If you’re into dance music, and more specifically trance, progressive house and yes even techno, there’s a strong chance you’ve heard of Max Graham. An extremely talented producer and composer, Max is as well known for his production as his skills behind the decks. What sets him apart, however, is his versatility and ever-evolving music taste, as showcased by the Cycles mini-mix series he has been curating for the past six years.
A month ago, Max released Cycles 6, and to say that I loved it would be an understatement. Highlighting his current take on the dance music world, Max told us that when selecting tracks for the mix he first and foremost looks for a sexy chunky groove in music, and that recently he was pushed to search even deeper for producers who marry melody and groove together perfectly. He named Thomas Vink and Guy J as two artists he feels use melody and emotions while keeping the drums very organic and sexy. He also admits that “The chuggy techno from the peak of my sets has always been there and it’s taken a larger role as I find less and less Trance that fits my vibe.”
It was a treat to find out Max’s North American tour was stopping by Chicago, and specifically at Spybar. This isn’t the first time he will play the club, having graced its decks a few times going back to the early 2000’s. When asked about his experiences at the underground venue, Max states that, “it’s really the perfect club for the type of gig I like. It’s intimate and personal and the sound is lovely. It’s a very family atmosphere with the staff and regulars also which I love.” He certainly doesn’t hide his love for Chicago, and tells us that he always plans to stay a few extra days and truly enjoys the people and the food the city has to offer.
I asked him about his ideal club setting and loved his answer, perhaps because I too have a penchant for similar dark basement venues. As expected from a DJ who truly respects his craft, he looks for great sound first but also loves an intimate vibe where the DJ isn’t “the rockstar on a stage”. “I would rather be in a dark corner with my head down knowing the room is heaving to the music I’m playing rather than waving my hands in air hoping my physical performance is what people are focusing on,” Max said. I love his old school approach as I can’t help but be fond of artist who put music first before anything else.
A couple of weeks after his Spybar gig was announced, I tweeted my desire to have Max perform one of his famous Open-To-Close sets at the club. I thought it would be one of the many tweets that go unanswered or even unnoticed, yet both Max and Spybar management took a keen interest to it and after some talking announced that the Chicago stop will indeed be an OTC set. Known for his six-plus hour long sets, Max was extremely happy about the change, explaining to us that he has always been more at home telling a long set story rather than playing just peak hour hits. He joked that not only does he feel very unfulfilled playing hits for a couple of hours, but that he sleeps very well after a six or eight hour set.
Here at DownBeats, we truly understand and value the work of all musicians, DJs included. With some touring DJs playing upward to 250-300 gigs a year, we comprehend the importance of advanced hearing protection, as Max does too. He approached us last fall looking for in-expensive high-quality solution ear plugs to take on the road ahead of his Cycles 6 tour. While Max wears higher quality custom-made ear plugs like many other touring artists do and should, we took a keep interest to provide him with a cheaper yet great quality replacement solution for the road and went as far as to make some custom-made cases for him.
He tells us that while he has not had any scary hearing incidents, he has suffered from a lot of ringing in his long career and wishes he had been more careful in his early days. He stresses the importance of wearing ear protection saying that “you can’t fix your ears ever so it’s not worth risking any damage,” and that the misconception that ear plugs aren’t cool or diminish the hearing experience isn’t true. “I don’t think it reduces the enjoyment of it at all,” said Graham. “With today’s technology in earplugs you’re getting a pretty clear sound just at a far lower volume. It’s less painful on the night and definitely less painful in the morning.”
Does it make me crazy that I plan to be at Spybar at 10pm on March 6th to not miss a minute of his OTC set? I hope not. I asked him for a little teaser of what Chicago can expect and I got the answer I expected: “A nice variety of progressive (think Nick warren and Guy J), techno, tech house and more.”
Chicago, you’re in for a treat! See you in a few weeks Max.
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