Six years. In the context of music, especially dance music, that is an eternity. In six years, one local artist has progressed to the forefront of his scene through hard work, graft, DJ skills and some amazing productions. He doesn’t get nominated for local awards, nor does he appear much in the local press, though he is easily the most successful breakthrough electronic music act from Merseyside in the last decade. Regular Radio 1 play, worldwide tours, festival appearances at spots such as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Benicassim, Parklife and a recent year-long residency in Liverpool where every show has sold out… yet you probably haven’t heard of him.
Six years ago I interviewed MELÉ, real name Christopher Peers, for this very magazine. At that point he was 17 years old, not old enough to enter the clubs in which he performed – including my own club night, Abandon Silence, at which he played the launch party, incidentally also in the summer of 2010 – and his first tracks were starting to get picked up further afield.
The intervening years have been very kind to the Wirral-born artist, who’s just recently moved to London to pursue his career. Following on from the knockout success of his Melé’s Manor residency in Liverpool, he heads back to the North West for this summer’s Creamfields. Having been to the festival as a youngster, he now completes the circle to perform alongside Groove Armada, Tiga and Erol Alkan on Fatboy Slim’s Smile High Club stage.
Andrew Hill: It’s six years since I first interviewed you for the second issue of Bido Lito!, so to pick up where we left off – what would you say has been the biggest change for you over those years?
Melé: No messing about! I think the biggest change has probably been natural, as over the years I’ve grown as a DJ and producer as I’ve got older. When I look back on some of the stuff I was playing and making six years ago I’m quite surprised; but saying that, there’s some stuff that has definitely stuck with me. Doing this as a job from the age of 17 was a bit weird because I just had to wing it a bit.
AH: I can remember that first gig we did at The Magnet when I had to soften up the bouncers to even let you in! Now that you’re a little older, is there anything you would’ve done differently back then?
M: Nah, I don’t think I would. If I made any mistakes over the years it’s probably helped me get to where I am now. It’s good to look back on how far I’ve come since then; I don’t think I ever really imagined I’d still be doing it now!
AH: If you listen to your releases across the six years, there is a definite progression in sound and production, though you can still hear elements of that early work in your recent tracks. Is there a particular influence that has inspired your work in the intervening years?
M: Rather than any particular influence, I think there has been a natural progression. Around 2014/2015 I realised that there were tracks in my sets that I didn’t actually like. I was playing lots of house in the first 20 minutes and they were they only bits I was really enjoying, to be honest. In terms of production style I just thought it needed switching up; it just got a bit stale for me. I think the turning point was probably when I made Melé Vanelé Vol. 3, which I originally thought was just going to be a one-off concept, but it’s ended up being the sound I’m really comfortable with now.
AH: That’s understandable, I think that echoes the general movement of the underground over those years as a lot of different ‘scenes’ moved from 140bpm to 120-130bpm. You managed to flow pretty seamlessly across that bridge as, in my opinion, your DJing came to the forefront to a point where I would suspect you became more known for your DJ sets than your productions. Releases like Ambience have changed that recently; how has it been having a true ‘track of the moment’ that people would be demanding in sets?
M: It was good! It’s something I always wanted to have, so when it happens it’s great. But there’s always pressure for a follow-up, especially when the track was big on the radio as well, but I’ve never been great at churning out music. It was a tune I never thought was gonna be big, it was just a DJ tool really.
AH: You mention there that the track wasn’t intended for radio, though when you approach a new production do you ever set out with a plan to make, say, a radio hit or a DJ tool, or does that just happen? I’m intrigued by how you approach each new project.
M: I usually like to come into the studio with an idea of a tune in my head – I might have a sample I wanna use or I’ve heard a tune that I want to try make in the same style. If I go into the studio with no ideas I’ll find it hard to come up with something there and then. I used to be worried about tracks not being accessible for radio, but since Ambience I’ve learned to just go with my gut feeling. If it goes down well in the club it’s good enough for me.
AH: Ambience certainly has been going down well in the clubs. I’ve noticed it grow and grow across each Melé’s Manor, to a point where it became the highlight of the last couple of shows. How has the party been for you in the first year?
M: It’s been so good. I had about a year where I didn’t play in Liverpool properly, so I decided it would be fun to have a regular thing. I suppose I just want it to be a night that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think we’ve managed to do. In particular, the night when Artwork joined us was truly special; it was one of the best parties I have ever been involved in and was exactly what I had in mind when we first discussed the idea 12-18 months ago.
AH: Yeah, the Artwork night is a particular standout, the Ship was rocking that night! The night was a collaboration between yourself and a number of people based in Liverpool and London: how have you found it running parties in your hometown but being based day to day in London?
M: It’s been sick. I don’t really play that much in London at the moment and don’t really have a favourite place down here [in London], to be honest, so it’s been good to switch it up and head back to Liverpool with a proper brand and plan in place. And, there’s nothing like playing in your hometown!
AH: You’re now heading into the festival circuit, with some shows alongside Monki [Radio 1 host, label owner] for your NRG Flash project and some on your own. How do you find the shows differ across each project? And can you describe the changes in production, set-up wise?
M: Well we got asked to do a b2b tour with Annie Mac at the end of last year, and we just thought that if we were going to play huge venues like Brixton Academy and Warehouse Project we should make it more of a show. There’s a lot more techno in an NRG Flash show than we would play on our own – I hardly play any techno at all when I DJ solo. Though there are some big old-skool party classics in there too, and we use a Roland TR-8 to do live edits with, which is really fun, and hopefully that fun comes across to the crowd!
AH: Using the Roland TR-8 takes it to a different level! How have you found playing around with it whilst also DJing? As Monki is predominantly a DJ does that mean it’s you controlling that?
M: Nah, we both do it, she’s picked it up really quickly, which works really well. We basically just use it for extra drum loops, to build more energy in build-ups, etc. In essence it just works as an extra deck – we don’t midi it to the mixer, we just mix it in by ear, which brings greater risk and a bit of a variable quality, but it seems to work and the crowd appreciate that we are working live and not synced.
AH: You are heading to Creamfields later this summer, what are you looking forward to about that?
M: Yeah, I can’t wait! Creamfields is always sick. I went in, like, 2008 or 2009 pretty much on my own, just because there was so much music I wanted to check out. I saw Annie Mac, Diplo pre-Major Lazer, Erol Alkan… it was great! So when I was first invited to play there in 2012 it was amazing. It still feels surreal to be DJing at Creamfields as growing up it was ‘the’ event of the summer and was an annual milestone.
AH: Looking to the future, what have you got on the horizon that you’re looking forward to?
M: Everything is really exciting at the moment, I feel like I’m in a bit of a transition period right now, just finding my feet with the music I want to be playing and making. I have a backlog of music ready to be released, which is always much better than none! In particular there are four or five tracks I’m really excited about that I’ve started sending out to a few DJs – I’ve seen videos of those guys playing them to big crowds with big reactions, so that is always gratifying. We did our first NRG Flash show yesterday, which was amazing, and we’ve got four more this summer, so I’m really excited about them too, as well as some great solo shows including, of course, Creamfields!
Melé plays Creamfields on 28th August as part of the Fatboy Slim Presents Smile High Club stage.