Although his name may sound unfamiliar, Mike Wallis has spent the better part of two decades subtly shaping the landscape of broken beat electronic music by releasing forward-thinking sounds under various aliases, collaborating with producers like Tipper and Kursa, and founding the London-based label Colony Productions. On March 15, Mike released a cerebral four-track downtempo EP Lab Notes through Colony, the first under his latest alias Osmetic. Some may know Osmetic as the “O” in the producer collective and live scratch project K.L.O with Kursa and Lone Drum, which recently performed across the states from the Bay Area to New York City. The Rust Music had the opportunity to correspond with Wallis about the production process behind Lab Notes, his recent travels with K.L.O, and the arch of his life-long musical journey.
Mike began DJing at 15 years old and producing at 18. He’s released under “10 or 11” different aliases, and most are collaborations with other producers. After releasing as PSI SPY and then Abstrakt Knights, a collaboration with Sam Ashwell, he founded Colony Productions in 2001. Primarily, Colony was created as a platform to release early work from Crunch, a collaboration with Mike’s childhood friend Dave Tipper. Although the minimal, textured and ambient Crunch sound was foundational for Colony, the label has come to embrace a broad spectrum of exploratory electronic music, issuing releases from VENT, Kursa, Opiuo, and Bogtrotter during the formative years of their respective careers. These days, Mike is helping to shape the modern wave of sound design and low-end music through K.L.O. He continues to show an insatiable appetite for collaborative projects and a willingness to help other producers rise through the ranks.
Lab Notes is a downtempo dive into lush, vivacious rhythms and spaced-out stereophonics. Although Osmetic is an offshoot of the high-octane K.L.O, these songs are tonally smooth, and distinct from the razor-edged abrasion and guttural sound design of that project. There’s a neural aesthetic across the release, with sounds firing like synapses gracefully in synchronization, the kind of mechanical efficiency that only biology can thus far produce. Utilizing sparse waveforms and precise textures, every song is an ode to minimalism, bringing the listener into a hypnotic space through repetitive phrasing and droning melodies. Resting squarely on broken-beat rhythms, Lab Notes offers a head-nod mentality fused with modern foley and sound design paradigms.
This interview features a companion “Colonization” mix, Rusted Rhythms Vol. 30, featuring one-hour of selections from the Colony Productions catalog mixed by Mike. This all comes ahead of Elements Lakewood Camping Festival on Memorial Day Weekend in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, where Mike Wallis will headline The Rust Music’s late night stage takeover. In some instances, the interview has been edited for length.
The Rust: The Osmetic project seems to be under tight wraps, with very little music available for public digestion. Why the frugality?
Osmetic was born of wanting to find an “O” for K.L.O because we liked the sound of it and the guys already had the “K” and the “L”. It came from seeing a Cosmetics sign that had the “C” and the “S” not lit up. I’m not a big fan of most of my names to be fair but I also like to keep coming up with new ones. My favourite is probably Faek which I used on the Bad Taste release with Kursa. As far as why I don’t like putting out much solo stuff, I’m not really sure. I have a track coming out on a Street Ritual compilation in a few months under the Osmetic moniker. I work on things and dump them on my hard drive when I get bored of working on them. Sometimes I go back and sometimes I don’t. Occasionally I find a tune I’ve completely forgotten about. The four on Lab Notes are my favourites from the last year.
The Rust: From Osmetic and Crunch to K.L.O and more, your back catalog is diverse. Can you dive into some of the creative differences between these separate projects?
What makes my output over the years as diverse as it is comes from a combination of being inspired by different artists; those that I get to work with and those that I come across when seeing what’s out there. I’m picky about what I like, I know pretty quickly if I’m into something. I’m just as picky about who I work with. There’s nothing like being in a physical space with someone and being in the same headspace. I hadn’t worked with three people before K.L.O and it’s great. Multiple filters make for a better end result, I think. Creatively, it’s about the mood as well, finding a vibe, getting into things. When we did the Crunch tracks back in the day it was about just spending a day together each week, doing something different and having some fun with it - no end aim. One person does something and that sparks the next thing. I generally prefer working with people to working on my own for music I want to release, but I really enjoy the semi meditative state you fall into when working alone, too.
What’s it like running a label while also working with other imprints and artists as a producer yourself? Does your work as a musician inform your work as a label director, and vice versa?
I like to think of the label [Colony] as bit of a stepping-stone. I want to push the sounds I like, and I feel like we’ve always been slightly ahead of the curve. The label was originally started to release the Crunch work we did after that first Crunch 1 album on Musik Aus Strom. Then Seven Ark aka Justin De Nobrega sent me a demo, I loved it and I wanted to put it out. I actually rang him in the middle of the night by mistake as I was so excited I forgot to check what the time was in South Africa. Sam Ashwell, who I run the label with, got involved around 2005. Sam and I had already been writing together under the Abstrakt Knights moniker, and he was interested in jumping on board. When I had my daughter a few years later, something had to give and he basically kept the label going those first few years she was around. That’s when the Vent releases he was working on with Dan [Havers] (who’s also half of DC Breaks) started coming through. I have an idea of what a label should be but everyone does it differently. Some are better than others. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far and I really appreciate that all the acts and visual artists we’ve featured want to work with us.
Lab Notes is especially lush from start to finish, from its solid, honed-in textures to its extensive foley work. Can you describe your songwriting and production process? What digital/analog tools and instruments did you favor when designing the EP?
I use the Native Instruments Komplete 10 suite (I’ve just upgraded to 12 but that was after those tracks) and Ableton 9 (which I will upgrade to 10 soon) with a bit of sampling from my Virus b, my TB303, my TB03 and my record collection as well as a bunch of samples I have on drives from over the years and I monitor through my Adam S3A’s. My controller is the NI Kontrol S61 and for playing out I use an APC40 MK2. I like to just mess about and make sounds then piece them together. It’s the ultimate puzzle, really. As far as the Osmetic tracks, the first was born out of finding the Michael Norris plug-ins and it just came together from that. I usually start with a string and build from there. Once I have a basic melody to work with I just add elements until I have something more coherent. I think the track finds you rather than you writing the track half the time. “Low Fly” is literally a string, a bass, a break and a loop, but it’s got a nice feel, I think. “Simples” I just started with the sample and it went from there. “Oh Klahoma” I was tinkering with the melody line on another track and that one came out of it. I don’t really have a format for writing tracks. I just run with what I hear in my head once I hear a sound, it’s more reactionary than a planned route. I don't set out to make a certain type of track.
Hip-hop rhythms/motifs are especially prevalent in the states, while the UK traditionally spotlights drum and bass. What drove you towards half-time based musical projects?
The first record I bought myself was a De La Soul 7” when I was 12 years old. Until then I’d only had a Beatles tape and a funk compilation set of double LP’s my parents had given me. So I just thought it was all melody, groove and breaks. Which it kind of is. I went to college at 16 and there was a shop called Troublesome Records in my hometown which sold hardcore and techno (before d&b was invented yet). I got into that heavily and spent most of my free time in that shop just hanging about and getting into the scene in general. I studied sound engineering, bought a sampler, and started trying to write some tracks. I was also into the Warp Records catalogue by then, too, after coming across Aphex Twin’s digeridoo on R&S [Records] and this Mike Dred clear vinyl on Rephlex at Troublesome. That introduced me to the world of weird stuff and then I got really in to trip hop and breaks as well. I do love drum and bass though to this day. I’m a firm believer that there are good tracks in every genre as well as bad ones too. For me, it’s either electronic music or acoustic/band music rather than worrying about styles within those. They’re all just made up names really anyway. For me it’s 100% more about whether it’s good or not rather than what people are calling it. I’ve always judged tracks on how they make me feel rather than the tempo or genre.
How does Osmetic compare with Crunch or Mike Wallis in the live sphere? Which project do you prefer to perform with?
I basically play as K.L.O on the whole at the moment. Ben [Ben Parker aka Lone Drum] and I have been playing together under various names since I asked him to cut over my set at Glade Festival in 2012. I knew straight away I’d like to have him cutting on all my sets if I could. He has a great flow, and the scratching is key for the more uptempo sets, I think. It adds a real live element and makes it feel different every time. I do listen to music with vocals but for me the instrumental vibe is king. As ‘Mike Wallis’ I either play a downtempo set or a Colony set depending on the time and place [Rusted Rhythms Vol. 30 is one such “Colony” mix, featuring only music released through Colony Productions]. I’d say I prefer playing with Ben as K.L.O because it’s fun up there and it’s never the same twice. I don’t want that to take away from my solo sets, because I do really enjoy those too. I also really like the sound we're pushing with the K.L.O sets. The Crunch set at the first Suwanee Full Moon Gathering was a one-off. I doubt we’ll do that again but I’m glad we did it.
The K.L.O project has been booked throughout the US now. What cultural/social differences stand out to you between the nightlife/music scenes in the UK and US?
The scene is bigger in the states for that style definitely. I knew we were on to something when Rob C got me over for the Tipper pre-party for Red Rocks [in 2015] as that was the first time I dropped any of the K.L.O tracks we'd been working on and they went off. The festival scene is good in the states for sure. I don’t like all the talking in sets, though, if I’m honest. That kind of throws me, I just don’t get it. I think we have a darker vibe here in the UK born out of electro and drum and bass nights. There’s less emphasis on the visuals and rarely any live painting, but we do have it at the odd festival. Noisily is a good one if we’re talking festivals, as is Boomtown in the UK. We have more emcee’s in the UK but I don’t really get that either.
How do stateside festivals compare to their United Kingdom counterparts?
I think I covered this already but you guys do it very well. Especially the sizes I’ve played at. I haven’t played any massive ones so no idea on that front but they look less good I’d say but that’s a guess. I’d like to check out Burning Man one day. The UK has a few decent ones. I think my favourite festival, although I think it’s more than that, is Sonar though in Barcelona. That is done really well although I haven’t been since I drove a straight 20 hrs to get there after French air traffic control went on strike and my flight was cancelled a few years back, there was no way I was missing Kraftwerk though! Really looking forward to checking out Elements Lakewood for the first time.
With little fanfare and great modesty, Mike Wallis has operated under the radar throughout his illustrious but quiet career. Playing the role of the curator above all else, his guiding hand continues to shape the current landscape of electronic music, both through his label and his performance and production projects. Wallis is scheduled to perform numerous sets as K.L.O, and “Mike Wallis” over the next several months, including at Elements Lakewood Camping Festival (tickets), where he’s sure to continue pushing genre-defining sounds.