The Breakdown: Mandidextrous on how they produce a heavyweight hybrid of DnB and techno

In our video series The Breakdown, we visit artists and producers in the studio to break down how they make their music, getting a deeper insight into the gear, techniques and creative process behind their best tracks. 

This month, we're in the studio with Mandidextrous, a UK producer that has become renowned for their high-energy tracks that blend elements of a multitude of fast and hard club genres. 

After early success in the world of hard techno (or tekno, as it’s often styled around the illegal rave circuit), Mandi’s career has taken a turn following the forced reset of the Covid pandemic.

Through a mentorship scheme with powerhouse DnB label RAM, Mandi rediscovered their drum & bass and jungle roots and began pioneering a new sound blending the broken grooves of DnB with the pounding, hard kicks of tekno. 

We sat down in Mandi’s recently complete studio to talk raves, lockdown and the production process behind the high-energy Mandidextrous sound. 

Tell us about your production journey. Are we right in thinking you got started in the free party scene?

“I started as a DJ when I was probably, I don’t know, 15 or something like that. Very late ’90s. I did that on the illegal rave scene for quite a long time, then when I was about 20 I stopped partying so much, stopped going raving all the time and started wanting to get into music production. 

“I had a couple of friends who were already doing it and I found the whole thing fascinating. I got a copy of Reason 3.0, which is where I started, although I found it really confusing. Then one of my friends who was working on Ableton showed me that, and I was off. I’ve been on that path ever since then.

“Originally, I didn’t really intend on writing music for anyone else other than to have tracks to play in my DJ sets. I just wanted to play stuff that I wanted to hear, but that I couldn’t find. And, you know, having that challenge of playing music to people that you’ve made is really amazing. So yeah, that’s where it all started. It all came out of the end of me being on the rave scene, starting to not want to go out so much and just kind of be a recluse and write music [laughs].”

You’ve become known for playing quite hard, high-BPM tracks, was that where you started from?

“Yeah, I basically just don’t have any chill when it comes to the music that I want to put out and play! I started with DnB and jungle in the late ’90s then, when I got to about 17 or so, I discovered techno and went deep in the rabbit hole of free parties, drugs and all of that stuff.

“I found techno really cool. It really reached to me, as I liked the way you could get lost in it a lot easier than DnB. I was DJing techno for a couple of years. Then that evolved into the music that I create now, because I wanted to have my favourite DnB tunes, but as techno. That was what it was in my head. 

I just got obsessed. I’d spent some time in the techno world, some time in the DnB world, and then I wanted to fuse them together

“I started off writing numerous bootlegs of famous DnB tunes, which now working in the drum and bass industry is quite taboo. I hope no one gets too annoyed at me when they come across some of my back catalogue. I just was writing it as music for my sets, you know? 

“I’d take like, Chopper, the Shy FX version, or like Renegade Terrorist or something like that, and put a four-four kick with it and turn it into a techno tune. Quite high BPM, you know, and that’s kind of what the whole thing was about. For me. I just got obsessed. I’d spent some time in the techno world, some time in the DnB world, and then I wanted to fuse them together. Yeah, but keep the energy up. That’s it really – no chill Mandi!”

How has your approach to production evolved over the years? Is Ableton Live still at the heart of it?

“Yeah, I’m deep into Ableton. I’ve had a few goes at jumping outside that box and going to a different DAW, like Logic or Cubase, but yeah, I just stuck with Ableton in the end. I’m really obsessed with the workflow. When I have an idea it allows me to just get it on the page really quickly. No faffing about. It’s just kind of like my warm cuddly home from home.”

Do you use many samples or plugins?

“I use a lot of what’s in the box with Ableton, because obviously their stock stuff is really amazing. I’m a big fan of the Amp plugin. I do use external VSTs. I’m quite particular about what I buy, because I don’t want to waste my money. I think about what I actually need. The other day I bought the Oxford Inflator, for example, because I really want to work on my self-mastering. 

“But yeah, mainly Ableton stock stuff. Technically they provide everything I’m after. With production, I’m always learning as I go, and learning those stock plugins has been really productive.”

Would you say your style balances elements of both techno and DnB?

“Up to about five years ago – when things started really changing for me with my music career – I was writing a lot in a genre called hardtek. To be honest, it’s a genre I’ve never really been into as a listener. 

“Although I’ve been a bit of a key player in the UK hard techno scene, I’ve never been into hardtek and I couldn’t tell you a single scrap about the history of it. Whereas if I’m asked about the history of DnB, I can talk for days. And the same goes for, like, acid techno stuff that I used to be into.”

How have you found the DnB scene has changed post-pandemic?

“It seems a little bit different. There’s this massive energy from the young crew. The youths that pre-Covid probably weren’t old enough to get into clubs. But they’ve spent two years exposed to all of us crazy loons online doing live streams, and they’re just so excited to get into clubs. The energy in youth is crazy cool. 

As a trans person coming into drum and bass - which there was not very many of at all - I was really daunted

“I think, with austerity and everything like that that’s been going on for a while, people just want to go out and release, you know, and the fact that we can do that again now, it’s mad. I’ve had the busiest year of gigs in my life so far. That’s heightened by the fact that I’ve had some good releases, and backing from RAM and stuff like that. 

“Also for me, as a queer artist, it’s been amazing to see such a big presence in the queer scene in DnB. Yeah. And you know, in hardtek lands, I was really one of the only queer artists. It’s basically all guys. But there’s this big shift in equality and gender right now in DnB.”

You’ve been involved in the EQ50 mentoring program in recent years…

“Yes, big up EQ50 in a massive way. If it wasn’t for EQ50 I don’t think I’d have got where I am now, post-Covid, because pre-Covid I was starting to lose a lot of confidence about my career in my music. I was really lucky. Myself and a girl from Scotland called Anikonik, she’s a really good producer and DJ, we got put with RAM under this mentorship scheme. We were talking online during lockdown, which was really helpful. 

There’s this big shift in equality and gender right now in DnB

“I had to take a job delivering for Amazon because I was stuffed without gigs. But coming home in the evenings and jumping online with them was really fun. I felt like I could truly put across what I wanted from my career. Luckily the gang from RAM really backed me. 

“For them to take me under their wing, it helped give me confidence, especially as a trans person coming into drum and bass, which there was not very many of at all. I was really daunted by it. But they really helped – they opened some doors, and helped me put across the fact that I am, you know, really into making music. It’s my passion, my life, and it’s what I really want to do.” 

Follow Mandidextrous on Instagram and Soundcloud.

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