Max Graham Talks The Evolution Of Trance And Compares EDM To Applesauce In iEDM Exclusive Interview
It's no lie when people say that DJs are always going somewhere. In between traveling, Max Graham recently found the time to sit down and speak with me.
Max is very well known for his open to close sets where he gets the opportunity to show off his talent and play for 8 hours straight. After speaking with him, I've made the executive decision that he is the most genuine person in the music industry.
iEDM: So you switched from trance to more house and techno, how come?
Max: Not really, I started out very progressive in the early 2000s and when trance kind of went 140 and I went kind of house-y. So then I took a couple years off in 2009/2010 and I came back mid 2010 and I really liked where trance was. It was this whole kind of chunky Ørjan Nilsen kind of sound coming up underneath the 140 stuff. So I kind of fell in love with that and it was all around 128-132. So even though my stuff was kind of trance-y because I got into the vocal stuff, my sets were still very in between techno and progressive.
But then in 2014 trance started to go that EDM route. That dirty word. The very main stage sound that was trying to cater to sort of the more commercial audience with a lot of big drops and it sort of lost its soul for me. So I didn’t really switch sounds, I just couldn’t really find any trance I wanted to play.
iEDM: Do you think the Trance genre has just changed?
Max: I think there was an effort starting at the top to rebrand trance into that sort of main stage sound. I think that instead of saying okay we’re not really playing trance we’re playing a much more electro EDM sound, they were like 'no no no this is trance.' So then the new generation was like okay, this is what trance is. But then you have the older generation that was frustrated because they were like this isn’t the trance we know from 5 years ago.
And then we have the 140 scene, they’ve kind of isolated into a scene that doesn’t really mix into the scene. You listen to guys like Cosmic Gate now, they don’t really have that trance sound that they used to have that was very soft and beautiful. Now it's more "bangers" and stuff. And I don’t hold it against anyone, you can go in any direction you want, I just don’t think it's for me personally. Ya know, it's not what turns me on and not what I like to put into my set.
iEDM: What made you decide to do the open to closes? Eight hours is a very long time to be up there.
Max: To only play an hour and a half, you’re cut off before you can even begin. Plus there was a marketing angle where we people were coming and playing for 45 minutes and making a ton of money and then leaving. I wanted to give something back where people could feel like they were getting their money's worth.
iEDM: Are you excited about your show at Output? That’s a pretty big venue.
Max: It is. It's not so much big in size but it’s big in just, stature. I would say its top ten in the world, if not higher. It’s definitely an honor to play there, I am not taking it lightly. I am very respectful of the club and the sound system.
iEDM: Do you prefer to play bigger or smaller venues?
Max: I prefer smaller. I think there’s a sweet spot somewhere around 400-500 people. I mean, if you’re playing a 2,000 people party and its really going off, its fun; it’s a different experience. But personally, I’m more down with where it feels like someone’s living room.
iEDM: So we were talking about trance before, do you think trance is making a comeback or do you think it’s just people having a misconception of what trance actually is?
Max: I wouldn’t say 140 is making a come back, I think that’s super strong already, I haven’t really….it’s interesting. I think that trance in it’s original form from the 90s is starting to come back in techno. We’re seeing a lot of techno that’s starting to add melodies and that’s where trance began. It’s really cool to see.
iEDM: How do you feel about a lot of artists returning to their trance roots under different aliases?
Max: It’s funny because, I’ll never fault someone for following money or their heart or whatever. I feel like there are people who have stayed playing the same sounds that are “loyal” to the same sound but don’t really like what they’re playing. They’ve just created a brand and they can’t get away from it.
I get messages very privately saying man I wish I could play the techno you play but my fans wouldn’t like it. So it’s like, you’re choosing to play something you don’t like for financial reasons, which is fine because the 21 year old DJ doesn’t care where the next paycheck from is very different from the 35 year old who has different priorities.
For me, as long as people are happy, but that happiness comes in different ways for people. I always find it very weird when people are apologizing for what they are playing. As an artist, I would always want to play what makes me happy. Which is why I didn’t want to go the EDM route, I would be a lot richer ya know, but for me when everyone was starting to move towards banger sounds… but that’s just not me. I don’t fault other people for making their choice, I just hope they’re doing it from the right place.
iEDM: I feel like you are the least judgemental person I’ve ever come across in my life.
Max: Haha I mean it’s funny, I’m embarrassed by some of my peers when they tell me some of the reason’s they make decisions. I have a great career, but I've also had a ton of mistakes myself. I can just say is it right for me or is it not. I have to ask myself Do I want to remix "Owner of a Lonely Heart" because I know its going to be a huge hit and change my career. Sometimes I look back and I'm just like "ugh why did I do that." I can only speak for myself as far as what want to do personally.
iEDM: Have you ever released something that you were just like, 'oh man I did not want to release that?'
Max: Yeah, I went through a period after “Owner of a Lonely Heart” where I was kind of getting pushed, and letting myself be pushed to be more commercial. Because I had a huge commercial hit and the money was good so it was kind of like I could focus on music that will hit Radio 1 and what was hot at the time. And I found myself sort of forcing my hand in the studio like OK I have to have guitar riff because thats what David Guetta is doing. It never actually came to be released, which is GREAT, but it came close to it. I did a few remixes around that time that were going in that direction but if you’re really not letting your soul be creative the songs aren’t going to do well. Unless you want to do the pop formula, but that’s not really for me.
iEDM: Do you ever think you’ll release one of those tracks just to confuse everyone?
Max: Haha, I think there’s enough confusion out there as is. I mean, no, there’s a stuff that just sits in your hard drive and we tried a lot of vocal ideas with different people. Even as recent as 6 years ago, I had a vocal track going with a girl in LA, it just sounded commercially but good – pop but kind of dancey and I was just like wow this is not me at all, I can’t play this. If I cant play it in my set properly, then I just shouldn’t make it.
iEDM: So they’ll never be a random Max Graham/ Marshmello collab?
Max: No HAHA. Unless we could do something that was just completely in my direction.
I have a lot of friends that are huge fans of his and I listened to some songs the other day and I was just like this sounds like music for children. It really does, but like I get it, it’s super poppy and catchy but I feel like it’s for pre-teens. I don’t know, that’s just my cranky old-ness.
iEDM: But that’s kind of what EDM is now..
Max: I feel like though, EDM is like baby food. It’s like applesauce- it's sweet it's easy to eat and that’s what you give little kids. It gets so many people into the scene and that’s great but then as they get a little older after 2 or 3 years they kind of want a little more. And like a child growing up, they move on to burgers and fries and eventually you’re trying Thai food, and Indian, and weird dumplings. That’s kind of where techno and tech-house and trance and underground stuff come in.
They start to walk away from the mainstage and figure out all these little sub genre’s like drum and bass, which is super cool. So I think it has its place as far as getting new people into the scene. And a lot will drop off because it is a trend but a lot will continue on to wanting the sushi.
After I sat down to speak with Max, I couldn't help but feel like he was the most genuinely kind and least judgemental human being i have ever come across in my entire life. If you've never given Trance, House, or Techno a chance before, Max should be the game changer in all of that. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to pick his brain for a short period of time.
Thank you Max for taking the time out of your crazy schedule to speak with me! Make sure to check out his iEDM Radio session and find him on his Cycles Tour.