Juan MacLean: I wanted a different kind of energy in music
Juan MacLean tells Becca Frankland about how he overcame his darker days with dance music, found a home at DFA Records and got involved with Defected.
Date published: 22nd Jul 2015
Juan MacLean's musical story appears to be one of two halves. He spent time as a member of the band Six Finger Satellite producing electro-punk but after overcoming a darker time in his life, his love for electronic flourished, leaving us with a string of remarkable productions.
It was LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and fellow producer Tim Goldsworthy who encouraged MacLean to get involved with electronic sounds and with their backing he started to put out tracks on their DFA record label, and has done since almost exclusively.
Releasing under the title The Juan MacLean (listen to his track 'Get Down' below), he established himself as a true purveyor of quality music.
The party at Space in Ibiza is very refreshing for me. I know there is a lot of techno and tech house being played on the island.
I play some techno and tech house myself, for sure, but sometimes I feel like it can be limiting in terms of format and wanting to go in other directions when playing a night that strictly adheres to those genres.
At Glitterbox, it’s much more open, I am able to play more melodic house or even throw in a disco record. It’s a bit more ‘musical.’
What can we expect from your set in London?
I never know until I get there! I definitely like to mix things up a bit, usually working my way from disco tinged house to more groove oriented tracks, or get more jacking with it. The soundsystem in there is amazing, so that’s always exciting.
You started your musical career playing in bands, how did you make the transition to DJing?
Basically I had quit my first band, Six Finger Satellite, and became totally immersed in electronic/dance music. Six Finger Satellite was a postpunk band with a big disco influences, and we used synthesizers. It was a rock band with dance music influences. So I was already well-versed in dance music.
Shortly after leaving the band, James Murphy and Tim Goldworthy set me up with an Akai s1000 sampler and one of the early versions of Logic. In addition to a couple of other little synths, I buried myself in my new little studio set up for a year and wrote my first album and 12”’s.
When my first 12” ‘By The Time I Get To Venus,’ came out, a lot of DJ’s seemed to be playing it, so I very quickly got offers to DJ. It’s a classic scenario, I was asked to DJ long before I was any good at it. But that’s what kicked it all off for me, became obsessed with DJing.
Can you describe your musical relationship with the DFA label and how it has developed over the years?
In the beginning, the label was basically formed to put out because James and Tim had produced tracks with me and The Rapture, and we were all wondering where we would release them.
One day James and I went for a walk and he said ‘I’m thinking of starting my own label, is it ok if we put it out on that?’ And that was the start of DFA.
DFA started as a bunch of punk rock guys hanging out with an English guy who already was quite successful making electronic music, Tim Goldsworthy. So I suppose the early tag of ‘disco punk’ or whatever we were called at the time does make a bit of sense, though I cringe now when I hear that label.
Obviously the label progressed very quickly, but for me it has always been a processing of expanding on those influences of early Chicago house and Detroit techno, though these two things have become something of a cliche to site as references. The label is very supportive in terms of not ever really questioning where this musical journey is going.
You've spoke about how you became close to never playing music again due to personal battles, how does your music reflect what you've overcome now?
Six Finger Satellite was a very dark band, we thrived on tension and opposition. Some of that was internal, though we were always quite unified, like a gang, in a sort of ‘us vs them’ mentality.
We were doing something outside the norm of even the supposedly open minded world of indie rock at the time. In general, it was not a very happy time, and there wasn’t much fun involved.
After coming out on the other side of some very heavy shit, like my own battles with drug addiction, I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to experience a different kind of energy in music.
House and techno, and dance music in general, offered this sort of joy and celebration of life that I was after. I still gravitate toward darker music in those genres, but in general dance music has a culture of, dare I say, spiritual transcendence that still keeps me going.
You've cited Kraftwerk and Derrick May as two of your musical influences. Who else would you say has shaped your sound?
Those were two very early influences, going back to the 1990’s. There were so many others that have come along, and it’s constantly evolving. In general, it started becoming about labels I would be obsessed with, like Strictly Rhythm.
Quite early on when The Juan MacLean first started playing live, I think it was around 2005, we played in Brighton and Matt Edwards was DJing the party with us. I always remembered him, we had mutual friends, and started paying attention to him and then bought every Rekids release.
I used to carry around like five of the Cabin Fever records at any time in my record bag, they always seemed right on point for my taste specifically. I guess in general I moved more and more toward making house and disco influenced ‘songs,’ in terms of albums.
Defected are set to re-release your track 'A Simple Design' with brand new remixes from the likes of Jesse Rose and Deetron (above), what are your thoughts on the new versions?
They fulfill two different functions that are perfect options for me in my DJ sets. The Purple Disco Machine mix is more of the sort of ‘upbeat’ party type mix, retaining more of the vibe of the original in that sense.
Jesse’s mix is the darker house mix that I would play more as a late night thing or in a more jacking mix. To me this is the whole point of remixes, to offer variations that make the track suitable for playing under different circumstances that might not work with the original.
Finally a hypothetical question, if we could give you the power to throw your ultimate party with a line up featuring any artists from past or present, who would you play alongside?
Tim Sweeney, The Black Madonna, Larry Levan, Radioslave, Frankie Knuckles, Harvey, Kim Ann Foxman.