Perfection – An interview with Mutual Friend

When I hear Raul Vlădău’s voice breaking through the receiver, I can’t discern a note of fatigue. Not surprising considering it’s three in the afternoon on a Thursday, but quite unlikely in light of the fact that he’d just arrived home after a 500 km road trip through the heart of Romania. The journey from Bucharest had been a long one, but a meeting with Alin-Mihai Ceauşelu (aka LIAR) had been it’s purpose and it must have bolstered young Raul’s self-confidence. Any hint of the nervous disposition Raul says he is currently experiencing is completely imperceptible through the concise and eloquent manner he approaches the questions. Raul has just given Perfection onto the world, but the initial trepidation of releasing a debut EP “still lingers” with the rising artist when we connect a week after its release. “I’ve been very scared to show the world my music for a very long time.” His extensive experience as a DJ that’s gone from Drum & Bass to “purist dubstep”, 2-step, trap, jacking house to UK bass, only found its way into production a mere two years ago. He struggled to find the vocabulary in music to articulate his expression freely at the beginning of his production career, but soon found an invaluable tutor in Alin and his experience as Liar. It was a chance meeting with the Tessier Ashpool label head that gave Raul the repose to refine his sound as Mutual Friend – a name that is as much Alin’s invention and holds the clue to the pair’s fortuitous meeting. ”It’s definitely a reference to Facebook and social networking. If it wasn’t for the Internet, I wouldn’t have gotten my music out there.“ Bonding over their shared Romanian nationality and an appreciation for an unknown obscure artist, Alin and Raul solidified their friendship when they started sending music to each other, with Alin lending his unique knowledge as Raul continued to find his feet with Mutual Friend. “Alin helped me a lot and he guided me through all the issues I had with expressing myself.” With the help of Liar, Raul managed to find a sound that channelled his diverse tastes into a uniquely personalised artistic voice.

“My influences are based in the club. For me its all about the erratic kicks and percussions that drive the dance floor forward.” Motivated by what he was hearing out of the UK from the likes of Night Slugs, Raul’s sound is stripped down to it’s most essential parts, in an effort to create “visceral” club constructions. “It’s not that I start a track thinking it should be very minimalists, using few elements. It comes naturally.” With the help of Alin he toned down his initial cookie cutter tracks and developed his own style, inspired by artists like Jam City. “When I first heard his ‘Her’ track, I basically lost my mind. It gave me a whole other perspective.” An influence like Jam City worked alongside his experience as a DJ to mould Mutual Friend into what it is today, with a foundation that lies within the percussive sections and a focus on the club dance floor. “Lots of other genres are very much stuck in a certain drum/ percussion default formula. I want more variety from my drums.“

It’s not the first time Raul expresses his distaste at a lack of diversity in electronic music and as we delve further into the ideas behind Perfection I detect a note of discontent. “When I wrote perfection, I was having trouble in my personal life and the track actually embodied all my anger at the time.” The anger stemmed from the hoards of voices discounting Raul’s music in Romania from a scene where the music “lacks diversity” and “there is very little progressive thinking involved”, according to the artist. “Everybody listens to what we already know.” Goaded by this frustration, he set out to disprove the naysayers and Perfection was born, not as the perfect track, but as the perfect embodiment of the artist. “It’s kind of silly and very egomaniacal, like on a Kanye West level, but when you think of perfection in music, you never really think of it as a story “ In the light of Romania’s immovable scene Mutual Friend found a mutual spirit in Liar and his newly established Tessier Ashpool Recordings became a very fruitful vehicle for Raul’s music. Together they removed much of the clutter of Raul’s earlier productions, and taking some very handy cues from the likes of Night Slugs, refined the areas of melody and harmony where Mutual Friend was still finding trouble in his compositions. “I started to take it more seriously, doing my homework and learning a lot of new things. Among all the technical things I had to learn, I also worked on my artistic voice.“ The “overwhelming possibilities” became manageable and Raul tuned his focus on the concept of the tracks. In finding the perfect embodiment of the artist Mutual Friend, Raul has managed to capture perfection in his music. It was first established on TAR’s Cyber Grime Division with Forward Drive and Cylinder, two tracks that once again highlights Mutual Friend’s affinity with the sounds coming out of the UK, particularly in Grime. “Last year there was a little gap in the schedule, and Alin approached me to fill in the spot. But I had only two tracks finished and one was still in the works. So we came up with an idea: lets take those tracks and a couple of other tracks from different artists and make a compilation. All the tracks have Grime at their base, but they have so many different influences and they are so varied.”

Dotted throughout our interview are references to bass music. Phrases like “I love Mumdance“ crop up and Raul often mentions his affection for artists like Untold; “Doff, that just killed it for me.” It speaks to my own personal tastes and I find it a breeze to talk to Raul as we bond over similar artists and music. It’s in that sound where the appeal of Mutual Friend’s music lies with me, even if his influences are more diverse than that. “The way I use syncopation comes from drum and bass. I take any influences from wherever I can. I actually listen to a lot of different music a lot of different genres. I try to expand my spectrum of influences as much as I can.” This diverse musical experience makes Mutual Friend a unique entity on the Romanian landscape where “promoters never promote new things” and the scene “basically sucks”, according to Raul. Alongside Liar, Mutual Friend is not exactly trying to change their localised circumstances, but rather trying to offer an alternative artistic voice in their current situation. “We just want to make our music, and whoever appreciates it, appreciates it.” Theirs is not a monetary ideology, merely an artistic one, and they are quite happy forging a path in their distinct way, like so many of their influences have done before them in more liberal musical environments.

Raul mentions that there are some more grime tracks on the way and that this might result in a Cyber Grime Division Vol 2, but nothing is confirmed as yet. He is currently preparing a hybrid DJ/live set and is waiting for the offers to come through, looking forward to leaving Romania for the first time. It’s hard to believe that Raul is not getting flooded with gig offers in his hometown, but more surprising is that he’s never crossed the borders of his native country. There is something of a universal knowledge in the way he expresses himself and it’s something that shows up in the examples of music he chooses to mention throughout our interview. There’s a confidence in the way he conducts himself that filters through to his music, which is perhaps the reason I couldn’t detect any of the nervous strain the artist says he is under. Our conversation is relaxed and varied and I learn as much about Romania and its music in just the tone of his voice as I had ever done in my lifetime. Before I know it, our time is up, and not a single moment of awkward silence has yet passed between the two of us. I could carry on but Raul’s 500 km journey still looms in the back of my mind, and I should probably leave the artist to get some rest. Perfection might be an unattainable construct for most artists, including Mutual Friend, but in striving for perfection the artist has certainly found excellence on his debut EP.