By Andres Octavio (Mowgli)
From his bedroom in Sheffield, England, Joshua Mbewe dreams an introvert’s dream. For a prodigy in electronic music with writing credits on Justin Bieber’s latest album, a lauded sample pack on the popular music production marketplace Splice, and official remixes for EDM luminaries Medasin and NOTD, it’s a dream tinged with ambition but not dominated by it.
Mbewe, better known as Laxcity, searches for a moment of bliss and finds it in antediluvian Madeira, a Portuguese island off the African coast and the site of his first-ever music video: Laxcity’s eponymous single “Purity” with the Czech Vibes filmmaking outfit. The scene consoles him as much as it transports him to a world of his own making, a reclusive paradise void of the carnival of noise that fills most musician’s days, where he wades through dew-coated ferns growing from the red earth and floats in the ether that his music conjures.
“I wish I could literally teleport there whenever I just need some quiet time to myself,” Mbewe said. “[…]There was no wind and the sun was out. It was just perfect. I think about those fields a lot. I didn’t feel like I was on Earth anymore. It’s every introvert's dream.”
Much like the otherworldly “Purity” video, Mbewe prefers to pace that dreamy realm alone, yet he invites his enraptured listeners in with the capricious brushstrokes of an electronica steeped in Impressionist handiwork. Mbewe saunters through every electronic flavor from drum and bass to trap, and aspires to release an album where each song serves as a treatise on a different genre. But the producer transcends the one-size-fits all EDM label with his ambient, orchestral watercolors, carving idylls out of hauntingly angelic echoes and soul-stirring chord progressions that hop across the lily pads of the emotional spectrum.
Mbewe, whose voice makes rare but haunting cameos in his songs, opts to convey emotion rather than announce it—in fact, the majority of his releases feature no lyrics at all. It’s partly due to his innate modesty, but more so, it’s a reflection of his musical philosophy, one that preaches that music should be felt as much as it is heard, because to feel is to be human, and what is music but a reflection of one’s humanity?
“There's this beauty to instrumental music where you can take all these different instruments and layer them together in a beautiful way that evokes a feeling that you cannot really specify,” Mbewe said. “Like you can specify that something sounds angry or sad or sentimental, but it's a whole thing more than just an emotion.”
Laxcity revels in that unspoken, international language seeking to color in the blank spaces of the ineffable. One glance at his top listeners on Spotify will reveal four different continents in his top five locales, ranging from Singapore to Chile to Los Angeles. He was scheduled to embark on a European tour with Canadian indie-electronic duo Tennyson this spring before the pandemic upended the world of live music, but it hasn’t forced him to re-envision his approach.
Well before the global crisis, Laxcity had emerged as a beloved dignitary of Gen Z electronica, gathering his online community in a weekly EDM potluck on the video-game streaming platform Twitch. The live-streams, which Mbewe describes as “iron sharpening iron,” draw hundreds of producers eager for Laxcity critiques and production insights in a King Arthur’s round table for introverts.
His sessions serve as ancient Greek agoras dreamt up by the Titans of the internet. In a time when online communities harbor the darkest corners of society, upturning elections and staging podiums for unabashed bigotry, Laxcity’s community represents the light—that pure, Daedalian purpose for which the internet was created:
“The main goal since I started writing music was to make friends,” Mbewe said before a feedback live-stream. “I don’t necessarily want to be famous, but at the same time I want to make music that is timeless…
“I just love the process in which you create something, you put all your effort into it and then you show it to someone else and it strikes them as something that will change their life or influence them be a better person, or maybe becomes something that makes them feel more comfortable with who they are.”
Mbewe attributes his reticence to his family’s sudden move to the U.K. in 2005 from Zambia, where he envisioned a career in visual arts (a craft he still applies to his unofficial album art and livestream graphics). He has fond childhood memories of learning to play piano in Zambia with his cousins, but the impetus for his career came from studying YouTube tutorials and rummaging through FL Studio on his computer as he tried to adapt to life on a new continent.
“I remember everyone speaking so quickly here. But then everyone here is just, you know, rushing how they speak. And it was like, ‘Whoa. I can’t really like understand what’s going on.’ I just wanted to stay inside because I couldn’t really fit into this puzzle of people.
He said his family still doesn’t completely grasp the scope of his craft, like how he can conduct soaring orchestras from a 14-inch computer screen or pack a concert hall without a live instrument in tow. Mbewe admitted it was difficult to convince his parents that music “wasn’t a waste of time,” but now
Mbewe said much of the production stems from sessions for his hit single “Good Morning,” a song that Mbewe proudly calls his magnum opus and the launching pad of his career. More recent releases like the crepuscular “Soft Pillow” and ambient espresso shot that is “Stroll” offer hints at what’s to come, while also making up a significant chunk of the more than 4.5 million streams on Laxcity’s official Soundcloud account. And then there’s his B-Sides account which hosts 240 relentless spur-of-the-moment tracks, often released the same day they are started.
It’s no gimmick that Laxcity releases nearly one song per week at an exhausting pace, always mixed and mastered exclusively by himself. With B-Sides, he defies most of the mainstream music industry’s cherished axioms where labels and management fear exposing their artist’s weaknesses to the world. But for Laxcity, not only does it work, but it carries him to echelons rarely traversed in electronic music, where rabid fans would do anything to hear their icons’ outtakes, deleted scenes, and whimsical daydreams. If Laxcity is a painter—that budding visual artist he once yearned to be—then the B-Sides account is a warehouse brimming with un-commissioned works, art for art’s sake, fiery sketches too illustrious not to be shared.
Maybe that tireless streak is why he clings to that Madeiran refuge, to those windless, mauve fields and forests where the fog creeps like the ghosts of introverts past. When Mbewe closes his eyes and finds himself back at the site of his first music video, he said he remembers the bond forged with his creative contemporaries at Czech Vibes, where they found themselves not on separate paths but parallel ones leading to that same wholesome community built upon discovering camaraderie among the reverie.
“I just see Czech Vibes becoming this massive community of people in this movement where they just have like people from all corners of the world. They have a really bright future ahead of them…What they did, I’ve never been a part of anything like that before.”
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