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Interview with Craig Macleod of Mungo’s Hi Fi and Gardna at Infrasound Festival

Photo Credit: DJ Kayla Kush

When Infrasound Festival dropped their 2022 lineup and I saw Mungo’s Hi Fi on there, my jaw dropped and I immediately bought my ticket. If you know me, you know I love Mungo’s Hi Fi and spin their music on my radio show, in Rootfire’s Progressive Roots Playlist, and in my DJ sets, all. the. time.

Infrasound Festival is one of the Midwest’s most glorious destinations for lovers of heavy bass music and EDM. Taking place at Harmony Park in the southeast part of Minnesota, festival-goers get to camp under old oak trees and see laser lights shining beautifully through the branches above. Stacks on stacks of speakers—Funktion-Ones, Hennesseys, and Voids—shaking the ground at three different stages. 

Nothing like three days of skeleton-rattling bass music to soothe the soul and cleanse the molecules. 

Mungo’s Hi Fi is a Glasgow, Scotland-based Soundsystem made up of four individuals. To perform, not all players have to be present. In fact, on this US tour, it was just Craig Macleod of Mungo’s spinning tunes along with UK rapper and producer Gardna.

Craig and Gardna’s Infrasound set took place on Thursday, May 12th at the Pyramid stage—a small elevated DJ booth, shaped like (you guessed it) a pyramid and covered in murals, tucked away in the woods near the back of the festival grounds with just the treetops and nearly-full moon shining overhead. Listening to Mungo’s bass-heavy electronic reggae music through gigantic Void speakers was purely magical. The set went like this: Tunes spun by Craig, with Gardna rapping and hyping throughout, adding an interactive element that the audience loved. About half the tunes were by Mungo’s, the other half were by others. Craig included songs by Jamaican musicians Lila Iké and Chronixx re-recorded in traditional dubplate style, specially made for Mungo’s with new vocals that referenced their Soundsystem. Another highlight was when Craig surfaced the classic tune “Ghost Town” by The Specials. Some other peak points of the set for me were the Mungo’s tunes “Nice It Up” and “Babylon Raid (feat. Eva Lazarus)”. 

I’m incredibly lucky to have gotten to do an interview with Craig and Gardna immediately after their set. While we talked, the wind was blowing, and summer lightning was going off in the distance. What do you do when you get the chance to speak with some of your favorites? You try to push forward through your overwhelming excitement and ask some good questions. Read on to find out how it went.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

KK: This is DJ Kayla Kush, and I am at Infrasound Festival in Clarks Grove, Minnesota, talking to Craig Macleod of Mungo’s Hi Fi and Gardna as well. You guys, that was an awesome set. Thank you so much for doing that. 

CM: Thank you very much. 

Gardna: Big ups, big ups!

KK: So my first question is specific to Mungo’s Hi Fi. I read that you send your beats to vocalists after spending time with them. And a lot of times that’s how the magic happens, right?

CM: Yeah, it kind of varies. Some things happen in the studio, and some things remotely. And sometimes even people just send us vocals on our tunes or other tunes that we end up working with.

KK: And how do the beats come together? Does someone from Mungo’s find something they like and then bring it to everyone else to build something collaboratively? Or do you do it more individually?

CM: We’re much more individual.

KK: So how did Antidote come together? Because when that dropped last July in mid pandemic, that was just like a good slap in the face from start to finish…it’s just so deep, dark, and dubby.

CM: Nice, nice. Yeah. Well, it started off as an idea. We were thinking: What can we do to kind of —I don’t want to say fill a gap—but like put out some dubs. And then it ended up just becoming, well: Why don’t we take time when there’s the chance to do it in lockdown to actually make some dubs. And Tom from Mungo’s, he was a driving force. He had an idea and just basically worked through loads of old tunes and new tunes and…the idea was to follow the style of The Scientist or King Tubby where you would have your vocal cuts and then you would basically strip them all down and make a whole new tune from them that is almost nothing to do with the original and stands alone on its own. The idea was just to piece it together and make an album that was kind of a slight remix, positioned to be a bit of an antidote for the current settings of lockdown and coronavirus and all that kind of stuff, you know?

KK: Yeah, yeah. It absolutely was. It’s crazy because…so I’m a reggae person, but I came to Infrasound Family Reunion last summer on a whim and ended up loving it because there were little tiny hints of reggae in this music that I didn’t even expect. And then I listened to Antidote when I got the email from Bandcamp—which was a surprise—and I was listening through it…and like “Pulsating Dub” especially. When I heard that, I thought, “Mungo’s Hi Fi should play at Infrasound!”

CM: I think your manifestation came true. That’s what thinking about things does.

KK: [Laughs] I also just wanna call out the song “Epic Fail.” To me that one really hits home, just like as an earth citizen. Do you have anything to say about that song in particular?

CM: Well, that’s kind of based off the vocals. That was Ranking Levy and Shanti D. So credit to them for putting that in that direction, really. That was their doing.

KK: So good. I love it. Thanks for answering those questions about how the music came together. I wanna ask both of you actually: If you could have a time machine and travel back to work with any musical legend in their heyday, who would it be?

Gardna: I would say because I really love this artist, but a big influence to me in his heyday was definitely Mike Skinner in The Streets. He was an amazing—still is, you know—but his particular first two albums, Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come for Free, are great albums and definitely inspired what I do a hundred percent.

CM: That’s a tough question. In terms of singers, someone who jumps out straight away is Garnett Silk, someone from Jamaica who had the most beautiful voice and was destined to be, maybe like a kind of….not next Bob Marley, I wouldn’t wanna say that—but like up there. And he was killed. I think they found his body hugging his mom, protecting her after a gas explosion at the house. But his voice, I think for me is the one that I wish I could work with.

KK: My next question is also for both of you, and it’s about women in music. In Mungo’s music, in particular, some of my favorite Mungo’s songs are with Eva Lazarus—which you played a lot of tonight, Soom T—who I interviewed for Rootfire as well and she was talking about how she would come hang out with you guys and like eat Curry and smoke weed and like just throw her lyrics in. But like Eva, Soom T, Lady Ann, not to mention Sister Carol and Marina P. So I just wanna, first of all, say, thank you for including so many women in your music because it’s really empowering as a woman to hear those voices. You know, but the industry is really hard for women and unfair. So what do you guys think needs to change or what could men do, like the men who are in power in the music industry, to help women rise to the top?

CM: Well, for the start, just be aware of things. Have a bit of understanding. Women are like 50% of the population, so there needs to be more equal representation. And it’s something we’ve always kind of been doing, not subconsciously, but not as consciously as we would now. Whereas now, you know, I think it is something we definitely want to push more and encourage, and nurture. And yeah, things can be done. Things like Inclusion Riders when you play somewhere. If you have an Inclusion Rider, you can say you want to have people in the lineup, you want to have a good female representation, LGBTQ++, people of color, and have it more balanced, not just all white men in baseball caps. I think that’s really important and something that needs to happen more and more. And I think even like putting that in as a rider, people might not honor it straight away, but over time it’s something that just needs to become the norm. It’s daft that it’s not already. Anything that we can certainly do where we are, we will definitely do our best to help.

We have to give a big shout-out to Lauren and Nicole from Submission who have been working behind the scenes putting our tour together with the utmost of care, and we wouldn’t be over here playing shows if not for them. Brittany too, who runs Couchfam and alongside Lauren, was responsible for all our streams over lockdown.

KK: Yeah. Mungo’s is definitely leading by example. It’s great to have the balance of masculine and feminine in the world, it’s healthy.

CM: Absolutely.

Gardna: Yeah. A hundred percent agree with what Craig said there as well. This is something that we have always done, and we haven’t always been as conscious, you know, that we’ve been doing it, but you know, working with the ladies is something that we’ve always loved doing naturally. Just big up the ladies, basically big up for the girls getting involved and it’s great to see more women doing it now more than ever. Things like Inclusion Riders is something that I’ve started doing, and every artist who’s listening or reading this should do as well. And if you want to check out a good Inclusion Rider, Om Unit from Bristol has got a good template for that. So if any artists want to check that out, they can literally take it straight off Google and make it their own rider.

CM: I think as well it’s important that we create safe spaces in the dance for women, where they feel safe and they’re not getting groped or chatted up all the time, and they can just go and enjoy themselves.

KK: Yes, absolutely. And having more—not just more women on stage—but booking shows, backstage, sharing all those spaces with men. So I’m a DJ and I play a lot of Mungo’s in my sets. I mean, once I started diving more into your music, my DJ sets became so much better. It’s the backbone of what I play. So, I’m learning a lot and I’m wondering if you guys have any advice for younger DJs.

CM: I would say just, if you enjoy it, just do it and practice and practice and have fun basically. I think it’s important just to do it ’cause you love it and not cause you want to be like a superstar on the stage or like ego and all the trappings. But if you like music and you like playing it, then that’s all there really is to it. And I think if you do that, things will kind of come naturally. You have to obviously push yourself as well and put yourself out there, but I think just that alone is kind of like a very good start.

Gardna: Yeah, exactly that. Do it for the love, don’t do it for the likes. And you know, you gotta just do hundreds of free gigs before you get your first paid gig. So, you know, people coming into the scene just gotta work their socks off now to really be heard and seen. And as I say, keep doing that, you know? We need more generations of new talent coming through and we’re always looking out for that as well, you know. Who’s next? We wanna know!

KK: My last question for you is: I know you’ve got some more shows in the US coming up. Do either of you wanna share anything that you can share about what you’re working on next or what you have planned?

Gardna: I’ve been working on my second long player, which is coming out in June, which features a whole heap of artists. We made the album at a really great studio in the UK called Devon Analogue Studio. It features the likes of Eva Lazarus, UK reggae veteran Don Letts, Catching Cairo, who I’ve obviously worked with Mungo’s Hi Fi in “Back in the Dayz”, and a whole heap more. Stay tuned for that. Really excited for the new music to come out, and hopefully some more with Mungo’s.

CM: Absolutely, that doesn’t need to be said! Yeah. For us, we’ve got an EP with Kiko Bun coming out on June 24th. It’ll be two sevens, one in May and one in June. And then after that, we’re just gonna get into writing some more music.

KK: Cool. I can’t wait. Well, thank you both for the amazing set today. It’s so great to meet you!

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Kayla joined Rootfire after following this music around the country for years. She has been hosting reggae radio shows in Madison since 2010. Her newest installment is '2 DUB', Saturday nights at 10pm on 89.9 WORT FM. She is the 4x winner of 'DJ of the Year' at the Madison Area Music Awards. You can follow her on social media at: @djkaylakush

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