Respected DJ and producer Kramnik returns to the music scene under the eclectic alter-ego – Mooji – with a stunning new album titled ‘Double Agent’. Exploring elements of acid-jazz, dub, funk, down-tempo and blues, with effortless style, the new sound of Mooji is trippy, intoxicating, and musically ambitious. Kramnik first began making serious waves as a producer in electronic music in 2012 with his irreverent and much-lauded debut album: ‘Dark Matters’. The album was conceived and mixed LIVE, to showcase his fine-tuned ability to craft and execute an emotive sonic journey, garnering praise from the producer’s bible Future Music, who described him as ‘one of the most distinctive artists of the year, with a unique and unaffected sound.
Always one to push the boundaries of his abilities, and with a new musical ambition, Kramnik moved to Berlin to immerse himself in the city’s artistic vibe. Taking his music back to basics, with a heavy mix of songwriting, improvisation and live instrumentation, Mooji finally came to life. As Mooji explains, ‘because my debut album was designed for DJs, I wanted to make music that could appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to make music that could be enjoyed beyond the dance floor, something that could be shared with others.’
‘Double Agent’ began to take shape after two years of intense evolution, with Mooji proving both ambition and versatility, introducing vocals by blues legends such as Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, as well as Dub pioneer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Creating captivating music for both body and soul, Mooji’s ‘Double Agent’ brings to life the artist’s irrepressible desire to explore and master different musical styles. The metamorphosis from Kramnik to Mooji demonstrates a growing maturity and broadening of this respected artist’s sonic horizons, and offers a tantalising glimpse of even more musical gems in the road ahead.
A 3 track EP will be released showcasing the diversity of the album, prior to the full album release on Kram Records in September, and with further singles to follow. We spoke to Mooji about his most recent work, “Double Agent”, and his journey thus far in his music career.
Entertwine: Could you give us some insight into your musical background? Who or what led you to pursue a career in music? Growing up I listened to a lot of classic rock, and I played the drums in several school bands in the US. When I moved back to Spain I joined at Sony Music, working with some of the biggest names in the industry (Foo Fighters, Garbage, Christina Aguilera, etc). Being a music lover, though, I left the label and started promoting big DJ events at a famous art-deco palace in my home town of Madrid. So Kramnik was born out of watching the best DJs in action. Electronic music was a big inspiration for a long time, but these days I listen mostly to acid-jazz, ska, blues, downtempo, etc. That’s what happens with old age!
You relocated to Berlin, Germany in 2013, correct? How did your move and the experiences that followed influence the writing and recording of your album “Double Agent”? For the most part, ‘Double Agent’ came to life in Berlin, but also during my travels to Morocco, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I moved to Berlin after releasing ‘Dark Matters’ ( as Kramnik), because I wanted to approach this album with a different mindset and environment . The idea was to try a completely different style of music, more chilled, and definitely more organic. I knew I didn’t want to make another electronic album because I had just finished one (with a lot of effort ! ). I was just looking for a different type of challenge this time, but had no idea where I was going. But I definitely wanted more improvisation, so for this album I hired some studio musicians to play the guitar, trumpet solos, harmonicas, etc. I also play the drums on most of the tracks. I guess the end result was so different that I needed a new name altogether r (Mooji).
How are you able to so effortlessly blend so many different musical styles and sounds? I like the challenge of trying new genres and improving my production skills in the process, but I wouldn’t say the process is effortless at all. It’s actually a lot of work to play with all these different styles for the first time. For example, I came across the Leadbelly song during my time in Cambodia, and thought it would be a good candidate for the album ( ‘ How Long’). But the sample is from 1935 and was extremely hard to mix. You also have some dubby stuff in there ( ‘ Medley ‘ ), a soundtrack ( ‘ Psilo Symphony ‘ ), something electro ( ‘ Don’t ‘ ). In this album I also introduce voices by people like John Lee Hooker, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, or Muddy Waters. Just spoken voices, though, no signing. I like the effect it has on the music.
Tell us about ‘So Good’ and ‘Don’t’; why do you believe those two songs resonate so well with listeners? I wrote ‘Don’t’ in Phuket, and was probably the fastest song to come together in the album. It’s a song about repression and things that we are told not to do by society. Actually the only one where you can hear my voice on the album . I also play drums on this track, and it’s the only one for which we have two different videos (www.moojimusic.com) . But ‘So Good’ is one of my favorite because it came very close to the idea I had in mind (which never happens! ). I wanted to write a song that had a similar vibe to ‘Aftermath’ by Trickie, which I used as inspiration. Then I recorded a friend who plays the slide guitar and thought of adding some John Lee Hooker voices. I like the energy in this song.
What inspired the “Double Agent” artwork? Just like with the videos, the album cover is the result of an online contest at an amazing site called www.99designs.com. We had about 500 entries from all around the world, which made it very hard to pick a winner. But this one stood out for it’s originality, and now we have the zebras appearing in almost all the videos.
How does “Double Agent” differ from and expand on the previous works you released as Kramnik? Growing up I had the dream of making an album-mix, but I think this was a bit too challenging for a debut album… Making ‘Dark Matters’ with no production skills was not very easy, to say the least. I just had to learn as I went along, even though some of the early songs ended up later in the track list. But because ‘Dark Matters’ was designed as a mix, the tracks were basically made for DJs (as opposed to the general public). Plus it was very dark and experimental. So this time, instead of another electronic album, I wanted to make something beyond the dance floor, something that could be shared with friends. And the result is definitely more chilled, more of a listening album. I was looking for shorter, more organic songs, but also with live instruments.
How have you been able to create artistic content on such a consistent basis over the past six years? Not as much as I’d like… The problem is that I had no production experience before ‘Dark Matters’, so it took about two years to make. I made it while going to production school. ‘Double Agent’ was a bit faster, but not that much because trying different genres also slows you down. And then you need a big break after each of these projects because they’re basically a one-man show. Which is definitely a problem, so for the next project I would try to put together a band. This way we can go faster and, more importantly, bring back the chemistry! I think these one-man albums are missing that improv element that makes music what it’s supposed to be.
Will you be releasing music videos of the songs featured on “Double Agent”? We’re actually making 6 super cool videos for the album, with two different versions for ‘Dont’. Like with the album cover, the directors come through an online contest at Music Radar , so we’re making them all over the world! Sydney, London, Toronto, Stockholm, Taiwan. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into making these videos, probably just as much as in making the songs. And they take a really long time to make if you want to get them right. So I’m extremely involved in the editing process, but I’m very happy with the results. I think these directors have really taken the songs to the next level, and I hope the fans will like them. We’ve already been having some plays on MTV, so the response has been really good. Here you can see some of them: www.moojimusic.com
Could you tell us about the global remix competition you’ll be hosting? We decided to release an EP with some remixes in anticipation of the album, so we launched an online remix competition giving away €1.000. A very good prize, I think, which made it very hard to pick winners at the label. But everyone loved the ones by Pier Boston (‘Medley’) and Trama (‘So Good’). I think they definitely take the tracks to the next level, and I hope to run another of these competitions in the future. You can hear them on the website.
What’s next for Mooji? I’m currently working on two more videos we have in the pipeline (‘Boson Booze’ and ‘Romantic Kazoo’), but I don’t plan on going back to the studio for some time . This album was especially hard to finish , and it will take some time before I can get back in there. Plus I would go for an entirely new approach this time, so not really sure when that would happen. But hopefully soon!