Afterthoughts: Mndsgn and Ivan Ave at Birthdays

L.A. based producer Mndsgn and Norwegian born MC Ivan Ave are two artists that have made waves in the indie beat scene over recent years. Ave was first brought to public attention with 2014 album Breathe, which saw him collaborate with producer FredFades and showcase his intricate word play over alternative rap beats. Mndsgn comes from the Stones Throw camp. His debut album Yawn Zen was released in 2014 on the label and showed his musical palette to hinge on wonky synths, woozy drum breaks and experimental modulation, whilst always retaining an essence of soul and well, Zen.

Their first collaboration was 2014’s Low Jams EP. Mndsgn’s propensity for simplicity shone through, with gorgeous piano chops and rugged loops giving breath for Ave to utter thought-provoking rhymes in his casual manner. Comparisons to rapper Blu’s mellow flow could be made with Ave, and the natural connection of producer and MC recalls Exile’s influential releases with the Californian rapper.

2016 sees them bring their collaborative efforts overseas with a tour across Europe promoting Ave’s debut solo album, Helping Hands, which is produced entirely by Mndsgn. Last Friday saw their tour bus stop in London, where they performed a one-night show at Dalston nightclub Birthdays, courtesy of Soundcrash.

Warming up the night was 22a member Jeen Bassa. The south London collective are shining the light for future beat music in the UK right now, with their take on traditional boom-bap drawing parallels with the musical world that Mndsgn stems from. Bassa played classic joints like J Dilla’s ‘Won’t Do’, alongside wider selections such as Bonobo’s ‘Kiara’. Offbeat kicks and punching snares were dominant throughout his set and sounded extra potent in the low-ceiling space.

When Ivan Ave appeared on stage he was energetic and confident, immediately addressing the smoke machines blinding his eyesight and accusing the barely visible Mndsgn behind him of smoking one too many backstage. The shadowy figure loomed over his SP-555 and the two began performing cuts from the Low Jams EP. Future skater anthem ‘The Circle’ was an early highlight, gaining appreciation from the crowd and giving Ave reason to promote the exclusive cassettes and vinyl available to buy, which he did on several occasions. Every so often Ave stopped to turn the attention to Mndsgn, who improvised on his Roland Juno throughout, and returned the spotlight to Ave by leaving him to take centre stage and perform an acapella of ‘Toast’.

After 40 mins of performing together and a few people pulled out for lighting up, Mndsgn took centre stage and began letting loose on the SP-555. Samples of glitchy new material played for no longer than a minute before the next cut took lead. Mndsgn’s solo music came harder than that of his and Ave’s, and the energy had turned up a notch by then, as head-nods turned into full body swings.

Mndsgn frequently sang over his instrumentals, a quality of his that seems a focal point of his new material. His voice is delicate and often echoes phrases. One jam in particular stood out as he repeated the line, ‘all you gotta do is just express yourself’ over meditative synth progressions. Knxwledge’s ‘aintreallynootherwaytoputit’ also got a respected play, with Mndsgn taking to the vocals again. His voice sounded slightly modulated and shared resemblance with the vocal manipulation used by John Lennon, which I later find out to be a technique called artificial double-tracking (ADT). Whatever the effect, it sounds unique in Mndsgn’s music and brings a rough quality to the innocence of his voice.

An improvisation on the Juno slowly led into fan favourite ‘Camelblues,’ gaining the most recognition from the room that night. His last track was another exclusive, which I can only describe as G-funk riding over a shuffled house beat. It was refreshing to see the producer acknowledging dance floor tempos as he let it jam out as he and Ave danced alongside the crowd and closed off the night.

Their dynamic performance cemented why both young artists are currently making noise in the underground hip-hop community and, with forthcoming releases on both Stones Throw and Jakarta Records, there’s no suggestive that they’ll be quieting down.

The ‘Helping Hands’ tour continues till the end of the month, ending at Ave’s home of Oslo on the 27th. Ivan Ave’s Helping Hands is out now on Jakarta Records. Order it here.

Words: Callum Wright