A billion. There was a time when that number stood at the farthest reaches of quantifiable understanding. These days, thanks to the ubiquity of everything from corporate disclosure to information about the true expanse of space, it’s much closer. But a billion is still a lot — especially when you’re talking about song streams.
And Mura Masa, aka English DJ and multi-instrumentalist Alex Crossan, has already surpassed that number.
Even more impressive is the fact that the 22-year-old producer only has an EP, one studio album, and a handful of non-album singles to his name. And the two-time Grammy-nominated beat maker has done it all within the span of the last four years.
“It’s great,” Crossan said recently from a restaurant in South London’s Peckham district. “But I don’t think a human being can really understand how big a billion is. A billion is a silly number to try and think about, so I don’t think of it. I’m not capable. But it is a great number to have on a press release and my CD!”
Crossan grew up on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. The music community was small and he spent his time playing in a variety of punk bands. Like so many other producers, it was an introduction to the music-making software Ableton Live that started him thinking outside of his own musical box.
Crossan posted his first mixtape, Soundtrack to a Death, to Soundcloud in 2014. His proper debut, the Someday Somewhere EP, followed a year later. Since then, it has been a meteoric rise for Crossan who has bridged the gap from thrash to mash-ups in record time.
“It was quite a sharp transition,” he said. “I was interested in electronic music from the time I was in those punk bands. But I really made the connection with it when I realized it didn’t have to be club music — that it could actually say something emotional or delicate. That was really interesting to me and I became obsessed with it from that point on.”
While it’s unlikely Crossan will return to his roots anytime soon, those two worlds still tend to merge during performances. Not only does the multi-instrumentalist perform with a live vocalist, he surrounds himself with a cache of instruments, jumping from drums to keyboard, to guitar, to bass, to whatever is needed, throughout the night.
Not only does it help to keep him engaged, it ensures there is some “show” in his shows.
“I come from a performance background,” said Crossan. “I had a lot of live experiences. And I guess that’s what I really wanted for the show — for people to come and see someone performing. There’s nothing wrong with DJing, but I wanted something different for a Mura Masa show.”
It also means that he can continue to hold his own in the studio with an ever-growing list of veteran collaborators.
In addition to contemporaries like A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, and Ariana Grande, the young producer has worked with Blur/Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nile Rodgers.
As a serious student of music, the opportunity and gravity of those two situations were not lost on Crossan.
“Working with Damon probably ranks amongst the most ‘wow’ moments of my entire life,” he said. “But what was so great about it was that it didn’t feel like he was doing me a favor or putting me on. He genuinely liked the music and was up for being a part of it.
With Nile, it was a totally different thing — the DNA of pop music was woven by this man. So I see them as two sides of the same coin, really. They were both equally freakish experiences for me, but in different ways.”
If Crossan continues on his current trajectory, there are plenty of freakish experiences to come. And despite the fact that he’s not able to discuss many details, the songwriter can confirm that he has both started work on his next full-length project, and he will follow his current single with NAO, Complicated, with another before the end of the year.
The march to another billion streams starts now.
“I hope I can continue,” Crossan said. “I really hope this isn’t just my lucky day. But one of the more gratifying parts of managing to get lucky and having some success is knowing that people have not only heard the music, but maybe it made their life a little bit better or made them happy that day. I think that’s my favorite thing about all of this.”
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 22
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave, North Park