Make a dance

Mad fer it with Make A Dance

Josh Ludlow and Ben Lewis from Make A Dance answer some questions via email as they get ready for Oslo this Friday.

Make A Dance (or the acronym M.A.D if you prefer) are part of a musical wave of artists, labels, producers and DJs that have come to the fore pafter the pandemic through a sound that can only be described as post-club music. Drawing heavily on the earliest sound of House, Techno, Electro, and Acid, where all those things were still in their infancy, people like Make A Dance’s. Josh Ludlow and Ben Lewis have taken club music back to its proto DIY roots.  

Possibly informed in a pandemic culture sans-clubs, it’s a sound that harks back to a time where all those genres and styles were a little more fluid and less rigid. It easily extends beyond the dance floor, where a whole generation was introduced to club music outside of its intended context. 

For music that thoroughly adopted the form-follows-function philosophy up until only recently, labels like Make A Dance and producers like Josh and Ben have reintroduced the hedonistic pleasures associated with this music. There’s  a joie de vivre for the dance floor and frenetic fervour that even transcends any physical space. 

They made an early impression with their breakout single, “I need Somebody,” garnering the attention of all time greats like Cinthie and Laurient Garnier out of the gate. Its appeal was likely cemented in those fundamental building blocks of House music where a soulful vocal fills the gaps between kinetic machines. The stuttering introduction and a glistening sonic pallet updates the sound for a modern audience, but its charm is already timeless. 

While that record laid the foundation for a Make a Dance production duo to exist it also instituted a label of the same name, which today has evolved into two labels and a family of artists that extend the sonic signature of the duo that started it all. Today it can go from foaming Acid to shimmering Electro and it’s split between the main label and its M.A.D edits subsidiary, perpetuated by the duo behind the label and their friends. 

They’ve already amassed a dedicated following and between their records, DJ skills and events they are the total package. They’ll join us at Jaeger this Friday, so we hit them up via email to delve into their origins and some of the ideas that informed everything they do.  

Hello Ben and Josh. Tell us about how you met and the creation of Make A Dance.

We met through our EX girlfriends (Big up the Ex Girlfriends!)  The seeds were sown as we instantly bonded over music. A few months later a chance and impromptu back 2 back laid the foundations of the partnership and then Covid sealed the deal with us being in close proximity during the lockdown. 

Individually, what were your paths to electronic dance music and what are the major differences between you two in terms of taste in music?

Josh: Mine was Metal – Drum & Bass – Breaks – House – Balearic Wonderment

Ben: listening to late night radio in my room and being exposed to drum and bass was a big one for me. Then some early albums I bought in my early teens were ‘Moby – Play’ and that fatboy slim album with all the bangers – both got me very excited about sampling and the endless possibilities. 

How did it coalesce into Make A Dance when you started working together? 

MAD: As mentioned before, we had time to kill during the Lockdowns, and when we could intermingle we would have multiple day long sessions writing tunes together. On a whim, Ben had the idea of pressing up a 12” with the fruits of our labours and thankfully for us every bedroom DJ had money in their pockets and time on their hands to dig and it sold out. The rest, as they say, is history.

You are based in London. Was there anything happening in the scene over there that influenced the timing of starting the label? 

There were friends of ours, Jive Talk, Krywald & Farrer, Semi Delicious that were already pressing up white labels so that was definitely a bit of an impetus. It’s been great as we’ve all continued building our respective projects, collaborated and in general supported each other. We like the camaraderie 

Today, Make A Dance is a production duo, a few labels, and a club night. Besides it all revolving around the two of you, what is the central theme (sonically and /or thematically) that ties it all together?

As we wrote in our M.A.D manifesto at the beginning of all of this: It’s all about the love of the dance, and that’s always kept in mind. The only real rule is that we play out what we sign and that we like the artists as people as well as for their traxxx.

Are there any other record labels or artists that were an early influence?

So Many! From the early days, things like Fabric Fridays, Ed Banger, 2many DJs, Plump DJs etc

You went from establishing the concept to quickly garnering some attention from the scene. Why do you think it appealed to people immediately and what do you contribute to this early success?

I think people responded to the playful DIY nature of it. We also have managed to release constantly from the very start, sticking to our simple bare bones aesthetic. With such saturation in the dance scene and in life in general, it’s important to be consistent with whatever your craft may be.

“I need somebody” was the first track and it was a breakout with the likes of Cinthie and Laurent Garnier singing your praises. Tell us a bit about the making of it and how it connected with the origins of the label.

The final track you hear was version 20 something of attempts, thankfully we had time on our side as it took absolutely ages to finish. We can’t take that much credit for it really as it’s based around the amazing Keisha Jenkins vocal from the original. I guess you could say Make A Dance has Aunty Keisha to thank for our early success!

Did you know you had a hit on your hands there before releasing it, and how did it inform the sound of the duo and the label going forward?

We had no idea other than a feeling that we liked it. We had no gigs due to the time it was written so we had absolutely zero dance floor feedback. It would be interesting to see a world where artist’s/producers never received feedback on their work and just released music for themselves …how would music have progressed?

You mentioned the DIY nature of your music. Your music always seems to draw on house/electro/acid’s earliest origins, but updated for today. What is it about that epoch of club music that remains so consistent in your opinion and how do you contextualise it in a modern dance floor? 

Good question. I think we have to be careful not to be too derivative, our music of course borrows heavily from the period we most enjoy which is the late 80s early 90s. Probably the only reason it sounds at all new is because we use a computer to make it haha.

I see your M.A.D edits as an extension of the philosophy of those roots. What planted the seed for that sub-label to exist?

We just felt it was important to make a distinction between the main label and the edits as they are so different. The edits will only ever be limited run and vinyl only (unless we get rights to release digitally). It’s a very fine line to tread releasing edits, and probably warrants a bigger ethical discussion in 2024. 

The tracks you chose to edit aren’t always the obvious Disco things however. What do you usually look for in terms of a track you want to edit, and how do you generally approach the editing process as artists?

Usually it has to be something that we’ve never heard edited before and secondly it has to work in our sets. Other than that, anything goes.

And when you ask an artist like Lex Wolf to submit something, what do you look for in those edits? 

Lex seems to have a clinical problem where he can’t stop making edits, and the other problem is that they are all amazing. We usually sift through an enormous selection to get each edition. With all our edits EP’s we have a loose theme of play listing each EP like you would a DJ set, with a warm up track, a groover, something peak time and something WEIRD.

What about the artists you’ve released across both labels; are these people you have had a relationship with before and what are the essential ingredients for a Make A Dance artist and a record?

It’s really varied from release to release, it’s more that we have a personal connection with the music and this always has led to getting on with the artist. We’ve found that people who make like minded music tend to be like minded, it’s such a direct form of communication in that sense. Of course there are exceptions to the rule…

Which came first, Djing or production?

Josh: Production

Ben: DJing

You’ve played places like Fabric recently. Where were you playing before the label and how have you had to adapt to playing bigger venues? 

Thankfully we are still playing in smaller rooms, and long may it last. We’ll leave the big room stuff to the professionals. 

We both had projects for years before M.A.D so due to that, we quite quickly started playing at places like fabric in London which is mind blowing. That relationship has been a huge part of our story and something we’ll always be grateful and proud of. Fabric was the formative place for both of us growing up.

Everything you do I imagine is to perpetuate that Make A Dance sound and mood, but on a dance floor ,context is always essential. What are the essential elements that you try to relay, especially when you play a venue or city you’ve never played before, like Jaeger?

Watch the act before, be prepared for anything and hopefully we can start under 120bpm as that’s where you get the most horizontal hip action and a lot of our favourite records reside. That being said, we love to slam it too!

Are there any specific highlights in your record bag/usb-stick that you are looking forward to bringing to Jaeger?

Josh: Yes! I’ve been loving playing Lextended Vol.2 – it just keeps giving. Also hoping to play some WAX. I’ve only gotten turntables recently and it’s fully reignited my love for DJing.

What else is on the horizon for Make A Dance in all its various guises that you’d like to share with everybody?

Lots and lots of releases lined up, some special collaborations with other labels, many parties and finally a range of clothing.