: Deanna Rilling
Patience. Trust. And just
listen. That’s what DJ/producer Max Graham hopes for from the crowd when he takes control of a DJ booth. The worldly Graham was born in London, lived in Spain and then ultimately began working on his turntablist skills in New York City at the age of 13. A move to Los Angeles and then settling in Canada, he spun his way up the ranks, threw his own parties and then ultimately producing and running his own label, Re*brand. We caught up with Graham for an in-depth chat before he headlined at Marquee on July 26, 2013.
You’re aiming to release your next full-length artist album in the spring of 2014. Where a lot of your contemporaries have been very single and EP-driven, what does the whole album experience mean to you?
That’s probably the whole Swedish House Mafia thing. They’re probably the biggest and they’ve never had an album, they’ve just done strong singles. It’s made us, Armada and I, sit down and really question, “Is there a point to doing an album? Or do you need to have consistent strong singles out?” Sometimes the problem with an album is you’ll write 10-12 tracks, you’ll labor over them, four will be hits and then six will be kind of fillers for the album, so it’s like, “Why do you spend all this time writing all this music that isn’t going to be the strongest hit you could have at the time?” On the flip side, you can really build a tour and hype around an album release that you can’t around a single release. You can brand it and market it, just build hype and a campaign behind it.
This year I’ve really been singles-driven. Every time I get something finished, there’s a schedule to put it out rather than say, “Let’s wait for the album.” My studio and label partner, Protoculture, who’s on Re*brand also, he is an absolute machine in the studio and he can take two weeks off and do five tracks. I take two weeks off and I’ll do one track. I have the radio show, it’s two hours every week which takes—I don’t have a whole team—so that takes about a day-and-a-half to download the promos, edit them, put the radio show together, and then I interact live on the show, so that’s another two hours gone in the week, so that’s Monday and Tuesday. I maybe have Wednesday and Thursday in the studio and then Friday I’m on a plane. So when I’m home for a few days I have no time to go in the studio. That’s why some guys have a studio partner or even the evil words “ghost writers,” but I’m doing everything myself: Running the label, I do all my own social media, I do the radio show, so it’s really hard to find the time to shut the world off and focus on an album.
But winter’s coming and winter is the best time for that, you just don’t go outside. I moved to Amsterdam, too, in February so now I’m biking when the weather’s nice. I’ll probably end up back in Canada, but I wanted to spend a few years in Europe. I’m getting booked more there, I just wanted to change it up, get some new inspiration and there’s so many people to collaborate with. It’s one of those places in the world where there’s music in the water. Certain parts of the world there’s some energy. So I’m kind of feeding off that and that’s one of the reasons I’ve had such a good year in the studio.
The “Evil ID” has a pretty dark vibe to it, but it’s a welcome change from a lot of the productions out there right now. What’s the story behind the track?
If someone gives me a track that’s not finished, they’re like, “Play it on your show, but don’t announce what it is” because we don’t want people ripping it to YouTube and putting “Sander Kleinenberg’s new track,” but it’s not finished. So they say “Put it as ‘ID’ and don’t say anything.” A lot of radio shows will have something listed as “ID ID” which is “Identity,” it hasn’t been identified yet and it’s sort of to keep it secret. We do that with our own tracks when testing them out to see how people like them and then there’s no preconceived notion of who made it or what it is.
I was playing it as ID and someone wrote, “What’s the ID you’re playing, the evil-sounding one?” I hadn’t named it yet and I’m like “This is too perfect.” I have a lot of good relationships with a lot of DJs for giving me stuff early because they know I won’t reveal what it is, so my show has a lot of IDs on it; it’s kind of known for that. We put it out as the “Evil ID.”
I was actually working on a technique of EQing the bass that I hadn’t done before, so I wasn’t really focused or stressing over the riff and that’s usually when your creativity does its best work … it’s ended up being my strongest record in a couple years. It’s funny, Armada was like “You need to make something that’s happy. People don’t want to hear something that’s this depressing and dark.” And I’m like, “Let me play it on the show a couple of times and get the reaction” and the reaction was so strong. I cut and pasted Twitter reactions to it and sent that to Armada and they’re like “Alright, we’ll give it a shot.” They actually came back and my direct rep there was like “I have to apologize; I had no idea it was going to be so big.” I think it’s still top 50 after six or seven weeks on Beatport, and Beatport turns over so fast so no complaints from me—it went to No. 2, it didn’t make it to No. 1, but still, I’m super-stoked.
What was the best set you ever experienced, both for your as a DJ and also as a fan?
As a fan, there’s a few. I went to Digweed’s Bedrock night in London probably 10 years ago—that blew my mind! Also Tenaglia at Space in Miami—I think that was also probably 10-11 years ago—and all the DJs were on the dancefloor! It was just incredible to see Roger Sanchez, Erick Morillo, John Digweed, all on the dancefloor in awe of Danny.
Derrick Carter has blown my mind a couple of times. There’s a party in Montreal called Blackout, this was probably ’96-’97. I was DJing, but I didn’t have any productions yet, I was just a local DJ. It was John Howard from San Francisco, Mark Farina and Derrick Carter, and it was the three of them each playing three-hour sets. And it was just perfect. It was funky house, I didn’t know a single track and my mind was just blown. To this day I still have the flier.
As a DJ, I’ve had a few good ones. Sona back in 2000-2001 where I used to play eight-hour sets, which is incredible because the crowd then was really crazy. They didn’t want to hear records they knew, they wanted to be freaked out. Montreal, too, in that era, people were just nuts, everyone was just losing their minds, everyone was rocked, just awesome times.
I have to say this New York set [for Esscala at Pachita] was probably one of the best in my career. I really prepared for it for about two weeks and pulled out a lot of old stuff like D-Nox & Beckers, Daniel Portman, stuff from ’06/’07/’08 that sounds just as good today. It was cool to introduce people to a lot of those older records. The night just clicked. The crowd was really good. It’s actually on my SoundCloud
: six hours and 15 minutes. I’m super, super proud of it. That was, to date, the most complete, satisfying set I’ve ever played.
What bucket list career items have you yet to cross off?
Tomorrowland, but I’m playing it [July 28]. It’s so legendary. I’ve done Ultra before. I’d definitely like to do EDC.
I would also like to spend a couple of days in the studio with Sade, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. She goes missing for eight years, then comes out with an album. So amazingly talented. I would just love to go and sit and talk about music, come up with ideas and just play the piano and listen to her sing. Bjork maybe, too. Bjork’s just so out there, so creative.
If newbie clubbers are unfamiliar with your career, what would you feel is most important for them to know about you and your music and what they should take away from it?
Wow, that’s a great question. What I ask for is patience and an open mind. It’s like sometimes when I do my radio show, people say, “Where’s the tracklist? I want to know what track this is!” I’m like, “I post the tracklist after. Just listen to the show and stop worrying about what the tracks are. Just listen to the whole thing, not just each part.” That’s kind of what I want. … I’m addicted to music I’ve never heard before. I listen to DI radio’s drum and bass station, Liquid DnB. I never know any of the songs, and I love that!
I have people come up to me and request stuff that’s been out for 18 months and I’m like A) I’ve never played it, so you’ve never heard it on my show, and B) you’ve heard it a million times, the radio’s playing it. Why not just trust me and at the end of the night if you don’t like it, tell me. You’ve just arrived; I’ve played six of the 30 records I’m going to play, and you’re already requesting something that’s so overplayed. I’m either the wrong DJ for the venue, or you’re in the wrong place. I don’t mean to be harsh, but you just have to come and experience it. It’s like you’re in a sushi restaurant and say “I want French fries. I just got here and I want fries on the table!” Your friends are bringing you to try something completely new. Just taste it and if you don’t like it after, no problem. But don’t try to steer what we do.
I remember the famous story of Sasha’s first time in L.A. and he had that problem where the club owners were like, “What’s going on?” and [his people said] “It’s only been a half an hour; he’s going to play for five hours. Wait till three hours before you start to worry.” His sound back then was unknown in North America. That’s what I want from people is patience and trust and just let go. And if you don’t like it after, no problem. Not every food is for you, not every movie is for you, but just give it that full experience first and then decide.
What’s you favorite thing about coming to Las Vegas and playing at Marquee?
The fish [seafood] tacos by the pool! [Laughs
] I will say obviously the girls are beautiful, the sound system is incredible, the organization is second to none. The technology they have here—there’s obviously no expense spared. For us it’s so comfortable, there’s no worry: “Oh is that going to be plugged in, is that going to work?” Everything is so on point. I didn’t sleep last night, I flew straight here to hang out by the pool! —Deanna Rilling
Listen to Max Graham’s Cycles show 12 p.m.-2 p.m. Eastern every Tuesday on DI.FM's DJ Mixes channel. Keep up to date with Graham at MaxGraham.com and follow him on Twitter @MaxGraham.