If electronic music was a kingdom, Mike Huckaby would certainly be one of the gatekeepers. This Detroit deep house and techno god has been releasing timeless tracks and helping push the EDM scene for years, long before the politician that shares his name was even a blip on the radar. Arriving on the scene in the early ‘90s, he was exposed to the finest electronic music his iconic city had to offer and quickly developed his own unique style. Being in the Motor City it was almost like he had no choice but to become a musical machine. “A lot of the things that you are influenced by have a lot to do with where you grew up,” Huckaby tells us in his authoritative tenor. “I’m pretty sure that the outcome would have been slightly to dramatically different [had I not been in Detroit].”
Now with a storied career, which is still thriving, he is giving back to the community that put him on his path. He serves as a teacher and instructor to aspiring DJs and producers through various programs, most notably the Youthville program. Continuing his role as an authority on electronic music, Huckaby will be bringing his crowd-rocking experience and beguiling melodies to our fair city as part of Melbourne Music Week. He will be joined by the likes of Housse de Racket and PilowTalk, as well as debuting techno super band Four By Four. Over three packed days a disused space in Melbourne will be transformed into Where?House, an expansive pop up venue which will host live performances, workshops, screenings and a heap more. Excited to be returning to Melbourne, Where?House carries on many of Huckaby’s own personal philosophies when it comes to educating and entertaining. Exposing and dispelling what he calls the “erroneous myths” about being a DJ and producer, this veteran wants to equip passionate people with the tools they need to succeed, regardless of age or skill level. Staying up-to-date on the latest advances in technology, while also a proponent of the analogue approach, he believes in helping his students becoming well-rounded.
“A fine balance is the best of both worlds. It’s a reciprocal relationship between hardware and software that means the most. Students need to know the origin of things.” Being a great DJ isn’t just about the software or equipment you use though, something that Huckaby stresses. It’s about creating a feel no matter the equipment you have and visualising your audience and what you’re trying to create. “I try to incorporate or embed things that have influenced me within every track or remix that I do. I do a lot of vicarious living.” Improvisation is also a key to what has made Huckaby and his productions so unique, whether in the studio or the live environment. “I’m often trying new methods of sampling and production, especially within a session when I’m doing a remix. Sometimes you can come up with extremely useful sounds that have absolutely nothing to do with the track you’re working on.” Being attentive to your surroundings and open to going in new directions has also been successful for Huckaby.
“The key is to pay attention to things of this nature when they make themselves present. This doesn’t happen when you want it to happen so you must be prepared to go in that direction when it does make itself present.” Much of this improvisational approach comes from the influence that jazz and its intricate melodies have had on the diverse DJ since he first started out and can be heard on hypnotic anthems like Fantasy and the I Human remix. “Jazz is definitely the single most important factor for me. Deep house is a direct extension of jazz through the usage of a variety of choices.”
Now, the prospect of working in the studio as a solo producer may sound like a somewhat isolating occupation but the new possibilities that his approach opens up ensures there’s never a dull moment, particularly when working on a remix. “I find remixing challenging, so there is nothing that creates a stale atmosphere regarding a remix, in my opinion.” While mostly an instrumentalist, he also enjoys working with vocalists and the unique challenges that come up. “You have to determine what key the artist is singing in before you can begin remixing the track. When I did I Human, I chose to only use the vocals from the original track. The rest of the music within the track is something I completely generated from scratch.” Whether crafting originals or creating remixes he has vast knowledge of synthesis and music theory to pool from. “Each project is different and demands a certain amount of detail and attention.” When it comes to remixing he keeps the artist and their goals in mind to inform yet not intrude on his process. “It is my job to make them look good. I try to create a remix or a vision for each artist in ways that could represent them well. When you have a personal interest in a particular artist that you may like, it’s easier to create a vision through respect for their work.” The end result all comes down to each individual project and may have a number of influences involved. “Sometimes I may want more of Mike Huckaby to shine through, or I may also choose to let the artist’s personality or character shine through the mix.”
BY ANDREW 'HAZARD' HICKEY
Mike Huckaby [USA] plays alongside Ben Sims [UK] and more at Where?House as part of Melbourne Music Week on Sunday November 18.