You’d be forgiven for assuming that 23-year-old Alex Crossan is a creature of the hyper- present. His music, made under the moniker of Mura Masa, has captivated listeners with its digitally-infused blend of genres, gathering inspiration from all corners of the music industry to mould a sound that is boldly unique, and resistant of definition.
Coming from the relatively remote Channel Island of Guernsey, the internet had a huge part to play in shaping Crossan’s early music. “Being from such an insular place, [the internet] was a really important part of me discovering my taste outside of what was immediately around me, especially with electronic music, because that just didn’t exist there when I was growing up,” he explains. “It was definitely a catalyst to getting me on my way to discovering a sound that I was really into.” A self-proclaimed “super early adopter” of the internet, Crossan grew up in the halcyon days of torrenting, spending much of his time as an eight and nine-year-old browsing websites like Limewire and early YouTube in an attempt find new music. This provided him with the eclectic foundation on which his music rests today, his knack for locating the perfect drum sample or guitar riff evidently sparked in part by this method of musical consumption so familiar to thousands of us growing up in the pre-iPod years of the early-noughties.
Despite being somewhat characterised by the internet, however, Crossan speaks of his experiences growing up on the island in a refreshingly analogue, pre-digital manner. His words are imbued with nostalgia as he recounts his youth, fondly reminiscing about how “being raised there was like something out of a fairy tale; there’s no crime, it’s super beautiful and idyllic; the weather’s nice and the summer’s long sort of thing.” He remembers the island’s only nightclub at the time, Barbados, vividly: “It was a sort of beach-themed nightclub […] a 40s and 50s middle-aged club where they played Pitbull,” he chuckles, and it is not simply objective memory that is at work here. Crossan’s words when talking about his youth in Guernsey form as much an emotional recollection as a factual one: “It was the only place that was open past midnight when all the pubs closed, so everyone just ended up there,” he continues with a smile. “I mean, it was more about the people.” In this moment, I am struck by the fact that — despite having never been to Guernsey, or to the pubs and clubs of Crossan’s youth — I have a complete nostalgic emotional familiarity with what he’s saying, and this notion is one that pervades Mura Masa’s most recent album: R.Y.C.
Talent’s own clothing
Talent’s own clothing
“I wanted to write an album about nostalgia, and noticing that people my age are very heavily reliant on throwback things,” he explains. “#tbt, ‘you’re not a nineties kid you don’t remember this’, every film now is a reboot…we’re caught in this weird era where, because of what’s happened with digital integration, nothing is over anymore. It just gets recycled, and exists in some cloud server forever. I think it’s given us a real sense of cultural and shared nostalgia, and I wanted to explore that.” It is this sense of shared nostalgia in particular that is fascinating about the concept behind R.Y.C. Crossan’s aim isn’t to impart on the listener an unmediated, biographical account – he isn’t telling us his story.
Instead, the album appeals to the sensation I experienced hearing Crossan talk about Guernsey: our ability to feel nostalgic for something we have never ourselves experienced. And this includes Crossan himself. The production of “In My Mind”, for example, evokes the fantasy of legendary raves that people of mine and Crossan’s generation can only imagine attending, and I ask him to what degree he views production in the album as an opportunity to send people to a different time or place sonically.
“It’s totally the entire idea on this album,” he concurs. “That whole song is about saying, ‘I wasn’t even there, but I can still share this kind of euphoria that’s been passed down generationally.’”
Crossan pauses for breath before continuing. “Go on any sort of happy home-core video on YouTube, or one of those Gabber mixes or something, and go down in the comments. There’s Steve from Middlesbrough, he’s 50 now, and he’s got some comment like ‘man, I’m 50 now but when I hear these tunes, I’m taken right back to that warehouse and I’m gabbing my face off’, or whatever. I feel like there’s an envy now that kicks in, that imagines having been around for that, and I do think there’s a shared sense of nostalgia that we can tap into. That’s what that tune is about sonically and lyrically. Because obviously I wasn’t around for any of those woodland raves.”
Interestingly, it’s not even exclusively Crossan’s nostalgia that is on show in the album, the producer assembling a varied cast of guests each tasked with sharing their own past experiences and memories. “Deal Wiv It”, for example, a riotous, darkly humorous exploration of gentrification, class divide and austerity, is helmed perfectly by Slowthai, whom Crossan credits as an example of someone who “feels vulnerably about their own experiences in their music […] he loves talking about Northampton, he loves recounting memories in his songs, and I just thought – who better to put perspective on this now-versus-then, all-through-the-lens kind of punk sensibility that he naturally has?”
Top PRADA, trousers BIANCA SAUNDERS, talent’s own shoes
Top PRADA, trousers BIANCA SAUNDERS, talent’s own shoes
As we have seen, despite his idyllic emotional recollection of growing up in Guernsey, Crossan’s life was inevitably shaped by the online world, and the album is honest in exploring this sense of pre- and post-internet duality that his upbringing possessed. His 2017 debut Mura Masa was a pop-driven, star-laden offering that landed at number 19 in the UK charts, and is notably different from R.Y.C in its relative paucity of guitar music throughout, something Crossan felt would lend itself to the more concept-driven approach of his sophomore project. “For me, nostalgia means having grown up playing in punk bands,” he asserts. “That’s part of the reason why the guitar appears so heavily on [the album].” However, Crossan is careful not to be too explicitly referential with his use of the instrument, taking care not to fall into the realm of imitation or pastiche. His music doesn’t sound like the songs it is inspired by, it sounds like how listening to these songs made him feel at a given time, the sonic inspiration processed through an emotional and nostalgic filter to create a simultaneously subjective and intensely personal body of work. “The point of it is that people have their own rose-tinted view of what things sounded like, or what things felt like, and there’s no point in repeating ourselves,” he says. “So the wider message of the album [is] that nostalgia is a good way of learning from the past, and using it to find some sort of joy in this quite difficult territory that we’re in now, socially, politically and whatever else.”
This outlook on the potentially remedial aspects of nostalgia is poignant in an age where time, and the perception of success within a temporal framework, have become skewed. The social monopolisation of Instagram and social media have forged a dangerous conception, whereby success has seemingly become contingent on age, and achieving highly very early on. Crossan is successful for his age by any account, having won a Grammy and been nominated for two more before his 25th birthday, and I ask him if he ever feels pressure or in a rush to be in a certain position or stage in his career, despite it still being so early on. “Definitely,” he acquiesces almost immediately, “and I think a lot of that feeds into what [the song] ‘No Hope Generation’ is about. So many lyrics in that song are about the fact that I’ve got shit to do, I’ve got places to be, I’ve gotta relax, I’ve gotta go, I need help to quit, I need help to buy… It’s all very frantically racing against the clock.” This, perhaps, is where nostalgia for the past can be used as a force for good in the present. “Message-wise, [the album] tries not to come to a conclusion on whether nostalgia’s a good or bad thing, just because I think that’s something you have to make your own mind up about,” he explains. “I’ve found when speaking to different people about it that opinions do differ. But, sort of accidentally, there’s a lot of good light shed on nostalgia in the album, just because that’s my viewpoint. I just think that any way of finding joy right now is really important, and regression doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it can be a learning experience, it can be a deep stream of happiness.” By attempting to view the present through the same rose-tinted glasses with which we nostalgically view the past, Crossan hopes we can elicit some relief for the social and political unease engulfing our lives, and this is one effect R.Y.C has. The slightly meta fact that, one day, the album will itself be nostalgically viewed is not lost on the young producer; “It kind of completes the circle,” he says, both perplexed and enthused by the prospect of such perpetuation.
The impact that the internet has had on Crossan’s musical career is a micro- cosm for the industry-wide changes the digital age has heralded in. “Culturally, I think there’s a lot of focus on the idea of the amalgam that we live our lives by, and just drawing information from lots of different sources,” he says. “That’s what a news feed is. And I feel like that feeds a lot into what people my age, and particularly younger, are doing with music.” The brilliance of Mura Masa in R.Y.C, however, is not simply his ability to harness the digital melting pot, but his decision to take that one step further. He dwells in the venn-diagramatic intersection between old and new, personal and shared, past and present, to create a body of work that transcends time and fact, instead placing an emphasis on emotion. To have the empathy and observational astuteness to do so at 23 is testament to the prodigious talent of the young producer who, if his recent album is anything to go by, will continue to be a leading creative voice in the exploration of a generation for many years to come.