DJ Format & Abdominal – Interview – 2017

For fourteen years, Brighton based DJ Format and Canadian rapper Abdominal have been making music on and off. Their new album Still Hungry is their first full-lenghth collaborative album, and it's packed to the gills with upbeat hip hop beats and grooves, albeit tempered by a grittier, harder sound, the music suplied by DJ Format (Matt Ford) and the lyrics by Abdominal (Andy Bernstein)

Talking over Skype, I had the chance to quiz the dynamite duo.

May I begin by saying I am a Canadian by birth, but now based in Brighton!
Abdominal: Funnily enough I was born in London, England but now based in Toronto

Format: And you both have the wrong accents for where you were born!

Is Still Hungry a reflection of how you feel?
Format: For me personally, it really was a statement of exactly how I feel musically. I'm very much still hungry. I don't feel like either of us are passed our best, or trying to go for one last hurrah or anything like that. We're still hungry, still passionate, still enthusiastic.

Abdominal: As far as the deeper meaning part of your question, I'd say that everything that Matt says is true, musically speaking, but also generally. I'm still hungry as far as life throwing you some curve balls and perseveing when you're faced with obstacles. For me it works on both levels

How did you guys hook up originally?
Format: I was digging for old records in Toronto in 1999, I think. I just happened to find a record dealer who I bought some records off and who had just recently put out Abdominal's first 12 inch. He gave me a copy and that is how we connected. We just started out exchanging cassette tapes. I would send out to Andy a cassette with my beats on, and he would write some rhymes.

Abdominal:The first song we did was 'Ill Culinary Behaviour', which was the first single off Matt's album (Music for the Mature B-Boy). Matt actually flew over to Toronto to record that one. It went really well and his label at the time was happy with it, so we ended up doing a few more songs together. I ended up being on three songs on his first album. Because I was the rapper featured the most on that album he came to me when it came to tour. He needed a front man, and we manged to stretch out those three songs, plus a fourth which was a B-side, in to some semblance of a set.

How did you work together on this album?
Abdominal: Aside from the obvious that now it is MP3's rather than the aforementioned cassettes, apart from the techncial differences it is pretty much the same process. Matt will come up with music first. Definitely not the finished, polished versions of the beats, but just rough loops for me to write to. He'll send me a whole stack of them. I'll wade through them to see which ones are really speaking to me, and then I'll write to those rough loops and send that back to Matt. I'll just record voice notes into my phone. From there he'll build up the music and turn into full songs. So, it is the exact same approach as we had back in 1999.

Tell me about the 'Behind the Scenes' track
Abdominal: The song stemmed from Instagram posts. I would post up photos of being on stage in front of hundreds of people in some far away exotic locations. So, friends would be weighing in, 'Oh man, you're living the dream!'. Not realising that is a small percentage of what I do as an artist. Most of the time I'm at home in my slippers and sweatpants dealing with 50 administrative emails, as I say in the song.

Format: It's funny, ‘cause it's exactly the same for me. I've been emailing all day since I woke. I've got my dressing gown and flip-flops on. I haven't had lunch, or gone out to the park to work out like I was supposed to. There's not so much glamour as people seem to think!

Abdominal: That' why we're doing the audio Skype interviews. No one wants to see how we're looking!

Can you talk me through some of the themes on the album?
Format: Generally, over the course of the album we both felt it was important to do some songs that we are known for, what we are best at, which is the up-tempo, feel-good, funky type of hip hop songs. A terrible cheesy sound-bite there. We wanted to continue in that vein, but we also wanted to represent how we've grown as artists and as human beings, and have some tougher, grittier songs on there. So that it's not all one big party. Lots of styles and subjects covered and moods catered for over the course of the album. I think 'Dirt' represents the more serious, grittier, harder-edged music that we like to make sometimes.

Abdominal: The video for the song 'Dirt' involved me being in a bath tub full of dirt. It got a little interesting on set

And the song ‘Reflective Meditation Rhymes’?
Abdominal: Matt likes me to stick to the traditional hip hop approach, and destroy whack MC's and that sort of thing. But maybe my mindset wan't quite there in the same way it was 10, 12 years ago. Because I've aged and gone through a few other things in life, maybe my mind is slightly different these days. We got our 'hit' back in 2003 with 'Viscious Battle Raps', so I guess Matt wanted a Viscious Battle Raps Part Two. Instead I gave him 'Reflective Meditiation Rhymes'. 2017, a slightly more mature version.

You're music is heavily sample based?
Format: Yeah, well, I mean… it's 100% samples. It's difficult, because on the one hand we don't want to get ourselves into trouble, maybe drawing too much attention to it. But from an ethical viewpoint, I dont want people to think that I've sat there playing all those instruments. The hip hop art form that I was inspired by, sampling, that is a tradition I would like to continue with. Yeah, it's all samples. I'm just not sure how much to shout about it.

Do you still listen to lots of music to help form new songs?
Format: It's just my passion, my obsessions and addiction. I'll be honest, while I was waiting for this to happen, I've been sitting here on Discogs, looking to buy more records. I'm still very much that same person that wants to own that original pressing of the old record. I've just never been able to let go of that. In some ways I wish I could, it's costing me a fortune. I wouldn't even want to tell you what I spent just yesterday. When I buy the expensive ones I definitely do view it from that point. If I do ever need to sell any to pay bills and stuff, will I ever be able to get at least some of my money back, a good percentage? It's a constant consideration. Some of these records are well over £100, £200. It can get crazy.

Abdominal: When we arrive in a town and there's the prospect of a record store, Matt cannot contain himself. He will physically run. He is as obsessed as the first day I met him.

So, you avoid places that don't have any record stores!?
Abdominal: Matt will agree to shit gigs that pay low if he knows there is a decent record store in town!

Format: It is way more likely to sway me…

You're still based in Brighton, Matt?
Format: I'm from Southampton originally, and I came to Brighton because in the mid-90s I was trying to take my music somewhere. I was trying to meet with more like minded people. I started making good connections in Brighton and it just seemed a natural move to make. Back then you could go into newsagents and bookshops and buy records, let alone the amount of record shops. It was incredible. And to meet other producers, record collectors, rappers. That was one of the main things, meting rappers and MCs. There weren't too many of them in Southampton and I like the fact Brighton is an open-minded city, full of mostly creative people.

And Toronto?
Abdominal: I was thinking how that applies to Toronto as well. It's multi-cultural and I think that trickles down to the music scene here. There are so many influences going on, everyone is converging together. It's not like different pockets of people, from different backgrounds that stick to their community. It's all very much people interacting and living together and rubbing off on each other. That was how I grew up and was raised, and what I'm used to.
Jeff Hemmings