Up & Coming with
He plays the saxophone like no other, got introduced to electronic dance music by his sister's boyfriend and has a proper London accent. Brendan Mills is not your average producer invited to interviews like this one, but definitely one to look out for. We discussed how he developed his signature sound from his love for the sax and house music and what is coming up on the release agenda.
Starting at the beginning, like we usually do. How did you ever start your musical career? And when did the saxophone come into play?
Let’s start with an introduction, actually! For those that don’t know, my name is Brendan Mills and I’m a saxophone player, producer and DJ from London. I love house music. That’s who I am!
I grew up in a very musical family so I grew up around music. I first heard someone play the saxophone when I was about five years old.
I also love house music. I lived in South-East London at the time and experienced UK garage, a very London specific genre of dance music. My sister sort of dated a very famous UK garage radio DJ. He gave me this mix tape, which was an actual cassette. I went upstairs, since I was about ten years old, and listened to it. It just blew my mind! The melodies, the swagger, the attitude, the explosiveness: I just loved it right away.
Garage music managed to gain an unjustified reputation for being a bit 'rough' and unfortunately its hay day was cut short when BBC Radio 1 made the conscious decision against it in the early noughties. UK Garage is in fact incredibly soulful - you only need to look as far as MJ Cole, Wookie & (more up to date) Disclosure to see that. Even my first dance was an acoustic version of a garage song 'Flowers' by Sweet Female Attitude.
But about the saxophone. At some point, I started to clearly hear the sax lines on a dance track. For example, there’s this track called ‘Gabriel’ by Roy Davis Jr. which is a great example. Before that, I studied Jazz and actually never put the instrument and house music together until I heard it. I just loved the sound of it. At that point it was clear. I love my house music and I play the sax. What was I gonna do, you know!
I did a few productions with the sax and then along came Bakermat. He did a few songs including the sax which really elevated the genre.
And what a decision that was! You’re currently the most streamed saxophone player on Spotify!
Thanks! But, a lot has to do with Soave as well. I mean, what a record label. I speak to a lot of major artists and major record labels who don’t get the results
No results without great music, so I’ll just return the compliment! You actually have released quite a few songs on Soave already. How do we recognize a true Brendan Mills track and how do you stay true to your sound?
Good question actually. I always try to have a formula. A lot of people start producing tracks with a lot of ideas in mind and sometimes you can really over complicate things. Making music just from inspiration can go all over the place. Musically, it might be very interesting, but in terms of producing a recognizable sound, it can get difficult.
I think it’s important to just start off by deciding ‘what is my sound going to be’ and what are the elements going to be that will start to sound familiar at some point.
In terms of the sax, I do feel I have a bit of a signature sound. Personally, I can hear who the saxophone player is within music without knowing who it is. As for myself, I do have a particular sound which is vibrant and energetic. I hope that, within tropical house music, people can identify me playing the sax. To establish that, I have a golden rule, which is that my name should always be on the record. I mean, I take a bit of pride in my sound playing such a major role in the track. The only way people will recognize my signature and identity is if my name is on it.
I couldn’t agree more. Surely, since the sax is such a distinctive sound already, playing a huge role within the composition. As a traditional instrument performer and Jazz Music graduate, what is most exciting about the current electronic dance music industry?
Dance music is such an exciting genre. Dance music, just by definition, is always pushing boundaries. Just like technology, it is always evolving. It’s a really exciting genre.
There is also something so special about the vibe around dance music. Especially after COVID with everyone losing that vibrant side of life a bit. Right now, you see this massive revival happening. That’s why I feel so bad I couldn’t make it to this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event, to experience that. I just love to party. I love the culture, the music, the people involved. I love the way that it connects people from all over the world. The amount of friends I made through this common interest called dance music. They’re all over the place! Because it’s a technology driven genre, it has the ability to connect people from all over the world like no other. You can record your ideas, send them across the globe, share projects. I love the fact that I can work in the study and start a project with someone in Holland or America and just share ideas and things like that. I just love it.
Talking about cross-country collabs: your new song Used To You with Madism and Philip Strand just dropped. A combination not unfamiliar to you as you’ve been working with them before. What’s so great about this collaboration?
Madism has become one of my best mates, really. That all started by us reaching out online and sharing a few ideas. Madism, who I know as Frank, is phenomenally talented and incredibly focused. Everything he does seems to work. He often sends over ideas so I can musically connect to it. And I always know that it’s going to be a great collab. We’ve done quite a few records together now and it’s almost always an effortless process.
Philip Strand is the vocalist on our latest record. I mean, what a talent. Great vocalist but a great writer as well. The record really came together well.
For Used To You in particular, Frank sent over the track without having any sax on it and I could just hear the exact lines that would work extremely well on the sax. We tested it a bit, we played around and bit and that’s how it came together.
For most productions, there is not just one set way on how we start a product. In most cases, it’s just bouncing around ideas. We’ve formed a bit of a collective who’re just trying out different things musically and sometimes that turns into a track like Used To You. It always seems to come together.
That sounds very promising for the near future! Can you already share what we can expect from you soon?
I actually have a lot of projects lined up that I can’t wait for Soave to hear! Next spring, I have a rather special release coming up. You can compare it a bit to Bakermat. A big sax house song with warm vocals and catchy melodies. Really looking forward to that one! There is also a remix by a phenomenal artist called Jamie Grey, who’s written a lot of stuff for James Arthur. I think this is again one to watch and probably coming out in the near year. So loads of new music, lots of gigs happening. All quite exciting!