Mike Servito interview: Mike Servito's Imaginary Scenarios
Marko Kutlesa set some imaginary scenarios for Mike Servito, including explaining to his mum the difference between dance music's two Derricks and educating someone who's unfamiliar with Detroit's musical heritage.
Last updated: 11th Apr 2018. Originally published: 6th Apr 2018
When your home city is known throughout the world for its music, as a DJ there are certain expectations put upon you. And when the first international DJ from your city sets the bar as high as Derrick May, you better be damn good too. Thankfully, Mike Servito can meet all those expectations.
He approaches DJing from the perspective of his home city, versatile in his selections, masterly in his programming and mixing and flitting effortlessly between house, techno and other musics. Yet it was first on the streets of NYC and then internationally that he made a name for himself, playing as a resident at The Bunker.
He has also held a long association with Ghostly International thanks to a residency at their Untitled (alongside Derek Plaslaiko, Tadd Mullinix, Matthew Dear and Ryan Elliott). Long a favourite of Europeans visiting NYC, his sound has been welcomed at some of the biggest festivals and clubs in Europe and also on the underground gay club scene at home and in Europe.
Prior to a gig at Sneaky Pete's in Edinburgh on April 12, Marko Kutlesa set some imaginary scenarios for Mike to ponder. Here are the results.
Imaginary scenario #1: You're curating your own single room club night and, wow, Derrick Carter and Derrick May both agree to play. In which order would you have them appear and if your mom took an interest in your endeavour and asked “Mike, what's the difference between these two guys when they're DJing?” How would you describe that to her?
You're really doing this to me? Hahaha. I'd have them flip a coin. Or I would make them play back to back all night. I wonder what that would be like, actually? The Derricks are so influential to so many of us. Too hard to decide that order! If my mother asked the difference, I'd say "This Derrick is from Detroit and that Derrick is from Chicago." Easy!
You recently remarked on social media that, for a while, the longest set you ever played had been a seven hour stint at Panorama Bar following Ron Trent. Ron's such an amazing DJ. How was that experience?
That was my debut at Panorama Bar. I wasn't initially supposed to play that long, but they asked if I could switch set times with Soundstream who had the closing slot that night. He had to leave early. I was intimidated, of course, but I agreed to it. Seemed like such a moment to be had.
Ron was warm and friendly and really setting the tone in that room. Just incredible. He even played a record I had intended to play. But, better him than me. K. Alexi was in the booth as well. They both gave me records. I was overwhelmed but I kept my cool. It was a very inviting atmosphere, I felt comfortable.
I think it was a decent debut for the both of us, beccause it was Ron's debut at Klubnacht too and his first time in Berlin in 20 years or something crazy! A very joyful experience.
When you're in a position like that, to what extent, if any, is the start of your set a response to the previous DJ. If it is in some way a response, how quickly do you feel the set becoming wholly your own and, similarly, do you ever tailor the end of your set, mindful of the DJ following you?
You always have to be a little aware of who you're playing amongst and how the vibe of the room is at the time. You have to be diverse and you have to be open. I personally like bridging that gap from one set to the next and mixing out of the last DJ's track. You follow the path and build into your own sound.
I always thought it was nice to keep the flow and jump right in and make that connection. But it really just depends on the situation. It's very European to close out a set and then the next DJ begins fresh.
You always have to tailor things a little bit. You have to be respectful of those before and after you. But even if someone is playing 135 bpm, well I will certainly step to that plate. It all just depends though.
Lots of dance music DJs have their own particular favourite era of dance records. But what's your favourite era for alternative rock music and what are the most important bands to you from that era?
I was an 80s synthpop, industrial and 90s shoegaze dork. I discovered bands like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins up late on a Sunday night, watching MTV's 120 Minutes. That was a big deal for me as a kid. Seeing Nitzer Ebb and Depeche Mode videos. I loved it. I think there are too many bands to name. Depeche Mode and New Order were really big for me as it segued into early house and techno.
Imaginary scenario #2: It's several hours into the after party and you're sat on a sofa surrounded by several friends when someone that none of you know starts singing a spontaneous version of “Despacito” replacing that word with “Mike Servito”. The look on your face aimed in the direction of the singer must be translated into words. What does it say?
What do DJs from Detroit know that many other DJs maybe do not know?
How to run doubles on house and techno records proper. The technique is so 90's but it's always been a favourite thing of mine. Playing one track and completely utilizing different parts of a track or trailing vocals for an echo effect. The creativity I witnessed in Detroit in the 90's was on another level. There were no effects buttons.
Best three Depeche Mode records to drop in a club?
'Behind The Wheel' – Beatmasters Mix
'Enjoy The Silence' - The Quad Final Mix
'Everything Counts (In Larger Amounts)'
Imaginary scenario #3: You're playing somewhere on the other side of the world and while record shopping you meet someone who miraculously isn't aware of any of Detroit's musical heritage. It's a well stocked record store. Which track do you select first to introduce them to the music of Detroit?
Not aware of Detroit's musical heritage at all? That's wild. I guess the boss Diana Ross. And The Supremes, of course! This is such a hard question. If we are talking about house and techno, probably Moodymann.
What's the most ridiculous request you've been asked while DJing? Is it easier to indulge bizarre, one on one encounters with clubbers while DJing if the interaction is with someone who's cute?
A few years ago in Brooklyn, a girl tried to order a margarita. and then put her full can of pisser beer on the record platter as it was moving. She thought she was at the bar! Unreal. We joke about it all the time. I can't be bothered while DJing, honestly. I find it completely distracting. But I get that people want to say hello.
Sometimes it can get too chatty and I just zone out. Girls will look at me for five minutes, dying for a request. I just stay focused in the mix. I can almost pinpoint who is going to be a harasser too. A lot of times the monitors are on blast and I am in the middle of a mix, so I'm just going to ignore you. A cute face doesn't hurt though!
You took some time off from DJing for a couple of years. What were you doing in that time?
Decompressing. Ha! Honestly, probably just working a lame job too much or partying.
Imaginary scenario #4: You're visiting Detroit for the first time in a year. Where's the first place you really want to go and eat and what do you eat there?
I have to make a pit stop at Lafayette Coney Island. Such a silly name but Coney's are basically chilli hot dogs. Sometimes I opt for the Coney Special, that's just chilli over ground beef on the bun. with onions. No mustard though. I find American yellow mustard repulsive. I have a funny story about that too, but maybe for another time. I usually get some french fries or chilli fries and a Vernors, which is a Detroit brand ginger flavoured soda. A total staple! This question is making me so hungry. Shout out, Detroit!
Best three Prince records to drop at the after party?