Surf Break:
Midland

Ahead of his gig at Potato Head Beach Club, we gave multitalented Midland a chance to catch some waves and talk about life, art and everything in between

 

Harry Agius, known under the wildly popular moniker Midland, is a DJ. He’s also an art enthusiast, a dedicated member of a London book club, a fledgling photographer, the holder of a history degree and, somewhat surprisingly, an avid surfer. He’s British but grew up in Tanzania, and then Greece.

 

Harry’s life might seem made up of many different elements, but sitting in conversation with this reflective artist on a beach in Bali, a different picture is painted of a life where all the dots ultimately connect on a higher level. Here, we chat with Harry during a break from catching waves with Katamama’s go-to surf instructor, Dani.

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

What’s your impression of Bali so far?

It’s very very lovely, the climate and vibe actually remind me of Africa, and so far it’s been beautiful. Except for the rain last night.

 

What happened last night?

I saw the sunset there the night before and thought it would be really fun to play a sundowner set, but it started raining like crazy and everyone came under the cover. It ended up being really nice; I kind of enjoy playing music for people when they’re not specifically there for you, so I had a really good time.

 

What did you end up playing?

I played some slower Balearic records and I had a playlist that I thought would be great for the sunset, which took on a totally different meaning in the rain. I never plan sets because the energy is always different. It’s best to just follow your nose. If you’re playing a big festival it’s good to know the first 20 minutes because if you’re playing for an hour or playing 12 tracks you can’t really afford too many mistakes. The longest set I have ever played was recently at Panorama Bar in Berlin, where I played the closing and ended up playing roughly 11.5 hours.”

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

How do you even do that?

You have to think of it almost like a marathon. I pack bananas, fruit and halfway through my set someone gave me some sorbet and coconut water. Everything you would normally consume in four hours you have to stretch out, you have to pace yourself and not use all your energy all at once. People also don’t have the energy to give you constant reactions and validations so you have to be aware that the energy in the club is going to be different.

 

Do you have to train for this?

You do, and year after year you get better. The first time I played a three-hour set it was exhausting. I did this tour doing night sets for about four months and the longest set was 10 hours and the shortest was four—that really gave me practice in how to extend the sets.

Do you train in other aspects of life to balance all this?

I try and exercise every day, I swim a lot and go running sometimes. I’m not so good at meditating, which I realise is an oxymoron because meditation isn’t something you really get better at, it’s more something you get in tune with. The thing about being a self-employed musician is that you never really shut off, so you have to really try and make space for yourself.

 

And how do you do that?

It means taking time away from the job and taking time off, actually going away on a holiday that’s not related to work, which I’m really focusing on this year. Last year I went away with my family for two weeks but I had a gig in the middle and it became the focus of the holiday. So it’s just a constant learning curve.

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

Where do you find most of the inspiration for your music?

I find most of my inspiration creatively in other outlets, like taking photographs or reading books or long-form journalism, so I often find myself as inspired by words or pictures as much as I am by music, and that kind of goes into your practice.

 

Speaking off, I heard you joined a book club?

Yeah, I did! A few friends of mine run a night in London, I met them three years ago and they mentioned they were opening a book club, kind of off-the-cuff, so I turned up and we’ve been doing it for three years now.

 

How does it work?

We just pick a book and then we meet once every six weeks. The people in the club are very busy, everyone’s doing quite unique high-intensity jobs. But I love it and it’s kind of a queer book club so we read all sorts of literature, fiction and nonfiction, from all across the LGBTQ spectrum. It’s been really great learning about history and all sorts of things, and I really just like spending time with the guys.

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

What have been the literary highlights so far?

“The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson, I feel like every woman should read that book, any queer person, really. “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin was really beautiful, “Close to the Knives” by David Wojnarowicz. It’s pretty heavy but if you want to get an idea of what it was like living in New York in the ‘80s and experience the AIDS epidemic, that’s the one. He died in 1992 and was an artist, photographer, writer, painter and he did the famous U2 cover with the buffalo falling off the cliff. We are currently reading Audre Lorde, she’s a poet, and the book is called “Zami: A New Spelling of my Name,” which is a biomythography, so essentially an autobiography but it’s kind of poetic. It’s really beautiful and deals with what it’s like to be a black lesbian in the ‘50s, so it’s fascinating.

Have you always been an avid reader?

I used to read a lot but then social media and distractions eroded my attention span so I’m trying to work out how to rebuild again. I’m trying not to read two pages and then check my phone, you know what it’s like.

 

You have a degree in history?

Yes, I do.

 

Why did you decide to study history?

I went to a boarding school and they were very much focused on academics as a route to a successful job, even though I never planned on getting a desk job. I really loved art and should probably have done that. But it’s really never too late to start painting again, so that’s another thing on the agenda this year.

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

What else is on the agenda?

I want to finally organise my photographs and start painting again.

 

You spent a good part of your childhood in Tanzania, were you born there?

No, I moved there when I was two and then left for boarding school when I was around nine and then just went back for holidays. When I was 13 we moved to Greece. I still have a lot of memories from Tanzania, getting off the plane and feeling the wave of heat, and the smells. Going to the beach, sailing, surfing and going to church on Sundays in this huge Catholic church that used to have 800 people there. We were a minority but my parents really assimilated to society and were very well-respected because they were just cool with people and treated everyone as equals. The people that my parents employed became part of our family. I also remember flying back from England with so much cheese, which we would freeze and ration because they didn’t really have cheese there.

 

How has that informed your life?

It informed everything, it taught me what it’s like to live among less fortunate people than what we’re used to and really appreciate what we have. I try to never take for granted how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

And you created Autonomous Africa, which combines music with charity?

It was started by JD Twitch from Optimo and I contributed music to the second and third releases. Neither he or I have done a release on the label for about three years as the label has developed into a place where it is more about musicians and producers going to countries and recording with local artists and then releasing the music. Among other things, it was used to help out the school that my parents were part of building, which is now more self-sufficient.

 

What’s the story behind the school?  

My nanny died when I was nine, she had two daughters so my parents sent them to school when we moved back. The nun who educated them worked for the government and at 65 she was made to retire, so she started a trade school but didn’t have any government funding. It was initially for girls who would learn everything from cooking, sewing, electricity, computing, all the trades basically. One of the first girls who graduated from there, Flaviana, is a lawyer now and has a practice in Dar es Salaam working with underprivileged families. The school developed and now has 80 students, both boys and girls, farmland and loads of buildings, it’s really amazing.

Potato Head | Surf Break: Midland

Do you have plans of going back and rediscovering Tanzania?

Definitely. I would love to go back and reconnect with the people, the countryside, the school, and of course the ocean and surfing.      

Harry’s surf trip was organized by Katamama which offers carefully curated experiences around Bali during their stay. Read more about Harry’s day on the ocean with local go-to guide Dani here.