Mall Grab’s debut album ‘What I Breathe’ is steeped in the DNA of London. Whether it’s the spirit of jungle and grime that breathes through its tracks or the guest vocals of Novelist, D Double E and Nia Archives, the sounds of the city are emblazoned across the record. It could be surprising to learn, then, that Mall Grab is in fact the moniker of Jordon Alexander, a native of Newcastle, Australia.
“I wanted to put as much of my flavor as I could into everything that I’ve adopted from what is now my hometown,” Alexander tells NME about the city he first moved to from Newcastle seven years ago.
“I’ve immersed myself in the sounds, culture and history of this place ever since I arrived here. Even when I was back in Australia, all of the music I was obsessed with was from London or the UK. I’ve always tried to have my own sound, but as time has progressed, I’ve become more and more influenced by where I am.”
It’s understandable that Alexander, who has spent his formative adult years in the thick of the capital’s dance music community, would be in thrall to the city’s rhythms and idiosyncrasies. But it would also be unfair to limit the definition of Mall Grab’s music to any one genre. Since his earliest EP releases in the mid-2010s, he has defied easy categorization: house, rave, techno, hardcore and synth-pop have all, at various points, been integral ingredients in the Mall Grab recipe.
The thought of recording his first full-length album had been percolating in Alexander’s head for several years, but it was those empty months of 2020 that finally saw him realize that ambition. The momentousness of embarking on such a project certainly wasn’t lost on him.
“My other releases have all been very DIY, where I’ve been in control of everything. But this time, because it’s coming out on a major label, there’s a bit more pressure,” he admits. “I was so used to doing things by my own schedule, so I felt it was time to go for a bigger project. I wanted to try to take it to the next level in terms of audience and see how many other people I could branch out to. The pressure was a good thing.”
The results are a triumph. ‘What I Breathe’ brings together the core elements that have made Mall Grab an artist to watch over the last few years: from the hypnotic piano house of the irresistible ‘Love Reigns’ to the glitchy, introspective moodiness of ‘Breathing’ and the retro ’90s jungle of ‘Metaphysical’, the album finds Alexander at his most well-rounded and complete as a producer.
“A lot of DJs, if they do an album, generally there will be eight normal dance tracks and then maybe a couple of ambient tracks,” he says. “I didn’t really want to go down that path, because it’s so predictable. I have such a wide range of influences – I don’t particularly listen to much dance music outside of my friends’ stuff, so this is actually more influenced by the music that I listen to outside of the electronic music world.”
Alexander produced ‘What I Breathe’ alone over the course of 18 months, and it is clear from the enthusiastic way in which he speaks about the record now that he knows that all the pieces fell into place at just the right moment.
“There is an abrasiveness to my music, which I think comes from my working-class background, and there’s also a dark moodiness from where I live now,” he says. “I hope I’m now at the point where you can hear one of my tracks and you’d know that it was something that I’d produced.”
It is all a far cry from the skating-obsessed teenager that listened to hardcore punk back in New South Wales. “Skateboarding videos and games influenced my music taste massively when I was very young,” Alexander recalls. “I was trying to make garage music in my bedroom, but I was never a good enough guitarist to do all that.”
He also absorbed his parents’ record collection of Talking Heads, Devo and Roxy Music albums, using those as the basis for his earliest live DJ sets. As his first solo releases started to gain traction online, he was offered the opportunity to tour in the UK. “I had dropped out of uni just prior to that to focus on music,” he remembers about that period. “I was working at Domino’s Pizza and playing a little bit in Australia, but there were only a few places you could play [live]. I’d done them and slept on my friends’ couches in Melbourne, and stuff like that.”
The UK tour went well, and, four months later, he agreed to a second – this time, though, he never returned home. “I’ve been here ever since. My dad told me recently that when I first came over for that tour, he was expecting to have to come over and rescue me, take-style.”
Far from needing rescuing, though, Alexander has now established himself as a London-based musician and has an enviable contacts list of artists to call upon. Brendan Yates, frontman of the ever-rising Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile, is now one of his close friends following 2020’s ‘Share A View’ EP, on which Alexander remixed a handful of Turnstile tracks. Yates’ guest appearance on the ‘What I Breathe’ song ‘Understand’ is another standout, and it is clear that Alexander holds the vocalist and his band in the highest regard.
“They’ve always had a sensibility of being more appealing to a wider audience than most hardcore bands,” he says. “It is a welcoming scene, but it can also be quite standoffish. Turnstiles are now taking it to the next level. They’re such creative musicians: I think they’re doing what they always wanted to do, and they’re evolving into something that is now for everyone.”
Returning to his solo work, Alexander concedes that he is not sure whether album-making will definitely be a part of his musical future. But there’s no doubt that he rightly treasures what he has produced with ‘What I Breathe’.
“I’ve never had the mindset of just making money [from music],” he says. “Even doing this big project, I did it because all of my heroes in the ’90s have done it, like Laurent Garnier and Daft Punk.
“It’s almost a memento in time; something to be proud of that I worked on with all of my friends who live in London now. I treat every release like a stepping stone, and this one is the same.”
Mall Grab’s debut album ‘What I Breathe’ is out on August 5 via Looking For Trouble