Juan MacLean on DJing with Vinyl, Why the West Coast Rules for Club Nights, and His New Album
A longtime resident of DFA Records, Juan MacLean has dabbled in dance-punk and electropop. Although mostly known for his work with bands Six Finger Satellite and the Juan MacLean, he has been touring as a solo DJ all over the world since his release in the DJ-Kicks series last year. Using only two turntables and vinyl, the mix showcases his ample knowledge of electronic music, including sounds from disco house and European tech. Juan MacLean recently spoke to All Shook Down about music production, technology, and why he doesn't think New York has the best parties. He plays a DJ set this Friday at Project One alongside local DJs Sarah DeLush and Richie Panic.
You have a band, the Juan MacLean, but have also done DJ sets and release DJ mixes as Juan MacLean. Which of these came first?
Actually, the band was not anything I had ever planned on. You don't really think about getting a band together first when you're making electronic music. After putting out a couple of 12-inch records -- before I had an album out -- was the time I started DJing pretty regularly. It was only after my first album was done when I started considering going on tour with a band to support the album. It just kind of went from there. Now the band has a life of its own.
Last year you released the DJ-Kicks album, which you made solely with two turntables and vinyl. What made you decide to make it without other technologies?
Mostly when people do DJ mixes now it's off a computer or some program, which is why DJ mixes are everywhere. There's tons of software you can use to throw your MP3s in and the program mixes it for you. Without judging it for better or worse, it's just what people are doing. Personally I have always found those kind of mixes very boring. It just doesn't sound like there's any human involvement involved at all. For me the best way to have made it special was to mix the entire thing with vinyl. It's something people will be paying money for.
What is your live DJ setup like, then? Is it just turntables and vinyl or does it depend on where you're DJing?
That's the other thing. The other reason why I made it with turntables and vinyl is because that's really the only thing I know what to do! (laughs). My sets over the course of a few hours consist 95 percent of vinyl with one or two CDs. Now it's become a sort of selling point and you get all these kudos, but I'm always like, "I actually don't know how to do anything else."
Since you've been producing and making music since the early '90s, do you think the new technologies are taking away from the credibility of what a DJ represents?
In some ways I do. I think, like anything else, when a medium or format that makes something that was once the domain of very few people widely available to just about anyone, you get loads of people doing it in a mediocre fashion. But people that would have been good DJs anyway come through and stand out. But yes, it has given way to a lot of bad DJing. Now instead of taking a year of your life spent by yourself with turntables or CD players learning to DJ, you can essentially start DJing after you start buying a few pieces of software.
Or just a pretty good computer.
Yeah, if you can use that and make music in an interesting way, then great. It's like any of the other fields of art where digital stuff started taking over. Like photography and the invention of Photoshop; now everyone thinks they are a graphic designer.
You have come out to the West Coast quite a bit this year but haven't played many East Coast dates. Is there just a strong attraction to this coast or is there more to the story?
You know, I just don't end up DJing where I live very often. I think I played close to 200 shows last year and 90 percent of them were outside of the United States. In general the West Coast has a lot more going on there, and the weather is nicer. It just seems to lend itself a lot more to what I do for whatever reason. I think people are surprised New York is sort of lame for clubs and club nights. Whenever friends come from Europe and come visit N.Y., they always tell me to give them a club night everyday of the week, but I don't really know of any great parties in New York or clubs.
You said you were out of the country for 90 percent of last year. Is the attitude toward electronic music really that different in comparison?
For sure electronic music is valued in a different sense. In Europe there has been a much longer tradition and it's a standard type of thing for people to go out more often. It's much more ingrained in their culture and social fabric. And they never really had a big division of dance music and live music like we did in the United States. For a long time in America, you were only into either, or. There was no crossover. But that did change here around 2002. But most places in the world never really had that.
We see you're also DJing HARD Summer Music Festival again this year. What's something to gain from playing these gigantic festivals?
The obvious is that you get to play to a lot of people. I give a lot of credit to Gary Richards, aka Destructo, who puts those festivals on, because he's making a real concerted effort to bring in stuff that's a little more musical or maybe even tasteful in opposition to this really banging electro scene. For me and my friends who will be at the DFA tent, it's kind fun on a social experimentation level. It's fun if you could win over people that go to this thing to have their heads bashed in by really pummeling music to get into stuff that's a little deeper and maybe not as immediate in that way.
Is it difficult to cater to the younger generation of listeners at these events who might not be familiar with your music?
I actually give people a fair amount of credit in general. A lot of kids are simply not exposed to things. I've played HARD events before where I've felt like ABBA playing with Slayer, where people are playing 100 times louder and faster than I would ever play. Especially when I had my own room in L.A. a few months ago, and kids who had no idea who I was and would show up and start dancing and have a good time. A lot of it is just exposure and they just aren't exposed to it. Some of these electronic scenes can be very insular and monochromatic.
Lastly, you're back in the studio again. What are you currently working on?
I'm actually working on my Juan MacLean album, and there will be a 12-inch by the end of the year, and the full release of the album the beginning of next year.