Patrick Hawkins and Stuart Maxwell have impressively kept their band together for over a decade now, time enough to have also built State Of Mind into a brand of considerable significance on the global drum’n’bass stage. When NZM last wrote about them, in late 2006, the reference point for Kiwi acts was then-duo Concord Dawn. As Sam Carswell discovers, State of Mind are now one of the Kiwi drum’n’bass flagbearers, and are actively behind other local artists like Dose, Borderline and Wellington producer/DJ Trei, as well as more international acts including Hungarian Chris.Su, with their SOM Music label.
Talking to Stuart Maxwell, producer and half of local drum’n’bass duo State of Mind, in a Kingsland cafe, you wouldn’t guess he gets to tour the world regularly, playing their music to international audiences from Bulgaria to Japan. He drinks tea, not a large-double-shot-soy-vienna-w/vanilla-syrup-and-extra-cream-plus-cakes. When he offers me a ride back into the city I wrongly assume his car is the newer looking model he’s happened to park beside. Embarrassing for me, but an easy way to paint the picture of just how down to earth the globe-trotting Maxwell is.
Rather like a drum’n’bass David Attenborough, he refers to their music the same way a helpful mechanic might talk about cars – precise, but not in so much detail that the electronically uninitiated would turn off. Instead, he makes it interesting, and soon enough I’m up to speed on the relationship between sub-bass frequency and key centre.
The music of State Of Mind is a hard-hitting concoction of sub-bass and quick, heavy drums, with an overarching sense of melody – not dissimilar to their long time mates Concord Dawn. In fact, it was Concord Dawn’s label, Uprising Records, on which they released their debut album ‘Take Control’ in 2006 – though Maxwell and State of Mind’s other half Patrick Hawkins had been collaborating with each other for several years previously.
In the time since they have knocked out another two albums, 2009’s ‘Faster than Light’, on their own SOM Music label, and a third called ‘Nil By Ear’, which notably reached number eleven in the NZ Top 40 charts in April 2011.
State of Mind have also had releases on numerous specialist labels including, Subtitles Records, Shogun Audio, Viper Recordings, 31 Records, Bad Company, Samurai, CIA Recordings and others. Now, following a series of collaborative EP releases alongside Blackout label heads Black Sun Empire, they have a new album, ‘Eat The Rich’ released at the end of March.
Known for their rugged basslines, steely percussion and driving synth sounds, the album again features a number of vocalists. Rapper PercIEve’s features on the storming Mr. Cover Up, while Amsterdam-based Kiwi neo-soul songstress Sacha Vee takes centre stage on the eerie Black Raven, which highlights a softer, more thoughtful side to State Of Mind.
Introducing the first song of the album, Mr Cover Up, the online DJ Mag said: ‘Drum & bass duo State Of Mind start 2014 with a sonic dropkick to the gut. Mr Cover Up features spitfire vocals from [Kiwi rapper] PerclEve, each word a spoken bullet shot out over the six-minute DnB rager. With anvil-heavy basslines and synth contorted to pair evenly with the less-boisterous melody, this is one tune that gets you into the party State Of Mind.’
“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve always existed in quite a globalised niche,” acknowledges Maxwell. “Drum’n’bass is a niche, but it’s also quite a global music. We’ve played basically one side of the world to the other, and there’s drum’n’bass scenes in places you just wouldn’t think of.”
The result is that the duo tour almost non-stop.
“I think it would be very difficult these days to be a stay-at-home producer, if you just wanted to produce music for a living. Unless you’re willing to write ad jingles, it’s not gonna happen. Sure there are some parts I’m not so keen on, like waiting at airports, but I love playing shows and meeting people all around the world.”
State of Mind tours are meticulously planned. They play two types of shows: DJ sets and live sets. Since a DJ set technically only requires a single person, at points in the tour one can fly home whilst the other continues touring, and vice versa. At the time we speak Maxwell is heading off to join Hawkins in Europe in a few days.
They’re able to tour like this successfully, in large part thanks to the wonders of the internet. Their Soundcloud page has almost 18,000 followers, Facebook close to 50,000 ‘likes’, and thanks to Pirate Bay, some kid in the depths of Turkmenistan can potentially download their latest tracks. Inevitably piracy comes up in our conversation, with a positive flip.
“If someone steals our music and just likes us on Facebook, that doesn’t really mean much. But if they then come to our shows, then yeah I guess [piracy] is worth it. It means we get to go to places that we probably wouldn’t go if they weren’t ‘stealing’ our music.
“Fifteen years ago, there probably weren‘t too many NZ bands touring Russia. We’ve been to Russia loads of times – I was just there three weeks ago. You get these opportunities because your music is so easily available… That being said, I do like it when they buy it, of course,” he laughs. “I think a lot of labels are looking at everything in an old fashioned way… internet piracy is the reality of the situation, move on. Find a new way to generate money.”
Their globe-trotting ways also reflect something of the state of the electronic music scene here at home. Over the course of our conversation Maxwell paints a picture of a thriving NZ scene that – after four years of councils tightening the already constricting noose around the necks of nightclubs – is a husk of what it used to be.
“We were fortunate, back then, that there was a really good club scene here. There were lots of active nightclubs in every city. Now, it’s dreadful. NZ doesn’t really have a club scene anymore… I don’t think the 4am law helps anybody, either. You just have to go down to Hamilton and see how bad that is there – people drinking as fast as they can and then getting kicked out… I’ve spent the better part of 10 years in nightclubs and I’m yet to see a fight happen after 4am.”
Former hosts of bFM drum’n’bass show Next Level, State of Mind do their bit to resurrect a local scene, hosting a monthly night called Bad Habits, at Ink Bar on Auckland’s K’ Rd. They give back to the community that taught them, producing videos and tutorials for sites like Digital Labz.
On our drive back into town Maxwell talks about how it’s unnecessary to be a traditional ‘musician’, or even undergo traditional music education, in order to produce great electronic music, and how that accessibility tends to rub people the wrong way. To paraphrase him: Many musicians in NZ act dismissively towards electronic producers, some going so far as to call it ‘not music’, whereas overseas it’s viewed much as an art form.
Success, of course, speaks volumes, and while the car may be humble, State Of Mind’s international success and global lifestyle is one that plenty would surely envy.