In this new series I interview some regular Fat As Funk mastering clients who have some interesting stories behind their music.
Here we chat with Context – a producer and MC who has released records on Sony, and is also a university lecturer and author. We’ve had the pleasure of mastering several banging tracks of his over the years, and he’s an all-round interesting fella.
What was the first moment in your life that really stands out as the driving force behind your musical path?
My Dad used to be in a band playing in pubs and things when I was younger so we would play guitar together. My little brother had a drum kit so we used to do learn songs so I’ve always loved music. But in terms of writing my own stuff, I started off doing battles for some fun, but it really started when I first moved out of home. I was working in a call centre in Norwich, living with my girl and my mate in a fairly skanky house and I just wanted to make tunes about my life. The UK hip hop I was into at the time felt really abstract and I wanted something that spoke to lads like us.
How long have you been writing & producing music?
I started properly releasing music seriously with a tune called ‘Off with Their Heads’ which came out in 2011
Off With Their Heads:
What tracks are are you most proud of, & why?
There are two that stand out. One called ‘Drowning’, which to be honest was mainly for the video. We shot the whole thing underwater and it was just an incredible experience. For an unsigned rapper, I still think that video is crazy all these years later. The other one was getting to work with Mike Skinner for his remix of ‘Small Town Lad Sentiments’. He was always a bit of a musical hero of mine so getting to work together was a bit of a dream come true to be honest
Small Town Lad Sentiments with Mike Skinner
When in your musical life have you felt the most nervous?
Filming that underwater video was insane. I had a panic attack 20 feet underwater. That was pretty scary!
What was the most inspiring gig/festival/club night you went to in your youth? & what stood out as being special?
There are a few that jump out. It wasn’t even really my youth (!) but the first time I went to Amnesia in Ibiza was unforgettable. It was Eric Prydz and Above and Beyond. Mindblowing night. One I really remember was when it was insanely late and we were still out and we stumbled totally by accident on a night which used to run at Cable called Jaded. It started at 5am and ran until 2pm the next day. Completely insane nights.
Have you been to any music industry conferences (MIDEM, SXSW etc)? If so, what aspect/s did you find most valuable?
Recently I’ve actually found myself being invited to speak at a lot of these panels mainly about my work on mental health and the music industry. I did a research project called ‘Can Music Make You Sick’ which was about the struggles of a creative career, and that’s taken me all over the world to speak about it. I tend to find the artist panels a bit misleading to be honest and overly positive. They tell artists that everything about music is great and its never been better or easier to be an artist. I feel that whole techno-positivism a myth and totally unhelpful for young artists generally.
I read your report which was very insightful and helpful. The first 8 bullet points raised really sum up what it’s like living in this precarious, addictive, rewarding and draining pursuit that we call the music business. As well as mastering, I make music too of course, & it’s been the biggest source of both joy & pain in my life. The juxtaposition of pride & self-revulsion, joy and pain is intense. When you get a “win” it fuels hope and brings excitement and money, but that can quickly be replaced once more with feelings of hopelessness and anxiety for the future. It was actually very comforting to read so many quotes from musicians feeling a similar way and that these feelings often go hand in hand with being a musician. The study, in true music form, also made me feel a little bad at the same time in the sense that if this is who we are, there is not necessarily long-term escape from these feelings… But at least now I can stop TRYING to escape the feelings, & instead embrace them (in a way) and figure out coping strategies, and focusing on the positives instead of feeling crushed. I found this a hugely positive change in mindset, and in a weird way made me feel better about the low points of being a musician in general, and more determined to relish the great bits, of which there are many – enough to overshadow the crap bits anyway. I can’t wait to read the full book when it comes out on the 28th September!
Has being a musician affected your personal relationships, either in positive or negative ways?
This actually speaks to a lot of what I’ve been doing in my research over the past few years. Music is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’ve met some incredible people and its led to many of the things I do now in my professional work as an academic. On the other, you have to acknowledge that being a career musician can be extremely destructive on your personal relationships and actually can be really unhealthy.
Have you had to diversify much across your music career, in order to pay the bills at times? What else have you done while building up your music career?
Alongside making music I am an academic. I lecture at both Goldsmiths (University of London) and Westminster University. There was a period of time where music was my sole income, when I first signed to Sony and got a fairly decent advance – but that doesn’t go very far in London!
What aspect of the music industry have you found hardest to gain traction in? And how did you overcome the resistance?
To me the biggest challenge, being from outside London was contact acquisition. Getting to know the people at radio and the journalists etc. It wasn’t hard I would say – it just takes a long time to figure out who’s who and how to play the game. It takes years
Tell us about a couple of musical breaks you had that really made you feel you’d progressed forward in your career.
Moving to London was the best thing I ever did. To be honest I wish I had done it sooner. That led to me signing with my manager which was a big deal for me. The biggest thing really was signing with Sony and the cash hitting my bank after years of being completely broke. That was a huge achievement for me. I also loved performing at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Norwich, because it was in my home town. That was special
Are there any good Music books that you have learned a lot from & recommend?
My book called ‘Can Music Make You Sick’ will be out this year! Hopefully that interests people. Otherwise, my favourite one is probably ‘The Triumph of Music’ by Tim Blanning. Really interesting history of musicians role in society.
What’s your favourite movie soundtrack? Why?
The soundtrack to Jackie Brown is vibes. SuperFly by Curtis Mayfield too.
Your top tip for aspiring musicians?
Make sure you have someone close to you who’s opinion you really value and respect, and then when they give you their opinion, listen to them. Every artist thinks that they do is amazing (generally) – its important to have someone around to balance you out!
What are your upcoming musical plans?
Well, I returned the answers to this interview with a new track for Fat as Funk to master! So when that comes back, I’ll be dropping that!
Thank you for your answers!
All musicians should read this initial study: Can Music Make You Sick? https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/the-study/.
Context’s book “Can Music Make You Sick” – the complete and expanded study on musician’s mental health is released on September 28th.
If you are a musician who needs a little help, including free therapy (much faster than through other channels) visit this site: https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/