“'Operation Overdrive’ just sounds like a cool name for an album – the best album AC/DC never wrote,” chuckles Paul Crossman from electro-breaks duo General Midi, tongue firmly in cheek. “It kinda appeals to my metal sensibilities.” General Midi are back with a killer new album. Four years in the making, the follow-up to ‘Midi Style’ features vocals from Orifice Vulgatron from Foreign Beggars, breakbeat punk Odissi, LA-based MC Whiskey Pete, ex-Prodigy guitarist Jim Davis, New York singer-songwriter Von Doom, divine electro shock-rocker Leigh De Vries and London songstress Dominique Woolf.
In parts as accessible as Depeche Mode, as fly as Justice, as deadly as Dizzee and electro-rockin’ like Kissy, the album is an energised future-disco audio assault. It’s set to lift them beyond breakbeat boundaries and zap them into a new genetically modified dimension at a high velocity warp factor. Something like that, anyway. Paul Crossman and studio partner Eelz have spent the last few years creating these dynamite futuristic sounds, constantly fine-tuning the tracks while Paul simultaneously toured the world. “You get into that painting the Forth Bridge thing where the whole thing continues perpetually,” observes Paul on finalising the album. “We just had to stop and get a record out eventually.”
Paul and Eelz first met in 1996 in the office of the Lakota club in Bristol, south-west England. Eelz had just moved to the musical city, while Paul had a studio set-up and was doing a lot of live electronic music. When the club he was co-promoting needed DJs for its second room, Paul thought ‘I can do that’ and started playing nu skool breaks records by acts like the Bassbin Twins, Adam Freeland and scene pioneer Rennie Pilgrem. It was the start of a love affair with breakbeat. Eelz and Paul’s first project was Starecase, producing a melodic progressive house sound. Finding that they sometimes had ideas in the studio that didn’t fit that vibe, they started another project – more breaks-fuelled - in 1998 and called it General Midi after a standard preset on a keyboard. Starecase’s debut album on Hope Recordings at the beginning of the decade saw them grace the cover of DJ magazine, but by the early noughties they both became bored with progressive house and worked out that they preferred to be messin’ full-time with dirty, kick-ass breakbeat.
General Midi productions have always been the work of both of them, but they decided early on that just Paul would go out to DJ under the name. He also does most of the interviews and promotion himself. “It’s not that I’m more gregarious, I’ve just kinda grown up with the lifestyle,” Paul explains. “I was a guitar player from a young age, did some amateur dramatics as a kid and worked my way though the usual run of bands before discovering the old rave scene in a field around 1990- it was an epiphany and I’ve never looked back. “Both Eelz and I share the love of that music and that time and it was over that that we kinda bonded,” Paul continues. “Eelz is just more of a studio man, his classical training and attention to detail is the perfect complement. He’s happy to take a bit of a back seat. He knows he gets the credit, and I’m not about to suddenly shout ‘Hey, it’s all me’. We’re pretty grounded.” Eelz is based in the studio in Bristol full-time, yet Paul can collaborate with him over the worldwide web from whichever hotel room he’s in anywhere in the world. “Before or after a DJ gig I can just flip up the laptop and go ‘OK, what have we got?’” he explains. “We use Skype to communicate and Eelz can assign me into it from the desk. We can work like that remotely.”
With a succession of killer bass-rockin’ singles and bigger and better gigs, the General Midi name grew synonymously with the flourishing breakbeat scene in the early noughties, and by the time they delivered their debut album ‘Mid Style’ to Distinctive Records in 2005 they were catapulted into the top half of its premier league. Their acclaimed ‘Y4K’ mix gained them further props, and the guys have remixed high-profile acts like Moby and Timo Maas, and been pretty much ever-present at the Breakspoll awards, picking up awards and nominations as well as playing at most of the events.
As a DJ, Paul has honed his art so that he can be guaranteed to rock a dancefloor – any time, any place anywhere. A recent convert to the Traktor Scratch digital DJing system, he can now carry literally thousands of tracks with him when he’s on tour. Always up to date with the latest big tunes, his sets can shift through breakbeat and electro and into fidget house or techno if he feels like it. So long as it’s a killer rockin’ tune, it’s in the metaphorical bag. General Midi are happy still to be known as a breaks act, but this hasn’t stopped them messin’ with different styles themselves. “There’s a lot of good records being made out there at the moment by people who wouldn’t even know it was called breakbeat,” Paul believes. “We’re still happy to be breakbeat,” he says Paul, “but it’s a funny one because you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place a lot of the time. I appreciate and understand why people want to be militantly breakbeat, I understand the sociological tribalism and the need to identify with something. “But as a musician I like progression – you have to keep doing new things, otherwise what’s the point? You can keep rehashing the same idea forever, but you might as well go and get a job if you’re going to do that. Being a breakbeat DJ doesn’t mean I’m not going to play records in my set that I like that aren’t necessarily breakbeat.”
‘Operation Overdrive’ is rammed full of tracks that take the breakbeat template and fly with it in many directions. Electro, punk, hip-hop, fidget house… all manner of styles can be detected in the new work. “The first single has a regular 4/4 beat in it, although I wouldn’t call it house,” smirks Paul. “You can agonise about this shit for too long.” There’s been talk of a General Midi live show, although having seven different vocalists on the new album poses its own logistical problems. “I don’t see the point of turning it into a full live band, because it’s a studio-based music,” says Paul.” But I’m thinking through a few different ways to represent the music in a live environment and who know what the future holds?” “The good thing is that the vocalists are global, which means there’s plenty of scope for them to drop in and perform with me anywhere from the west coast of America to London and beyond.
There’s no great master plan to conquer the universe, but GM want to continue to push forward-thinking music and keep on rocking the parties and festivals. “I want to spend some time on visuals and push forward that way,” Paul reveals. “Because of the DJ set-up I use, it’s quite easy to slot a keyboard into it and play along, or even just trigger samples and sounds off it.”
After ‘Operation Overdrive’ comes out, Paul will tour the planet for the rest of the year while Eelz beavers away in the studio. “The days of doing three singles, album and over are kind of gone – they’re done,” Paul reckons. “It’s about constantly having new material out. Everything’s got a lifespan of about two seconds now. Out of 13 tracks on the album we’ve got at least five contenders for a single, which is great. We’ve got some cool ideas for videos too.” From the robot that adorned the ‘Midi Style’ album onwards, GM have maintained a futuristic identity. “With the new artwork it all makes sense,” Paul concurs. “I didn’t want it to be too male in how it all looks, because the music isn’t like that. Some of it’s quite melodic.”
Watch this space!