Max Graham returns next month with his first mix CD in six years. And given the Canadian spinner’s ever-changing sound, who knows what to expect from Cycles?
Prog house never died, it just changed its name. At least that’s what Max Graham seems to think. When he burst onto the scene in the late 90s, he was firmly pigeonholed in the prog box. It was easy to see why – his sets and tracks had all the prog hallmarks, the big melodic builds and brooding house sounds. So when prog died a death, Max could easily have vanished for good. And if you haven’t been paying attention to his career, you might think he had.
But now, after six years without a full UK release, he’s back with the two-disc mix Cycles. And already the genre-crazed listeners out there will be puzzling over this one before they even get a listen to it. Why? Because it’s coming out on trancehead Armin Van Buuren’s label Armada. So has Max gone trance? Has Armin gone prog? Time to track down Mr Graham to find out…
Tell us a bit about the new mix?
I love it! It’s a classic progression of mine – my mixes always starts more techy and tease for a while, then give the full-on main-room vibe on the second disc. I wanted to make a mix that’s a true representation of how I DJ – my sets are always a minimum of three hours, and four or five hours is perfect for me. So two discs gives me a chance to capture people’s attention and lead them somewhere they might not have expected to go, rather than just banging out hits for 90 minutes. And I actually prefer to make mix CDs based on tracks I play rather than trying to find super-upfront stuff I haven’t even tested on the dancefloor yet, so my sets contain everything you hear on this CD.
Is there any studio trickery involved this CD or was it a traditional ‘decks and mixer’ affair?
I used Abelton – it allows you to combine loops from different parts of different songs, keeping the energy up throughout. At some points there are four things going, but unlike my DJ sets, I kept away from the filters and EQs to leave the music as natural as possible, but still giving it an edge.
This is your first compilation in a long time – why the break?
Well I’ve done a few comps – two Canadian ones, and the Mixmag Live one – but yes, this is my first double in almost six years. My problem has always been that I’m too diverse, too proggy to fit in with the house comps, too housey to fit into the trance comps. That’s why Armada has been so good – they let me do my thing my way musically.
Your music coming out on Armin Van Buuren’s label doesn’t seem like an obvious choice. How did this come about?
Well Armin and the Armada crew have always been big fans of my productions, especially the more melodic side of things, with tracks like I Know You’re Gone and Does She Know Yet. So it actually seemed like a natural move for me to be in a family environment that helped inspire me. Without a doubt I’m more on the progressive end of the Armada spectrum, as they can get pretty trancey, but good music is good music and melody is something you find across the board with their family of labels.
Do you feel the mix CD still has a place in the modern market with all the free mixes and tracks available on the internet?
I think they are making a resurgence. As much as I love the digital iTunes age, I think people really miss holding something in their hands. I signed a copy of Transport – from 2001 – last night that someone brought to a gig and I thought to myself: “How would I sign something that was digital only?” There’s no substitute for the physical presence of liner notes and CD cases with pictures and text you can attach to.
You’ve been known as a genre-hoping DJ over the years. How would you describe your style these days?
Still a big old mess. I love music and so many different styles turn me on. It’s been written that you can leave the room for 20 minutes when I’m DJing and come back to a completely different sound. I love to ride through tech house, techno, progressive and even hints of trance – but all my stuff has a common theme. Long-time friends and fans send me music and always say: “This is SO Max,” so I guess there is a cohesion somewhere in there.
Do you think progressive house is due for a comeback?
I think the melody has never died. Who knows what the press wants to call it, but there are lots of new producers coming up with that melodic but not trancey sound.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
I’ve basically not stopped touring since 2000. I love DJing and it gives me that buzz that nothing else can. So I’ll be touring the ass off this mix, then I’ve got my artist album to work on, another double CD in the spring… and maybe some sleep…
Cycles is out on Armada in August. Visit www.myspace.com/djmaxgraham