"Truly what makes me the happiest is either DJ’ing or being on a dance floor dancing when a whole room full of people seem to be in sync, tapped into the same mystical musical frequency that is transporting all of us beyond our basic anxieties of being human"
The Juan MacLean creates music that works in all settings and transcends genres. From early years playing in guitar bands to learning how to produce and engineer, becoming something of a synth wizard and now internationally touring DJ, his openness to a wide range of sound is what has both made him a widely loved favourite, but also someone who operates in his own parallel musical world. We had a chance to talk to him, so enjoy your reading and check out his latest releases. Read our interview below to find out more about Juan’s wide-spanning influences, creative environment and studio methods.
Do you remember when music was first presented to you when you were a child? Was it through play- ing an instrument, listening to the radio, or your family? I come from a very strict working class Irish Catholic background. My first experience with music was playing acoustic guitar in Church. My first concert was seeing the Beach Boys in the 70’s. All I remember is that there was a lot of marijuana smoke, and I didn’t know what it was, and it added an air of danger and mystery and I liked it. What was your introduction to electronic music? Kraftwerk was the first real electronic music I encountered, I guess when I was around 15. This was in the 1980’s. From there I discovered early Detroit Techno, like Juan Atkins. His ‘No UFO’s’ track, under his Model 500 guise, was the first proper 12” I ever bought.
What was the last record store you visited and what did you buy there? Academy Records in Brooklyn. I bought a bunch of cheap dollar bin records for sampling and for making weird interludes to play in DJ sets. In and out of the electronic music circle, who is an inspiration to you? In electronic music, Andrew Weatherall has always been my biggest inspiration. He lived an amazing au- thentic life, basically providing a blueprint of how to live as an aritist. Outside of music, Terence McKenna has long been an inspirational figure to me. Are you particularly permeable to your environment, creatively speaking? If so, how does it influence your focus as a DJ and as producer? I live in New York City, Brooklyn specifically. There is a real vibrant energy here, and it influences me enormously. Because it has become so difficult to live here as an artist, there is a real sense of community and solidarity among a lot of artists. I hang out with a lot of other DJ’s and producers, and people from the arts community in general, and I am greatly influenced by it all. How do you usually build your own tracks? Are you more interested in instinctual blocking or doing stronger things? For me, the groove is usually the most important part, and the foundation a track is built on. Whether it’s a club friendly track or something from one of my albums that’s intended for home listening, it is the groove that is usually carrying the track and doing the most work. I try to make grooves that are engaging on their own, and then add melodic content on top of that. How did you come to experiment with your own music? As a self-taught musician and producer, I have to say it was probably by taking a lot of drugs that allowed me to really experiment when I was younger. Certain substances allowed me to not care about rules. After I discovered this was possible, I did not really need them anymore to tap into that realm. How would you define your sound? I tend to be a bit hard to define in terms of sound. I bounce around a bit depending on how the mood strikes me, some days making uplifting and even goofy sounding music, like real Italo inspired stuff, and other days making very dark and brooking tracks. But the one unifying element, I think, is that I almost always incorporate a lot of live elements. I record a lot of live percussion, or bass and guitar, or vocals. I think I have a very ‘human’ feel to my music. The easiest answer, though, is that the music sites generally file me under ‘Left Field House.’
What can you tell us about your latest ‘Manthony’ release on Correspondant? What inspired you? I have been a big fan of the label from the beginning, and always wanted to release music with them. Recently I’ve been making a lot more music that was more like my earlier stuff, lots of arpeggiators and synths, and ended up with a batch of tracks that finally seemed well suited for the label. In terms of inspiration, it was definitely inspired by dance floor experiences, which is usually the case for me. I’ll either be DJ’ing or on a dance floor somewhere on the weekend, and run into my studio on Monday excited to make new tracks that work in a specific way in that setting. Probably also because I’ve been taking a lot of psychedelic mushrooms when I DJ lately, and wanting to make tracks that are a bit more spacey.
Did you already have a relationship with Correspondant, and was a it specific target for the release? I was friendly with Jennifer Cardini, I think we have long been mutual fans, so it was easy to send her music. It wasn’t a target for release when I was making them, more so that I curated a playlist to send them when I finally did, so that all the tracks had a vibe that would make sense for the label. What can you tell us about the next launch in Motordisc? I love the Motordisc series! This is the third compilation in the series, and I have a track on it called ‘Are We Still Dreaming?’ It is a slow 90 BPM chugging track that I made specifically to start the last Beats In Space show I played a few months ago. I sent it to Daniel, who runs Motordiscs, and he immediately signed it!
What is your current studio set up? Any piece of equipment you would never get rid of, and why? I have a Prophet 600 that was one of the first synths I ever bought, when I was a teenager. I used it in my first band, Six Finger Satellite. It toured with that band for years, and is on all the records. So it has a real history to it. Looking back, have you ever imagined you would become this big name in the electronic music community? No, not at all. When I made my first 12”, ‘By The Time I Get To Venus,’ it had a sort of electro track on one side, and a dub techno on the other side. This was in 2002 and it was so out of step with what was going on in electronic music it just didn’t even have a place. That’s why DFA was formed, basically, to put out that record and the first Rapture 12.” Some friends in the electronic music world suggested that I not put it out, that I would be embarrassing myself.
What are your favorite places to hang out in NYC? The Lot Radio where I have a monthly show, is my favorite. You can go hang out there and have coffee or a beer and listen to the DJ, outside, and always run into friends. At night, my favorite place to go see other DJ’s is Good Room, which is my home base, and the place I typically DJ when I am home in NYC. How are you dealing with C19 confinement with your work? I go to my studio every day and work on music. Some days I can’t do anything because it all seems so pointless. But most days I am quite happy, just making music that feels very honest, because there is really no outside influence right now. Has this situation influenced your creative perspective? What social and musical implications do you think this situation can lead to? For me, it really has not had much of an impact aside from having a lot more time in the studio. I generally try to just put my head down and not think about outside influences when I’m working on music. I try to have an attitude of ‘what comes out, comes out.’ Meaning, I try not to think about trends or what people might except of me. In this sense, it’s all kind of the same. What makes you happy? Truly what makes me the happiest is either DJ’ing or being on a dance floor dancing when a whole room full of people seem to be in sync, tapped into the same mystical musical frequency that is transporting all of us beyond our basic anxieties of being human. Can you tell us something about your current or future projects? Where can we continue to see and hear Juan Maclean? Well, in the immediate future I have an EP coming out on AUS Records in June, then the track on the Motordiscs compilation in July. After that, my next DFA 12” with Nancy sometime later in the summer. And we are finishing a new album. I had around 20 gigs cancelled due to Coronavirus but as soon as it’s possible I will be out there DJ’ing again!! Would you like to share a recent set with us? Can you tell us more about it? When and how was it recorded?
This is my first, and only so far, live stream that I’ve done during this pandemic. I recorded it in the smaller room at Good Room, the Bad Room. It was just me in there, but I had a lot of fun doing it. It was very cat- hartic, and pretty representative of what my DJ sets sound like.
The Juan MacLean