Underground Beats: A Conversation With 2XM
We sit down with Benjamin & Liam Murray of 2XM, the underground DJ duo from Christchurch.
Christchurch, New Zealand
My first encounter with 2XM came late one Saturday earlier this year — it was the time of night when everyone’s energy begins to fade, and the events of that evening recede into a haze of laughter and white noise. We sat slumped in the flickering half light of the fire as the music floated out around us: warm, soothing, and a touch melancholic, the perfect sound to slip away into a dream you won’t quite remember, and familiar like a memory you didn’t know you had forgotten.
I have always had a strong connection to such music, and figured it was only right to try and get to know the minds behind it; luckily, the marvelous power of a Facebook group chat facilitated such an opportunity, and this was our conversation.
Nick: To start with, do you want to tell me how you guys got started with 2XM and music in general?
Benjamin: I was drawn to music from a really early age. Pretty mad on the school orchestras and other groups playing oboe and the bagpipes of all things... Liam and I met at St. Andrew’s College in Christchurch where we were both in groups like this in and out of school. After I left, I studied a BMus majoring in classical musicology, and just got interested in production as it was something outside of my syllabus and something I knew nothing about. I threw out a few tunes tentatively, to which Liam responded super quickly, creating a downbeat house remix of! The ball has been rolling ever since, with our sound developing and drawing from a whole bunch of different inspirations.
Liam: Jazzy house my man! Huge influences from the likes of Floating Points, Chaos In The CBD, Folamour, Seb Wildblood, and most Rhythm Section records. I’ve been playing drums since I was 7, then played jazz and all that through high school, but really found the spot in the house scene down here in Christchurch in my second year studying audio engineering. Started the label Crooked Lidz and have pretty much just been working on my sound since then.
That’s awesome - I actually assumed you guys were brothers. Ben, do you think your classical background influences your production at all?
Benjamin: Definitely. There are classical ideologies sprinkled right through the melodic stuff. Most of it is subconscious I think, but things like counterpoint, voice leading, chromatic lines and instrumentation are all pretty influenced by my studies.
And what would you say are your greatest influences and inspirations?
Benjamin: Inspirations... a huge amount man. Any music that makes me feel I try to capture. A lot of contemporary classical, particularly through the Erased Tapes label, heaps of disco, funk, jazz, and some cheeky RnB too.
And how do you find producing as a duo, how do you approach a track at the outset?
Benjamin: More often than not I send melodic and harmonic material to Liam, who crafts the arrangement and the percussion to it - he’s the whiz behind mixing as well. It has varied a few times, where we’ll fire bits and pieces to each other randomly - a sample, a loop idea, a little video clip or something - but generally it fits into that idea.
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To back track slightly Liam, was there anything in particular that attracted you to the house scene? And what do you make of the New Zealand house scene in general?
Liam: I went to this festival and saw the most beautiful sunrise house set from my homies Willy Styles, and after that I was pretty set on wanting to get involved in that scene. Christchurch has a pretty awesome scene going, and there are a few cool things in Wellington and Auckland, but personally I think the parties and underground scene is unbeatable in Christchurch.
What do you feel sets it apart from the rest of the country?
Liam: Just the pure passion from artists to organisers and ravers alike. We’ve got super dope international artists coming regularly, but the local talent here is also so unreal, so many up and coming dudes.
Agree with you there, the South especially seems to have taken off lately. Who else do you think is putting out good work at the moment?
Liam: Always been a big supporter of Willy Styles running gigs back in the day at Smash Palace, now at Winnie Bagoes. James Inwood aka Notion Touring has been pulling some amazing artists in, and both these guys are building a pretty solid foundation and spreading the house love to people who wouldn’t usually hear it. In terms of production, DJ Kush Boogie and Speed Boat have been putting out some nice records.
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Do you have any plans to leave Christchurch?
Liam: Yeah I’m off to Europe next year on a permanent thing, got some connects.
And what will you be doing over there?
Liam: Probably just work and travel, play a few shows and get some studio time.
Exciting stuff. What is it you enjoy most about working with Ben?
Liam: Where do I even begin with Ben, fucking legend that boy, the man’s so talented. He sends me some fucked up gorgeousness and then I just arrange the tune, make some drums and mix it all down!
You guys are clearly a good partnership, it’s great that you can make it work from the other side of the globe. Do the two of you have any plans for your sound moving forward, or anyone you particularly want to work with?
Liam: We would love to get a release on a few more labels we both like – Distant Hawaii would be an amazing goal. Also keen to keep making records with two dudes we’ve been working with, Alex from Nail Shop and Dan from Sloth Boogie, both great dudes. Always keen to expand, and way down the line releasing on the likes of Rhythm Section, Erased Tapes, and Church but those are all very distant ideas at this stage.
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Are there any artists that you look up to?
Liam: A heap! Love Henry Wu’s music and his other stuff with Yussef Kamaal. Anthony Fade is a bit of a legend — this list could go on for so long. The main DJ I look up to has got to be Bradley Zero though.
Benjamin rejoins the conversation
Benjamin: Backing everything Liam has said. Our sound moving forward? We’re just doing what we love really, making a mixed bag of stuff. Inspiration strikes everywhere, but it’s just about channeling it.
And how often are you making music?
Liam: Most days.
Benjamin: I’d say at least a little bit of music a day, keeps the juices flowing. Sometimes I’ll do nothing, but then I’ll hoon a 12 hour session.
And finally, do you think your production would have been different if you were in the same place, or does it not really have an effect?
Liam: We have been in the same place making music only once before, it’s quite weird, but I think we can make it work whether we’re together or on opposite sides of the world.
Huge thanks to Liam and Ben for taking the time to speak with me. If you want to keep up with their work, you can do so at either the 2XM or Crooked Lidz SoundCloud.
Forward & Interview: Nick Ainge-Roy