“Hello John, how are you?” I try to begin my interview sounding informed, flying past stage names and aiming for instant familiarity. “It’s Juan, if that’s ok. Everyone calls me Juan, maybe only my mother ever calls me John, so let’s go with Juan,” replies DFA heavyweight Juan Maclean down the line from his studio in New York City.
The metamorphosis from John to Juan has been a slow and steady progression for Maclean, beginning in the mid ‘90s with his tenure in the moderately successful Sub Pop-signed punk/funk band Six Finger Satellite. During this period he was introduced to a young New York sound tech named James Murphy who built and maintained a gargantuan touring PA rig for the band, lovingly nicknamed ‘Death From Above’.
Fast-forward to early 2001 and Maclean is working as an English teacher and has ‘left the industry’, but retains a strong friendship with Murphy who is in the process of re-inventing himself as label manager and in-house record producer for his own fledgling record label – also named Death From Above. On Murphy’s urging, Maclean returns to music, beginning to produce tracks, B-sides and remixes for Murphy’s DFA label compilations under the moniker ‘The Juan Maclean’ with other unheard of acts like The Rapture and LCD Sound System.
The rest is history: The Rapture & LCD Sound System explode, returning disco-inspired indie-electro to dance floors across the globe, the label DFA becomes synonymous with a new wave of ‘NYC cool’ and Maclean’s star rises as one of the labels most ubiquitous producers. His 2005 album, Less Than Human, produced dance hit Give Me Every Little Thing while his follow up 2009 album The Future Will Come – written in conjunction with other DFA luminary Nancy Wang – brought new wave flavoured cross-over single One Day.
Maclean’s first foray to our shores was in 2008 when he toured here with The Juan Maclean band (featuring another couple of DFA unknowns set to explode, Nick and Alex of Holy Ghost!) in support of Cut Copy. At the time I was working at a small record store that Maclean visited to perform an impromptu DJ set during his tour. I remember conversing with a bemused Maclean about his experience with Australian crowds on that tour – he was surprised that a band considered relatively niche and ‘hip’ in America was flocked in their home country by a crowd that can only be described as consisting of “99.9% florescent clad teenage girls”.
When pressed on whether his expectations of an Australian dance music audience have changed since then, Maclean was diplomatic in his response. “Well, I do remember that conversation! But I’ve been back to Australia a couple of times since then on different tours and festivals and I’ve found the crowds to be more varied since that first Cut Copy tour – and always very receptive. I think especially with the bigger festivals if you have enough people who love music in the one space, you’re always going to find a great group of people that are into your thing, your scene if you know what I mean.”
It’s hard to talk about the DFA ‘scene’ without addressing the recent Madison Square Garden sell-out final shows for LCD Soundsystem. I asked Juan what impact that show had on him and his musical family at large. “You know, it’s a weird thing, because it wasn’t just that one show. That Madison Square show was at the end of like four or five consecutive smaller shows – it was like a week long celebration that was both exhilarating and exhausting. It’s hard to put on a finger what’s changed after that. I mean DFA has always been more of a collective, people moving between projects and working together and nothing about that has really changed. But at the same time, the LCD band was at the centre of that. So I mean James is still around, still doing things and everyone is still working together on music and that’s still the same – but there is definitely a big part that was the band, that’s not missing, but it’s changed you know?”
Maclean’s next album is one of those projects that the DFA team has moved on with. “Yeah, I’m currently in the studio now working on material for my next album. I’m working with Nancy on this record again and most of the other guys from the band and the label are floating in and out. I’ve built this great new modular that I’m using on it – all wooden panels, black front – the real old classic deal”. And will we be seeing the band again? “Yeah, the band is something I pull together after the record is done. Once I’ve written the record, I’ll see who’s available to play and we’ll pull it together to tour”.
Maclean is next on our shores sans band to DJ with Murphy at Future Music Festival. The record store I originally met Maclean in has since expired – a common trend in modern music retail – so I feel obliged to press Maclean on whether it has become difficult to continually updated his vinyl only DJ sets. “You know what, it’s not so bad. I do a lot of my shopping online or when I’m in the UK I drop into Phonica. They’ve really got a great range and it’s up to date so I don’t find it hard at all. But it depends where you are, it’s very regional, good record stores. I mean in NYC, there’s nothing. You’d think it was booming with all the labels, but there really isn’t a good shop to go to”.
BY MATTHEW COWLEY
Juan Maclean plays the Future Music Festival alongside The Rapture [USA], The Wombats [UK], Tinie Tempah [UK], Paul van Dyk [GER] and many more at Flemington Racecourse on Sunday March 11.