Montreal-based DJ and musician Project Pablo has become something of a leader in Canada’s house music scene. Through strong releases on labels like 1080p, Magicwire, and Hybridity Music, his stock has risen, and in the last few years he has been all over Europe and North America for club and festival dates. Last year, his highly regarded 12” ‘Beaubien Dream’ is making waves on the newly minted Sounds of Beaubien Ouest label that he co-owns.
Max McFerren has been on a similar tear, recently returning from his debut Asia tour, and dropping killer tracks on labels 1080p, Don’t Be Afraid, and Allergy Season.
There is an undeniable passion that drives Derek Plaslaiko, a Detroit native who calls Berlin home base. With more than 20 years of touring internationally, playing extended sets, and producing tracks – in addition to balancing family life – he continues to grow as a beloved head in the scene.
Growing up just 20 minutes outside of Detroit proper, Plaslaiko’s youth was spent exploring and becoming heavily involved in the city’s circuit. He got his start around 1994 when Detroit’s house and techno scene was on a heavy up and he became crucial to both the Analog and Poorboy Parties, along with comrade Mike Servito.
An experience that really brought him into the realm was picking up a job at Record Time. Opened in 1983 by Mike Hime, the acclaimed music shop was a staple for local music lovers. With a couple different locations it became a place where many would converge to explore and discover the multitude of local sounds and music from abroad.
Plaslaiko started working at Record Time around Christmas 1996, he vaguely recalls. Hired by Mike Huckaby he says “I was only supposed to come on for the holidays, but then was kept on until summer 1998, I think? Somewhere around there.”
Other former employees include familiar names Claude Young, Rick Wilhite, Magda, Dan Bell and Rick Wade. The Dance Room at the Roseville location became known as a hub for collecting and selling records from numerous local house and techno producers. Plaslaiko says “the space was was usually pretty hilarious, too. Guys like Gary Chandler & DJ Dangerous would come in and crack jokes with Huck. Have you rolling on the floor laughing.”
Eventually, “I got let go for the same reason 99 percent of the people working there did: being late. They were super strict on it. Even if you were one minute late, then that would be strike one. I then went back to work at the Ferndale location around the spring of 2000 until spring of 2002,” he says. During his time there he was ordering for the dance catalog and remembers it being fun, seeing a range of characters walk through its doors. He commended the staff of Record Time saying it “was nice to see the hard work build into something special.”
The shop was influential in many facets for young Plaslaiko as his passion for music began to transform. “Working there was incredible! Both locations were phenomenal. This music was a lot harder to come by back then. So, working at the source really helped shape my musical tastes. Not to mention working around Mike Huckaby,” he says.
His employment at Record Time helped him earn his weekly residency at Family. Held at the pivotal Motor club tucked away in Hamtramck, this venue played an important role for the scene’s growth and was one of the longest running clubs in Detroit. Jason Kendig and Jeremy Christian were original Family residents. One night at a party in 1998 Plaslaiko found out Christian was leaving his spot and the event’s promoter Adriel Thornton had an opening to fill. Plaslaiko took to the helm and was a regular there for the next four years or so.
It was this residency that convinced Carl Craig to ask him to play the inaugural Detroit Electronic Movement Festival [DEMF], which eventually transitioned to be known today as Movement.
Throughout the years he has found himself playing the annual festival, other parties throughout Memorial Day Weekend and as a resident he can always be found at the otherworldly after-party No Way Back. That is of course with the exception of 2014 when he basically took the year off from DJing altogether with his son’s birth just four months prior. Regardless, experiencing basically every year since the millennium he has seen the festival’s evolution, which is now a pilgrimage for music lovers from around the globe.
“The festival has changed in so many different ways. I mean, the obvious one is that it used to be free. But that was never going to be able to sustain itself. Even still, you can’t beat that first year. The thing about it being free that made it so special was that people from absolutely every walk of life came down to check it out. Every race, every age – you name it and they were down there. But, you start putting a price tag on that, and it’s obviously going to change.”
Prices began increasing, but he says the biggest benefit to Paxahau taking over in 2006 and the higher price tag means a larger scale of production. “Doing something that big down there is a feat unlike any other. I’m super proud of all those guys for doing what they have done with it. And they really do strive to make it better and better every year. I often think they are going to plateau even with the sound systems, but they just keep getting bigger and better … It’s always going to be a super special weekend for me, and I don’t even plan to skip it again unless something major prevents me from going.”
In the summer of 2004 he needed a change of scenery and moved from Detroit to New York City. Eventually he met Bryan Kasenic and went on to become a now 10-year resident of The Bunker parties. During time spent in the city he started producing; his debut output xoxo, NYC was a 12″ released in 2010 through Perc Trax. During that same year, he packed up again to move to Berlin and has since remained. In 2011 he spent a summer residency at Club der Visionaere and frequents the notable and legendary Tresor and Berghain/Panorama Bar among many others in Germany.
Although Berlin remains home he continues to travel extensively playing festivals such as Dimensions in Croatia, Communikey in Boulder, Harvest Festival in Toronto and Decibel in Seattle. He’s shared his music at beloved venues such as Smart Bar, Hot Mass, Good Room for The Bunker, Marble Bar – the list goes on and on.
Still, he maintains his traveling lifestyle as a DJ and balances life at home with his wife Heidi and his son Elliot. Such dedication is no easy feat and I find incredible appreciation for people who are so passionate about their music and are still growing a family. Someone else whom I admire for exactly that is Chicago’s Sam Kern, otherwise known as Sassmouth, who is also good friend of his. I couldn’t help but wonder what sentiments parent DJs must share with one another.
“God, I love Sam Kern. She was actually just in Berlin with Ryan [her husband] and Amelia [her daughter] and we got some great hang time in. I really try my hardest to not let my ‘career’ affect my family life in Berlin. I’ve definitely been more selective of my gigs these days and also very cautious about spending too much time away from home. DJing might be considered a job that I’m doing, but there is no denying that there is quite a bit of fun being had. I tend to feel a bit guilty about it, and feel it’s maybe a bit unfair to Heidi if she’s left to all of the parental duties while I’m out partying in multiple cities for 2-3 weekends in a row. Despite all of that, she is incredibly supportive and is even encouraging me to go out on the road more this next year.”
Elliott will be three in January and since he spends time in daycare and preschool (Kita in Germany) Plaslaiko says things are becoming a bit easier to manage. His wife is able to work consistently at her day job, “so me being gone doesn’t affect her like it would have a year ago,” he says. “Though, I’m sure the early mornings every single day probably wear on her a bit. But, all in all, I’m just trying to weigh everything out so that I’m still doing my part, so to speak. Elliott is at an age where he’s constantly doing new things that are super impressive, so it hurts to be away and missing a lot of these first time moments. I also miss them terribly within two days of being gone. Even writing this, I’ve been gone four full days and it feels like weeks. And I have eight more days to go. So, in short, yeah it’s quite hard to be away from them. Luckily with Skype I can stay a bit connected to them while I’m touring. I have no idea how people would’ve done this 15 years ago!”
For the last stop on his tour he will hit Rochester, NY for the first time at Signal > Noise, which has seen the likes of The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Norm Talley, Mike Servito and more. For a man with more than 20 years of dance floors under his belt he has seen a variety of spaces and crowds. I inquired about his reflections on small city scenes.
“I have never been one to shy away from playing someplace just because it’s scene is ‘small’. In fact, I’m always looking for more cities that fit that description. For years, I have had the approach of hoping to help build something somewhere. It’s important for a scene’s growth to have people come in from outside of the local community and (hopefully) provide a different experience, and possibly inspire those in that community.” – DEREK PLASLAIKO
For almost every DJ that has spoken with Sequencer regarding their insight on intimate crowds and concentrated music scenes the consensus seems to continue. “And smaller scenes usually have some of (like you said) the most passionate crowds. The first two that come to mind are Pittsburgh and Philly! Small scenes for the most part, but I can come in and do seven hours at Hot Mass, or thirteen hours at Inciting HQ and have some of the most engaged dancers I have seen anywhere else in my life! I’ve heard nothing but great things about what has been going on in Rochester, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months now.”
What can we look forward to seeing from Plaslaiko in the future? “I have The Bunker 14 Year Anniversary coming up in January! Definitely looking forward to that. Also, I did a remix for TB Arthur that will be out in late January. I’m also going into the studio with BMG right after I finish this interview, so that’s exciting too!”
Any DJ or avid record collector will agree, it pays to explore the back catalogs of record labels. For me, that’s been the case with classic New York house label Strictly Rhythm. While I’ve always carried a couple choice cuts from the label in my bag, revisiting their output frequently has helped me expand my horizons and pick up records I may have passed on merely six months prior.
Such is the case with a recent score of House of Pain / In The Spirit by Krimp, aka Dana Kelley. Originally from Boston, Mass. Kelley is known for his output of classic deep house and garage tunes, under a number of different aliases, on labels such as Strictly Rhythm, Guidance, and Large. Sadly Kelley passed away in 2013, however, his music lives on in this week’s Wax Runoff.
Opening up the record is the Citrus Mix of “House Of Pain”. A moody late-night jam, this one starts out smooth before layering a number of textures and building tension. While “The Clouds Mix” retains much of the character of the previous mix, the drum beat has a bit more theme to it and the synth has all the hallmarks of a session jam. Crafting a sort of wonky organ style sound, this one has me very excited to play out. On the other side of the record we have two mixes of “In The Spirit”. The first (and my favorite of the release) is the “In The Spirit Mix”. Starting out with a simple, yet effective bassline, the addition of some mellow keys push this into true old school deep house territory. When this one starts lifting off, it feels like the vocal calling out “in the spirit” is the only thing keeping you grounded. Closing out the release is “In the Spirit (The Perk-Us-On Mix)”. Again, the inside track is much dancier with this one having considerably more drive and at times feeling almost like an old techno track. Given the context of the backing track the vocal evokes a completely different feeling.
Being an older Strictly Rhythm release, this is one of those records that you may just get lucky with when digging in a bin somewhere that hasn’t been too picked over. If you’re interested in grabbing your own copy, there’s plenty on Discogs at a reasonable price, but it looks like you’ll have to pay the shipping from Europe.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Colin Boardway, of Chicago, is the label manager for Yoruba Records. He has spent the last 10 years developing his sound by digging deep in the bins wherever records are sold.
Like most New Yorkers, Max McFerren is constantly grinding just trying to survive. A South Carolina native with a background in music education, he moved to NYC in 2008 where he began establishing himself further as a DJ and a producer.
Residents of the city are always finding a place to live within their means as the areas and boroughs evolve in cost of living. McFerren currently lives in Chinatown which he says seems to be more affordable than Bushwick, where he spends a chunk of time at Bossa Nova Civic Club. “NYC is such a hard city to survive in. I think you can get addicted to the constant hustle. Being around other DJs/producers who are also making it is super motivating and maybe also a bit enabling,” he says. “I spent most of this past year hiding out, but there is such a strong community here, and I think it’s all centered around a positive ‘fuck it all’ attitude rather than any single ‘sound.’ I think we all just get so wrapped up in surviving and it becomes a part of our identity.”
Starting at a young age he began producing in high school and delved deeper into house, techno and the club scene a bit later on. His early days exploring creativity were spent just recording things onto a computer and playing with sound. The concept of freedom while producing became a driving force. He says, “When me and my buddies would listen to someone like Aphex Twin I think we would give it the same attention as any other recording artist. It was like, ‘you get 78 minutes on the CD to do whatever you want, what are you gonna do?'” The 1992 release Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by the aforementioned and Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation are two very influential albums for McFerren.
After high school he decided to follow the path to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Higher education in music is a privilege that many do not have access to, especially within the electronic scene. A world frequented with self-taught artists and many who learn to mix or produce by engaging in the creative cloud.
“I think it’s really important to try and give back somehow and engage people who don’t have the resources available. Obviously big institutions don’t exist without funding, but there are other ways. Start small and engage people who want to know things that you know. Share your life with them. Show them possibilities. At the same time I love to talk about music, but I hate the idea of forcing people to do everything my way. It’s so important to understand the idea of process and figure things out yourself. Ask your own questions and take constructive feedback. All of this is hard and I suck at it but it’s true. Be yourself.” – MAX MCFERREN
He began DJing around 2008 when he moved to the city. His friends ran a basement loft in Brooklyn called The Cave and he also played a monthly at Tandem Bar. But he soon established a residency at Bossa Nova Civic Club after his friend Erika Ceruzzi asked him to DJ a party called Worldwave. He says the party was “pretty mixed up sound wise, but that was cool for me because I wasn’t a part of L.I.E.S. or any other established techno thing. Also involved in that party is a dude named Julian Duron, who is a creative consultant for Bossa under his now defunct company Sisterjam (look out for his Creative Support Group coming soon) and now also releases music as Earth Boys with Michael Sherburn.” McFerren began connecting with the club’s regulars and became close friends with Duron, Bossa’s owner John Barclay and the staff. Becoming more involved with booking in 2014 he finds himself closing out the night. “Closing Bossa is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. It has definitely shaped who I am as a DJ today. I hope I can continue to grow with them,” he says.
Whether performing or producing the NYC artist finds himself inspired by dancing, DJing, the city, friends and lovers, “and more recently just trying to heal” – something we can all relate to. His sound is risky and very human. His edge he says “has always been experimental music mixed 75 percent well.” Currently he has three full-length tapes and one 12″ on Vancouver label 1080p as well as a 12″ and a few other compilations on Allergy Season. Additionally, South London Ordnance caught wind of McFerren’s record Shoot the Lobster and recruited him to his newest label, Aery Metals. Now at a musical crossroads McFerren says he will be focusing on his newest alias Complete Walkthru. “There will be some cool 12″s coming out next year and I’ll probably start working on an emotional full length soon,” he says.
What can you expect from a Max McFerren set? “Context is everything,” he says. “I always try to imagine where I’m playing and who will be there, and how long, and why, and just – everything. I hardly ever play by the numbers which is why it’s usually a varied mood.” Catch him tonight Oct. 15 in Buffalo, NY for the next installation of Strange Allure along with Discwoman’s Umfang. “[We] were discussing going all in with techno and experimental electronic music, so it will probably be very confrontational. But we are multi-dimensional people so who knows!”
Emma Burgess-Olson moved to Kansas by way of the Bronx when she was six years old. During her time at college she discovered techno. Now back in New York City living and working in Brooklyn she can be found under the pseudonym Umfang. As co-founder of Discwoman she has been producing music, mixing records, and continuing the dialogue about feminism.
Her first true techno experience took place at a warehouse in Kansas City. It was in this moment that she became enamored with the genre and was swooned by the sound system. She says, “I remember it being really exciting, being in these old factory buildings with surprisingly beautiful bathrooms and wood floors and meeting all of these new freaky people. The defining moment was really entering the space and feeling a big sound system for the first time and experiencing the physical affect where I just needed to be immediately dancing.”
New York City’s enticing energy and pace keeps her zoned in. “I feel motivated and stimulated here and I get things done. People here inspire me so much,” Olson says. Along with Frankie Hutchinson and Christine Tran, the three work collectively as Discwoman – a platform and booking agent that promotes female, female-identified, and non-binary artists in the electronic scene. Through their events the collective strives to support and provide a place of safety for people of all races, gender and sexual identity. Bringing “discourse to the dance floor” they take a relaxed feminist approach by using Discwoman as a vessel for change in a subtle but effective way.
“We want to keep changing and adjusting as culture moves around us. We’ve never gone into it with a firm plan, we’ve just acted on what inspires us or what bothers us and tried to activate change in a way that can funnel resources toward people that we feel need more exposure and access. It is case by case who we work with and we want to stay open to not making any rules. The definition of woman has changed for all of us in the last two years.” -UMFANG
Since the first Discwoman party held in Bushwick at the Bossa Nova Civic Club, the platform started another New York-based party called Technofeminism, found at festivals like Sustain-Release and Movement in Detroit, as well as presenting artists at international events. The site’s roster identifies five artists but the group brings attention to flourishing DJs beyond NYC. Olson has helped lead a DJ workshop for women alongside Berlin’s Creamcake in the hopes of providing a place where women can feel comfortable learning the art of DJing.
According to Olson, this secluded setting for women is “not a necessity but I think it is more comfortable when people learn in an educational setting – it’s not as high pressure as a club night. Learning from a woman or non-binary person can be more welcoming since it is already intimidating to learn a technical skill. The less things making you uncomfortable the more you will be able to focus and ask questions. Not everyone is confident and that needs to be OK.”
Her creativity and determination has pushed her along and she has found herself not only contributing heavily to NYC’s scene but has performed at Berghain, played a 7-hour set at Pittsburgh’s Hot Mass, and a few Eastern European countries. In addition to all that NYC inspires, she finds creative sources in patterns, sound, people, textiles, synthesis, and constant change. The sound she puts out is tough, leaning more on the harder side of techno and she has a mission to evoke something inside of you.
“This is just who I am. I don’t think of it as a choice to play hard music. I relate to those sounds and I am lucky enough to have been supported in that. Now I can encourage others to release to these sounds and accept that they might identify with some evil and/or alien noises too. I think it’s really positive and healthy to release feeling and emotion with sound. I like to use different rhythm patterns to refocus the dance floor and sometimes utilize pauses or ambient breaks to stay engaged with the present moment. I really try to present what hits me emotionally or physically and hope it can do the same to captivate others.”
Catch Umfang at the next installation of Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY on Saturday, Oct. 15.
Eric Cloutier fell in love with techno at an early age and over the past 20 years has developed into an esteemed selector and curator. Born in Birmingham, Mich. he was first exposed to the culture of the scene while flipping channels and stumbling upon “The New Dance Show,” a low-budget Detroit version of “Soul Train.” As Cloutier grew older he became increasingly more drawn to the techno sound and scene in the city of Detroit.
Moved and moulded by Richie Hawtin’s moniker Plastikman, the 1994 album Musik was “damn near flawless” for Cloutier. In the beginning he moved to Detroit and started working at Oslo on Woodward Avenue, now known as the Whiskey Disco, for resident parties by way of Hawtin and Stacey Pullen. But Cloutier could be found playing or just spending his spare time in the dark backroom pit of The Works.
“Just growing up in Detroit was enough of a pedigree. You’re constantly immersed in exceptionally good and – at that time – groundbreaking music, so it’s near impossible to not have some level of inspiration come at you from all angles,” he says. “Going to raves and such in the late ’90s was a proper blessing. And just on those nights out alone, I think I learned more than I have in the last few years.”
By 2009 he became an official resident of The Bunker, a New York City-based party who have hosted an innumerable amount of incredible DJs. Cloutier first played in 2006 and just a month or so after made the move to the city. He reunited with Mike Servito and Derek Plaslaiko, formerly of Detroit who became Bunker residents as well. The liveliness of New York and the output of music there was an inspirational pool for Cloutier. There was something unique – it was ever-changing.
“Music is my life. It honestly gives me energy in the day, helps me through bad times, pushes me when I’m uninspired, and keeps me calm when I’m on travels, amongst other things. I honestly don’t know what I’d do besides working in music – it’s just what speaks to me the most,” he says. As his career grew Cloutier began landing gigs and exploring the European scene. He picked up his things once again and for the past three years he has been living in Berlin, another city rich in history during the birth of techno. Although he can be found playing clubs throughout Europe, Labyrinth in Japan and performing for thousands at festivals in places like the Netherlands, Barcelona, Russia, Montreal and more, Cloutier still understands the significance of his roots. Born into the concentrated dancefloors of Detroit, he nods to the importance of parties in small cities, and the role they play in the grander scene.
“If it weren’t for the smaller cities none of this would have really pushed boundaries. It’s so easy to rest on your laurels when you’re in a larger city, but when you’re the runt of the pack in a tiny corner of the Earth, you really have to do something profound to be heard and I think it’s exceptionally important for the little scenes to find their voice amongst the masses. All the most interesting stuff comes from the strangest places.”
The most unsuspecting cities, particularly in the Northeast, are establishing strong communities for house and techno. Cloutier says, “Without a doubt the tiny cites go off harder than the big ones, simply because it’s a luxury for an outside guest to come through and they make the most of it. You can tell people schedule their nights out around those once-in-a-while events, and it’s super important to them to get it while they can before it’s gone again.”
During his sets Cloutier demonstrates expert track selection and navigates the crowd, leaving them lost in time and space. His dedication to the music, whether as an opening DJ or headlining, has provided him a platform and a background for growth. For years Cloutier has explored the art and technical skill of DJing and it wasn’t until the last few years in his long career that he became more involved in producing. Although Cloutier releases will be relatively limited as he focuses on quality over quantity.
What’s next for the intrepid traveler? “Not totally sure where life will take me in the next few years. While the missus and I do enjoy Berlin, I can’t see it being the end point for my life travels…but who knows! As far as where to next, I’m always down to move to Amsterdam or the south of France, but…we’ll see!”
He kickstarted the techno scene for the debut Signal > Noise event in Rochester, N.Y. and now Cloutier returns to Western New York tonight for the next installation of Strange Allure in Buffalo, N.Y.
New York’s cult daytime party All Day I Dream finally arrives in Toronto on July 17. Patiently spreading musical love and their love of music, Lee Burridge and Matthew Dekay are joined by ADID family member, YokoO, for a day of music.
Each a lover and master of emotive, beautiful house and techno, ADID’s musical meditation takes you away into the blissful blue yonder.
Read this previous Sequencer Spotlight with dreamer Oona Dahl.
Tickets can be purchased on Resident Advisor.
Presented in coordination with: Coda, Embrace, Platform, Way of Acting, Summerdaze, Project O, Provoke & Floh