In a scene for the Resident Advisor video documentary Between the Beats an audience member entreats Midland (Harry Agius); ”please save ‘Final Credits’ for the end of the set”. “I don’t think it’s going to be there tonight”, says Agius, smiling through the words to let the fan down gently into “I’m phasing it out.” In 2016 “Final Credits” propelled Agius’ career to new “uncomfortable” heights on a trajectory that put Midland on the lips of every discerning music enthusiast but the time of the video documentary in 2018.
The invigorating burbling of a bass and drum kit exchanging familirities through a Disco dialect sets an amicable tone that’s accentuated by the raspy reed, synthesised in the melodic region. It touches on some deep personal level when an expressive vocal joins the cavalcade, transporting the listener back through time to the future as predicted in the 1970’s. “I just wanted to write some music for the essential mix” he told Between the Beats. After making it and listening to it “fifty times in the studio,” he sent it to Jackmaster who said “yeah we listened to it like a hundred times at an after party.” Agius realised that “this record has some legs.”
Already an established and respected DJ and producer at the time “Final Credits” came out, it was in no-way a launchpad for Midland’s career, but rather something of a crossover success for the artist.
Harry Agius doesn’t think he’s “innately talented” according to a XLR8R interview from 2018, but he’d always been a fan of music to an obsessive extent. Growing up in East Africa, his earliest musical experiences were handed down to him from his parents, “stuff with a strong emotional tie, with structure” like Abba and the Beach Boys. It set on him on path of discovery that would have him hopping over genres and decades with zeal, encouraged too by his older siblings (5 of them to be exact). Everything from Led Zeppelin to Prodigy informed the young Agius’ musical tastes which only expounded by the time he moved back to the UK at the age of 13.
It was while at school that the DJ bug first bit when Agius was handed a copy of an Andy C set. “It was on the way to a rugby game on a school bus,” Midland remembers in an interview with Billboard Magazine. “The moment I got back I took out the CD decks and was like, right: how do I make things play at the same speed?” He became “obsessed with drum and bass”, while mastering the intricacies of becoming a DJ as a teen. “I was super young, super keen, went to every party, met everyone, chatted to everyone,” he explains. “The guy who ran the radio station, they used to host a room at one of the biggest rave nights in the city. I was watching the DJs with him; every song I would just tell him the name and chat about it. He was like, ‘Just shut up — you can have a set!'”
It wouldn’t be long before drum n bass became too restrictive however and Agius realised, “because of the tempo, there wasn’t a huge amount of area to maneuver.” He set out on a trip through Spain for a month and purposely left his ipod at home in an effort to step away from drum n bass. When he returned to the UK, he would find a renewed appreciation for the more lethargic tempos of Aphex Twin and Moderat and made his first tentative steps into the world of production. “I think that’s what lost quite a few people in the early days, that my music was very unplayable,” remarks Agius in Billboard.
Between all of this Midland found himself at university in Leeds, where he befriended future Hessle Audio member, David Kennedy, aka Ramadanman / Pearson Sound. Kennedy had seen Agius DJing through the window in his dorm room and the pair struck up a relationship that endures to this day. They were housemates for 6 years, living in Leeds and then London and would eventually start working together as producers, but not till much later. ”Initially we were on slightly different vibes musically, when they were starting the label I was deep in to drum and bass but as things have progressed our styles have began to cross over in places.”
Agius watched the the Hessle Audio collective go from hosting an online radio station, using his decks, to “one of the most inspiring collective of DJ’s/label guys and producers around” according to an interview with Wired. “Moments like seeing David play his first FWD at plastic people, getting their residency at Fabric, Ricardo playing David’s tunes, their respective Fabric/essential mixes were all such important moments to witness.”
Midland’s own career would follow a slightly different but parallel route to similar greatness. In Leeds he started working for the internationally acclaimed Wire club while making music and trying to get gigs on the side. “At times I found it really hard”, he told his old club, “mainly due to the nocturnal hours we kept and the fact that I was in quite a tough stage in my life personally as well as being really unsure about what it was I was trying to achieve in music.”
An openly gay man working in a very straight industry and especially with the chauvinistic connotations that harder genres like drum n bass often bring could not have been easy for Agius, but he found inspiration and support through the community at Wire through the likes of club nights and institutions like Metropolis/Dirty Disco, Subdub/Exodus, Back 2 Basics, and Mono_Cult as he moved from Drum n Bass into 4/4 House music.
“Mono_Cult have a real special place in my heart, they took a complete chance on me way back at the start and have really supported me all this time,” says Agius in Wired. “I still remember Paul Woolford messaging me on twitter all those years ago seeing if I wanted to go for a coffee. We ended up back at his studio chatting for hours, he even gave me a midi keyboard as I was too poor to buy one, we’ve been friends ever since.”
The most significant shift in Agius career would happen in 2010 however when he and Kennedy released “Your Words Matter / More Than You Know” as Ramadanman & Midland. “I was just listening to 4/4, anything sub 140”, he told Resident Advisor in an interview from 2011. “Moderat’s album was pretty instrumental in my shift, then I went to stay with Ramadanman [at his folks’ house in late summer 2009] and we made ‘Your Words Matter.’ I’d always liked that speed and…it just felt right.”
Released on will Saul’s AUS music, “Your Words Matter” and “More Than You Know” were two pristine Tech-House arrangements that offered something more in the lower end of the spectrum, borrowed from the likes of dubstep and drum n bass. It set a tone for Midland’s productions to come with more releases on AUS garnering the attention of a new burgeoning UK scene sobering up from the heady era of dubstep, that had lost its way somewhere over the atlantic.
Midland tracks like “Trace” became dance floor anthems in the UK and very soon beyond with Agius’ music finding a unique sonic identity in the larger canon of House music. Sweltering bass-lines and razor sharp productions made lasting impressions on the dance floor. “For me, when you’re making music, you get to a stage in the song where it’s cool; it’s working, but unless I really get that feeling in my chest, that hairs-standing-on-end feeling, then I’m not really achieving my goal,” Agius told Resident Advisor about his musical process.
It’s that philosophy that would eventually also inform “Final Credits”, a track that Agius would go back to time and time again in the studio before releasing it on his regraded sub-label, cementing his legacy as a producer indefinitely.
But for many it’s a DJ that Midland would ultimately make his mark. An avid music enthusiast, whose selections span the globe and and history of music, Agius as Midland has some innate sympathy with his audience when it comes to DJing. Painstakingly arranging sets around the environment and context he is always striving for a set where you “feel that you’re part of the crowd” according to the between the beats documentary. When it feels like “the music is picking you and it’s a collaborative process between you and the crowd,” that’s the moments he’s after as a DJ.
In 2018, he’s stopped incorporating “Final Credits” in to his sets, and although he is “very happy” with the success of that record he doesn’t believe it should define him. Records like “Trace” and “Blush pain”t a very different picture to “Final Credits” and although there is veritable sound at the core of all his releases, they are composed of fleeting references and influences that span an extensive musical identity. From House to Disco and even his early afro influences, Midland is a distinct musical entity in electronic music today.
*Midland plays Frædag invites Midland this Friday.