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Interview with Michal Menert

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To most people’s surprise, you had A.C. Lao on drums playing beside you tonight. How did that come about?

Recently I’ve been able to play shows where there is enough money for two plane tickets instead of one (laughs). And honestly, I like how he plays, he doesn’t just do breakbeats over the music, he adds fills and creates the dynamic that I like. We worked it out where he’ll start on the ride cymbals, and open up the production and dope that out more in a sense. I can’t bring my synth set up out with me yet, so dynamically and energy wise, the drummer brings what I like. And A.C. is a friend I have had for a long time, we’ve played together a lot. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of playing with Colby Buckler, Adam Deitch, and some others and they are all great drummers but truthfully, A.C. and I link in a way that compares with no one else.

You also have a new stage production you will be debuting this Summer correct?

Yeah, I’m going to bring it to the Midwest in September, after festival season ends. I’m going to start my tour with it in late August and it will be a six-week tour nationwide. I can’t do it right now because it’s not cost-efficient and because a lot of the shows I’m doing are booked one month in advance.

Your album came out earlier this week, how do you feel about the reaction you are getting from people? 

It has been almost nothing but good responses. And I was open to some people telling me they didn’t like it, everyone has their own opinions. It’s weird, I feel like about 1/3 of the people at shows have downloaded it already and the other 2/3 have heard my other stuff or are going because it’s a Pretty Lights Music show, you know? It’s one of those things where I feel like during festival season I will get a bigger response from the album. Even with myself, there are albums that I will really be anticipating but then I still end up sleeping on them right when they first come out.

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What are your thoughts on playing Movement Electronic Music Festival this year? Will you approach it differently than other festivals you will be performing at this summer?

I’m probably going to do as much of the electronic side of my productions as possible, and focus on dance, not to say that I make dance music though. I’m going to be conscious of the fact that it won’t be kids that want the psychedelic hip hop beats, they’re going to want more than that. Last year I saw Little Dragon, Paper Diamond, Flying Lotus play, there was a good mix of music on their “indie” stage.  was there as well…it was more than just drum and bass, techno, and house.

They have one of the most unique lineups in the US year in and year out, there will be a lot of stuff you won’t see  anywhere else…

Besides the variety in their programming, I really like it because it is in the center of the city, so if you have a hotel, you can go to your hotel and chill instead of going to your campsite and still hearing those womping noises. And the price breaks down to about $30 a day, you can’t beat that! For a struggling city like Detroit that has such a pivotal electronic scene, this festival is very important. Movement seems like they can pay the artists what they deserve, give back to the people and the city, and still make a little bit of money in the  process. Their  lineup is huge, they have techno artists that sell out all over Europe and do huge stadium tours.

Who are you most excited to see at Movement?

Public Enemy is at the top of my list. I’m also excited to see some of the techno…the locals and some highlighted artists I was reading into that I feel like I want to be exposed to. I went last year and played an after-party at the Magic Stick on the last day. I had never been to Movement before, it was my first “festival season,” and I feel like I didn’t really get to experience it to the fullest. That won’t be happening again this time around.

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What is a show that you have seen where you found that moment of pure bliss, and were just completely blown away as a spectator?

CocoRosie. The creative force behind the group is these two sisters who grew up separated from each other, they have a crazy back story; one is a classically trained opera songer and the other is a street artist that is part of the “freak folk” movement. They started working together eventually and doing lo-fi recordings. I saw them in Poland, in the courtyard at an old castle at like dusk. There was a grand piano on stage, a harp, a tiny synth, a bass amp, and a table full of all these kids toys. They had no drums so I thought it was going to be a mellow show. Then they brought out a French beatboxer called Tez that absolutely crushed it! He reminded me of Rahzel (formerly of The Roots) but with more of a techno tip, if that makes any sense. Then the rest of the group came out and played some really cinematic-sounding stuff, it was very moving music. Another show like that was Sigur Rós, they blew me away the first time I saw them. I was stone sober for these shows by the way and was moved to tears at both of them. It wasn’t about escapism, it was about the crowd sharing in the moment.

What about a show like that for yourself? What’s your favorite to this point?

About one month ago when I debuted the new stage at Cervantes, it was really crazy because I remember the first time Derek (Vincent Smith) dropped “Starfall” before my first album even came out, and I would open for him, we would both play the same track. The contrast in the crowd’s reaction from when I played it and when he played it with his stage backing him, it was ridiculous. I’ve toured around the last few years just using house lights and putting all the work into my music, but at Cervantes I saw the difference between people getting into it, and people going absolutely crazy. Visual accompaniment is so important nowadays.

One of the things we keep saying about you and writing about you is that we feel that you are what’s right with EDM right now.

I appreciate that, thank you…

So from your point of view, what’s wrong with EDM?

I’ll answer this truthfully but I want to preface it with the fact that I’m not hating on anything because EDM…it’s just like how I was with hip hop growing up. I loved underground hip hop and hated the mainstream because it represented all this commercialized bullshit. Then at the same time I’d see underground groups and their beats sounded like shit because they weren’t mastered right, or they were all over the place, or they just weren’t professional, so that kind of ruined that for me as well. I was really into Atmosphere and Sage Francis coming up.

Then I got into the engineering aspect of production working in the studio part-time with Derek (Vincent Smith). We were recording an album at the time and all of a sudden the engineer just bounced on us and we owed the owner like $5,000 in back rent for the studio time. So the owner told us, “I don’t really know how to run this equipment that well, how about we call it even, you guys finish your album here, and then you become my engineers?” Derek and I were ecstatic, we didn’t owe any money and we got a job on top of it! During that time, while we were developing the sound that eventually became both of our musical visions, I became more fond of mainstream hip hop like Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West, and stuff like that. Sorry to rant but I will bridge it back.

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So I found myself drawn to mainstream hip hop because they had a vision in mind, they found a way to achieve it, and the beats actually sounded good through speakers. So all this stuff I was a purist against, I found myself accepting because I had respect for the effort it took to make that shit as good as it was. It’s the same for electronic music because I can easily hate on dubstep, and a lot of what I say gets misinterpreted as though I don’t have a fondness for what’s going on out there. Even if I don’t listen to it, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect it. I still appreciate the way that music helps basslines and song structures evolve. I hate on a lot of what’s going on because it creates a lot of residual garbage, there are so many copycats out there trying to emulate Skrillex, for example. Love him or hate him, he is kind of pioneering music right now. And there are kids out there downloading his massive presets instead of doing what I love doing with music. Things like figuring out what went into the sound, and what went into the synth design. Realizing what happens when you put a square wave two octaves down, and a triangle wave offset a little bit at three octaves down, then putting an LFO (low-frequency oscillation) with a ten millisecond attack on it just to see what happens. Learning the science of sound design has helped me to understand the music I grew up loving, helped me grow as a musician, and it seems like kids don’t really care about that these days. Keeping your ear to the ground, the whole aspect of digging, and digging into the music and appreciating it, that’s gone now because it’s more about the party.

Even when I was going to raves in the late 90’s you would still pick up albums from the artists before you even went and you would dissect them. Now it seems like people are at shows because they just want to get fucked up and have a good time. So what I think is wrong with EDM is that has became about supply and demand. More and more kids view it as their escape; they get a $50 ticket to show, $50 worth of drugs, split a hotel room with their friends, it doesn’t matter who’s playing– it’s going to be a party. I think a lot of artists see that and they notice what works and what doesn’t during their set. So a lot of people view those moments as opportunities, and I’m not saying it’s wrong, but for me, that has taken it to the edge it’s at. If you are catering to what’s going to work for the environment, your stuff becomes atmosphere, your music becomes an environmental sound, it becomes almost like an art piece installation to the electronic scene. Artists, albums, things I listened to before I ever went to a show helped me gain an appreciation of the music before I was exposed to the performance aspect or the commercial side of it. It was about someone that created this being in the same room, and I was listening to it and I loved it, and it helped me deal with adolescence and puberty. And I hate that its kind of become a sort of escapist ritual for so many people, that is what I think has become the downfall of it. It’s just like anything else you know? If science caters to profit, we’re never going to discover a cure for cancer. If technology caters to big-screen TV’s, we’re never going to find efficient fuel sources. Things will never change in that sense.

You’ve mentioned that you don’t really sample contemporary artists, where do you find all the samples that encompass your overall sound?

I dig. When I was here on Wednesday I walked over to a nearby record store and dropped $100. I look for things that catch my eye, things I’ve never heard before, you know? It’s kind of an indulgence, it becomes something where you look to see how you can breathe new life in these sounds. I think my music sampling is about finding those little happy accidents that happen on old records. I get excited when I start digging into that stuff, it makes a person realize how much music there is out there.

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Your album is called Even If It Isn’t Right, so it seems like you wanted to make it perfect, but it’s so big at 27 tracks…why didn’t you just release it in smaller pieces?

Because I wanted it to flow, and honestly, it allowed the creation of songs that would really translate well in a live setting, like the crowd-moving bangers. And it also allowed me to make mellower sounds and intermissions. The course of this album was conceptualized so many different ways. Six months after Dreaming of a Bigger Life came out, I already had twelve songs, I could have put out an album then but it didn’t feel right. I kept building, I kept thinking it was going to evolve. Then I would get self-conscious about my style and felt like I needed to make certain kind of songs. It took a year longer than I thought it would, and I ended up with something that wasn’t a typical album length. I told myself even if this isn’t right, this is what I want to do. This is what an album is to me, and this is what my life has felt like for the last few years.

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About Zlatko Todosijevic

I listen to a little bit of everything...

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