Piknic Électronik #5 – Interview with Mike Callander

Mike Callander PE image

Last weekend we got to see some killer live performances from An On Bast and Egbert, as well as inspirational DJ sets from DJ Kuya and Jamie Stevens amongst others. And this party is not stopping yet! The forecast is predicting a warm and sunny day on the 8th of February when the 5th installation of Piknic Électronik goes off. This week Whono’s got the honour of interviewing Mike Callander – one of Melbourne’s biggest techno DJs – before his DJ set supporting Deatbeat.

When was the first time you DJed and what got you into it?

My brother really got me into techno. He returned from living in the UK in the mid 1990’s with mixtapes from Carl Cox (on three decks which blew my mind!) and the early Ministry of Sound mixes, which were amazing back then. As I got older through the rest of that decade I started going to raves in the Docklands, where I saw guys like Will E Tell and the guys from Teriyaki. They showed me (and everyone) something really powerful and original, and I wanted to get my hands on it.

I started DJing (very badly) at house parties for quite a few years before I got paid for it (because experience was more important back then than social network reach!). In 1998 when I turned 18 I bought a couple of turntables instead of a car, and records by the likes of HMC, Jeff Mills and kind of anything techno. In 2001 I got tired of recording and sending demos so I started my own night with my best mate. It’s been 14 years that I’ve been playing every week, and I’m loving it now more than ever.

So you have always been playing techno music?

I have never been a purist, and I’m inspired by lots of different music, but my way of presenting it has always been “techno”… that is, energetic and diverse.

You’ve toured all around the world as a DJ and producer but have kept Melbourne as your main base. How does Australia stand out in the electronic music scene you think?

I think the way we stand out now is really, really different to the way we used to stand out. When I started, Melbourne was on the international techno map for its crazy, up-for-it crowds. People would turn out in huge numbers for lots of great touring artists, and they’d return whenever possible because of the positive experience, but we had very few standout producers who were doing international damage. Now it’s different, and the crowds are kind of the same everywhere (with some exceptions, of course). We’ve all seen Boiler Room and we know all the festival brands, so there’s a kind of homogenization throughout global dance floors. Melbourne is now distinguished by an inordinate number of standout artists who are recognized internationally. It’s been talked about a lot, so I won’t bother with a list, but shit – how many talented people do you want in one city!?

I really enjoyed your Ableton classes at School of Synthesis, how come you started teaching music production?

Thanks! It’s a pleasure to have such enthusiastic students. I get such a thrill out of teaching, in a very similar fashion to the feeling I get from performing. You need to show people that you have skills and you’re worth listening to, try not to be a wanker, and be mindful of the needs of your audience.

My co-founder at School of Synthesis, Davide Carbone, was my teacher when I studied Sound Production at RMIT, and he was the one who talked me into teaching. When we started planning the business we were really focused on delivering his skills to the market, but as it turned out I knew a thing or two about Ableton Live and have since become an Ableton Certified Trainer. Now I honestly can’t imagine life without teaching. It’s making me a better producer too, because I’m constantly inspired and challenged by my students and their different perspectives.

What has been your biggest music challenge so far?

There have been SO many, and for different reasons, so it’s a tough question. The first thing that comes to mind was my recent live show at Rainbow Serpent Festival where I played through a storm that eventually closed my stage. It’s hard to create a vibe when everyone is totally exposed to the elements, especially when playing live, because you can’t just “play the hits”. But there are a million experiences like this and they are all good for me, because enduring the challenges makes me better at it.

What I can say in general is that the greatest challenges relate to performing my own music live to all kinds of audiences. This taught me to stop seeking approval (while at the same time acknowledging constructive criticism), to let go of my ego, and just follow my instinct for what’s good and what entertains me. Since I’ve learned to do this I have been so much happier in the act of performing, rather than seeking any accolades, and coincidentally that attitude seems to have drawn more positivity and a better performance.

You run the back room every Friday night at Revolver Upstairs which is one of Melbourne’s biggest nightclubs for underground electronic music. What does it take to make a killer weekly party?

More than anything, good luck! But also support, patience and hard work. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have the support of the team at Revolver on a weekly basis for more than 4 years. When they brought me into the family I was honestly pretty burnt out from lots of gigging and I didn’t feel like I had the right outlet for my music, and they were very patient with me while we developed a new relationship with a new crowd in a space that was new to this sound. Now we’ve got a really special weekly that is really my home, and also a home for a truly great bunch of players and punters from Melbourne and around the world.

We have yet another great line-up this Sunday! I’m looking forward to see you play as well as Canadian headliner Deatbeat.

I’m very excited to be DJ-ing at Piknic Électronik, because not only are the Melbourne Piknic crew some of my dearest friends, but I’m also a huge fan and friend of Deadbeat. Scott and I have played together in Paris, I’ve interviewed him for Red Bull Music Academy because I’m a keen enthusiast for his sound, and we’ve shared many, many beers in various cities. It will be great to have him back on my home turf and to support him with a DJ set.

Piknic Elektronik Melbourne launched 5 weeks ago in Melbourne; this innovative weekly summer program first started in Montreal and has since expanded globally to include a location in Barcelona and now all the way to Oz. Piknic Electronik #5 – Sunday 8th February will feature Deadbeat, Mike Callander, Echo Inspectors & Rintrah, to keep up to date with future dates, you can visit their Facebook page.

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