There’s not many people who’s lives haven’t dissected with Max Cooper recently. He may have remixed one of your favourite artists, played at your favourite festival, or you may be a fellow Londoner – proudly following such home-grown talent. Either way, Max has quietly become one of today’s most respected electronic producers.
He first crept into the world of ASIP through my love of Traum Schallplatten – a label which in my eyes, is synonymous with emerging talent and unique approaches to electronic music. Max tucked a few EP’s under his belt and slowly garnered the respect he deserved. Mixes for Resident Advisor, and XLR8R also put his name on the map – injecting moments of beauty, piano and emotion to an otherwise techno-expectant crowd. Book-ending his RA mix with Underworld’s ‘To Heal’, remixing Nils Frahm, and an ambient rework of 2010’s ‘Sea of Sound’ on Traum were just some of the hints to the world that there was more to Max’s productions than straight-up glitchy techno.
2014, and Max is ready to unleash his first full album, ‘Human’. A confident coming-of-age, and an expression that’s taken years of remixes, EP’s and reworks to form. A unique take on an otherwise blurred-world between dance floor and home-listening; ‘Human’ is the convergence of Max’s varying styles, with ambient undertones, vocals, techno and damn right dirty bass-lines, sitting alongside each other in a gloriously potent full-length.
I was lucky enough to ask Max a few questions in light of this upcoming release, exploring his background and prying into the inspiration behind ‘Human’, below. This also gives me the opportunity to share some of my favourite music by Max, as well as a few previews of the album, ‘Human’.
Recommended sound-tracks for your interview read are embedded below, starting with my favourite, Max’s Ambient rework of ‘The End Of Reason’ and ending on previews of Human’s first single ‘Impacts’.
Can you give us a brief introduction to your background in music? Did you always see yourself doing what you do today?
No I worked as a scientist for a long time and I assumed that would be my career, but music took over in the end. I didn’t have much of a background in music other than always having been passionate about it – that’s all you need these days though, computers remove a lot of the old barriers to expressing yourself musically.
You’re a well-known London export, what do you think of the music scene there now? How have you seen it evolve?
From what I can tell, it’s evolved into a very diverse form, there’s so much interesting creative work happening. I often go to concerts and exhibitions, theatre, art etc….there’s a lot of great things to go to outside of the club scene, which is what I get to most there because I’m away in clubs in other cities on weekends.
From London to Cologne…. I’m a big fan of Traum Schallplatten, which has been a home for many of your releases now. How did your relationship with Riley + crew come about?
I just sent them a demo and then was shocked to get a phone call a few days later saying they wanted to release my stuff – easy as that. Riley is one of the few established label managers out there I know of, who listens to a large number of demos and is willing to take risks on new artists. It’s a great thing, and that’s why he’s brought through so great acts.
You seem to be synonymous with remixes – and rightly so as most of them are ridiculously good. Has this always been your goal or has it naturally evolved this way?
It was never a goal to do a lot of remixes no, but over the years my remix work has proved productive. The way I see it a remix should always be about taking what you think is the best thing about the original track, and then making it better. It should be about adding to the quality of the original somehow, so in that sense you could argue that remixes, when done right, should be “better” than either artist on their own. This is an oversimplification though, because sometimes a remix is about changing the genre, presenting a piece of music in a new way, which is is hard to say whether that’s better or worse, it will just appeal to different people.
And I shouldn’t talk about music in terms of “better” or “worse” either, because of course it’s a subjective thing, and I don’t like it when people state that some piece of music is “bad” as they often do, with no option for debate in their mind – to someone else the same piece of music is “beautiful” or whatever. Everyone’s view is as valid, we are just all heavily influenced by our own perspective on many things, to the degree where it feels like music can be objectively bad or good. That’s probably part of the reason why music taste acts with such a strong correlation to friendship groups.
But anyway I’m getting off topic – in terms of remixes, I won’t do the job if I feel like I can’t “improve” or give new life to the original based on my own, subjective, musical scoring criteria. One time of note when this happened was when I was working on a remix of the composer Michael Nyman. I tried to remix “The heart asks pleasure first”, from his score to the film ‘The Piano”. It’s a piece my Sister used to play on the piano I think, and in my opinion one of the most beautiful, and greatest piano pieces ever written. I just couldn’t do it any justice at all. Outright fail.
You’re obviously a big fan of modern-classical and ambient music (Sea of Sound is amazing, as are the Michael Nyman remixes you mention above). Has this always been the case?
Yes I think I’ve always been into the minimalist classical sound in particular, it’s similar to techno really, with all the simple looping melodies – it can’t be built on tricks and frills, those simple melodies really need to be strong, that’s part of the reason I love it, it strips things back to what I think is most important. So of course I love Philip Glass, Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Max Richter, Nils Frahm. Standard!
This type of music seems to be a big influence on a lot of your recent productions, (especially your EP with Tom Hodge), and it’s a relatively unique approach to dance floor orientated electronic music (at least to those who do it well). Can you give us a bit of an insight into how you approach these types of tracks?
I approach with caution, it can sound shit in club/electronic context yes. It’s just a matter of doing each experiment for me and seeing what the outcome is, sometimes I decide it hasn’t worked and scrap it, sometimes I cautiously put it out there and wait for time to tell whether it’s a good idea or not – it’s always very hard to know at the time, as you get lost in the details.
Your remixes of Nils Frahm are pretty special. When I spoke to him at Decibel he said you just sent them to him and he simply couldn’t pass on them – is that true?
I guess so yes, I think that’s how it always works, or doesn’t work! I didn’t send them out of the blue though if that’s what you mean, obviously it was discussed first, but I don’t think Nils knew what to expect, so for him yes, he got a surprise in the inbox that day, luckily for me, a good one in his opinion.
Did you see him at Decibel last year?
My travel and set time meant me and Nils just missed each other at Decibel this time unfortunately, but I have seen Nils’ latest live show recently, and I was totally blown away, it’s the best thing I’ve seen in a long time.
How do you think your performance went at Decibel? I caught about half of it after running about town and you looked as if you were enjoying yourself! (I seem to remember you dropping ‘Impacts’ from your upcoming album and it shaking the place to the ground)
I love playing at Decibel, it’s always a pleasure – the audience are there to really listen to what you have to say, as well as to have a party, so I took the opportunity to push in lots of different directions and experiment, and have a lot of fun at the same time…..just the right combination.
You dropped (what you later said on twitter) was an Olafur Arnalds remix too? Any news on that one?
I did remix a track of Oli and Nils’ some time ago, but I think the one I played was something quite different – it’s a bootleg of one of Oli’s tracks with one from my friend Rob Clouth, under his Vaetxh pseudonym – so it’s immense glitch combined with serene beauty, one of my favourite things to play out in recent years.
Your upcoming album ‘Human’ will be your first full-length album. Any particular reason why it’s taken so long?
Yes it’s my first album, and it’s been two or three years in the making, in amongst other projects of course. It’s taken a while because I’ve been busying with other production projects, touring a lot, and most importantly, not quite ready for an album – I feel like I’m still developing and still have a long way to go to get where I want to be musically, so I didn’t want to rush out something that I’d hate 6 months later, or something that just slotted into an existing genre box. I wanted to take the opportunity to experiment and push away from the electronic music norms, so it took some time to come together.
Going by the tracks and album title, it seems like you had a very specific theme in mind… can you elaborate? It sounds like you’re combining the two sides of the brain/body in your music. Beautiful piano’s (the emotional, creative side) and computerised beats (the technical, mathematical side). Am i close?!
Yes I’ve always had a central interest in that combination of the objective world of form and precision and rules, with the subjective world of feeling. It’s just another form of obsession with the mind-body problem: We can describe humans ever more precisely as intricate machines, but it seems impossible (for me) to accept that a machine feels anything under the normal definition of a machine. So in order to solve the problem we either need some sort of spiritual addition for which there is no solid evidence for, or an acceptance that the feelings and the laws are themselves already somehow the same thing (a lot of people would no doubt argue those two are just different ways of saying the same thing also). So for me, there is no contradiction in trying to express something human with something computational or mechanical, instead, I see the two as one and the same thing, albeit viewed from a different perspective.
Sorry I’ve gone a bit off topic again, back to the album specifically – that is called Human, and it’s my attempt to put some concepts common to all humans, into musical form. And yes, your computer vs feeling theme is used throughout in order to do this, without it actually being the concept of the album. What you have landed on there is more of a deep rooted approach I’ve always been interested in, and something always present.
The album’s a wide-range of sound and styles. From the instrumental complex ‘Woven Ancestry’ to the intense electronic ‘Potency’ and the aforementioned ‘Impacts’ – I’m interested to know what type of listener you have in mind when producing such an album? How much of it do you gear towards the dance floor?
As with most of my work, it’s something designed with both club and home listening in mind, something that should be able to work for either. For me, for dance music to be good it needs to be good at home as well i.e. it needs to actually be good music. I want to go out and hear good music, I don’t want to have to rely on being hammered to enjoy what I hear in a club, but at the same time, if I decide to get hammered it still needs to sound good then too. So that’s what I try and do with my productions, and with this album. Admittedly it does go a bit hard to dance to towards the end – It can be the last set of the night in a strange club where everyone decides to lie down for the last 20 minutes.
Do you think we could ever see you producing a purely modern-classical or ambient album anytime soon?
Yes, I’d love to, maybe the next one. I might have done it this time, but I think it would be too big a step for the people who only know me for my club stuff. I need to ease them in gently, sort of trick them into not realising they’ve got old and lost their rave and are listening to classical music with their slippers on.
And lastly, I really enjoyed your Synesthetes mix from a few months back – it sounds like the British Musuem had a big influence on you when you were studying. What other places inspire you and your music?
The natural environment, it has more intricate beauty than we can ever create ourselves.