Name: Michael Mayer
Current Release: DJ Kicks on K7!
Recommendations: Book: Karl Hugo Schmölz - Köln
Music: Iona Fortune - Tao Of I
Website: If you enjoyed this interview with Michael Mayer, check out his Facebook profile for more information and current tour dates.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started DJing in 1985, but I've been quite obsessed about music since I can remember. My mothers kitchen radio was my first source of inspiration. The station she listened to used to play an instrumental song every hour just before the news. Those were my favourites ... "Magic Fly" by Space, Harry Thumann's "Underwater", Hot Butter's "Popcorn" or "Voyager" by Alan Parsons Project. In hindsight I understand that these were all on the electronic side of disco, stuff I'd still play on a regular basis in my sets. I used to tape songs from radio and played them at school or birthday parties. At the age of 15 I already operated a tiny mobile disco enterprise with self made light effects and such. The fascination of playing out my favorite music on big speakers and dancing under the colored lights never left me until this day.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
In the late 80s, the pre-Shazam days I used to be a deck shark a lot at the local discotheque. That's where I learned how to entertain a crowd all night long. When I started playing more underground stuff around 1990, there wasn't really someone else to look up to. My friend Tobias Thomas and me developed our own style pretty quickly. It was instrumental deep house with an edge that inspired us most. DJ Pierre's Wild Pitch sound represented exactly what we were looking for. A friend of mine once said, we're playing techno with a house sensitivity or vice versa. For us it was crucial from the beginning to shape our own sound.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
There was a strong DIY attitude to everything we did in the early days. I still had my mobile disco equipment, so all I needed to set up a party was an empty room and some friends. I didn't have a manager or booking agent so the whole process of getting gigs was very different from what it is today. But the goal remains the same: Making people dance to my favorite music and inject some spirituality and happiness into our lives. The big difference between producing my own music and DJing is that I'm mostly by myself in the studio and when I'm performing I find myself in a very complex social surrounding. Simply said, it's nice to cook alone but it's nicer to eat with others.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
I like to see myself as a humble servant providing the best possible soundtrack to a night out. Naturally, I don't mind being successful with what I'm doing but I'm not in it for the fame. I firmly believe in the seductive powers of music and I don't think that overacting on stage really adds anything to the magic. In DJing I find catharsis, that's why I prefer long or very long sets. Exhausting myself and my fellow travelers completely gives me the most profound satisfaction.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I'm still using a SL1210 I bought 2nd hand in 1987. The longevity of these machines is unparalleled. My first set up was a Vivanco 4 channel mixer, the bespoken 1210, another one I'd lend from a friend and a crappy CD player without pitch control. The latter got replaced by two CDJs later down the road and I traded the mixer with a DJM 500 back in 1998. On my tech rider you'll find 2 1210's, 3 CDJ's Nexus 2 and a Pioneer DJM 900 Nexus 2.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology helps me to bring my ideas to life. The computer is like an exoskeleton for my brain. It amplifies the mind power.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I've got a relatively fixed weekly schedule. There's not much room for experimentation. But it kind of works for me.
FR/SA/SUN: traveling, gigs
MO: sleeping in, swinging by the office for some hours, family time
TUE: getting up early, taking care of the kids, gym, office, studio night
WED: sleeping in, office, family time
THU: getting up early, kids, gym, office, preparing records for the weekend
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
I would have spent last night taking in the new music I bought and received during the week, pulled out some old records that could potentially fit in. The most important part is to really understand the groove and vibe of the tracks in my box, what kind of impact they have. The rest is improvisation. In my experience, preparing too much upfront ruins everything.