The Juan MacLean's new self-titled mix CD, an installment in !K7 Records' venerable DJ-Kicks series, is like listening to this dessert. It is an undeniably uplifting, indulgent monologue on soulful deep house, a selection of songs partially intended to counter the indie/hipster world's aversion to pure house pleasures. But it also comes dusted with a tinge of melancholy that adds depth.
The mix is a collection of 18 soulful tracks -- almost all relatively
new, yet with a timeless air -- assembled with turntables and analog tape
loops in a live take and informed by a producer's ear for classically
minded EQ. MacLean used vintage channel strips to carve out frequency
clashes as well as a tube compressor to apply an eras-blurring,
take-them-to-church gel. ("It made the mix very 'thick' and 'chunky,'"
he comments.) The final touch is an appreciation of dance music song
structure -- not just a deconstructed series of utilitarian DJ tools --
previously hinted at on his 2008 13-minute Chicago club throwback "Happy
House," which is almost a Frankie Knuckles homage.
Ahead of his Saturday DJ set at Delux in Delray Beach, read a Q&A with the Juan MacLean below.
With a mix, do you think more about what people will feel songs say or what people will feel songs say about you?
That's an interesting question, and one that DJ's are not asking themselves anymore, unfortunately. For me, the role of the DJ is to create an atmosphere, to be responsible for the sonic environment that a listener is in at that moment, whether it's at home listening to a mix cd or in the club. So I think the most important thing is what the songs say, and I should sort of take a backseat. That said, the personality of the DJ certainly comes through in the mix, or at least it should.
How are The Juan MacLean as a recording artist and as a DJ different?
They are interwoven in many ways. As a producer, I make 12"'s, like "Happy House," that are specifically designed for the dance floor, and even created to accomodate my own mixing style. And when making 12"'s, I definitely take cues from my experience as a DJ, what works and what doesn't, what seems to be happening in clubs that people are excited about, etc. However, for an album I focus on shorter, more song-oriented tracks.
Is DJing a dialog or a monologue?
Obviously a mix cd can only be a monologue because it is being experienced in private, mainly. But DJ'ing in a club should be a dialog, the DJ should be reading cues from the audience, like what is working and not working. It's funny, with the advent of laptop DJ'ing, you would think that DJ"s had moved into a realm of really fine tuning this, as they can carry literally 1,000's of tracks around, as opposed to the 75 records I can fit in my record bag. BUt it seems like the opposite is true, that more and more people are simply playing what everyone else is playing or just ignoring the audience entirely.
What is "your house"? This isn't just Chicago, it's not just Detroit, it's more than Berlin, it's a little bit of ... and is the house still happy?
I'm having the best time of my life as a Dj at the moment, and it really is because of the return of a sound that has always been my favorite in dance music. Even Berlin has gotten in on the act. For years, you could not play a record in Berlin that had any element of the human voice. They hated anything remotely 'human.' Now you have these guys like Florien Meindl and Alex Niggeman making deep, techy, House tracks with lots of vocal bits.
Do you feel even before a show that a set has to adapt to a scene like clubs in Southern Florida versus a more purely urban environment like New York?
For sure, to a certain extent, although there is only so much I can do because I carry around records. To a certain extent I feel like I can get away with a bit more if people know who I am, they might be more inclined to give me a bit more leeway. But there are definitely times I show up in places and I throw on a record that is an obvious 'hit' of the clubs in big cities, and there is simply no recognition. On the other hand, those sorts of audiences can be really enthusiastic because they are not hearing this stuff all the time.
Whose record collection would you love to pilfer from, historical and/or contemporary, and why?
Honestly, my good friends Tim Sweeney. He has the biggest record collection of anyone I know, and he somehow gets stuff before anyone else, I don't know how he does it.
Is there any punk left in "dance-punk"? When did it stop being a challenge to get the audience's arms uncrossed, or is there still a lil bit of convincing that has to go into the indie scene?
No, there is no punk left in it, everyone is not only used to these sounds but they crossed over into the mainstream a long time ago. I think indie audiences still resist proper dance music. This was a legitimate thing in the late 90's, when dance music was really awful in general, but now there is so much amazing stuff out there that has a real 'human' feel to it, there is really no excuse any more.
If you were booked to play a dive bar in Blade Runner, what would you play?
I would play "No UFOs" by Juan Atkins.
What's next for our favorite replicant sympathizer disco man-machine?
Tons of touring, a new 12" on the way, and beginning to make a new album at the end of the year. If I'm still alive after all this touring.
-- Tony Ware
The Juan MacLean DJ Set, with Cassi. 9 p.m. Saturday, June 26 at Delux,
16 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Tickets cost $5. Call 561-279-4792,
or click here.