Mat The Alien: The Pre-Shambhala Interview

A Quick Chat With Mat

Over the past 20 years, the number of alien sightings has increased exponentially on dance floors worldwide. The majority of these sightings has been due to one alien in particular, a resident alien formerly from the foggy shores of northern England now living on an island off the coast of Canada. A distinct Mancurian accent will let you know he is nearby, usually while greeting you with a “How ye doin?” or vocalizing his trademark seal of approval, “Really Good!!”

Mat the Alien has been at the forefront of the progression in electronic music over the past two decades. Starting out as a DJ he mastered the art of the turntables, mixing complicated scratch routines on top of both classic tracks and self-produced beats through his label Really Good Recordings. One of the remaining guardians of the analog sound, he continues to push the envelope on vinyl records, often touring with only crates of 45 records that span the decades of dance music. Yet he still stays relevant by staying on top of the latest releases, blending both old and new in front of the crowd.

This week Mat will be at Shambhala Music Festival, a 4-day bonanza of music that covers all genres designed to get your feet moving. He will be showcasing just how deep his crates are by playing sets at multiple stages, all with a completely different vibe. From the Ragga Jungle Rinse out on Friday and the Funk Jam on Sunday, he will also be playing 45s in a duo set with The Gaff, as well as his main performance at the Pagoda where you can be sure to hear a bit of everything.

I caught up with Mat to chat about one of the world’s biggest weekends in Electronic music, on a farm out in the mountains of British Columbia.

Mat Playing the Boogaloo Bus with The Librarian
Mat Playing the Boogaloo Bus in California with The Librarian

Steve Andrews: Hi Mat! So what have you been up to?
Mat The Alien: I been keeping busy. Living on the island (Vancouver Island), liking it over here.

SA: And what’s your personal history with Shambhala?

MTA: I think it was 2002 the first year I played there. I got booked to play the breakdance battle. It was a lot of funk breaks but I moved over from England in 94 so was playing a lot of drum and bass. I ended up doing 3 sets that first year: One before Bassnectar on the main stage which is now the Pagoda, and then I ran over to the village and did a drum and bass set there, and then I’ve been back every year since then apart from one.

It’s been really amazing watching it grow over the years, with the sound systems, the visuals, the crowds… just watching them get it more dialed in every year. Its amazing watching the effect it has and how far it has spread. I travel all over and everywhere you go people have heard about Shambhala… about how amazing it is.

SA: And what’s amazing about it for you?
MTA: You go in and there’s friends from everywhere you’ve traveled. When you look into the crowd you see fans, and promoters, DJ’s, and dancers… people just from everywhere. It’s just a trip looking out and seeing so many different people you know from different places.

SA: How have you noticed the music change over the years?
MTA: The sound systems definitely made the music change with the big bass systems. But overall it’s pretty much the same stuff… new genres come and go and evolve into other ones. Some genres get bigger the next year, get more commercial and then die out… but its the same stuff. People dancin’.

SA: How do you stay on the cutting edge of new music over the years?
MTA: I come from a DJ background and a big part of that was digging for old and new music that you can find in different stuff, and these days it’s fun with computers where you can find something and then make your own little version of it. This year I’m going to be playing a few small sets in between the big ones just to show people that I have pretty deep crates from all kinds of music. I like showing people that I’m versatile and that I’ve got more than one style of music, and that’s what it’s always been like for me anyway.

SA: How does Shambhala stand out from other festivals vs a more mainstream event?
MTA: There’s a lot of things. First of all, Shambhala is there every year so they can build on top of it, it’s not like they have to take everything down and start from scratch. A lot of the corporate festivals will just be some cold scaffolding and stage with like an expensive LED screen but there’s no real attention to detail.

But Shambhala and some of the more art orientated festivals get more geared around the visuals and mapping, and the art installations. It’s just like a whole show and not just about the music or the DJ’s. A lot of work goes into it.

SA: I heard a rumour that the first totem at Shambhala was a “REALLY GOOD” sign.
MTA: (Laughs) I don’t know if it was the first one but maybe. I have my label Really Good Recordings and I always just say “Really Good”. And then Ian Wackett (Wakcutt) made the first “Really Good” sign and brought it to my set at the Rock Pit (now the AMPitheatre). And since then other people started bringing it and it really caught on. Now it’s gotten a bit too crazy where there are too many signs and you can’t even see anything.

SA: How much of your set is pre-rehearsed and how much are you doing on the fly and responding to the crowd?
MTA: Yeah, sometimes I wish I would pre-do it more but then I just don’t. It’s not really me, it’s not my thing. Even up to a few days before the show I’ll be digging for new music or doing some edits and putting some things together that I’ve done before. But for the most part I just kinda go through some crates of different beats and gradually go up to the drum and bass beat. I know some people have their sets worked out from beginning to end but I’d just get bored if I did that and just wouldn’t really enjoy it. I like when I play, digging through the records and thinking “what should I play next”. Every show is different, with the time and the vibe. So I definitely like not really having too much of a plan. But I know my music well, so just going with what you want to play at that moment kind of thing.

a rare mat the alien smiling sighting
A rare Mat the Alien smiling sighting

SA: How does your music selection differ from stage to stage?
MTA: Yeah, well my main set at the Pagoda will be a bit longer, I’ve got an hour and a half, so I’ll go through a lot of different genres. Usually starting at 130bpm, then going up to some drum and bass, and I like ending with a couple of tracks around 100 or 90 because they’re my favourite for scratching on. And then the one with The Gaff, and that’ll be all 45’s, and then I’ll play the rinse out with DJ Kane, so that’ll be all kind of jungley stuff. I like doing mixed sets but then it’s also kind of fun doing a specific thing too and digging deeper into certain crates.

SA: Are there any sets you’re wanting to catch while you’re there?
MTA: I’m sure there are. I don’t know, I don’t like to plan it too much because, yeah there’s a bunch of friends playing, and there’s a bunch of out-of-town people playing too, so there’s always stuff but then I kinda just see how it goes once I get there.

SA: Is there anything you’re working on now that you are excited to play at Shambhala that you haven’t played before?
MTA: Well i always make a few edits of tracks for the festivals, like tracks that are out but I’ll just put my own little twist on it. I’ve got a few of my own new remixes and beats, and then I’m just getting a bunch of stuff from the label mastered. I always try and throw out some stuff from the label. And I put out a new album a year and a half ago and a bunch of people have now remixed it so stuff from Sinistar, the Metalheads, Adam Shaikh, and a bunch of people who will be at Shambhala so I’ll probably drop one or two of them too.

I really like sometimes last minute or the day of the set you’ll get sent new tracks from someone and that’s always fun too – just dropping something that you just got that was made on the other side of the world, then you play it out and see the reaction from people.

SA: Anything else that you can summarize what the weekend of Shambhala is like?
MTA: Shambhala is just unique in that it’s one of just a handful of festivals where as an artist you want to stay the whole weekend and really experience it. Everything really, just the location, and the PK sound, and the different stages. It’s Really Good!

To see more of Mat, check out his Website or Soundcloud.