Podcast 645: Juan MacLean
Intoxicating curveballs from New York.
Podcast 645: Juan MacLean
Intoxicating curveballs from New York.
By his own admission, Juan MacLean is not an easy artist to pin down. His career in music dates back to the early ’90s, when he played guitar for post-punk group Six Finger Satellite and learned how to engineer, before dropping it all to pursue his studies in English. He came back to it in the ’00s, debuting as an electronic producer in 2002 on DFA Records, the label of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Last year, he released The Brighter The Light, his latest full-length on the label, once again in collaboration with LCD Soundsystem vocalist Nancy Whang.
MacLean has filled those 30 years with a vast number of releases and DJ and live band performances all over the world. Much of his recent music has been heady and slow burning, leaning on synth-heavy and Italo sounds, put out through labels like Motordiscs, Correspondant, and Aus. Running alongside these club-ready cuts are his songs through DFA, which allows him the freedom to go wherever his mood takes him.
Sculpted in various residencies across New York, MacLean’s DJ sets are also underpinned by freedom and adventurism. He can sometimes spend months preparing records for a set, and he’ll interlace his groove-driven sounds with unexpected curveballs and playful disco jams. He’s proven to be a master in building tension and then allowing crowds moments of utterly joyful relief.
As you expect, MacLean’s XLR8R podcast is not averse to the surprise. MacLean recorded it at his Brooklyn studio recently having spent many weeks picking out the records that he wanted to include. One afternoon, he dropped a little LSD and mixed them all together, leaving us with 80 intoxicating minutes of his favourite music old and new.
01. What have you been up to recently?
I had left for an extensive European tour on March 11, just before countries started to go into various modes of lockdown. I bounced around a bit as gigs got cancelled one by one, eventually ending up in London where I settled in for a few days to see if my gig there would be cancelled. It was a confusing time. There was a lot of conflicting information going around and it was impossible to predict how things would be looking outside of a couple of days into the future. At some point, the USA instituted the travel ban so I went home while that was still possible. It was enormously disappointing, I had been looking forward to and planning for these gigs for months!
I live in Brooklyn, and New York City has been one of the hardest hit places in the world by this pandemic. We’ve had a pretty strict lockdown in effect for over two months now. My daily routine is to walk (the subway is reserved for essential travel only) the three miles to my studio every day and spend the day in there while my partner works from home doing therapy via a video platform. I spend my days in the studio, and some days it’s great and some days I am in despair and just lie down on the couch and listen to music, allowing myself to sit with the difficult feelings. I have a new EP that just came out on Correspondant and it’s a release that I had really poured a lot of my soul into, so that has been very exciting and uplifting, finally having it out there and seeing the response.
I also did a live stream for and at my local venue that has been my home base for years, Good Room. That was enormously gratifying, to play music through a sound system again, even though I was alone in the space. The response was fantastic, and it really meant a lot to me that people reached out and had been very moved by it. I put a lot of planning into it, and basically treated it like a typical gig. I wanted to go back into that space and see if I could attain some degree of transcendence, of leaving behind the nightmare of this pandemic by providing something of a sonic journey, and hopefully be able to take people at home along with me, via a remote transmission.
02. Which labels/artists are impressing you right now?
I’ve always had a good connection with Mexico throughout the years, and lately a lot of my favorite music and artists have been from there. Zombies In Miami are good friends and one of my favorites, Theus Mago is awesome. Also transplants living in Mexico like Thomass Jackson and Rodion. Iñigo Vontier and the label he has with Thomass, Calypso Records. Duro Label is another Mexican favorite.
In Spain there is Javi Redondo and Darlyn Vlys, and Rotten City Records. I’ve also been super excited about a lot of stuff coming out of Tel Aviv, artists like Niv Ast and Omri Smadar. And of course Luca Venezia (a.k.a Curses) and his label Ombra International. I suppose the unifying aesthetic with a lot of this stuff is a more “live” and even rock feel to the music, and of course a strong dose of psychedelia. Most of these people are good friends. For me, this music is inextricably linked to relationships with people, either with the producers or local scenes. That connection is what gives me the energy to do this for so many years.
Someone who has been a real guiding light for me the last few years is Jennifer Cardini. She actually, unknowingly I’m sure, was a big influence on me with the track she sang on for Black Strobe, “Me and Madonna.” That track, and her vocal delivery, was huge for me. And since then, I will say she is one of my favorite DJs; her style is just right up my alley, and she nails it technically every time I’ve seen her. And we both have, not just a love, but an obsession with arpeggiators. Throw in Correspondant as one of my favorite labels and she ends up being my hero!
03. What’s been top of your quarantine playlist?
On my way to my studio, which is about an hour’s walk, I mainly listen to DJ set podcasts. It puts me in a bit of a trance, and sets me up nicely for the studio. Sean Johnston’s ALFOS set that he did at Phonox right after Andrew Weatherall died has been a favorite, and very emotional. Though I only knew him personally in passing, Weatherall was an absolute hero to me, more than anyone I’ve ever encountered.
Other than that, I’ve been listening to a lot of new age music from the ’70s and ’80s. I also made a six-hour playlist for a psilocybin mushroom ceremony I had at home, and I’ve been revisiting that a lot. It’s mostly contemporary minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Harold Budd, all ambient soundscape stuff.
04. Where and when did you record this mix?
I recorded this mix a week ago in my studio, which is in Bushwick, an area of Brooklyn, on two CDJs and a turntable.
05. How did you choose the tracks that you included?
I started with a general guiding idea of wanting to do a mix that was mostly new music that I was excited about. My aesthetic is generally what I would call “vibe-y” or heady music, and for me, it has been an exciting time for this kind of music. So I hit up producer friends whose music I love, and was able to include some unreleased tracks of theirs, to make it a bit special. I also included some older tracks that help to sort of connect the dots between past and present. Over the course of weeks, as I found tracks I wanted to use, I put them aside and started building a collection.
One day I had taken a bit of LSD and went to my studio, figuring I’d spend the day just making sounds in the studio. It occurred to me that the mix was due soon, so out of curiosity I checked my calendar and saw that I was meant to turn it in a couple of days before. I have really lost all sense of time during this quarantine. So, I set up the studio with the little disco ball going and some moody lights, lit some incense, and tried to make a nice atmosphere. Once I was all set up, I just hit record and went into it without thinking, just feeling my way through it. What you hear is the unedited take. When I listened back the next day I noticed there were a lot of guitars, which is unusual in dance music of course. This was not a conscious decision, but it’s what came through!
06. How does the mix compare to what we would hear you play in a club?
It’s actually quite similar to a set I might play in a club. I am prone to dramatic intros, and I have gotten worse (or better?) about this in the past few years, so in that sense this is pretty representative. I am a big fan of a long reset with no beat when I start my sets. This mix is a bit more one dimensional and focused than my DJ sets, which I prefer to be at least four hours.
07. What’s next on your agenda?
This is such a difficult question to answer right now. In a practical immediate sense, I just released an EP on Correspondant, I have an EP coming out on Aus in June, and a track on the next Motordisc compilation after that. But all of my gigs have been cancelled, of course. Many were rescheduled, but those dates seem improbable or at best uncertain. So for now I am just going to my studio every day and focusing on the moment, making music that is coming purely from the heart, devoid of any external influence or consideration, as those things don’t exist right now.
At some point I have to believe that clubs will open again on a small level. I am actually quite excited to be a local resident DJ again, playing for 50 people. The hope for this scenario is what keeps me going at this point. I have dedicated my life to music, and to playing music for people in that setting. It is what I am deeply programmed to do. Right now I am operating on the faith that I will be able to do that again soon, and when I do, it will be so glorious I think I will cry for hours in a DJ booth!
XLR8R has now joined Mixcloud Select, meaning that to download the podcast you will need to subscribe to our Select channel. The move to Mixcloud Select will ensure that all the producers with music featured in our mixes get paid. You can read more about it here.
01. Daniel Emmanuel “Arabian Fantasy” (North Star Productions)
02. Hawkwind “10 Seconds To Forever” (United Artists Records)
03. Titin Moraga / Yellow Magnetic Star “Transandes Zone” (Music Productions)
04. Mufti feat. Vongold “Concepts” (Relish)
05. Niv Ast, Cornelius Doctor “Poisson d’Argent” (Correspondant)
05. Niv Ast, Adrien Albou “Beau Chien” (Zillas On Acid Remix) (Optimo Music)
06. Olta Karawane “Abattage” (Calypso)
07. Coil “Panic” (MI.RO Edit) (Rotten City Edits)
08. Juan MacLean “Bufomania” (Correspondant)
09. Omri Smadar “Dub Shell Dmaot” (Blue Shadow)
10. Javi Redondo “Rythmo” (Pablo Bozzi remix)’ (Correspondant)
11. SHMLSS “Taiko Dreams” (Calypso Records)
12. Zombies In Miami “Apache” (Creatures Of The Night)
13. Kincaid “Provisional Disturbance”(Futureboogie)
14. Pearson Sound “Glass Eye” (Hessle Audio)
15. Bouffant Bouffant “You Laughed” (unreleased)
16. Renato Cohen “Bismuth” (Jennifer Cardini remix) (Pets Recordings)
17. Juan MacLean “Yearning To High” (Good Room)
18. Ø “Atomit” (Pi Recordings)