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Interview: The Juan MacLean

Ahead of his seemingly annual gig for We Love this sunday, we caught up with the DFA Records boss to talk DJ etiquette, porn music and Ibiza.

Spotlight: To start with, imagine you were someone else writing a mini-biography about who The Juan MacLean is, what needs to be included?

The Juan MacLean: Well at the age of 19 I was signed to Sub Pop Records with my first band Six Finger Satellite, which laid the ground work for this disco-punk sound that we later carried over to DFA, which is part two of my music career. DFA was created around the year 2000 and that's when I made the plunge fully into dance music and starting DJing full time. DFA is really central to my identity as an artist at this point.

Six Finger Satellite

You're back playing We Love at Space this year. Tell us about last year's gig?

When people ask me about it, I'd have to say it's probably the most nervous I ever was for any DJ gig I've ever played.

Why were you so nervous?

For me it was the ultimate place to play in the world I would say. Kind of like all roads lead to there in a way. The whole entire thing, the whole Ibiza thing in general, but for someone like me, Space is definitely the club of choice because it's a bit more tasteful in its music programming and the We Love Space night, which for someone like me, is the most appealing night. So combining all those things and how amazing the club is and it's just such a legendary thing in the DJ world, it all added up to feel like the biggest gig of my DJ career.

So, that was before, what about during and after the gig?

During it actually went better than I thought it would, because I thought I might…be….not….commercial….enough or something. It actually went suprising well, but I feel like I have a better understanding.

Last year's gig at Space

This year it's a DJ set right?

Yeah just my DJ set, I'm not playing live at all at the moment.

When you do play live, it'd be fair to say it's not just like you turn up with a laptop and a bag of record is it?

No, actually it's always been a source of pride that there are no laptops in sight and we have a full live band in sight, live percussion, synths….I mean I don't know if you know but our drummer died in November, so that's why it's been put on hold for the time being.

It was sad to hear about that.

Jerry Fuchs RIP

How important is the Ibiza scene for American artists and clubbers?

First of all I should say is that America is incredibly lame in terms of the dance music scene in general, there's just not the awareness that there is in Europe. I mean most people here wouldn't even have heard of it, amongst DJs it's more mythical and legendary place, partly cos we don't have access to it, like you guys do there.

You talked about disco punk before, but whenever I hear you music, not always, well actually maybe a track like The Simple Life (listen below), it has a very 70s Kojak-esque, porno feel to it. Are you a big fan of Kojak and pornos?

[Laughs], actually, surprisingly, with 70s porn, whilst I'm not a porn fan, in a film studies class once, well we watched a 70s porn film and I really loved the music and had this idea that I wanted to make porn soundtrack music. Maybe that will be where my career ends up one day.

Your music is almost a futuristic sounding porno music….

Haha Yeah and I always though those porn tracks had a futuristic feel to them anyway so yeah why not.

Whilst we're on the subject, a question I'm asking everyone at the moment is about why we talk about genres so much in electronic music and whether we need to and whether genres matter at all.

That's funny because that was actually one of the driving forces behind DFA in the beginning, at the end of the 90s, it really felt like in dance music, things were very genre specific. There were the main genres and then there sub genres of house or techno and it seemed like people were into one very specific sub genre and that was it and that was so anti-thetical to the early days of electronic music and I just thought it had become really boring. I think you have a little more leeway these days. I also think that the more drug orientated the music is, the more specific and unwillingly people are tolerate any deviation.

Robots is a word that comes up in nearly every interview I've seen with you, is there any robot conspiracy theories you can freak us out with?

[Laughs] I'm actually really into this type of thing. They have these chips that they're working on right now and it's basically a receiver for music, which means that you don't need speakers or headphones to listen to the music. I'd be first in line to get this. You can basically transmit music from your ipod or cell phone and not need headphones.

That's a bit spooky.

Yeah, people are a bit freaked out by the idea but I like it.

What musical instruments can you play?

The guitar was my first instrument and now mostly I play keyboards, but the problem is I never learnt properly to play it, so when I play live, I have a series of gaffer tape that I put on the keys that's specific to each song and numbered in the order I'm supposed to play them in.

Who did you pretend to be as a teenager playing air guitar?

Well the big thing growing up was Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, I learnt to play guitar by smoking a lot of pot and playing guitar to them.

Juan and regular vocalist Nancy Whang

Do you think you need to have a musical background to make good electronic music?

I always thought that was a big appeal about it, like the punk rock thing about it, in that you didn't need to know how play anything. It's like if you had a talent for hearing or creating amazing music but didn't know how to play it, then you could do it.

I'm thinking about writing a feature about the volume of ‘average' music being released. It would be called “Stop releasing so much sh!t music”, what's your opinion on whether there is or why there is so much average/shit music out there?

I think it's purely the fault of technology, and firstly I should say I totally agree. It's become a big problem for DJs because they're so much mediocre stuff coming out and I think it's because anyone can make music on their laptop and you don't have to had I tpressed on vinyl anymore and can be distributed on the internet on beatport or whatever. But for me, because I only play vinyl, it kind of solves this problem, because I feel like if something's going to be released on vinyl, then it's probably going to be better than mediocre.

So it has a quality control built into it almost?

Yeah, the money you have to spend to do it and labels are like curators, they are filters in a way. Also, record shops that I trust, I go there and see their recommendations and trust it.

So record stores, the media, even Beatport maybe, they have a responsibility to moderate the quality of the records on release?

For sure I think they have. I'm not sure how to make people stop making all this music. Someone like Derrick Carter, posted on twitter I think, that Beatport releases something like 20,000 new mp3 every week.

That's scary?

Terrifying, it s a terrifying number.

It's a year since your last album, how has your outlook changed for how you might approach making music in the future?

I'm much more interested in making albums, in making proper pop songs than songs working on the dance floor. That's been the main thing I've figured out in the last year, reserving 12 inches for the dance floor and saving albums for song orientated tracks. That's probably the downfall of amazing instrumental artists in that they make amazing 12” but when they release an album, they're not very good.

Artwork for 2009 album 'Future Will Come'

Is that why vocals are such a big feature on your music?

Yeah, it's a definite reason why, I just got really lucky because I was so influenced by classic house tracks that did have vocals and for a while, vocals were so… I mean, you could not play records with vocals on them in Berlin you'd get a bottle thrown at you. But now it's come around and lot's of this techy-music that's coming out, with vocal clips, it's actually some of my favourtie music right now.

Are you in the studio at the minute?

I am yeah, I'm doing a series of colloabraotions for 12”, the first guy is with this guy Florian Miendl, do you know him?

He's released on Trapez?

Yeah, the tech house guy from Berlin, really young and we're doing a 12” together, but aside from that I'm working on stuff for a new album at the end of the year.

Florian Meindl

You've done a podcast for us this week, what's the vibe?

It's a snapshot of some of the best house music around at the moment, the great thing about what's being done in house music at the moment is this return to old school sounding house tracks.

Anything you want to preach to us about or rant about……

I just think that with the advent of technology, with things like Ableton and Serato, so much DJ etiquette and traditions of DJing have been so watered down that it's become really terrible. It's kind of like especially here in the States, people become DJs over the weekend by buying Serato or downloading mps from blogs and playing non-stop electro hits. It's probably the most awful thing that has happened to the art of DJing.

Soul destroying, right?

Exactly, the classic thing that happens to me now is that I'll go into a club to drop my records off and someone will be bashing people's heads in with electro, except there's only a few people in the club and another thing that was DJ etiquette before.....now the DJ before me will save his biggest, hardest track right before I start, which is really rude.

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