Detroit native Mike Servito needed a clear slate when he decided to move to New York City. Inspired at an early age he would tune into The Wizard, Jeff Mills’ nomenclature while on air for Detroit’s WJLB. Servito debuted in 1995 and continued to build his repertoire throughout the years, establishing a reputation that incites early feelings of house and techno roots.
Starting with the Poorboy parties, he then became an originator of Detroit’s decade-spanning party Dorkwave. Branching off with DJNathan Rapport they developed SASS, a popular monthly queer party. Servito has blown minds playing the beloved No Way Back parties, hosted by Interdimensional Transmissions, during Movement (Detroit Electronic Music Festival). Resident Advisor named his 2014 set as mix of the year and the publication commented, “His headsy but party-rocking selections are ceaselessly flawless, his quick and cut-happy mixing style is a riot, but perhaps the real winning ingredient is the pacing and programming.” Additionally, he holds residency under record label Ghostly’s UNTITLED and is represented by Beyond Booking in North America and Odd Fantastic in Europe.
His residency with The Bunker is what really got the gears in motion, although he says “I spent the first year in New York detached and quickly becoming disillusioned by the vanity of the city. I think when you leave a city for another, it seems like a fresh start but it was isolating and depressing.” Luckily, the spark reignited in 2012 when Bryan Kasenic asked him to become an official resident of The Bunker, a party based in Brooklyn, NYC.
Servito says, “That was the affirmation. I was having a good run with Movement in Detroit doing No Way Back and a few Bunker events prior to my residency. I was playing really solid sets and then it escalated to this point of wanting to play more and more. Bryan asking me to become a resident reignited the spark. It came out of left field honestly and I am so glad it happened. It’s pushed me and driven me to become a better, more focused DJ.”
“I feel super lucky to have come into my own over the past few years. I would’ve never foreseen this outcome, getting gigs and traveling as much as I am right now. I know I’m in a really good place with my Bunker family: Bryan, Seze, Derek, Eric, and all our extended family,” he continued. “It’s really important to make those connections as friends and as colleagues. There is a mutual respect. I want to do my best for The Bunker and I know they want me to succeed.”
Inspiration derives from so many places for an artist and Servito constantly nods at his fellow influences like Mike Huckaby, Derrick Carter, Derek Plaslaiko, Richie Hawtin, Derrick May, and Theo Parrish to name a few. However, inspiration may be found beyond the realm of the art form we work in, often reflecting something significant. Servito has been finding meaning through dreams and similar to his classic way of performing, he gains creativity through looking back on what was to create something new.
“I’ve been having dreams about my youth a lot lately. Sometimes lucid, sometimes not. I don’t know what that means but, I guess I am inspired by my youth currently. But not in a retro sort of way. I really enjoyed my freedom as a kid, exploring and learning about new music and art and discovering things in a way that we don’t necessarily do present day,” he says. “I find inspiration in my dreams, reading about art I enjoy, watching old film clips and videos, old fashion-related things. I find inspiration in the past a lot. I love a good reference point.”
The artist’s vinyl collection is heavy weight, and with such an extensive library he maintains flow with track selections to feed an ultimately seamless set.
When it comes to selection Servito doesn’t think of classic versus modern productions. “I think about how this track fits with this track. How this hi-hat sounds over this bassline. It’s really interesting to be playing music from 1988 with music from 2015. It’s about connecting the dots, but, it’s also about blurring the lines too. I have a thing for cohesiveness. I think the newer generation throws that out the window completely and that’s fine. But, I need to stay locked into my groove. I don’t want to jump from 125 BPM to 140. That’s just not my style.”
Servito chooses his tracks based on feeling. “I know it when I hear it. There is an excitement that occurs when I hear a bassline or a drum kick or a really good sample. I am just well aware of what kinds of sounds I like. It’s basically whatever moves me and what I want to dance to. Those are the biggest factors. Would I personally wanna dance to this track? Is this going to make me lose it?! Those are the prerequisites to enter my bag.”
With a steady uptake of records he says “it’s important to keep things changing. I have my staples, the ones that I play a lot. It just depends. I’m always putting things in and out of rotation. I try to buy new records at least once a week. I have a problem. It’s a big vice for me.” Swinging between house and techno he curates a set and pulls records appropriate for all aspects of the party.
“I think that’s important. Making sure you are pulling the right music. You don’t want to be playing deep house records if you’re opening for Silent Servant, or you don’t want to play too aggressive when you are opening for Kerri Chandler. You have to be aware.”
During a set there is so much stimulation: the lights, the crowd, each person reacting to the music on their own, yet the whole space is simultaneously emitting a general feeling. The Sequencer asked Servito about his headspace during a set. Does it become lifted into a meditative state, or perhaps to maintain such fluidity of motion does he require meticulous and mechanical focus?
“I like this question. There’s definitely a lot going on. There are so many elements all at once. I’ve always been a person who is easily distracted. I think being focused and being insanely meticulous leads to a meditative state when I am playing. There’s definitely a zone state that is acquired while I play and it needs to happen. I’m at my best uninterrupted,” he says.
An uninterrupted state is not a constant for a performing DJ. Continuing on, he discussed this as a major issue of depiction that is very prevalent for performers in the scene.
“I am not a hype man. I’m a DJ. I think people have to realize that there is some technique and effort to what we are doing. I think that it’s undervalued. You would never interrupt someone playing the piano or the drums to tell him those notes sound nice while they are playing. It’s the same idea. I wonder when people will take that into consideration. It is tremendous work to create this experience and environment. I find it funny that people always want to talk to me while I am mixing. I seriously don’t get it. I’m sure people think I am a bit of a diva, but I am a perfectionist. I want things to go well 110% full on. That requires all my attention to the work. It’s always about the details.” – MIKE SERVITO
For an international DJ, parties from New York City to Berlin more or less have an established crowd. Although with the heart of the same animal, those major scenes beat differently than those tucked away in smaller cities. Yet these lesser populated places are receiving rave reviews from high-caliber artists. Norm Talley, Sassmouth, Black Madonna and Shawn Rudiman have all played Signal > Noise parties in Rochester, N.Y. and speak well of it. What is it about these places that evokes such excitement?
From Servito’s perspective he says, “I think an environment in which it is more intimate is preferred. You are more likely to have everyone’s undivided attention. You know everyone is there for you. The allure is quality programming and a quality crowd. When it’s intimate, you know everyone is there for the same exact reason. There is just a greater, direct connection with artist and audience. You lose some of that when you are playing these 4-5 thousand [or more] capacity events. Everyone needs an escape so it’s really important that more cities — such as Rochester — do these kinds of events with extended sets. You get the full experience. Not just a sample.”
The spotlighted artist will be making his way to Rochester for the next Signal > Noise installation, to be held on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 45 Euclid in Rochester, N.Y. His message for all those making their way to the ROC: “GONNA MAKE YOU JACK. ;)”
Find more information on the Facebook event page.