Mura Masa: How 'Geographical Isolation' Spawned a Singular EDM Producer

The self-titled debut album from the genre-crossing 21-year-old features Damon Albarn, Charli XCX and more.

Mura Masa's debut album is out this week. Credit: Ewen Spencer

Mura Masa, the recording project of 21-year-old producer Alex Crossan, has spent a year riding an incredible amount of buzz with tracks that wiggle between trap, EDM and pop. After being featured on Diplo's BBC1 radio show, he recorded the A$AP Rocky collaboration "Love$ick," which hit the U.K. charts and currently sits at more than 29 million YouTube plays. He's produced tracks for songwriter Låpsley and grime sensation Stormzy and has spent this year hitting festivals like Glastonbury, Coachella and Field Day. His protean sound is a singular strain of modern pop, taking cues from the wickedest trap snares and neon-smeared EDM as well as glints of Caribbean steel drum and African kalimba.

"He makes intelligent and beautiful pop music like no other," guest vocalist and collaborator Bonzai told Rolling Stone. "I could spend forever in a studio with him."

Bonzai was not alone in joining Crossan, as the likes of Gorillaz' Damon Albarn, Charli XCX, Desiigner and Jamie Lidell all hopped into a studio with the producer. This month sees Mura Masa drop his highly anticipated, self-titled Downtown/Interscope debut, an assured amalgam of hip-hop, electronic dance music and sheer pleasure-center pop, with glints of hardcore punk, Himalayan folk and harps thrown in for good measure. Despite having so many distinct pop personalities on the album, Crossan combines them for a vision that is distinctly his own.

"I chose not to restrict myself in any way when making the record, to take influence from wherever I saw fit, to try and include people from all over," Crossan tells Rolling Stone. "What I try to do as Mura Masa involves any kind of voice. I wouldn't limit myself to any one genre or person. It could be anyone."

Crossan grew up on the island of Guernsey, a 25 square mile island off the coast of Normandy, situated between Great Britain and France. His father had played bass in a rock band in the early 1980s, though Crossan says bad management ripped them off. He turned his son onto the likes of Joni Mitchell and Yes, but more importantly he imparted the lesson on "how to be a mindful musician," Crossan says. "He told me that music is so much more about what you aren't playing than what you are; silence and space are so important."

On Guernsey, he had to imagine his own music scene, in a sense. Having a sound that pulls from hip-hop, dubstep, trap, EDM, ambient and bubblegum from around the world "comes from geographical isolation more than anything," he said.

"Where I grew up, it's so far-removed and serene and isolated with no underground culture. I had to perceive all music culture through the lens of the internet."

The trickiest part for Mura Masa has now been about translating internet clicks into real-world success. But despite signing with a major and having a worthy handful stars on the album, Crossan says his approach remains bare bones: "Up to the point where I started working on the album, I just had my laptop. I didn't have any gear or any fancy stuff. I still don't have a studio or own a pair of fancy speakers. I'm just making music on my laptop with my headphones."

So while that meant discussing fashion designers and a shared love of Tame Impala with A$AP Rocky and working in the studio with Albarn, Crossan stayed true to his roots.

"I intentionally didn't change the process so that it remained authentic, sounding like I made it in my bedroom," he said. "That's what's been my bedrock, my style, that lonely bedroom sound. I decided to keep that exactly the same."

It's also meant negotiating his newfound life as a musician in London, where he moved in 2015, after spending his entire life on Guernsey. He still worries about getting lost in the massive city, though such a big new city to call home has its advantages.

"The city swallows you up. There's always things to do and people have places to be," Crossan says. "If you have work to do, it's amazing because you become engulfed. You live your work." It also means that Crossan is ready to emerge from his bedroom and put his music out in the world.

"It's easy to sit in your room and make something that you think is cool, it's a different thing to give music to a fanbase," he says about playing live. "It's been amazing for me to see people, real people care about this, beyond numbers ticking up on the internet."