At the tender age of 26, making beats since 11 means Pitch 92 is already a veteran in the game. Producing for British hip hop crew The Mouse Outfit for the past decade or so, his debut album 3rd Culture sees him branching out alone as part of the High Focus family.
Born in Dublin then moving to Maidenhead, his formative years actually came in Frankfurt. Attending an international school in the German city, he became steeped in underground hip hop thanks to his older sister and her friendship with A State Of Mind (more widely known as ASM, nowadays one of Europe’s finest hip hop acts, signed to Chinese Man and known for their work with DOOM, La Fine Equipe and Wax Tailor).
“She used to come home from school and give me stuff to download on Limewire, then I got into Madlib, MF Doom and then it went on from there,” he recalls. “One of the guys from ASM used an MPC, he taught me how to. I was 11. The first thing I bought was an SP-303 (sampler) because Madlib used it on Madvillainy, at 11/12, around that age.”
Having such strong role models close to hand was a constant influence on a young Pitch, who grew close to the group. “I looked up to them as gods, and I wanted to be like them.” He had his first beat on a song of theirs at around 14, once he’d moved to Zurich, where it got to a point where they rapped over his beats, “not for a project or anything, just stuff that I put on Myspace.”
“The day after I left Mouse Outfit, I was on the phone to Leaf Dog for an hour and had already sent him some beats. An hour later he sent me a rough.”
Attending school with people from backgrounds, countries and religions from all over the world plus moving around has lent an international weight to Pitch’s music. For the album, he’s worked with Los Angeles resident Seb Zilner who plays flute and sax, old schoolmate Nearski who now lives in Japan for the artwork, and Chemo (aka Telemachus), who mixed and mastered the album, was moving from Thailand to Madrid at the time. “The whole way I’ve done it is: everyone from everywhere. I didn’t want it to be a Manchester album, I don’t think about it like that. We’re all doing it, there’s good shit everywhere.” Nearski especially has had an impact. “He’s part of the ASM crew, he went to my school in Frankfurt. I’ll probably always work with him. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, innit!”
Where’s ‘home’, then? “I’d say Manchester’s my hometown, and where all my music stuff started getting serious, and the whole reason I’m doing this album is because of that. I’ve done a lot with Manchester hip hop artists. My passport is Irish, though.”
Pitch started work on 3rd Culture two years ago, originally intending it to form the basis of the next Mouse Outfit album. “I was already four or five tracks in, but obviously there was gonna be other stuff by the other Mouse Outfit guys.” Parting ways with the group in 2017, he decided to make what he already had into his own debut long player. “It was only a year ago when I was chatting to Nearski so he could start doing the artwork – we were brainstorming names and he was like, ‘Yo, what about 3rd Culture?’ It just made sense.”
For all my 3rd Culture kids
Let me break it down for those who don’t know what it is
It ain’t the culture of the country on your passport
Or the parental heritage you didn’t ask for
It’s the culture you adopt while you growing up
You phoned home now the UFO is showing up
That’s the mothership connection
We stay shooting for the stars while these others switch direction
– Jehst, 3rd Culture
Pitch’s induction into the High Focus family came when he worked with Verb T for the second Mouse Outfit album, Step Steadier. “We did a Fliptrix (Four Owl and High Focus managing director) album launch with Mouse Outfit in 2014/15. Verb T came up and said it would be good to do some stuff, he liked my beats. Originally, we did two or three tracks for the second Mouse Outfit album, and then I just kept sending him stuff and we became good friends. It turned into an album, then that made it possible for me to do the whole High Focus thing. I’d known Fliptrix for years, I was sending him beats back in 2012, and from the whole UK hip hop circuit we knew each other anyway. When I left Mouse Outfit, I called him, sent him some demos and luckily it worked out. Big up to Fliptrix!”
The label’s support saw them announce Pitch’s solo work to the world with the Lost In Space EP, an indicator of the quality of guests to come on the album.
Pitch was keen to get involved with local hip hop culture when he arrived in Manchester. “When I moved here from Switzerland at 16 or 17, I remember we were looking at houses with my mum. I went into Fat City Records (in Manchester) and asked about the scene. They said there was Broke’n’English, but there wasn’t much hip hop going on really at that time. I went to college, met the Mouse Outfit guys (producer Chini from the band taught there), then started doing stuff with them, playing live at In The Loop (a hip hop night for which The Mouse Outfit were house band), then when we started putting videos out like Never Get Enough.”
Videos played an important part in spreading the word about the Mouse Outfit’s homegrown full band hip hop. “I think it was the right place at the right time because there wasn’t really anyone in Manchester doing it to that level, the whole video thing. Now it would be different because everyone’s doing it. Videos are good to put faces to the music. For me when I was a kid, I didn’t really see any videos of the underground stuff I was listening to. The whole point for me was that you imagine in your head – sometimes videos can detract from the track. Certain people that I know don’t believe in them.”
Prolific by nature, Pitch would turn up to Mouse Outfit HQ with beats he’d already made, “then we’d see if a beat needed some keyboards, or extra little bits. There are some live elements on (first album) Escape Music, but mostly MPC – it was the MPC 1000 for that. Chini had the set up, all the rappers used to go there and they’d write to my beats. If we had to add extra stuff, we’d get musicians in and I’d be there at the time.
“When I started doing 3rd Culture, I had started working a lot with Jehst and at this point it was going to be a Mouse Outfit album. He suggested featuring people from the south, legends like from the Low Life days, plus current stuff, try and bring the whole country together on an album, that was the whole point. He has a studio in London so in May 2017, I went down, messaged Kashmere, Micall Parknsun, a guy called Manik who was a Loyle Carner associate, Mystro… and that was the start of it. I already had the Dr Syntax track, the Foreign Beggars track was already done too.
“The Four Owls track, Swoop… the day after I left Mouse Outfit, I was on phone to Leaf Dog for an hour and had already sent him some beats. An hour later he sent me a rough after we’d spoken on the phone. He’d already mentioned the Owls, so I went to Fliptrix and said it would be cool to get a whole crew track. Verb T did his verse, then BVA and Fliptrix.
“All the beats were made in my basement, a lot of the stuff with Sparkz live there too. The title track with Jehst, we were at his, I had the beat playing on the MPC and he just wrote it there and then. I wouldn’t do an album completely over email, there’s something different when you’re all there doing it from scratch.”
Pitch recently produced the whole of DRS’ album From The Deep, an intensely personal work for the MC, but working together was a relaxed affair. “I only work with people I know are dope, I’m not that guy to sit in a studio and tell someone to redo something. With Del, I sent him the beats, he’d record it probably the same day and send it back, I might do a tweak but it’d be pretty much done.”
As highlighted on that album in particular, the sound produced by Pitch is a particularly warm and familiar one, steeped in a golden age lineage but driven by a modern ear.
“Because I’m on High Focus, people might expect straight up hip hop (even though they don’t do just that) but the way I wanted to do it was: it starts off quite traditional hip hop, banger-led, then goes into a Manchester thing, some soul, R&B – there’s an upcoming soul guy called Jerome Thomas, people call him the UK D’angelo, I don’t know how he feels about that! I didn’t just want to do an album where it’s all the same kind of thing. I wanted to do that R&B and soul stuff, too.
“Every track I try and do different drums and styles. I work with a lot of musicians so there is stuff without samples. I’ve got a jazz musician called Ashley Henry on there, I’ve lived with him, he’s been on loads of Mouse Outfit stuff with me. I can work stuff out on a keyboard. But I like sampling, and have always done that. That’s hip hop, that’s what you do, the way you do it.”
Already looking forward, Pitch shows no signs of slowing down. “I’ve got four beats on [ K S R ]’s debut EP coming out. Me and Verb T are finishing off our next album for High Focus. I’ve done a lot of beats with Jehst, got quite a lot of stuff together for other artists, and have been doing stuff with Lunar C for his album. Then I’m gonna do my next solo thing at some point… I might leave it a year or so,” he furrows his brow, mulling it over.
Despite a lifetime of collaborations and a suitcase full of artists over these 17 tracks, it’s the first time Pitch has “done an album and been completely satisfied with it” – the label trusted him completely to deliver. “With this, it’s all me.”