Maelstrom blew up last year after releasing back-to-back EPs on Boys Noize Records, Sound Pellegrino in France and Dirty Bird, Claude VonStroke’s label in San Francisco, but he’s been DJing and making music since the mid 90s. He’s in town with STD for a DJ set at The Shelter on Friday night. When we spoke to him he’d just come to Shanghai after a 10-day tour of Australia.
Maelstrom: I’ve been DJing since I was 14, so in some ways it’s been a long road. I got into it pretty early through the illegal rave scene in Europe. There was a group called Spiral Tribe who were busted out of England around 1994 for putting on illegal raves. Most of them loaded their gear into vans and took it to France and started putting on parties there in fields.
I got hooked into this. So I spent like six to 10 years doing that stuff, DJing, beginning to buy drum machines and play live. I was playing heavy techno and hardcore. It was great for a young kid of my age. It was an opportunity to play to a crowd of 1000 people every week. You could just show up with a bunch of records and wait until the party was calming down in the morning and then line up behind the decks and wait for a chance to play.
Maelstrom: I was deep into the underground side of things until the late 90s. Then at some point I started shifting to UK bass music. I started playing drum and bass, early dubstep, still in raves in Italy, Spain, France.
Maelstrom: The same time. I just had some bad Akai samplers, no computers, just hardware sequencers. Then I got some basic software. You had to write your beats in hexadecimal language. It was all just Midi, no audio recording. One of the first times I played live, we had three samplers and we had to have me playing live with another guy just changing the floppy disks and loading up the new sounds. I only started DJing in clubs around 2006, when I started releasing on UK labels and getting more exposure.
Maelstrom: Only last year. I got signed to Boys Noize, Dirty Bird and Sound Pellegrino. That helped and got me all the extra exposure.
Maelstrom: Four or five years ago it was all about massive, in-your-face sounds and brand new studio tricks, but I think nowadays it’s more about if the artist has something to say. Now anyone can be a DJ or producer, so it brings the focus back on who you truly are and what story you’re telling, where the music came from. It’s not enough just to be able to produce technically proficient tracks, it’s got to reach out beyond the music.
Maelstrom: I’d like it to be a cerebral process, but it’s not. It’s just me sitting in my studio eight hours a day, every day that I’m at home, waiting for something good to happen.
Maelstrom: It really is. Eight hours a day, every day. You never know when something good it going to emerge. Sometimes I finish a tune in a day, like in 10 hours and it’s done. But for this to happen you have to go through all the other days when nothing happens. Honestly, the best tracks are the ones that come naturally, you’re driven through it, you don’t even know why. The audience can hear it, that it’s something natural. Sometimes I work on a track for two weeks and it gets a bit weird, you put too much attention to detail and the track’s never good. When it comes naturally in a day, you don’t get a chance to over-think it.
Maelstrom: The most crucial part is the room. I made a soundproof room in my house, and I did acoustic treatments to the walls so it sounds perfect inside. For me, that’s the best instrument – the room itself. That’s the basic element of my equipment. Apart from that, I used to work a lot on Cubase but these days I use Ableton. I have a couple of keyboards, a Moog, a Juno, but most of it’s software. All the arrangements are on the computer. Everything’s processed and treated in the computer even if the sound originates from a hardware synth.
Maelstrom: I’ve never been working. I’ve always been doing music. I’ve never had a normal job. I got the soundproof room last year and I think it explains why I’ve been able to sign to Boys Noize and Sound Pellegrino after that. To me it’s totally linked.
Maelstrom: I have five or six new tracks of my own to play. And I just finished a new remix for Boys Noize and Erol Alkan that’s going to get released I think next week. I’ve just had the masters, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how that goes. What else? I never really know. I just pick up 100 tunes on the afternoon that I play and that will be my crate for the night. It’ll be techno, bass… You have to come. It’ll be cool. I’ll make you a playlist after.
Maelstrom plays Friday, August 3 at The Shelter. Support from STDJs: R3, Lin Feng, Ado8, El'se. VJ: Olivepixel. 60rmb. Full listing here.