Mecca:83 in the middle of a live performance. (Credit: Bandcamp)

An In-Depth Breakdown of Mecca:83’s “Life Sketches Vol. 3”

From his evolving creative process to working with one of his idols, the talented multi-genre producer walks us through his latest effort.

Like many aspiring producers who started out in the 80s and 90s, Manchester-based beatmaker Mecca:83’s musical odyssey began with pause-tape compositions. “I started out on my parents’ hi-fi making stop tapes beats,” he says. “Kind of a right-of-passage for most heads of my age.”

Part 1 of Rise’s debut release Message To The Architects.

After flexing his pause button skills and using a program called Making Waves for 2–3 years, Mecca eventually graduated to Cubase and an MPC. Though his production process continued to evolve, his transition from a pause-tape novice to professional musician had a rather inauspicious beginning. Upon inking his first record deal with a UK-based label in 2004 under the moniker Rise, things quickly went south when the label became insolvent. “I got halfway through finishing an LP, but the label folded before I really got too far,” he says.

Mecca:83 didn’t let his scrapped debut dampen his spirits. Instead, he found himself a second chance at another label. “I think I signed with Futuristica Music in around 2006 and put out my first 7" with them in 2008,” he says. “I was mainly making sample-based jazz stuff back then. My first release was Message To The Architects.”

“Sometimes you have to change things to be able to move forward.”

Mecca spent five years producing for different Futuristica artists as Rise before releasing his full-length debut Messages in 2011. Afraid that his sound was becoming typecast, he decided to his name from Rise to Mecca:83 just before the album’s release. “I was making a ton of different music under the Rise moniker — from jazzy stuff, to more beat oriented work,” he says. “But the only solo releases I had out there was the jazz stuff and I kinda got pigeon-holed. As a name change, Mecca:83 was a way of breaking away from that stereotype and giving myself a little more freedom.”

The Bandcamp version of Life Sketches Vol. 3.

Though the name change gave Mecca the freedom to explore new avenues, it was a hard switch for some of his fans to follow. “If anything it confused a lot of people,” he admits. “But sometimes you have to change things to be able to move forward. I’ve been told a few times that it would have been a better move exposure-wise to have released everything under one name, but each one has given me another little avenue to explore.”

Despite any initial confusion, Mecca is finding considerable success on a variety of platforms since changing names. His 2017 release Life Sketches Vol. 3 has broadened his reach even more, earning him huge followings on both Bandcamp and Spotify. And best of all, it gave him a chance to make a record with one of his musical idols. “Grap Luva is one of my heroes,” he says. “Hands-down, INI was one of the most influential albums to me early on.”

“I gave up for a while. I didn’t want to submit something to one of my heroes that I didn’t feel would be worthy.”

Before the two artists collaborated on “Let’s Get It”, Grap and Mecca’s connection started with a mutual appreciation for each other's work. “Initially I sent Grap a tweet telling him how much of an influence he’d been on me,” he says. “I was really surprised when he responded and told me that he’d listened to my stuff really enjoyed my tracks. From memory, I think he liked ‘Amber Glow’.”

The official music video for “Let’s Get It” featuring Grap Luva.

The two musicians maintained a correspondence over email and social media and Grap eventually agreed to lay down a verse for Life Sketches Vol. 3. “Then I hit the lab to cook up something suitable,” Mecca says. “At first I was working on a bunch of boom-bap style stuff for him. Looking back, I was trying to recreate that INI vibe. But it felt kinda convoluted.”

Frustrated that he couldn’t come up with something commiserate with one of skill level of his idol, Mecca stepped away from the beat for a bit. “I gave up for a while,” he says. “I didn’t want to submit something to one of my heroes that I didn’t feel would be worthy.”

“I’m a pretty quiet guy and production is definitely a solitary quest a lot of the time. Lots of late nights by yourself.”
The Bandcamp version of Life Sketches Vols 1 & 2.

Putting the instrumental aside helped Mecca re-approach it with fresh ears and find the necessary combination of sounds to make it work. “The track I created in the end just sort of happened in the moment,” he says. “I really liked the piano sample, but it had a lot of really busy cymbal work over it and I wasn’t sure if I could make it work.”

Using some deft chopping skills, Mecca was able to retain the right elements of sample while eliminating that parts that clashed. “I chopped out the bits of the sample that I liked in Ableton and tried to work out a way to EQ out the cymbals and get a groove behind it,” he says. “In total, it took no more than 15–20 minutes for the sample and beats.”

The kind of quick workflow is not an uncommon thing for Mecca once he finds his creative groove. “Most of my tracks I initially just freestyle — no more than 10 to 20 minutes of playing around,” he says. “Then if I like it by the end of 20 minutes, I’ll save it and come back to it at a later date to build on it.”

“Music is like my personal meditation tool — I’d be doing it even if was just to bump in my car.”

Collaboration also played an essential role in the creation “Alpha Channel” featuring Buscrates 16 Bit Ensemble. For Mecca, the song represents the culmination of a long-standing creative partnership built on mutual admiration. “I’ve known Buscrates on and off since MySpace,” he says. “My buddy James put my up on him way back. Instantly I dug everything he created.”

Micro-Chopping Mecca:83 — an exclusive 30-track playlist of collaborations, group work, and solo cuts.

Though the two producers had already combined forces on the song “Detroit Twilight” in 2011, working with Buscrates again was a reminder of his special skills set as a producer. “I collaborate a lot, but Buscrates is something else,” says Mecca. “I always have a picture of how something should sound in the end. And I go to lengths to illustrate it to people when I’m collaborating with them. But with him I don’t have to do any of that. I just send him a track, ask him to do what he does, and it always comes back perfect.”

For Mecca, the process of working with other artists is an essential part of his musical career — it keeps him inspired and prevents total isolation. “I’m a pretty quiet guy and production is definitely a solitary quest a lot of the time,” he says. “Lots of late nights by yourself. Plus I’m from a small town in the north of England so there’s not much of a scene here. Manchester is great and I know a lot of those guys, but it’s an hour away from me.”

“Most of my tracks I initially just freestyle — no more than 10 to 20 minutes of playing around.”

These days Mecca:83’s online following and recognition continue to grow despite his quiet surroundings. The increased reach is appreciated, but it’s also something he tries to keep in perspective. “It’s definitely been humbling, but I try not to focus on the numbers too much,” he says. “Music is like my personal meditation tool — I’d be doing it even if was just to bump in my car.”

Whether he has one person listening to his work or one thousand, Mecca:83 sees producing as a vital way of maintaining in these ever-stressful modern times. And no matter what curve balls life throws at him — from fatherhood to changes in geographic locations to running a record label — making beats remains a faithful escape. As he says in the Life Sketches Vol. 3 liner notes, “I always manage to return to the source eventually.”

Connect with Mecca:83 on Bandcamp, Facebook, SoundCloud, his website, and on Twitter @Solarsounds.

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