Obsessed with precision: MJK's three-deck mixing connects dubstep, grime and techno - Music - Mixmag

Obsessed with precision: MJK's three-deck mixing connects dubstep, grime and techno

MJK shares a 90 minute mix threading the lines between dubstep, grime and techno, inspired by Skee Mask and DJ Bone, and speaks to Tibor Heskett about his journey and process

  • Words: Tibor Heskett | Photos: Alex Galloway
  • 20 November 2023

There’s something immediately striking about MJK, real name Michael Kedjanyi, when he is playing. Be it his constant three-deck mixing or the enviable way he locks in a tune without having to touch the jog wheel thereafter, the new Rinse FM resident’s technique belies a man in complete control and concentration.

“A lot of people bring up that I don’t speak when I DJ,” admits Kedjanyi, “It’s not because I’m upset or anything, it’s because I’m enjoying myself, listening to the tunes and having the best time. I’m very much locked in.”

Make no mistake: this is a DJ obsessed with process. Hours upon hours have been spent refining a style that “threads the lines between dubstep, grime and techno” while chopping and blending three tunes with consummate ease. While he loves to improvise in the moment, there has been a lot of time spent at his computer and on his decks, testing out what works and what doesn’t when he jumps between genres.

Although a grime scene regular for years, notable for his bootlegs and flips, there has been a stark rise in the Newham-born DJ and producer’s stock in the last 12 months, reflected in standout shows at fabric, Just Jam, Ilian Tape’s 24 hour party at RSO.Berlin and an acclaimed mix for the same label to boot.

MJK had always been into slower forms of techno, but had never really approached it as a DJ firmly secured at 140 BPM during his grime years. Kedjanyi notes that it was only until his online encounters with now-collaborator Skee Mask, where he would send him “rarities from garage and grime and he would send me things I wasn’t necessarily exposed to”, that he began to realise the similarity between the two genres. “Skee was very influential,” acknowledges the London-based DJ and producer.

While their relationship began when Skee started playing his tunes, it has now blossomed into a production duo who have recently released their first EP together on Obligated Records. The idea of making tunes together had been floated for a while, but it wasn't until fellow techno-grime trailblazer Oblig, head honcho of Obligated Records, got involved that the ball really got rolling. The project was borne out of Oblig’s trip to Munich, where he insisted MJK came along to start working on an EP with the Ilian Tape producer. During the week-long stay, the duo’s jams became the bedrock of an EP which fuses techno, grime, funky and dub with a smooth majesty. Not content with the inclusion of just one member of dance music royalty, Oblig called on veteran grime MC Riko Dan and thus ‘One By One’, the infectious lead single from ‘Patchworks vol. 1’ was complete.

MJK’s trip to Munich is yet another example of someone who always takes their chances. Following standout shows on Balamii and Kindred Radio in late 2022 to early 2023, Kedjanyi was offered the chance to guest on Rinse FM and he hasn’t looked back since, playing alongside luminaries such as re:ni and Tasha and securing himself a primetime slot on the station following its latest autumn/winter residency announcement. We spoke to MJK about his journey, his process and playing Call of Duty with Skee Mask.

What got you into DJing in the first place? How did you journey start?

My mum and dad listened to a lot of garage when I was growing up, so I kind of already knew a lot of these tunes before I really got into electronic dance music. When I first started getting into that sphere, there was a lot of Burial and Digital Mystikz. At the time I was really into garage, dubstep and then grime, which was actually later. When I originally started playing out, it was with 4/4 garage, 2-step and a bit of house as well. I actually did slower techno, like 120-128 stuff, too, and that sort of tribal, less hard 140 stuff.

So yeah, my mom bought me my first controller, the Traktor S2 off of Chemical Records and I started mixing at home and a couple house parties. The first time I actually used CDJs was in the club. I remember finding it really intimidating because I was always looking at these things and trying to figure out what these spaceships do, just by looking at them. It got the easier once I started to DJ more and after that, I just kept at it.

I bought my first pair of decks when I went to uni in Bristol and then I really hunkered down, at a time when I had just started working on production as well. Once I started the musical journey I dropped out of uni. It got to the point where everything I was doing was about music: the only thing I did was make tunes and DJ. After four or five years I went home and got a job. I still did the music thing, but it was on the side.

Last year in March, I saw a job going in London, got the interview and moved down. At this time I actually had no plans for music and it was very much a time where I was focussed on laying low and grinding. I never want to say that I gave up but the passion wasn't as strong as it had been. I didn't really shout about moving to London or actively pursue anything.

The first person that had me on a show after I moved was Saint Ludo, I bumped into her at a Keep Hush event and she had me on Foundation back when it was still in Peckham Levels. After that I just ended up doing shows, one thing led to another and since the start of this year I've been busy and never really looked back.

Looking back at your Keep Hush show in Bristol, 2021, you're mostly playing garage. Fast forward to now and your style is very different.

I had been toying around with the techno versus grime theme for a minute. The first time I sat down and properly thought about it was for my Noods show when I had Logos on as a guest.

At this point, Skee Mask had been playing my tunes quite a lot and he had started to put me on to a lot of things — shout out to Skee because he's been very influential. The relationship went both ways: I would send him rarities from garage and grime and he would send me things I wasn't necessarily exposed to.

This is when I started to realise that the energies of techno and grime were very similar, and I started to try putting the two together. It took many variations, when I started it was still very much as a grime package with quite a lot of breaks. Where I was used to playing, grime wasn't seen in that vein - it was just grime, not dance music.

What I'm realising now is that I'm managing to play grime but it's contextualised as dance music whereas before I would do dance music, but because of the places it was played and the things I did it was never really seen as dance music.

I was just a grime DJ playing tunes that weren't grime to a crowd that liked grime. Not that's a bad thing, but you can sometimes lose the dance music energy when that context isn't there or you're playing in places that don't let it be dance music. But yeah, I've been working on this for a while and there's still more work to do. I think it was at the start of this year when I really opened my mind to playing more fast-paced, 4/4 techno.

After we (MJK & Skee Mask) made the instrumentals for 'Patchworks vol. 1', it made me made open my mind a bit. It was a turning point where all the tunes that I wanted to play mixed really well into all the stuff that I made. I think once you're in it and once you realise what you can do with it, you don't stop. I think about threading the line between all the genres a lot because I've actually found something I do really want to do.

I always try to refine the process. Sometimes I look back on sets and think "okay, maybe I did too much of this, too much of that," but that's not a bad thing. It's always good to try and refine it every time you do a show.

One of the first times I think I nailed it was for a Sneaker Social Club show. Unfortunately you can't listen to it as the recording corrupted, but Robin from Giant Swan was at Noods when I was doing the first show and he told me that it all worked so well. The beauty of it is that I'm still very new to techno, I'm still discovering tunes every day that I've never heard of whereas with grime I got to the point where I got, not every tune but, a lot the rarities there.

Every day I find new tunes or I get sent stuff and it's very similar to the grime stuff that I'd play. Sometimes people put techno and grime in two completely polar opposite end to the spectrum, but there's actually a lot of stylistic features that overlap.

You mentioned Skee Mask, can you enlighten us on your relationship and how it started?

I can vividly remember him sending me a video of him playing my 'Sticky Situation' edit, back when I was just making tunes to be played in sets. He had asked for it on Twitter, and I ended up sending him a pack of tunes and he sent some back.

One of the tunes was 'IT Danza', way before it was out, and it was actually one of the tunes that made me realise how close the two genres are. I was blending that with Davinche's 'Gotta Man' back in the day, and people were thinking of it as very much a grime tune. It's still one of the best tunes I've heard, especially as it encapsulates what I want to do: it blends with everything.

But yeah, that was the proper introduction and from there we kept a relationship where if I was working on anything interesting I'd show him it, and if he thought I would like any of the records he bought he would show me, and if I liked it he'd rip it and send it over.

We started playing Call of Duty together during lockdown when we had nothing else to do. Around that time I had him on my show on 1020 because, as I said, we didn't have anything else to do. I think that's the first time we did anything together. Oblig then managed to get us all in the same room. He's so instrumental in this, he even brought up the idea of producing together when he had a trip to Münich.

Deep down, I'm a DJ. That's my thing. I can mix for eight hours a day, there's no psychological boundaries towards DJing but I think with production I do. Not that I shy away from it, it's just that I'm not as familiar with it.

The idea of making a tune with Skee was sick, and Oblig was like " why don't we just go over?" He was very much the driving force in this. Ever since I had been doing grime, Oblig has been someone who's been bringing me up. He'd been playing my tunes for a very long time, back when I was posting bootlegs and radio rips from Grandmixxer, General Courts and Oblig on my SoundCloud. We've even clashed on an NTS back in the day.

I wanted to chat about your mixing style, it's very unique. I remember going to the re:lax party you played where you brought your own third deck. How did the three-deck technique begin?

The first time I ever did a three-deck blend was on a radio show, it was my last tune and I was just like "okay, let's go for broke."

Neffa-T was definitely an inspiration, I've always wanted a third deck but never had one. Now I run a third deck on Traktor on my computer and send it to my DJM900. A lot of time I will play around with three or even four decks on laptop, and then just do the chops live.

Beat matching three tunes, even with the greatest 3000s, is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world, but I love it because it adds an extra element for me. It does mean I constantly have to be in the mix. You can't half-arse it. I was speaking to Zed Bias after our show and he said "you've got fearless mixing, every time you do a mix you are riding on your fucking balls."

It comes out of necessity that I need to be so tight because all these big chops I do, everything has to already be in time. I need to concentrate on that third deck while preparing everything else, so having everything locked in ahead of time gives me that freedom.

It seems quite an intense way because you have to constantly be concentrating. It doesn't allow for much time to enjoy your set.

No I fucking love it man. I love music so much and three decks gives me a new love for a lot of these tunes that I wouldn't have played. I am having all the fun in the world, but a lot of people have told me "you don't speak when you DJ, even when you go b2b." It's not because I'm upset or anything, it's because I'm locked in and listening to three decks, having the best time in the world.

One mix that stands out for me with your use of three decks is the Ilian Tape mix where it seems like you have a different mood or genre set up for each CDJ.

I was genuinely very, very proud with that one because it was the first time that I really put my heart and soul into using three decks and it came out just how I wanted it to. I plan out all my sets by jamming. Whenever I do a radio show it's completely off the cuff but that'll come from the best parts of what I've done in maybe two, three hours of jamming. A lot of times I'll get little brain waves when I'm live, so I do also think it's important, even if you've planned two hours, to do the spontaneous mix you're thinking about and see how it works because that's how you find all the great moments.

I'm very pro planning, but I think the way you plan should be so spontaneous and free that if I need to deviate from any one of these jams I can.

A lot of the time I like to pitch tracks up by turning off master tempo on the CDJs and making them faster. What I've recently got into now is pitching them down and trying to see what they sound like when they're slower. I like giving tunes new contexts.

In this mix I play 'Footcrab' at 120 BPM. I've always loved 'Footcrab' but I've never really played it that much, not for any particular reason, but now at 120 it's a completely different tune and it does completely different things. That's what I love most about DJing, that sometimes that you can flip a tune on its head.

A lot of the time these things don't sound good too. I'll never show you the ones that just don't work but I can go through a thousand tunes playing them at all types of different BPMs and you won't get anything.

Now that you're a three deck wizard, do you think playing on two decks is boring?

I still like doing stuff with two decks, for example on Tasha's show we were going straight one for one the whole time. You can definitely enjoy both. I think the great thing is that whether you're playing two, three, four, five, or six tracks together, what matters is the journey between tunes.

You can still do some mind-bending stuff with just two tunes. Growing up, my favourite sets were definitely performed playing just two tunes. For me now, I like doing stuff with three decks because I'm very much a momentum-based person and that way I can keep it moving.

One of the most eye-catching parts of your sets is when you employ fader chops usually associated with grime DJs, quickly bringing in and out a tune, but with 4/4 techno.

That was just the result of trial and error too. When I was doing a lot of grime it was wig power station, obviously hold tight General Courts, hold tight Grandmixxer, hold tight Neffa-T.

When I was doing grime it was really really fucking technical. Rolling, chopping, quick mixing. A lot of the time I'd be playing straight eight-bar tunes, making new tracks by chopping in different signatures to change what you heard.

I guess I still chop just as much, but as I have a lot more tool-y stuff now, a lot more 4/4, I can really make a groove. I can do a lot more than chopping two grime tunes, and it's a bit more dance-oriented.

There's different rhythms going around.

Yeah, I think the beauty is that the training that I had from playing grime and mixing in that way meant that when I started playing techno, it was second nature to try the same sort of technical flourishes.

I didn't realize the scope of it until I watched DJ Bone's Attack mix. If anyone hasn't watched it, please do it's fucking amazing. Skee showed me that when I was in Munich and my mind was blown, I thought "he's playing techno like grime." What he does is insane, I've never seen stuff like that. A lot of the old techno guys are doing stuff that Neffa-T does now, they beat juggle and have the same tunes going all time.

It's so good to see that the similarities from both the cultures are there. There was a realisation that people can and have been doing what we're trying to do. I was like "yeah, I want to be on that flex, I wanna try that shit!"

You're officially a Rinse FM resident now.

Yeah, I'm really excited, especially because I'm super proud of the first show. Me b2b Zed Bias... at no point did I envision this happening. They say don't meet your heroes but this was insane. There was so much chemistry and I was just nerding out with him, showing him all of the Zed tunes that I had. I was going like "I want you to know it took me ages to get this one", stuff I'd been looking out for and bugging people about for years.

He was even surprised that I was drawing for these. Having someone like that and speaking about all these tunes that you hold in such high esteem was one of the best feeling to have and then on top of that the show was fucking great. So on every level even sonically and for a personal level. It was a great show.

Alongside Zed Bias you've already played b2b with re:ni and Tasha, is there anyone else that you'd like to play with on your show?

For sure. I'm in a very unique position where I can come on Rinse FM and invite someone I've always wanted to play with. I want to make my show a place where you can come and do whatever you want and get into stuff I'd never play and do those things I'd never do. I still really want to do a lot of two hour solo shows but yeah I'm definitely excited to get some guests on.

The Zenkers definitely stand out as someone I'd want to play with, I've got a couple of others I want to ask on the show but I don't want to spoil it... you'll have to lock in. I do need to do part 2 of my b2b with Tim from Tim and Barry on Rinse, we played together on their NTS show a while back.

What can we expect in the future from MJK? You've just gone full-time music right?

Yeah, as of maybe four weeks ago! This is my job, listening to and playing music. I hope it lasts forever. It's an insane privilege, especially given all the hardship going on right now that I can do this.

My b2b with Neffa-T at The Cause has just been announced, I'm really excited about that.

In terms of production, when I made the 'Patchworks vol. 1' EP with Skee it was the first stuff I'd made in a while. I do want to get my space together so I can make something by myself and I've got things I'm gonna do with other people too.

I really want to explore different types of music and get back into my normal producer bag, I haven't had the time since I've had to work for at least 40 hours a week. I don't have that excuse anymore, so it'll be nice to see what I can do with this freed up time.

I was doing seven to four hours and again because my job was so demanding, I was so busy, very customer-facing and I had to deal with a lot of people. I was responsible for a lot of things, I couldn't go part-time, it was hard for someone to cover me so if I had a show a lot of the time I would have to go back to work. When I was doing cover shows I'd be working and luckily get off just early enough to come in and do it.

I've done a lot of all nighters and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. The last year I've very much been grinding. I would be preparing for shows on my lunch break at work, going and doing the shows after. It was non-stop and I got very little sleep but the beautiful thing is that because I never said no to an opportunity I am where I am now.

As much as I love to complain, and people always complain about their jobs, I was very blessed. I was in a position of privilege the whole time, but it was a lot of work. I was happy doing that when I started and things were beginning to move slowly move again. After moving to London the only show that I really played that year was with the b2b2b2b with Victor, Oblig and Skee Mask at The White Hotel [in Manchester] for seven hours straight.

They must've given Skee a residency or asked him to do the show, and he just chose me, Oblig and Victor to play with him. We just did it and there wasn't really any buzz or anything to follow it. I didn't have a radio show. It was such a great b2b but I didn't get any interest off it. That's not to complain, even at that point I was very blessed.

Finally, how would you describe your mix?

I’d like to think of this mix as an amalgamation of all the sounds and experiences I've had up to this point. I've been working on it for a while and I've found and explored a newfound appreciation for playing at a slower tempo but keeping the context the same as when I'm playing at my normal pace.

I’m always working on trying to find the perfect balance with every set or mix I do and although I know there is no such thing I very much enjoy the journey regardless. I guess that would describe this the best, it is a snapshot of my musical journey and a reflection of the things I'm working towards.

‘Patchworks vol. 1’ is out now via Obligated Records, buy it here

Tibor Heskett is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter


We Smile - Can’t Resist (Popmusiker Sind Auch Kunstler-Version) (Mense Reents Remix)
Urban Force - Untitled 2 (Mike Huckaby Remix)
Stewart Walker - Songs Without Climax
Paleman - Audio Repeater
Lapien - Brumal
Ozy - Pull The Strings
Asusu - Too Much Time Has Passed
Madera - Reduc
Addison Groove - Footcrab
Alexi Delano & Cari Lekebusch - Color Crash 2 (B2 Mix)
Pev & Kowton - Beneath Radar (Pev Mix)
Skee Mask - Fade Dub (Unreleased)
Leif - Contentment
??? - H9 A1
Deetron - I Believe
Skee Mask - Stomp (Unreleased)
TWR72 - Movement
DJ Zank - Virans
Martyn & Om Unit - Tracksuit Dub
Jack Sparrow - For Me
Lurka - Choke
Asusu - Horizons (Asusu’s Strip Lit Mix)
One By One vs Free Gaza (Skee Mask & MJK vs Grandmixxer)
Samba & Phossa - Ash (Unreleased)
Josi Devil & Drone - The Pulse (Unreleased)
MRK1 - Tribesman
DJ Gregory - Traffic (Bok’s Dub)
Headhunter - Chasing Dragons
Forest Drive West - Escape
Laksa - ??? (Unreleased)
Hodge - Raptors
Re:ni - ???
Ebende - Magic Land
DJ Bone - The Funk
Skee Mask & MJK - One by One (Instrumental)

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