Iíve been to London three times in the last three years. In 2008, when people found out I was from New Zealand, their first reaction was ďOh, Lord of the Rings!Ē In 2009, it was ďOh, Flight of the Concords!Ē Last year, it was, surprisingly, ďOh, Mt Eden Dubstep!Ē
Mt Eden Dubstep is made up of Jesse Cooper and Harley Rayner, two unassuming kids hailing from the Auckland suburb theyíve named themselves after. Since their breakout track Sierra Leone went viral in 2009, Mt Eden Dubstep have gone from strength to strength, making the most of the success they fell into; a success that isnít often experienced by New Zealand artists. I caught up with one half of the dubstep duo, Jesse Cooper, to see how life has been going since Sierra Leoneís unexpected success took him from wannabe DJ to a fixture on the international dubstep scene.
Jesse Cooper (right) with the other half of Mt Eden Dubstep, Harley Rayner. Photo by Joe Hockley.
Can you briefly run me through how Mt Eden Dubstep was born?
I started making beats when I was like 11 or 12 and thatís when I met Harley, back in intermediate. We started off making mix tapes, like mixing song to song, and thatís how I kinda learnt. We started with hip hop and then when I hit 16-17, we heard this new genre, dubstep. Our influences were like, Skream, Benga, all the New Zealand acts like State of Mind, Concord Dawn, the whole lot. So when I was 16, I teamed up with Harley cause I didnít even know how to DJ (laughs). I needed Harley to help me out with my sets and shit. Made Sierra Leone, that was one of my first songs I put out and that was just, you know, learning off remixes. Cause all my songs were remixes, thatís how I learnt how to make music was by doing remixes. My good friendís little brother, he made me my YouTube account. I got back home one day from work and he was like ďdo you want me to start up a YouTube site so we can put your music on?Ē and I was like oh yeah sweet as. And he goes ďwhat do you wanna name it?Ē and I was like I donít know, he was like ďweíll name it Mt Eden Ďcause you live in Mt Eden and weíll put DnB Ďcause you make drum and bass in Mt EdenĒ. So thatís how it pretty much started out, going back.
And what were you doing before Mt Eden Dubstep?
Um, before Mt Eden, and while I was doing Mt Eden [at the beginning] I was doing building. That was for four years, just at Unitec. And then I kinda put it on hold. So yeah, thatís what I was doing, and then after I finished work Iíd come home, make a few tunes and put them up on YouTube.
Have you always wanted to get into music?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. My older brother used to play guitar, because we used to share a room together, me and my older brother, until he was about 26 (laughs). We used to be in bunk beds. But he used to play the guitar and Iíd be up in the top bunk just listening to his beats and stuff. And it just kinda took off from there.
So, Sierra Leone obviously had millions of hits on YouTube. Did you expect anything like that when you first made the song?
Nah I didnít expect it at all eh. It was all unexpected eh. I never asked for this, this just came.
So youíre pretty lucky.
Iím really lucky, yeah.
How has your life changed since Sierra Leone took off?
Itís been pretty cool. Itís a sweet life. Not having to work, being my own boss. I wake up, make music, walk the dog, come back home, have dinnerÖ itís just the same old thing. But I donít have like a nine to five job or anything, itís a pretty sweet life. Iím really enjoying it. Travelling the world.
Yeah, so you have done some international tours. What has that been like?
Canada was awesome. I love Canada. I met up with Skrillex, Tommy Lee, Zeds Dead, KILLER:BIT, all mean dubstep producers. They all gave me a hand with the producing sorta side, which is pretty cool. I think out of the whole tour, my favourite was Montreal. That was awesome. Thatís when I started crowd surfing (laughs), that was awesome. And that was like fourteen hundred people. I was like, drop my last track, boom, three, two, one, jumped into the crowd, out.
Do you prefer to play large stadium gigs or smaller intimate gigs?
Both. If you only do big rigs, like a stadium gig, then you only get used to stadium gigs. But then when you hop from that scene to the small, intimate gigs, youíre not used to it. Youíre like, fuck. Youíre used to all the hype, you know? When you play at intimate gigs too often, then you go to big gigs, you get really nervous and itís really intense. So I like to do both, I like to be comfortable in both scenes. Itís good to keep that balance.
How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?
Um, itís quite eerie, warm, melodic. Mostly female-based vocals, although weíve got MC Woody on one of the tracks, Whatís Below. Now that Iíve got Harley on the case, heís got more of the hip hop coming into Mt Eden, so itís pretty cool. So weíre chopping and changing, we donít just play with dubstep, we play with other stuff like hip hop and drum and bass.
Who are your influences when it comes to your music?
Skrillex, Zeds Dead, Bulletproof, Optimus Gryme. All the New Zealand acts pretty much. And who else? Oh, all the reggae rigs. You know, like Black Seeds, Kora and stuff. I mean, I love New Zealand music. Like, going to Canada, I always played Home Brew and stuff to all the Canadians.
Whatís it like to be recognised for your music? Is it surreal?
Yeah, yeah. I still donít believe it. I just, I donít know, I donít think about it too hard eh. I just try and blend in.
I know that the New Zealand music industry can be pretty tough at times. Do you think anything could be done to improve the industry here?
I think thereís a lot of talent out there that needs to be exposed. I went through it and it was hard, you know. Like having all these Ė not saying older dudes Ė but dudes who have been in the scene a lot longer, seeing all these new cats coming into the music scene. I think, I dunno, why canít we just all get along? (laughs)
Do you think youíll eventually move overseas to further your career?
Nah, I donít have to move overseas. Coming back from America and Canada, I mean I love Canada, Canadaís awesome, but I appreciate New Zealand a lot more after being overseas.
Whatís the best thing about being in Mt Eden Dubstep?
The best thing is making music every day. And meeting new people, making new friends, meeting artists and stuff. Like meeting N.E.R.D. was pretty cool. Oh did you say only one best thing? (laughs). Oh, and playing to a good crowd is awesome.
What are Mt Eden Dubstepís plans for the rest of the year?
Rest of the year, weíre focusing on two albums. Weíre doing a hip hop album, thatís gonna be with a guy over in the states, in Miami, thatís about all I can say just now. And then, just a straight Mt Eden album, with probably about eight tracks. Weíre doing a small tour over in America inÖ I think itís April? That should be cool. But for New Years, I definitely wanna do New Years in New Zealand. Just so Iím with my mates and shit, so yeah, I think thatís the plan.
And where do you see Mt Eden Dubstep in five years?
Yeah, still going. Iíve got my goals ready and set. Iím hoping by the end of it, Iíll have like a symphony orchestra, a choir, my piano rig going and stuff. Not just a DJ set. So Iím hoping that will come in, say, the next two or three years. But in five years? Iím still hoping to keep going with this. Iíll probably be making some alias names, you know, just to do my own thing. Mix it up, you know. But yeah, Iím trying to aim to do this for a long time.
What advice would you give to other people who are trying to break into the NZ music industry?
Um, shit. Thatís a hard one. Iím not used to giving advice. Iím not Bob Marley (laughs).
And just to finish, I've got a few quick questions for you. Whatís your favourite NZ venue to play at?
Shit, thereís quite a few eh. A cool one is Bedford in Christchurch. In Wellington, thereís Sandwiches and San Fran. And Auckland? [Ellerslie Racecourse] where we played with Caspa, that was dope.
Whatís the best live gig youíve been to?
Oh, this was a while ago, but I think it was Prodigy at Big Day Out. That was awesome, that was a time to remember. And The Streets, that was ages ago too.
Whereís your favourite place in New Zealand?
My favourite place would have to be Queenstown. Yeah we played there once at the Revolver. Queenstownís awesome.
Who would you most like to support live?
In the whole world? Shit. Fuck. Thatís a hard one. U2 or some shit? Thatíd be pretty dope.
What was your favourite event you've performed at?
Big Day Out. That was like thousands, nearly ten thousand, in the Boiler Room. That was awesome.
Who do you admire in NZ music at the moment?
Ruby Frost. I like Ruby Frost, sheís my kinda style.
Where should your fans go if they wanna keep up with what youíre doing?
YouTube, look up MtEdenDnB08. Weíre on iTunes. Weíve got our Facebook fan page too.
Interview and words by Kate McCarten.
Photograph by Joe Hockley. http://www.joehockley.co.nz/.