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A Sit Down With DJ Max Graham

08:09 Mar/05/2018

Max Graham has always forged a path of his own, over the course of his career he’s drawn from multiple influences to create a sound that is a unique combination of Techno, Progressive and Trance. From his signature emotive releases to his famed story telling dj sets he flawlessly fuses genres everywhere from globally renowned festivals like Tomorrowland to his trademark ‘Open to Close’ sets in the best clubs in the world.


"I don’t think I have a role, I just do my own thing."


How did you get into DJing?

Originally, I started for only a year in 1985 as a "turntablist." I loved the whole scratching thing. I quit, then didn't get back into it until 1992. When looking for a job as a bartender I literally filled in for a no-show DJ, my mixing was horrendous but I could scratch, so I got the job. Originally, Jam Master J and other hip-hop guys influenced me. Second time around were locals like Trevor Walker, who really woke me up to mixing skills.

What would you attribute as your biggest influences in the evolution of your sound and you move more towards ‘progressive techno?’

I think it’s two fold. I’ve always liked chunky bass and sexy grooves and as the style of Trance I play (128-130 clubby stuff) moved more towards electro as their influence, it’s become less appealing to me. I love melody, strings, pads and chord samples but I don’t relate to the dry electro basslines and progressive mainstage influence in a lot of the Trance I hear now. I’ve always mixed Techno into the Trance I play (producers like Alex Di Stefano). It just became a bigger part of my sets as I found less and less Trance that suited me. Also, I’ve been finding more producers that are mixing the two like Richard Santana and Thomas Vink. Both making Techno grooves but not afraid to add some melody into it.

Could you tell us about your music production process? Also your equipment and the setup you use in your live shows.

For live shows, it’s a standard Pioneer Pro DJ mixer and CDJs. In the studio, I use Ableton on a Mac and I’m completely inside the box (no outboard gear), which allows me to work while being mobile.

Describe to us your sound.

It's a combination of energy and emotion; it's gotta have some soul whether it's techno, trance, progressive or deeper stuff. I'm too diverse for my own good, which is another reason I really enjoy long sets as I try to weave between different styles. I feel like a trance breakdown after five chuggy techno tracks has ten times the impact of 8 trance breakdown tracks in a row. I definitely try to tell a story by combining different influences of music. Shopping for music takes me five times longer than some DJs because I go through every different style. Even though my manager might say, "stick to one marketable style," the artist in me won't allow it. I think though lately people are really opening up to so many different sounds and it's making it easier for me to branch out at a gig rather than keep it just trancey.

Do you have a favorite track? If so why?

Art of Noise – Moments in Love. Hard to say why, I just really connect with it.

In your sets, how much of your own productions do you think that you play?

Probably about 10-15%. There are classics that I always play like “Sun In The Winter,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “FYC,” “So Caught Up,” and the new one with Jeza and a couple others. There are some sets where I might only play 2, it really depends on the mood that I am in that night. I don’t have a preset list, but nowadays I almost have to throw in some of the classics because that is what people want to hear.

What is the most challenging part of the production process of your new compilation?

Tracking down the music, the actual mixing and programming (choosing what goes where) is quite natural to me after 15 years but finding those tracks in the first place is definitely the hard part.

If you weren't an artist what would you be?

I would love to own and run a hotel. After all the years of staying in them and seeing it done right and wrong I’d love to open and run a small boutique hotel in some beautiful part of the world like Bali.

What is the greatest compliment you have ever received from a fan?

Oh wow, that’s a tough one! People that have flown and driven long distances to a show always blow me away. There’s some real effort and love behind a 6 hour drive or a day of travel to come and catch a show somewhere. I’ve had people make me Kandi and even a couple draw some cool art too. There’s also the messages you get that your song or a set has helped someone through a tough time in their lives, that’s always pretty moving.

Have you ever thought about doing a project like that as more of a joke or a pseudonym?

I did, but that really isn’t where my heart is and I always want to do what is comfortable. From a marketing and a business standpoint, I haven’t decided where I want to go, which is one of the reasons why I have had such a strange, topsy-turvy career. I have been going with whatever turns me on, whether it was techno in 2004, electro in 2005, the more techy stuff in ‘06 and ’07, or rediscovering trance and progressive in 2010. I have been all over the place with that.

What’s coming next for you?

I’m going out to Asia, working on more production. I want to try to have a new album done by the end of the year. I pretty much say that every year, but it never happens, ha. As soon as I make a track, I want to put it out. I don’t want to wait for ten or twelve of them. Building the radio show, the Cycles brand. Doing more Cycles events. Honestly, just more of the same.


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