I caught up with MAKJ after his (admittedly astounding) set at the Beach Stage during Center of Gravity in Kelowna over the August long weekend. Between getting some sun and admiring the entrants in the bikini contest, we sat down for a one-on-one to fill in all our readers about LA’s biggest new sensation.
Let’s start off with the most obvious question that I’m sure you get asked all the time: what made you get into music production?
Well, it was a long journey. I was a DJ long before I was a producer – I’ve been DJing for about 8 or 9 years, so production kind of went hand in hand with DJing. Nowadays you have to be a producer to be a DJ, whereas back four or five years ago you had to be a DJ to produce. So the guys I used to work with were always telling me “Oh, you have to produce and make a name for yourself.” So, I started making bootlegs, edits, and other weird stuff, and next thing you know a lot of the big guys started supporting it. Eventually, I thought “Hey, maybe this stuff is actually working” and after that it was kind of a hard road into original production.
For me, that’s definitely what makes you stand out from the vast majority of progressive house artists. Because so many of them are producers first and DJs second, when they play stuff out the crowd doesn’t know how to dance to it. I mean, whenever I play your track Conchy people love it. Love it , love it.
Exactly, I mean that’s the thing. After a while production came easy to me because I always knew what people wanted when I was playing. Working the crowd and playing for the crowd is the way to go, if you’re not playing for the crowd then no one is going to want to react to you. You absolutely have to be able to read a crowd and for me, DJing bar mitzvas, to weddings, to you name it. Being able to read a crowd is one of the biggest tasks nowadays. If you can’t do that, stop DJing. Haha, I mean Lucky Date is playing right now and I can hear him playing one of my edits. I think that they just work because I focus on how I want crowds to react. People have to know the song and if they don’t know it, they’re not going to dance. You have to make tracks that make people grab their girl and go “Hey! Get up, we have to dance to this song!”
Now, how did you get involved with Ryan Jaso and Technique Management?
Oh man, Jaso.. So there’s a kid named Sam Hiller who used to be in Peacetreaty. Peacetreaty was one of the biggest mashups I made, it was between one of their tracks and Walking On A Dream- anyway, Hardwell played it and they asked him who made it. After that, Technique had me on the radar and once I started doing original production the next thing you know he got in touch saying that he wanted to manage me. That was about a year ago, and since then its kind of been game over, you know?
I remember that actually. When he picked you up he started sending me your tracks – you were at 4000, maybe 5000 fans on Facebook, and now… haha.
Maybe 4000, maybe, haha. Oh man.
Haha, yeah I remember you were his smaller, incubator act and now you’re MAKJ.
Man yeah I don’t want to sound cocky, it’s just crazy both how far I’ve come so quickly and where things are going in the next six months. I’m still blown away when I think about it. I mean, I don’t have a free weekend for…. shit, until the end of the year. I’m going on tour with Nervo, going on tour with Hardwell. It’s just finally coming together and I really feel blessed to be able to play my music for people and have fans. When I walked over to check out the bikini contest people recognized me and I think that’s amazing. I’m really blown away.
Speaking of blowing up, I saw recently that you started a residency at XS…
When I started out as a DJ I used to spin hip-hop, and having a residency in Vegas-
Wait, shut up. You were a hip-hop DJ? Ahaha… no, that’s just too funny.
Oh man, I know. That’s why I’m so fast at mixing, haha. It’s a different style playing hip-hop. So yeah, Vegas was like THE place. If you have a residency in Vegas you’re the shit, so after getting the XS residency I was blown away. Jesse, who runs the events there… I, I never thought I’d even be on his radar, then he asked me to DJ at Tryst to see how I’d do. Now Tryst is a very open-format club so after that, if you’re able to play there you can play anywhere. It’s a real benchmark. So eventually he asked me to start at XS and now here I am.
Why the switch from hip-hop to house? Why the particular type of house that you make, and not deep or tech, or any number of different styles?
The thing is, house music is relevant. Even my mom knows who Daft Punk is. She listened to Random Access Memories and she recognizes tracks from it. So to be able to play house and have people instantly be able to recognize me was always my goal.
It definitely has a lot more longevity than all the other genres. For whatever reason, it’s not going anywhere.
It absolutely does. When you look at the other genres – let’s take dubstep as an example. Who’s the only dubstep DJ getting Vegas residencies? Skrillex at XS, because he plays pop too. House, dubstep, all the EDM genres are relevant in their own respects, but house it the one with longevity and that’s why I stuck with it.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Yeah, last week was the official announcement for the Hardwell collab and that’s been in the works for a year. He’s been playing it out every set and paying attention. Haha, even Lucky Date just heard me play it and without knowing who made it told me that he loved it. It’s amazing to see the support because I made this song a year ago.
I was actually talking about this recently… with the huge delays in releases from concept to public, you have to have incredible foresight. Like you made that track a year ago and now that exact sound is popular.
Exactly, it’s the Skrillex mentality you know. Skrillex was making his stuff and nobody GOT it, but now that sound is popular and he’s winning Grammy’s and getting $150k a gig. That’s what it takes, you have to be forward-thinking.
Hold up, are we good for time? You don’t have a plane to London to catch in 10 minutes, do you?
Haha, we’ve got loads of time. Kill me with questions, give me your best shot!
Here’s one that was always on my mind: You didn’t change your artist page’s profile picture in… over a year? Only recently did it finally get updated.
Haha, well to be honest I just didn’t have time. I didn’t have time and I wanted to come up with a look and decide how I’d market myself – new logo, new photos, the works – before I made changes to my Facebook. I want it to be relevant, I want to actually have style and not be some guy posing in random clothes. People need to be able to instantly recognize me and go “Hey, that’s MAKJ. I recognize the clothes he’s wearing.” To me, that’s an artist vs just a producer. A shirt, jeans, and sneakers can only go so far.
You took the words out of my mouth… Now where’s your favourite place to play?
Shit, that’s tough. No, without a doubt I still have to say the Avalon Hollywood in LA on a Friday. Control, man. I mean, you played there the other week, you know what I’m talking about. It’s to the point where you go there and you play whatever you want and people will jam to it. It’s always packed.
Well I mean, there’s just so much history behind the night too. It’s THE night that catalyzed electronic music shows in LA.
It’s just one of those things where everyone plays there and they go “Man, now that was a party.” They’re the longest-running party in LA and that has to say something.
So, you’re in LA, you’re shitfaced- what do you get to eat?
Joe’s Pizza, all day. Right next to Playhouse in LA, it’s without a doubt the best pizza you’ll ever have. From 12pm in the afternoon to 3am, it’s just the best and you get these slices that are just the size of a baby. Oh God, and you get it with ranch, you get the Mother’s sauce pizza with ranch. It’s a white sauce with mozzarella and… something else. Dip that in ranch and you’re in heaven.
If you were going to recommend one of your tracks to have sex to.
Gotta be Hakaka, the new track that’s coming out on Diffused. The whole track is just a continuous energy build and it’s perfect. The more you’re pumping with a chick the harder the song is going.
I’ve always wondered this myself and I think you’re the perfect person to ask seeing as how quickly the public have picked you up… Have you found that your friends have treated you differently now that you’ve blown up?
That’s a fucking great question. Definitely, I’ve been able to filter out the friends from the non-friends, and being able to perform at big spots and not have people hit me up for guestlist all the time is what separates friends from users. I don’t have that many friends now really, because after I got the XS residency people would constantly hit me up for free cover, for bottles, for hotel rooms. It’s like “Really? I’m supposed to be your friend, is that all you want from me?”
When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous. People will pay $20 to see some act that doesn’t give two shits about them, but as soon as the money would be going to someone that they know, they back out.
Man, exactly. Exactly. People love free shit and money is the ruler of everything. I guess the upside to all of it is that it lets you know who your real friends are.