Interview by Black Lantern’s ALEX BURDEN
“I’m the biggest sci-fi and comic book nerd. I’m also the biggest John Carpenter fanboy ever,” says SJ Mellia, Black Lantern Music’s proponent of chunky, acidic electronics and glitch-hop, steeped in the vibrations of futuristic dystopia.
SJ Mellia started making music at 22, self-releasing his first EP in 2000, the dawn of the 21st century, under the moniker Neurotic Boy Outsider 75 (NBO75), the name alone hinting at the sub-cultural tendrils of ’70s and ’80s horror and science fiction wrapped around SJ Mellia’s atmospheric imagery.
From there he developed his interest in hip-hop, working with local MCs Max Volume and Red Mercury for a limited vinyl release, The Idiot Savants EP, which was well received by the hip-hop community. NBO75 became his moniker for solo outings, and he invented the alter-ego ‘Zucotic’ for his many collaborative projects with MCs and producers.
In 2012, he was reborn as SJ Mellia to converge his talents under one name, and joining the BLM crew for the FluffSkull EP, released in Oct 2012. Named after “what [his] missus calls the little balls of fluff that you get on old woolly jumpers”, FluffSkull’s shrieking electronics, ping pong delays and fat-bottomed basslines are far removed from the soft and comforting texture of sheep products.
His latest release, in March 2013, 10 Years of Wilderness, brings a retrospective compilation of his previous work to a new audience, digging out lost gems, spanning hip-hop and electronic cuts from over a decade of work.
»Download 10 YEARS OF WILDERNESS«
SJ Mellia admits his exposure to music at an early age took in a variety of music styles, all of which have been influential on his sound today. His father treated him to Stevie Wonder, The Specials, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Heaven 17, Gary Numan, and Booker T, which he says “was a good start.”
“My early teens were spent clubbing at Edinburgh’s Pure, and Glasgow’s Soma and the Hacienda, listening to Dave Angel, Jeff Mills and the like, and when not clubbing, listening to any hip-hop I could get my hands on and a fair bit of metal too, with the occasional John Carpenter soundtrack thrown in for good measure. Nothings really changed since and I listen to whatever my ear is attracted to!”
»Download GLITCH FIT«
You started making music at 22, but what was your involvement up to this date? Did you have any formal education?
Prior to me starting making my own music I really had no involvement or training; a few friends from my area were messing about with synths and various drum machines and such but other than that not much really.
I always had a want to make music but never really knew how to go about it until I had access to a decent PC; I realised then that I could do the things I wanted to do without the need for anyone else’s input!
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
I always have trouble with this question, but the answer usually goes like this. It’s kind of electronic-y, soundtrack-ish, computer game, hip-hop sounding stuff, with good beats!
What do you want or try to communicate with your music? What is the imagery in your head – does it change from track to track?
Every track is different, but it’s usually a sci-fi or comic book scene of some kind in my head.
The way in which you describe your music making process is almost like remembering a dream – once an idea has been translated into music, the scene starts to ebb away; leaving behind an electronic imprint. Are there any tracks from 10 Years of Wilderness that have really stood out in terms of the SF / comic book imagery your mind conjures at time of production?
The two that stand out the most for me would be Devil Child from Vol. 1 which is kind of a horror-esque chase / lost / confused scene; think I was probably watching a few too many horror flicks at the time of this production! And Vyle Music from Vol. 2; this is more a scary, stalking, ‘I’m coming to get you and you don’t know’ track. I always imagine some hulking big dude in the shadows planning some nasty stuff! Other favourites are anything done as Static Movements; that EP, which has two tracks from it featured on the compilation, is probably one of my favourite pieces of work as a whole.
How do you feel your music has changed or evolved as your skills have grown?
I think as times went by I’m more patient when it comes to my production, in the past I’d either scrap tracks or rush through them because I had so many ideas. Now I just let it take its course.
What is special or the most enjoyable aspect about collaborating with MCs and other producers?
For me, the best part is having a whole different perspective brought to the table, different ideas, ideas that I’d not even entertain for myself but with outside input, great things can happen.
How much do ’80s / ’90s underground electronics inspire and influence what you do?
It’s played a massive part in influencing my style. People like Carl Craig, Hardfloor, Orlando Voorn, F.S.O.L., Bomb the Bass, Dave Angel. Labels like R&S, Planet E, Harthouse, Djax all put out stuff that I still listen to today. Without it I doubt I’d be making music or have the sound I do.
How much of your music is aimed at the dancefloor, and how much is aimed at ‘at home chilling?’
I’d say it’s all aimed at that atmospheric style; I like to think of my stuff as a soundtrack to your day. After all, we are living in the future and everyone deserves there own sci-fi soundtrack to bump as they walk down the street.
John Carpenter appears as a very big influence - what of his work has influenced you the most, or stuck with you, and why?
Everything this man does influences me; from his movies to his self composed soundtracks. His stuff just hits the spot for me. I’m a B-Movie sucker and JC is KING of the B-Movie, no one does it like him.
What attracted you to working with BLM?
It was actually a chance meeting with the guys from the Eaters and Immaculate Emotion Engines at an El-P gig last year. I’ve known the guys from the days when Incorporeal (Penpushers, Eaters, etc.) first started, and they spoke very highly of Black Lantern. Off of this I contacted the guys to see if they’d be interested in putting out some of my stuff.
What do you think of the other artists on the roster?
Eaters, I.E.E., KROWNE, Texture, Tickle, Machines in Heaven, Asthmatic Astronaut, Morphamish, Harlequinade and a few others are all making very good music; its a good solid bunch of artists. Still got to check a few but liking what I’ve checked so far!
SJ Mellia on Soundcloud
SJ Mellia on Black Lantern