Interview: Max Cooper
Born and raised in Belfast, Max Cooper is one of the most individual, most interesting artists in the industry at the moment.
Trying to put a label on his music is impossible as he has carved out his own artistic space between the worlds of emotional dancefloor experimentation, fine-art sound design, and tireless attempts to examine the scientific world through visuals. All of this started during his years at university where he received his PhD in computational biology and started DJing. Since he started releasing music in 2007 on labels like Sasha’s Last Night On Earth, FIELDS and Cologne based Traum Schallplatten, he left his academic career behind while still working with music in a very scientific way, including psychoacoustics and 3D sound design.
At the moment he is touring with his Emergence tour, a collaboration with different visual artists, musicians and tech-specialists where he is working a performance system that allows him to tell a live audio/visual story about the reality we live in. Besides this, and playing regular club nights, he also recently worked with pianist Tom Hodge and a jazz trio including UK vocalist Kathrin de Boer.
The producer also offers a free download selection called the Quotient Series, which will consist of a total of 6 tracks and mixes available once all are released. We’ve added a link to the download section of his website at the end of this interview.
This Saturday Max Cooper will be performing at Amsterdam’s Buiten Westen festival and we had the chance to talk with him about the Emergence tour, the importance of visuals, 4DSOUND and the concept of his upcoming LP.
“I like to leave things open so I can react to all those things, try to interact with people and share with them. Because that’s when the best sets happens.”
Hi Max, how is it going and where are you at the moment?
Pretty good. I’m just sitting in my living room.
First of all, how would you describe your sound? What is your primary goal when making music?
What primarily defines my sound is that it’s me trying to express myself, musically. Everyone is different, so if you can find a way to express yourself you naturally sound different from other people. It’s only personal for me, it’s not just music to make people dance or anything like that. It’s me expressing the way I feel at a certain time, what I’m passionate about, and what I’m interested in. I’m trying to convert that into a musical form. I guess that’s how I would describe my sound. It is very hard to put a label on it, though because it doesn’t really fit into one particular genre. I’m also interested in different kind of genres and I’m trying to fuse it all together and don’t restrict myself to one.
What are some essential pieces of gear you can’t live, or let’s say produce, without?
My favourite piece of gear at the moment is the Moog Sub 37. For years I actually did everything digitally, but then I started exploring lots of analog pedals and analog synths. It is just nice to get away from the computer. It is a very easy synth to use and very nice to interact with.
I’ve seen a picture on your Facebook site where you’ve been experimenting with all kinds of pedals. Seems like you’re having a lot of fun with it.
Yeah, I’ve been messing around with lots of distortion pedals, delays and feedback loops. It is a lot of fun.
It seems like many producers nowadays are getting more into analog gear as it is a more natural way to produce…
The analog stuff comes in pretty handy with the big elements and ideas, but then further down the line in the production process, I still end up doing a lot of mousing around, getting into details, and it’s all computer based stuff.
So, you start getting ideas by using analog gear and then finish it in your DAW (Desktop Automatic Workstation)?
Yes exactly. It’s just more hands on and you can tweak multiple things at the same time and it’s more fun to play with all the buttons and knobs in front of you rather than having to mouse around them all. It is way faster and more enjoyable. Plus, you get this special sound from analog equipment.
How much of your live set is actually improvised and how much is pre-planned?
It depends. I basically have a few different types of live shows. It really depends on which live show I’m doing. I did a show with Tom Hodge last week, which was piano and electronics. And that one had some totally improvised sections where I was just live drumming and I did live glitch samples and stuff. He is improvising with that, you know? We never knew how it would sound like, but for my club shows, when I’m doing a live set, the improvisation has more to do with track selection.
I never pre-plan what I’ll play, so I always improvise in that sense. I focus on getting the set right and joining the different pieces of music. Whereas the show with Tom Hodge is the opposite. We have a pre defined track list. And then the work is improving within the track and building it differently. So it really depends on what type of show I’m doing.
You’ll be playing in Amsterdam at Buiten Westen this Saturday. What can we expect then?
I think I’m going to do a DJ set. I think I’m going to play some of my old stuff. I’m getting into playing my old tunes recently so I’ll play some familiar stuff but I’m going to try to find some new stuff as well and I actually got some new productions I’ve been working on which I’ll play.
I always love playing in Amsterdam and it’s always a pleasure so I’ll do my best to see what people are into and what the vibe is. It always depends on what time I’m playing, what the stage is like, how the sound is like, who’s there and what they’re reacting to. So I can’t really predict what I’ll play. That’s why I like to leave things open, so I can react to all those things, try to interact with people and share with them since that’s when the best sets happens; whenever I’m in the same state of mind as the people on the dancefloor and we’re both understanding the music together.
It’s nice to hear you’re enjoying playing in Amsterdam. Do you have any particularly memorable Amsterdam experience?
Yes, I’ve had many memorable sets in Amsterdam. I think one of the first ones where it all seemed to come together was at the Sugarfactory. I’ve played there 5 or 6 years ago and it was one of those special nights when everything comes together and I had an amazing time. Everybody reacted really well to my music and I also started working with a promoter there called Hans (from NGTHDVSN, who are also hosting the stage where Max will perform during Buiten Westen) with whom I’ve worked for many years now. I formed a good relationship with a great promoter there and a great relationship with the audience. It really always is a pleasure playing in Amsterdam. It is one of my favourite places to come to for many years.