Jimmy Mofo is one half of the breakbeat duo that made up the Beat Assassins, known for bringing the genre to the UK in the mid-2000s. With his partner Joe Lenzie (now of Sigma fame), Mofo started in drum and bass and then moved to breaks in a genre progression that may seem quite backwards to EDM fans in the U.S. When dubstep came to the UK and Europe, Mofo found breaks night being overrun by the genre, so he fell back on his first love: drum and bass. Now releasing again under Beat Assassins, Jimmy Mofo is bringing a breakbeat sensibility back to drum and bass, having released numerous tracks since 2016. Now one of his first drum and bass tracks has come full circle as he’s just released a VIP of the massive, ragga-infused “War Dem.”
As Jimmy gears up for his packed fall release schedule, Your EDM sat down with him to talk about how breakbeat came to the UK, why he loves it and why breaks to drum and bass has always seemed natural to him.
So for our younger constituents, can you break down the history of the Beat Assassins and what they’re about?
I started in the scene with drum and bass before breaks. I ran a drum and bass night called “Mofo,” it was a weekly drum and bass night at the Borderline in London in the late 90s. Then breakbeat (breaks for U.S.A.) came along and because that was the new thing in the late 90s and early 00s in London, I sort of gravitated towards it. Especially since at the time drum and bass was going very heavy and dark and I wasn’t liking that so much, I sort of pulled towards breakbeat.
Some of the older ravers in the U.S. did wonder how you crossed over on those two. It sounds quite backward to the U.S. scene, because we had breaks become popular in Detroit and New York and Florida before jungle and drum and bass.
Well, we started off playing hip hop at the club I was running, at Mofo, and then we started to get drum and bass and we’d play that later in the night as things progressed. But then we started getting in these other records which were, to our minds, sort of in the middle between hip hop and drum and bass. We didn’t really know what it was at the time. We were just buying them and liking them and though, “oh this is a good transition to go from hip hop into drum and bass.” And then we found out that it was actually a scene called breakbeat (laughs)!
Wow what an interesting snapshot into how breaks and breakbeats came to the UK.
Yeah! So then there was a scene which finally started to gain steam in London and I started booking and working with like Plum DJs and Fingerlicking and all these other people and then that’s when the scene really sort of kicked off. So yeah, I suppose it would seem quite backwards to U.S., fans.
So how did you get into producing?
I had a magazine that was an offshoot of the club, also called Mofo that was centered around drum and bass and breakbeat and the culture around it, then in 2006 I think I met Joe Lenzie from Sigma, and he literally said to me, “do you wanna make some breaks,” and I said, “yeah!” So we started this breakbeat act. I came up with the name Beat Assassins because we were both very influenced by hip hop and I thought it was a quite hip-hoppy name (laughs). Joe was into scratching and turntablism and all that so I liked the sound we could do together. So then we just put a few records out and it just blew up. It became really popular and it surprised us. So we worked that way from about 2006 to 2010.
So when did things change again and when did you start going back towards drum and bass?
Yeah, so like I said the Beat Assassins were going along really well, and then along came dubstep. I’m not sure if it’s appreciated in the U.S., but dubstep just hit massively here in the UK and literally everyone went dubstep, to me it felt like in a heartbeat. So a lot of us who were playing drum and bass or breaks or whatever found ourselves without any DJ bookings. I mean it was really that stark. All the breakbeat nights went from breakbeat to dubstep. Drum and bass did all right but dubstep really did sort of kill breakbeat in the UK.
Wow that is quite stark. Again, people in the U.S. would be surprised by that I think because breakbeat and dubstep seem so different.
Well, I’m not sure if it was that way for everyone in the breaks scene in the UK, but that’s what we found. Any time we would wonder what happened to a certain breakbeat night in, say, Birmingham or Manchester we’d find out they’d changed to dubstep. I heard it over and over and over again. All the promoters just like flipped a switch to dubstep.
So what did you decide to do at that point?
Sigma were doing quite well in drum and bass at the time, so we just sort of said “ok well let’s just knock it on the head,” and we went our own separate ways. Not to sound defeatist or anything, but it just seemed if the DJ bookings weren’t coming, it seemed not worth it to make breaks anymore. So I wouldn’t and couldn’t say breaks died in the UK, but the breaks scene definitely did.
Did you switch genres yourself at that point as well?
I started making trap under the name Koshii for a while, but at the time that didn’t seem like it was really taking off in the UK either. So I just thought to myself “why don’t I just go back to drum and bass?” And by “back to” I mean I’d never actually made drum and bass, but it had always been around me and of course I had the club night and the magazine and I knew how to produce now, so I just thought I’d just bring back Beat Assassins as a dnb act.
And is Joe Lenzie still involved?
No, I think Sigma are doing well as more of a pop act now and I don’t think he’s really involved with the drum and bass world as much anymore.
And when did you decide to re-vamp and re-launch Beat Assassins?
I’d been making drum and bass for quite a while, but this was in January 2016, that’s when I brought out my first release as Beat Assassins, and that’s a track called “The Raid,” and since then I’ve been releasing about every six weeks if I can. That was on purpose as well, because I needed people to get that Beat Assassins is now a drum and bass act. So I think people have caught on for the most part now.
So with the “War Dem” VIP, what was the impetus for putting that out at this time?
Well I put out the original track with that and then Trei said he was going to do the remix and then that came out with the original but I wanted to do my own version in the meantime. So I actually sat on that one for almost a year before I release it, and it’s good because his is more ravey and I feel like this one is a bit more jump up. All three of them you can play in the clubs though, really. Even the original, which is more of a grime/hip hop sort of vibe I find it works on the dancefloor. It seemed a shame to waste it, really.
You’re right, this version is definitely more jump up as is the b side, “Wake Ya Whole Block Up”, and one could even say there’s a breaks/old school style in there. Was that a conscious decision?
“Wake Ya Whole Block” was actually originally under the Koshii project that was more trap-centered, and that was broken out of trap so I think if you listen to the lyrics they’re actually quite trappy. The beats…they were kind of like breaks-ish as you said, so I just sort of took those two things and put them together and then shoved it up to 174 BPM to make it a drum and bass track (laughs).
And is that easy to do? To have it at 110 and then push it all the way up to 174?
I mean that wasn’t the plan initially, I was just grabbing samples and I had no clue what I wanted it to sound like. I know a lot of producers who have a plan of what they want a track to sound like, and I just can’t do that. This is simplified, but I sort of mess around on the software until one day it just comes out. I never know what it’s going to sound like but I know when it’s done. So if you said to me “make me a jungle roller right now,” I couldn’t do it. But I have made jungle rollers (laughs).
How has the reaction been so far?
People have been really receptive, actually. I thought there was going to be a lot of negativity but I’ve really heard none. The only thing is I feel like I have to step up my game technically. (Laughs) with breaks I feel like I could get away with so much more. If it doesn’t go to a certain volume or frequency, you can sort of hide it behind a synth or something but with drum and bass there’s nowhere to hide. It really clangs and even if you hide it, someone will hear it and they’ll send you to the back of the room (laughs)!
You said you’re releasing about every six weeks. What’s the next few things coming up?
Well in the summer I slow down a bit, but in September I’m going to be releasing a track called “Procrasti-nation” with a vocalist called Eli who I’ve worked with before on a track called “Deny.” This track is sort of political, which I’ve never done before. I’ve also got a remix coming with Mob Tactics. We’re going to film a video for that as well. I’m excited about this project because the original, my mix, will be much more of a song, and then the Mob Tactics remix is much more clubby.
Is it going to be political in the video as well?
Well, it’s a bit of a surprise and…if we pull off what we want to do, we may get moved on. So I hope we are able to get it all shot.
Oh that does sound interesting! We’ll definitely be looking out for that. Do you have any tours or dates coming up?
Well I’ve played a festival recently on my birthday I played at Flamefest, and then in September I’m playing in Spain and then a lot of gigs around the UK. It’s funny, now I’m doing drum and bass but I’m getting booked at breaks and trap nights! It’s sort of come full circle (laughs).
Well at least people know you’re diverse! Wrapping up, is there anything you’d like to say to the fans, especially those who have known you since the breaks days?
Yeah, you know I’m quite curious to see who out there still wants to see breaks coming from Beat Assassins. Since I’ve started doing drum and bass, I’ve actually gotten a lot of messages from people asking about breaks, so I’d love to see on Twitter or social media who might actually want a breaks album. Let me know!