Premiere: 96 Back – Excited, Boy [CPU, 2019]

“so, wait, is Simian Mobile Disco just done now?”

The earnestness of the question takes me by surprise; it’s not something you expect to be asked while interviewing of one of electro’s rising stars. I’m meeting 96 Back – AKA Evan Majumdar-Swift – the Sheffield-born, Bristol-based producer and DJ, ahead of the release of his debut album Excitable, Girl, due out on CPU next month.

He’d only been producing for 6 months when his first EP was signed to CPU Records, and, having only been behind the decks for a couple of years, he’s already nailed a Boiler Room set and performed alongside Tryphème, Peverelist, Facta, Skee Mask, Objekt, rRoxymore, Laksa, Joe, Mumdance, Imogen, Randomer and more than a good pinch of others. Clearly, 96 Back is headed for big things. Yet, despite all this ostensible greenness (and being only 19 at the time of writing) Excitable, Girl is the work of an assured, poised producer.

Though there are moments that would happily sit on a dance-floor, the album itself marks a real departure for 96 Back. There’s still a familiar impish quality to some of the club-oriented tracks; skittish drums clatter like newborn foals’ hooves over ice in ‘Ghezel Tea’ and ‘Digi Tripper’, echoed by the sherbet melodies of eponymous single ‘Excitable, Girl.’ However, much of the album situates itself in a much more pensive mood, vying for the space headed up by IDM (whatever IDM means, anyway). ‘Vennsate’ and ‘Vennsate (Reprise)’ unashamedly follow in the treads of Aphex Twin’s early work. ‘I’m Lost’ – with ricocheting laser-gun pips, watery swells and tender strings – casts its lot in with Netflix film scores or Houndstooth’s recent push into shimmering ambience.

Nonetheless, he’s quick to deflect any compliments on his musical growth, blushing shyly away, and instead credits his success to his friends; I think it’s to do with living with Happa and JABES, who are objectively some of the best producers in the UK. I guess it’s pushed me and rubbed off on me. I wasn’t always so versed in production; I’d just set myself these challenges, about how I thought electro should sound. 8 channels, no reverb, no delay, only sine waves.”

It’s this ostensibly simplistic presentation encasing a considered musical core that garnered him so much attention for his debut EP. It’s this simple-yet-effective styling that Evan has always sympathised with. “Some of the simplest records are the best. Growing up, I listened to loads of bass junkie and weird B-boy electro. Loads of those records are toss – and really easy to make, just the same 808 patterns again and again with bad lyrics. And you know what? They absolutely bang. They’re some of my favourite tunes of all times, and they never fail to go off at a party. I hold that stuff and the stuff that wows me production-wise like Gabor Lazar or Autechre on completely the same pedestal.

It’s at this point, sat up on my sofa drinking tea, that we take a rapid-fire tour through some of Evan’s latest DJ weapons; Kane West’s remix of Burial, ‘bad jump-up’ sped up so far it makes pseudo-footwork tunes, and yes, Simian Mobile Disco, too (which we agree is decidedly not done.)  A love of the ridiculous lends a pastel-hue to all 96 Back’s DJ sets, rescuing difficult polyrhythms and segments of brittle drum attacks from becoming too self-involved. As we’re watching a video of Timmy Trumpet headlining Tomorrowland, he quips …look, if this was in an underground warehouse in Berlin, some guy playing live trumpet to hardstyle, we’d all love it.”

Evan’s music is certainly at times verges onto ‘clean sounding’ to the point of sharpness, a clinicism that fits like a glove into CPU’s austere, binary-driven profile. And yet, the whirring dataplex of tracks like ‘Celsius Loss’ or ‘Seize’ make sense after hearing Evan’s production methods. All my own tracks are made on my laptop, totally in-the-box… which suits me. I feel capable of making what I want to with a computer, I feel comfortable experimenting. Spending a stint as part of the Youth Coders Association, as well as building various programmes, he feverishly shows me his latest experiments with Pure Data, an open source visual programming language for digital synthesis, that makes songs look something like an electrician’s blueprint.

Credit: 96Back

There’s a visuality and stoic pureness to Pure Data that suits Evan down to a tee; “I always liked having outcomes. That’s why I did art; I liked finishing something and being able to put it on a wall and stopping to take the whole thing in at once. In theory, you could stop for as long as you want and look at it.” And it’s true that there’s something of an-almost visual quality to Evan’s work, whether that’s the realised physical (he designed his own gatefold) or the hyper coloured 8bit styling of his previous EP that can’t help immediately evoke a mind’s-eye picture of platform games as soon as you hear it. “But that’s the thing about music” he continues “it’s by its very nature so temporal, it only exists in the moment. There’s no getting around that, but I think my way of trying to escape that temporality is constantly making tracks, and the way I title them – just strings of numbers that can only accumulate to form a logical whole body of work.”

It’s worth saying here that Evan, just on the cusp of releasing his debut album, has already finished not-only his next album, but also an hour-long ambient project with complete accompanying film and numerous other tracks that he never intends for release. “I just kinda like to see them all collected, a file on my desktop that says ‘Here’s me. Here’s what I’ve completed.”  Yet despite the art theory, the love of poncey IDM” (his words, not mine) and the Berlin-ish coder appearance, there’s a genuineness and a down-to-earthness emanating from Evan that lends him a comfortable, boyish charm. He’s as whimsical, yet heartfelt and earnest as his melodies, and it comes through in this deeply personal, playful album.

Melodic Distraction was fortunate enough to be offered a premier track from 96 Back’s forthcoming album. You can listen to ‘Excited, Boy’ below, and find links to preorder Excitable, Girl beneath.

96 Back’s album Excitable, Girl releases on CPU on 1st March.