Whether you’re into the banger hits he’s been releasing or not, MAKJ’s aptitude for producing is utterly undeniable. The man oozes talent—this is a fact. With said talent comes wisdom, and he’s shared plenty of that with us, and we’re sharing it with you. HBT’s MAKJ interview is undoubtedly one of our most enlightening to date, so read on to enjoy this producer/DJ’s thoughtful words on raves, production, and more.
How has living all around the world influenced your style of music?
When I was living in China, or even Montreal—I was born here and I moved to California when I was like 6—I never knew I was going to be a DJ when I was living in all these crazy places in the world. I never really started to think about it until I started travelling everywhere and getting inspiration by going to places like Tokyo—Asia’s super inspirational for me. Europe, too. When I was in Turkey, that’s when I wrote like 4 of my new songs. I was in Istanbul—it’s sick. It’s super architectural and the culture and people are just really rad.
Do you speak any other languages?
I used to speak a little bit of Cantonese, but not anymore.
You studied architecture in university. What inspired the switch from that to music?
I had music as a pretty serious hobby, like I would DJ at fraternities and random college sorority events, but it was always more of a hobby. I was so into music when I was a young kid ‘cause my parents owned a record store so I was always just slammed with music as a kid. Electronic music came about when everyone started requesting it and I was like, “What the fuck is this music?” and it just kind of happened. The transition literally just flowed through my four years of college from my freshman year to when I dropped out during my senior project the last year.
Did you drop out with a little bit of a career already established or did you just take a leap?
I just took a leap. I was literally barely in the door. Hardwell was playing a couple of my remixes, but it still wasn’t anything. It wasn’t enough for me to go, “Mom, Dad, I’m gonna drop out of school and go become a DJ.” They still don’t know. I mean, they know I’m a DJ but they just don’t really know what I do.
You’ve performed at some pretty crazy festivals worldwide. What differentiates the major festivals from one another?
The drugs, the alcohol, the people, the city… If it’s Tomorrowland it’s different because everyone comes from around the world, and that’s what makes it such a unique festival. But for like Coachella, the first weekend is just all the cool kids from L.A. that have money and can afford to go to the first weekend of Coachella, take 5 days off from their jobs—if they even have jobs—and they basically just rent a house, party, do a bunch of drugs, go to the festival at 8 or 9 and leave around 2am and go to afterparties. That’s the first weekend. So everything just varies, it depends on where you are. Everyone always asks me what my favourite place to play is, but it’s impossible to say because it’s like, let’s say you give a people in Croatia, Italy, Amsterdam, and California the same ingredients to make a pizza, they’re all gonna taste different. It’s just how people are; they act differently in different climates. Everything changes. That’s why this music scene is really cool because I can go to Tomorrowland, then play EDC Las Vegas, then go play at some random festival in Seattle, and you know everything will be different and I get to change my set to adapt to the crowd. That’s why being a DJ is actually fun for me. Not a lot of DJs have fun anymore, because a lot of people don’t really do anything anymore. People are saying it’s just like press and play, and it sucks, but it’s fucking true right now. People are paying a lot more attention to these DJs and big DJs are getting paid a lot of money to stand up there and wave their hands and have crazy production. When I played at Ultra, it was kind of a highlight of my DJ abilities and everyone didn’t really know I’ve been DJing for this long. They saw me scratch and they were like, “Wow, I didn’t know MAKJ could actually DJ.” But the thing is I came from a DJ background—I only started producing like 4 years ago, and I’ve been DJing for 10.
So when did the switch from “up and coming DJ” to “Oh shit, it’s MAKJ” happen?
Production. It’s all producing. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for me producing my own music. You can’t be a DJ anymore unless you produce your own music. It’s not really going and seeing DJs, it’s going out and seeing people play their own music. We’re like the new rockstars. What’s great about the internet is that everyone talks a lot of shit, so you wanna be above everyone in the sense that when you perform, you want people to go, “Holy shit, I didn’t know he could actually do that.” That’s the best part about doing what I do.
If you absolutely had to label your music, how would you describe it? Do you stick to certain styles and vibes, or do you mix things up?
A lot of people know me as the banger type of music, but this year I’ve switched a lot of things up. You have to be versatile as an artist; you want to be able to be like a musical buffet. You want to be able to show everyone that you can do everything, and then no one can really talk bad about you if you can do everything well. I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons in my sense of musicality, but it’s kind of hard to steer away from what people already know me as producing, so like the big room, banger, put your hands up type of music. If I go produce a hip-hop track people would be like, “Ugh, you’re trying to do something else?!”
Yeah, but even going from what you’re known for to a more melody-driven track would be hard. It’s just not the same audience.
It’s hard, but it all goes back to playing in different places. You can play at Tomorrowland and everyone wants the melodic sing-along music, and you can play in Vegas but everyone wants hip-hop. It’s different. So that’s where I kind of get all my inspiration from: just DJing around the world. Like today I started a new track because I was inspired by playing in Rochester, and I saw some weird 70s thing, and I listened to September by Earth, Wind & Fire, so I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna start a new 70s track!”
What program do you use to produce?
Logic. I started out in Pro Tools, and the two look similar so I just used Logic. The thing is, it’s just old school. I would use Fruity Loops—it’s the best for electronic music. You can do anything in it. It’s made around electronic music. Logic isn’t, and Ableton isn’t. Some kids use the crappiest software but they still make good music. It doesn’t matter what you use, you just need to know your tools in your toolbox.
What do you think of the actual rave audience—it’s like half die-hard music-lovers and kids in their underwear on molly. Not incredibly down for the latter, though—so what’s your take?
You have to realize that this is what kids wanna do, though. It’s the new thing to do. It’s the equivalent of going to the mall and a movie back in the day. All ages raves are happening everything, and that’s like the new big thing. I remember playing at an all ages rave, and I shit you not it was like high school. All the parents were in their cars outside, waiting for their kids to come out, and I was like, “Oh my god. This is what the scene has become.” That Pacha show I did was a fucking life-changer. I didn’t want to look in the crowd because I felt like I was going to get arrested. It’s crazy, but the thing is, those kids spend lots of money because it’s not their money—it’s their parents’ money. So if their parents think they’re having a good time, and they think they’re safe in the club, not doing anything stupid, their dads will be like “Yes, I will let you go do what you wanna do because I want to go spend time with your mom for like 2 hours.” It’s like dropping your kids off at the mall or the movies—it’s the 2015 version of that.
Tell me if this means anything or if this is just a random observation, but I noticed all your tracks are 3-4 minutes long—none of that 6-7 minute stuff—why is that?
I used to make 6-7 minute stuff, but nobody does that anymore, because once a track comes out it immediately goes out on the blogs and people make short edits of it to play live. Tonight, I’ll probably play 200 tracks in 2 hours. I play 2 hours maybe one a month—it’s always an hour and a half because kids are like, “This is too much going on.” I play a lot, but I wanna show people that I can play every genre. You can look at the Ultra sets and some DJs play like 18 songs in 2 hours. Do you know how fucking boring that is? If you watch the crowd, they’ll go crazy for the first 20 seconds of the drop, and then they’ll just stop. That’s how everything is now, so you have to adapt to that. DJs like DJ Snake, myself, Laidback Luke, TJR—we’ve all been DJing for a long time and we’re coming out and showing people that we can adapt. The other guys that just produce music don’t know how to DJ and read a crowd, which is the most important thing. Being able to read a crowd and go, “OK, the crowd definitely fucking hates this song,” and switch it. No kid is gonna be like, “Boo, you suck,” they’ll just stop dancing. That’s their way of telling you they don’t like the song.
Do you have a musical inspiration?
Marilyn Manson. Just the whole composition of his songs. Like, he writes the majority of his songs, and he gives his vocals to one of the guys in his band, and that turns into like an industrial track, and then a year later it’ll turn into another track.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
No… Yeah. Like, if you want to think about different, that’s different. But if you’re talking about anyone in the world, dead or alive… I’ve always wanted to collab with these guys called The Bravery. The dude has such a distinct vocal. Tom Petty would be sick, too.
What’s the reason you decided to produce EDM over other genres?
I really enjoy the music. I enjoy producing it. That’s one thing I look forward to every time I go home—not hanging out with my friends, but sitting behind a computer. I find pleasure in having a new idea, and you get a feeling for like 50 seconds that you just can’t recreate. That’s why I feel so bad for people that don’t produce their own music and play it. Producing your own music and being able to say, “I made this song,” and play it in front of everyone, watching them all react to it, you’re just like, “YES!” You can’t buy that feeling.
What’s up for 2015?
Opening up my own label called Kenz. So I’m doing that, and I have like 20 songs that are just waiting to be released but I don’t wanna wait on other labels so I’m waiting for my label to finally come up. I have a collab with Thomas Newson coming out on Protocol Recordings. I have a collab with Timmy Trumpet. I have a collab with this new kid—well, he’s not new, but his name is new—he’s Shapov from Hard Rock Sofa. He’s such a good producer and he’s like a super brainy kid. I have another collab coming out with another Russian named Amersy.
Getting many different opinions on this, so I’d love to get your take: is producing/DJing something you can learn, or you have to have naturally?
I have no music background whatsoever. The people that rant about it and complain that you need to have it naturally are the people that are afraid their jobs are getting taken away from them. Anyone can do it. Anyone can be a producer. There’s just a bunch of stuff you have to do to be successful at it. Know when your music is ready to put out, don’t put out bullshit that people are gonna remember you by. You’re going to be that kid that’s super pumped about a song you just made, and you’re gonna listen to it 5 days later and go, “What the hell was I doing?”
Do you have a process of sorts when you’ve finished a track?
Yeah, it’s like getting a tattoo. Once you have an idea for a tattoo, you’re super amped on it. Put that idea in a safe and let it sit for 5 months, and then go back to it and you’ll probably be like, “Ahh, I’m so glad I didn’t get that.” Because you’re always gonna change, your style’s gonna change, your ear’s gonna change.
Interviewer: Alex Levy
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