Air guitar contests are generally considered an oddity, so when I entered one last weekend (no, I didn't win) and saw a competitor accompanied by a cameraman interviewing everyone, we got chatting.
It turned out he is an MC named Mystro, who also hosts a show for an online TV channel called Spine TV (“Spine as in your back,” he says.), and was doing a segment on air guitar. He gave me his EP, 'Digmund Freud', and I found it to be skillful, entertaining, concise, and an all round solid listen.
Mystro and I exchanged contact information after our interview, so I turned the tables on him and called him up to interview him, asking about his rapping career, his future as an air guitarist, and his feelings on having someone make love with his song serving as mood music.
So your main gig is rapping, right? How long have you been doing that?
Yeah, I’ve been doing it professionally for I’d say the last ten years. My first release was a single I did at the end of ‘99 going into 2000.
And how did you get your start?
There was a record shop – remember those? Record Shops? There was a record shop called Deal Real Records in the West End that was a meeting ground for a lot of MCs, producers and DJs. They used to have an open mic session, and a friend of mine suggested I go down there and really get my name out. I went there, kept going back every month, and then finally they were like, ‘we want to start a label and want you to be the first artist.’ That was my first release as a single, and from there it got my name out. It was the era sort of the punch-lines thing and being funny and coming up with wild stuff that would make people be like, ‘how the fuck did you think of that?’ Like, ‘I’ll kick you in the lets so hard you’ll get brain damage,’ or whatever. That kind of stuff started getting me shows without really having much (music) out there. From there it started spiraling upwards – feature on this, feature on that, couple releases with Low Life. The homegrown hip-hop scene was really strong. From there I ended up doing tours in Germany, France, Australia – I’ve got a reputation out there as well and I go back about once a year. But that about sums it up briefly (laughs).
So how would you describe your rapping style?
I tell stories, dig deeper into concepts instead of rapping about rapping – everyone starts out with, ‘my rhymes do this and my rhymes do that,’ but there was a time where I was like, ‘Well okay, where are the actual rhymes that are so great?’ So that’s why I started to think deeper into it.
At the time when I was coming up there were a lot of people who’d try to sound American but I just found it weird to go (mimics American accent), ‘ayo, check this out, blah blah blah,’ but when their mum calls be like (heavy British accent), ‘Hi mum, how you doin...’ It’s like you’re not really being you, are you? As well as that you’re giving people an easy chance to say you sound like so-and-so, but if you rap with your own voice, they can’t really say you sound like anyone. So I’ve focused on that.
What about your live show?
I do a load of different things that keep me occupied. It’s a lot harder now than it used to be, especially on an independent level. Obviously with records, sales are down. When that happens, you’ve got to learn how to survive by any means necessary.
Hence the air guitar.
Yeah! (laughs). I do the hosting thing and I’ve been into comedy since I was a kid, and a friend of mine who works for Spine TV came to me with this idea called 'Mystro Investigates.' I was like, 'yeah alright, what do you mean?' and he was like, ‘you know, you go around investigating different activities and we’ll work it out as we go along.’ We pick an activity, and whatever it is I’ve got to try my best to do it.
The first one we did was about horse riding. It’s like okay, so you’ve got a black guy, a rapper, that’s gonna go and learn horse riding. We’re up to nine – no, ten. The Air guitar will be ten. We’ve done everything from horse riding to laughing classes, 1960’s festivals. For me, it’s another way of keeping myself out there. It’s great fun – getting into air guitar competitions and actually getting further than some of the contestants!
So what would you say the differences between air guitar and rapping, as well as the similarities?
The difference is, with air guitar, it’s not really you up there, it’s like a character you want to play, and it’s more like you go up there and make a fool of yourself but in a fun way, whereas with rapping you have to be who you are. I know there are people who go up there and put on this whole persona with the 'deeper than rap' or the hustler whatever, whatever, and they probably do make a fool of themselves. But when it’s me up there, it’s me, not a persona that I’m putting on. And you can’t really get away with messing up there. With air guitar you might fuck up and not strum the invisible string at the right time but you can still get away with it, but with rapping if it looks like a messy show…
The similarity is that with each, you get up there and have to put on a performance. You’re up there on your own, really and truly. You might have a hype man with rap, but in all essence you’re on your own.
What’s the most wild thing to happen to you performing live and doing your series?
Aw, man. During the series… it’s been mad and already had some crazy ones. We did ghost hunting and they locked me in this dark area that was just… I was okay though, I weren’t shitting myself or nothing, it was just dark. That was weird, but the 1960’s one… we were doing this dance and I took pictures with these ladies who were definitely in their late fifties and whatnot, and then let’s just say they were grabbing regions they shouldn’t have been. I felt a bit violated. That was cool.
On stage, one of the weirdest experiences I had was not actually on stage but after a show. I was backstage and a guy came up to me and said, ‘aw Mystro I love what you do, that tune you did with Main Flow, me and my girl used to bang to that all the time.’ That was weird.
Few men can say they’ve created music that’s created a baby.
Especially when it’s underground shit, chatting nothing about women in there. I was like ‘okay, that kind of makes sense somehow. I think.’
Tell me about the 'Digmund Freud' EP…
People call me Mike Diggy, and a friend of mine from Australia, DJ Debris of Hilltop Hoods, who I’ve toured with out in Australia, he called me Digmund Freud and we just started cracking up.
The EP is not self-help as such. I felt like when I was touring the world I wasn’t really hearing much about what was going on within the homegrown hip-hop scene, and every time I’d bump into someone from the scene I always felt like they had a sense of giving up and feeling down about everything and I got into that spell as well. I thought, ‘usually when we get in this situation we end up talking about the problems, but never the solution.’ I thought that Digmund Freud, maybe that’s what he’d be about. The solutions.
What kind of air guitarist are you?
I’m the airborne one – the fly one. Regardless of what the song is, I can make it sound fly.
Any shout outs?
I’ll give a shot out to my brother Jargon – me and him are the natural born spittas. And follow me on twitter @mystrogen – it’s like oxygen but you need it a lot more.
Well, there you have it. 'Digmund Freud' drops on 13 September via Don’t Bizzniz/Self Destruct Muzik. Don’t sleep.