“There was a conspiracy going around that I stole the name from MF Doom,” laughs Mad Villains. “The reality of it is that one day I was sitting in my pal’s house and the name just come to my head randomly. I had only just heard about Doom and didn’t have a clue that he and Madlib had a side project with a similar name until like two, three years in. Luckily, we are two completely different scenes. Google does a reasonable job of splitting us up.”
Optimized searches conclude that there’s no mistaking identities – Mad Villains is house music and his is a brand that uniquely melds two deep dance-music cultures – U.S.A. and the U.K. Mad Villians (aka 22-year-old Adriane Jackson) grew up in San Bernardino, Calif., and became aware of the genre there – “The disco-house scene was poppin’,” he recalls. But five years ago, he moved to Leeds, England, to re-connect with his father and attend university.
“English people think I’m mad when I say this,” he says, “but moving out here is probably the best thing that’s happened to me—not just in the sense that it has benefited my music career, but also in the sense that it allowed me to come and live with my dad, whom I hadn’t seen for years. I’ve learned so much valuable life skills from him these last five years.”
Being exposed to an entirely different scene has helped Jackson’s sound develop. It’s a musical direction that continues to mature, the brunt of which is weighted with bottomless U.K. bass. Quick turns and clever samples give a modern twist to techniques rooted in classic deep house and tech-house. As with any natural evolution, the seamless suddenly becomes its own thing – a winning amalgamation of the “tried-and-true” with a particular breed of the new. For a kicking example, check his 2016 release “Something About House.”
With an already estimable amount of releases—on Love & Other, Toolroom, and Madhouse, to name a few labels—he recently dropped his Hit the Club EP on the Regression Sessions imprint, and there’s much more on the way in 2017. So, as he juggled school, gigs and studio time, we recently caught up with Mad Villains.
DJ Times: What’s it like being a DJ in Leeds?
Jackson: I’m so glad I chose to go to [university] in Leeds. It’s like the London of the north, really. Music taste here is really diverse and has a lot to offer. I’ve seen so many sick, low-key artists booked here, as well as high-profile artists. It’s one of the most student-oriented cities in the U.K., so there are a lot of creative and like-minded people here. I play at Canal Mills a lot with the Regression Sessions crew and I’ve enjoyed the crowds thoroughly every time! All positive vibes.
DJ Times: What is house music to you? How do you feel about the classics vs. the current trends?
Jackson: I just see it as a powerful genre of music. I respect every different style, from every era that I have heard. It’s funny ’cause the current trend is the classics, really. Things have come full-circle, just more refined and modern – unless your making lo-fi house or something like that.
DJ Times: Major inspirations?
Jackson: In no relevant order, Broke One, Dale Howard, Lone, Kaytranada, Q-Tip, Todd Edwards, A1B—formerly A1 Bassline—and so many others.
DJ Times: What’s your studio process?
Jackson: I usually start by writing an idea for the drop or main section of the track, writing different drum ideas within a, like, eight- to 16-bar loop, then adding in more musical elements like chords, pads, arps, vocals, etc., then a bassline idea. Then, I go from there and start arranging. Sometimes I might think of a bassline or melody first, but that’s only if I heard a specific track that’s inspired me.
DJ Times: Your studio set-up?
Jackson: I am lucky enough to have access to the studios at my uni [Leeds Beckett University], which have all sorts of cool outboard gear. I’m producing solely on Ableton Live these days. I do a fair bit of sampling, and I’ve found Ableton to be very ideal for that. Some other faves include the Arturia Minimoog soft synth, Waves Aphex Vintage Exciter processor, and TAL-Dub delay effects. I’ve got a pair of Yamaha HS7 studio monitors, Akai MPK25 keyboard, Korg volca sample [sequencer], Korg volca fm synth and a Korg microKORG XL synth.
DJ Times: Any signature studio techniques?
Jackson: Some go-to techniques for me are saturation on my kick and bass, hard compression on my pads, transient envelope shaping on my drums and sidechain on everything.
DJ Times: How does that differ from your live set-up?
Jackson: Most of the time my live set-up is just two Pioneer CDJs and mixer, so it differs massively! I have always thought about incorporating Ableton into a set one time, though. I do little live jams at home with the volcas sometimes, so I’m sure I could incorporate them into a set one day.
DJ Times: Your views on performing vs. the studio?
Jackson: I feel equally about both. I love jamming out in the studio for 12 hours straight, getting all sorts of cool ideas down and then seeing how the crowds react to it when I’m playing out. The feelings you get when playing to a sick crowd are amazing. That said, I’m currently working on ideas for another secret alias, making more chilled out, vibey kind of stuff.
DJ Times: Any goals for the future?
Jackson: Stop going to bed at 5 a.m.