Guernsey isn’t exactly known for its subcultural club music. In fact, the small island in the English Channel is where an exiled Victor Hugo famously penned his classic 19th Century novel Les Misérables – later adapted for that corny af musical. Still, it was here that, more recently, Alex Crossan developed a fascination with exotic electronica, introducing himself to the digital realm as Mura Masa, beat warrior.
The multi-instrumentalist initially gigged with punk and garage bands in Guernsey’s pubs. Crossan, whose first album purchase was Gorillaz’ Demon Days, then discovered the spectrum of electronic music online, embracing such experimentalists as James Blake. The teen bedroom producer created his own hybrid, blending dubstep, hip-hop and both Asian and Afro-Caribbean instrumentation. He shared his music on SoundCloud. Meanwhile, Crossan headed to Brighton to attend uni. However, with songs like 2014’s ‘Lotus Eater’ generating buzz, he quit studying drifting instead to the multicultural hub of London.
In 2015, Crossan aired the EP Someday Somewhere, its breakout song ‘Firefly’ blessed by wonky funkstress NAO. Bigger again was last year’s Calypso-house ‘Love$ick’ with Harlem rap phenom A$AP Rocky. It’s been certified double-platinum in Australia. Crossan has even produced for others, being credited on Låpsley’s Long Way Home and remixing Ed Sheeran’s mega-hit ‘Thinking Out Loud’. Stormzy used Mura Masa beats on Gang Signs & Prayer.
Now the 21-year-old is finally presenting his eponymous major label debut, inspired by #LondonLyfe. Taking cues from the hyper-collaborative Gorillaz, he’s curated guests like Charli XCX, Christine And The Queens, and, intriguingly, Damon Albarn (who canvassed Crossan to contribute to Humanz). Mind, the real star is Bonzai – an Irish alt-R&B singer aligned with Crossan’s Anchor Point Records.
The album encompasses previously released Mura Masa singles, starting with ‘Firefly’ and leading up to ‘All Around The World’ (featuring the Yeezy-endorsed Desiigner). But there is also fresh material that finds Crossan transcending his trademark trop ‘n’ trap. Indeed, Jamie Lidell performs a funky Prince tribute, ‘NOTHING ELSE!’. Even Crossan himself sings on some songs, such as the Blake-mode Auto-Tune folk track ‘give me The ground’.
Today the Guernsey kid relates to a digital music movement that transcends geography. “I think it’s all kind of blurring into one interesting internet sound now,” he tells Music Feeds. After gracing the Coachella stage this year, and having just been announced on Perth’s Origin NYE lineup, there’s long been talk of an Australian Mura Masa tour. The artist critically confirms he’s headed to Aus before the year is out. Whether that means a full tour, we’ll have to wait and see.
Music Feeds: You’ve got your album dropping soon. How are you feeling – nervous or excited?
Mura Masa: Um, kind of tempered – [I’m] looking forward to people hearing it. Whether they think it’s good or bad is irrelevant at this point to me (laughs).
MF: From what I’ve read, you approached this album in a sort of narrative way – each of the songs tells a story. With electronic music, there is this mentality that you put together a collection of tracks. So it’s interesting when you get an artist who actually sets out to create more of a conceptual work. What can you tell us about that?
MM: Mmm. I think the important thing to remember about the album is that it’s like a diverse collection of things and it’s not meant to be any one cohesive vision. It’s kinda gonna be just a collage of things that are going on in music culture at the moment – and different styles of music, different voices, different narratives, people from different backgrounds. So I ran with that idea and just focussed on making the best music possible and then piecing it together and having it as an album – as a way of bringing those ideas together.
MF: It was incredible when you recorded ‘Love$ick’ with A$AP Rocky, because you were still a relatively new name then and he’s such a big rapper. How on earth did you even make that happen? What was it like working with him?
MM: The good story behind that is quite unglamorous – in that I think Rocky had heard the original version of ‘Love$ick’, the instrumental version [‘Lovesick Fuck’ off Someday Somewhere], or somebody had played it to him, and he just really enjoyed the beat. He’s in London an awful lot – he calls it his second home. So he was over in London one time and I think he just wanted to get together and talk about music and just hang out. So we did that at Abbey Road Studios in London. We just chilled and shot the shit and talked about Tame Impala and fashion and stuff like that. And, while we were doing that, I threw the ‘Love$ick’ beat on and he kinda was just freestyling over it. I just took what he freestyled and ordered it into a song.
MF: You worked with interesting vocalists on this record overall – Damon Albarn, Christine And The Queens, and Jamie Lidell, who’s still slept-on. How did you go about curating this album, because I’ve also read that you didn’t want it to look obviously marketed – you wanted it to be an organic process.
MM: I think, not to discredit the work of people at my label and my manager and all the diplomacy that goes into working with another artist, but the chief thing that connects all the collaborations on the album is that those artists are a fan of my music and they had heard my stuff previously and enjoyed it. There’s no one on the record that I haven’t been a fan of for a long time – they’re all people who I’ve really admired for a while and really enjoyed musically. So I think on paper, while it looks like a weird, diverse mishmash of people, when you listen to the record it’s obvious how they all have influenced me and how they all fit together in the kind of musical menagerie of the album.
MF: Your sound is very hybridised – it’s almost post-genre. How do you feel you’ve evolved over time?
MM: I think just there’s kind of a maturity in my attitude now that I don’t think I had previously. Before, I was just sort of trying to see what makes people tick and using a lot of dub and tension and drop moments and things like that – [I] focussed more on the club side of the electronic music scene. But now I’m trying to use that in with just pure songwriting and really great pop music and real instruments and things like that. So I think that’s become a bigger part of my sound over time.
MF: I’m not sure if you’re aware of an Australian producer called Kilter, but he talks about you in interviews here. I actually tracked him down to get a question for you – and it’s quite a good one! He asks, “Your early work, sample choices and visual identity seemed to have been strongly influenced by Japanese culture. Nowadays your music has more of a global flavour. Have you found that travelling and experiencing more of the world has affected the way you write?”
MM: That is a good question! I think early on I was kinda looking for something to latch onto as a concept; to start the project – ’cause I didn’t want to just make music randomly without focus. So what I chose to do is look at traditional Japanese culture and music and history and mesh that with modern hip-hop culture and mixtape culture. That was my starting point – and that’s where the name comes from: ‘Mura Masa’ is like a Japanese folklore tale [about master swordsmith Muramasa Sengo]. So it started there. But, yeah, I guess as I’ve become closer to the London scene, and the underground club scene here in London, that’s influenced me to look outwards and try and take into account lots of other cultures. There’s still a Japanese influence at the root of it. But I’d say it’s much more global now.
MF: You were studying English Literature at uni before you dropped out to pursue music. I wondered what area of literature you were most interested in and if you still get time to read at all?
MM: I don’t have time to read anymore. It’s really frustrating. I kind of, not regret, but I really wish I’d had the opportunity to finish my degree ’cause I think, in many ways, writing a novel and making an album are quite similar – like similar ideas creatively. What area of literature am I most interested in? I like fiction and fantastical stories. I was really into Alice In Wonderland while I was at university. We studied that. I just really like how fiction reflects the real world almost accidentally. No matter what you write about that’s fictional, it’s always a reflection of how you’re feeling in the real world, just by the nature of what writing is. So I’d say that – and that goes for music, as well, I guess.
MF: Well, if you come down to Australia, that’s a lot of reading time in a plane. But is there any talk of coming down here to tour behind this record?
MM: Yeah, definitely. I don’t know what’s been announced and what hasn’t, so I’d better not say anything too specific. But I’m definitely coming to Australia end of this year – end of 2017.
Mura Masa was announced as part of the Origin NYE lineup. Mura Masa’s self-titled debut is out now.