“There's nothing more frustrating than having the idea that you’re making cool stuff, but nobody is listening to it. From Exceeder onwards we had a big following checking out all our new records, and coming to our shows.”
Mason member Iason Chronis’s first big breakthrough came from touring (and playing violin) with Tiesto in 2004, months before bandmate Coen Berrier had a UK top 10 pop hit, as Bhangra Knights (the number 7 hit Husan).
The same year they released their first tracks together- the Helikopter EP- followed by remixes for Don Diablo and Malente, before their breakthrough track- Exceeder- was snapped up by Great Stuff.
Instantly catchy though superbly produced, the track became an immediate crossover club hit and also serendipitously caught the attention of a novice Australian mash-up producer called ‘’Tallngoofy' who on 23 June 2006, posted a rough bootleg combining Exceeder with the acapella from Princess Superstar’s Perfect.
Six months later, when Ministry of Sound released the mash-up officially it went to number 3 in the British pop charts immediately, and was licensed to the trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno, confirming Mason’s status as established international producers. (Perfect on Youtube; http://bit.ly/EeNZM )
“Of course it made a difference financially,” Iason agrees. “But at the end of the day the biggest difference was that the two of us could now fully focus on music full-time, which we have been doing ever since, without being afraid of the gas bill. The rest is unimportant. It also created a window of attention for our music.”
“From Exceeder onwards we had a big following checking out all our new records, and coming to our shows, which is really rewarding- without trying to sound too Oprah,” he laughs.
“The fact that people turn up when you play somewhere has an effect on your DJ fee too obviously. We didn't want to make a few hundred new records just like Exceeder, but took the opportunity to work even harder and try to make different, original records.”
Five years on they’ve cemented their reputation as A list producers and DJs still further, remixing both for credible artists including Zoo Brazil, Disco Of Doom and Jesse Rose as well as the likes of Moby and Robyn.
Rather than resting on their laurels, however they’ve recently raised their game dramatically introducing a fully integrated sound light and visual system that they use for every performance. Hi tech and hugely impressive, the show delivers a Chemical Brothers style edge to their shows, raising the bar for DJs when more and more are replacing beat matching with sync buttons.
“Why did we develop this system? (known as the ‘Baboon Booth’) We just wanted to do stuff a bit different,” Iason explains.
“There are too many DJs out there (duh!),” he chuckles, “And there are too many live shows that aren't much more than a guy with glasses staring into his laptop while stroking a controller.” (Watch the video here: http://bit.ly/r4YlSE )
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Putting together the live show must have been a major project, with a huge team behind it, where did you begin?
Mason: “We started by approaching a bunch of creative people in our surrounding to come up with ideas for our new live show. After many ideas had passed, we decided to go with the idea of trying to sync every bit of club light and video, as well as bringing our own (LED) monkey along. You've got to have a monkey on stage.
Skruff: It must also have cost a fortune: how did you fund it? Do you have outside investors or is it part of some kind of 360º deal?
Mason: “No investors, no 360 deals, nothing like that. The difference between our show and a lot of other sync shows, is that we don't bring our own lights and trucks full of equipment along. We sync all the lights of the venue we're playing at that night with our self-made soft and hardware, which is just a few bags of gear. So it takes a little more time (about 8 hours of programming per show) but it keeps it flexible - we can do it anywhere.
At the end of the day we're just three guys flying and we never need excess baggage. Of course we needed to make content, the software needed to be made and the LED monkey needed to be built, which we all did together with Manuel Rodrigues from Deepred.tv. So yes, we put some cash in there, but from now on it's just the fun stuff. Playing. Touring. Tweaking.”
Skrufff: How does it work exactly?
Mason: “For each sound in Ableton (the sequencer we use on stage) there is a layer of light and a layer of video attached to it. This is all pre-prepared by lighting and video people, so once we perform, those people don't need to do much and can just have a beer at the bar - their work is done.
Whatever sounds we play and combine, the associated video and light content will just happily run along in synch. The advantage is that everything you see is integrated as part of the music. We can loop things and the lights loop as well, so for example, if we reverse a track the lights blink in reverse too.”
Skrufff: You must be aiming to play more at arenas and festivals as opposed to clubs; how willing are you to compromise musically, to make music that's accessible enough to large numbers?
Mason: “Not necessarily. We're quite comfortable with the position we take musically and we feel the show works in an intimate club as well as in a big arena. Our music is never the most obscure deepest spacey stuff (although I love deep obscure spacey stuff) and is understandable for a bigger audience, but we like to think it's never cheesy either. Luckily we're both manic collectors of pop music (present and past), so making accessible, fun music comes easy.”
Skrufff: How important is credibility to you?
Mason: “We don't care that much, to be honest. But we have a pretty clear idea of what music we wanna’ make, which is somewhere between that border of underground and over-ground, let's say. It's too weird for huge commercial clubs, and mostly too accessible for the deepest of dark underground clubs - which is totally fine. We hope that the chin-stroking critics will see it's musically well made though, and in no way cheap or disposable.”
Skrufff: One of your new tracks is called 'Who Killed Trance?' what's your take on what styles of music are most popular right now?
Mason: “I can't say we dig everything. Not naming stuff - but some is just not musical enough. But hey, there's a big 17-year old clubbing and record buying population out there, and I suppose a big part of them are less critical about whether tracks musically well produced and original. It will always be like this.
We just saw some statistics revealing that our fans are predominantly 25-34 year old, which kind of makes sense given what we do, I think. But we do try our best to grab the attention of young clubbers too, our music isn't the most difficult to understand and is about fun at the end of the day.”
Skrufff: In 2004 you toured with Tiesto as his warm up DJ, what sets him apart from all the other performers/ DJs out there?
Mason: “He's been pioneering dance music as long as we know him. He was the first dj to do solo stadium shows with a whole circus of acts: The first one to do the Olympics opening ceremony. And he’s switching to house music now, even though his fans expect trance. It takes guts to do all that, he's trying to raise the bar, which we really appreciate.”
Skrufff: Anything else to add?
Mason: “Like to add that there's nothing more fun than running a label. We should have started Animal Language ages ago. It's great releasing whoever you like, whenever you like, in whichever way you like. We have a bunch of like-minded artists on our label now, such as Tony Senghore and Arveene & Misk and keep on looking for new talent (so don't be a stranger if you feel you have something suitable).
The other thing we do is creating the so-called 'Refurbs'. They are non-dance re-interpretations of our tracks, from speed metal to balalaika, and come with every Animal Language release. You can get the idea here:
Mason 'Le Big Bob' is out now on Animal Language as is their artist album ‘'They Are Among Us'.
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff