, from which a forward-thinking musical artists like Mella Dee, real name Ryan Aitchinson, are born. “There was not a great deal there at all. It’s just a small mining town. It’s not a great place for music.“ Ryan’s Yorkshire accent gives him away immediately, while his new EP, Deep Soul takes another turn in the background as I type this out. Nothing suggests Yorkshire about his style of hi-energy break-beat Techno, except perhaps the artistic moniker he’d chosen for himself. “I spell it out the way we say melody in Yorkshire.” He insists I call him Ryan though when I call him up in London, the city he’s made his home for the last three years, but our conversation’s focus remains on Yorkshire and Ryan’s early experiences with dance music from the region – trying to get a glimpse of the kind of environment from which this talent arose. “There wasn’t a big music scene but there was a couple of nights at a place called the warehouse that used to have Carl Cox, and all the hardcore sort of guys. I used to get tapes of all the old Hardcore acts like Vibe Alive and Dreamscape.” It was Hardcore that initially piqued Ryan’s interest in music, the darker side of UK rave music, appealing to his personal tastes and inherent instincts. “Even when you say something like Happy Hardcore, you have the happy moments but you’ve also got that darkness in the breaks.” That darkness is distilled into Hardcore, much like it’s distilled into every other form of UK urban music, from Garage to Grime to UK Techno and it’s no surprise that it’s what’s at the core of a rising artist like Mella Dee too. “UK in my mind – there’s no way to describe the sound. We tend to take from other cultures, other sounds, and we just do what we do.”

Ryan’s musical career started first with listening to the music he loved, collecting the records, the CDs, the beat tapes and digital files, and with a growing collection, came a desire to start sharing it with like-minded audiences. Doncaster didn’t have the means or the facilities to support the latent talent, so naturally he found his way to venues and radio shows in neighbouring cities like Sheffield and Leeds from which to express his tastes and identity through DJ sets. His first adventure into the world of production would come in the form of a UK Garage group called Mista men, which offered Ryan the opportunity to grow from a technical perspectve, while distilling the myriad of musical influences into a single direction, based on some underground inspiration. “I’ve always followed all sorts of stuff, and Mista men comes from bassline.” Today Ryan’s influences brush his work more broadly and as Mella Dee he’s found a unifying voice for all these influences channelled through a singular part of the artist’s identity. Mella Dee might be “very separate” from his work with Mista men or his alias Noface, but at the same time it’s the most personal his also been. “It’s me doing exactly what I want to do.“ Mella Dee is a diverse chocolate box of musical varietals organised and shaped into a coalescing body of the man behind the music and expressed in his singular voice. “There’s a bit of everything in there and that’s just the way it works.” On his latest EP for Dext, Mella Dee is on top form with respect to this ideal. Right from the off, Deep Soul combines elements of break beats with a hazy pads and dirty synths creaking around the edges, while a vocal lifted from some 90’s R&B House anthem croons amongst the frayed edges of static distortion. “Deep Soul is more for the middle of a set – break it down for a minute.” Yet there’s an unbridled energy to the music that transposes you directly to a club environment in the early hours of the morning. “A lot of my music is designed for late night.” Universal feeds off this same aspiration, picking it up from where the opening track left off, thriving on the energy of a packed house at the highpoint of the night. There’s a raw energy to Mella Dee that appears to have followed him from his experiences as a DJ into his productions, even as his Noface moniker. “I like to keep it quite energetic when I’m playing and keep the dance floor moving. I’ll have moments when it breaks down, but I like pumping heavy tracks.”

While Ryan and Mella Dee has this club-conscious focus in his music from his familiarity with clubs like Hopeworks in Sheffield and Studio 338 in London, I wonder what the effects will be of the recent clampdown on clubbing in the UK, and for the most part London, for future generations of musicians and DJs like Ryan. Mella Dee might not fall into this category just yet, having the club experience already behind him, but already his situation is fractured. “Especially for what I do there’s not one scene. There’s some stuff that I like in the localised scene, but it’s not exactly what I’m into.” It means Ryan has to scour the Internet for the musical muses. “You can spend two seconds on-line and find something you’ve never heard before.” But what of the generation Mella Dee will leave in his wake, what of the kids that don’t get to experience this music in the context of the club? Will they ever be able to understand the energy Mella Dee expels through his music from experiences of seeing acts like Bicep, Alan Fitzpatrick & Dense & Pika, if their only source of reference for the music is the individual world of the Internet? “If I’m gonna go to a club and see a DJ set, that’s what I’m going to see and that’s what I’m going to listen to – quite driving stuff.” Without a future for the venues and the references will Mella Dee’s own driving impulses go recognised for what they are, pure club constructions? It raises a gigantic question mark over the whole future of this music, and even Ryan can hear a little of that death knell in some of the music he comes across, music he describes as the colour beige. “You hear so much stuff that could get lost because it sounds like everything else. There’s nothing to it. I hear such music and I don’t think anybody’s put anything of themselves into it. It’s like paint by numbers basically. It doesn’t inspire you in any way.“ The people that make this type of music are the same people buying houses in the east- and south end of London for its “cultural” appeal, while at the same time gentrifying the cultural aspects of the area by shutting down a club or bar across the road for being too noisy, making room for a new Starbucks. They are the same people homogenising the music and the culture, covering the colourful graffiti on the wall in a simple beige.

In some ways Mella Dee’s music comes to symbolise exactly the inherent defiance, especially in the music from the UK. Mella Dee’s music is unapologetic, unbridled and raw, without ever losing sight of the reason this music exists, the dance floor. His latest EP only goes to solidify this. “More than anything it’s just a continuation of what I’ve been doing. Make everything that I do work in some sort of way, while still keeping that rave influence – that hardcore thing.” Although Techno makes a prominent appearance throughout his music, Mella Dee completely avoids the droll aspects of a four-four beat in favour of something that expresses as much as it functions on the dance floor. Beige is certainly not an adjective that you’d associate with Mella Dee, and that’s exactly why it stands out as a remarkable statement of what could be lost if this homogenisation of club music continues to spread, and it’s idiosyncrasies get completely white-washed in the process. At least we’re safe in the knowledge that Mella Dee is only going from strength to strength, developing his sound further, without losing sight of the thing that sets him apart from the rest. “It’s just the development of the last two years, where I’ve started to get known for that break-beat sound, and see what I could do with it. Now it’s getting into a lot more Techno driven territory.” He has a release scheduled for Dusky’s 17 Steps in the near future too, and says that it “should show people a little something different again.” More than that he’s keeping true to himself and this aspect shines through everything he approaches musically. Mella Dee represents to me an artist that will define a future of musicians coming through in the UK, a future where the individual and the unique are once again celebrated and allowed to thrive as a counter culture. And as if I needed any proof, he to leaves me with this sentiment before we end our conversation. “I just want to keep making the best music I can make, just grow as much as I can as an artist. I want to play with people, whose music I personally like and I want to hear what they’re playing.”