Max Graham is in some ways a throwback DJ. At a time when many are pushing the envelope more than ever with tools such as Stanton Final Scratch, Graham is a DJ who still embraces the old-school DJ setup that marks the simplicity of the way it used to be: two turntables, a mixer and a DJ pumping records.
Starting off in the early '90s as a hip-hop and Top 40 DJ in Ottawa, Graham slowly started incorporating house records into his sets. At the suggestion of some in-the-know clubbers, he made the trek up to Montreal to check out the huge rave scene of the time. As a result, Graham changed his artistic direction, making the permanent shift to house music in 1994. Since then, he has produced the chart-topping track “Airtight,” received a nomination for a Juno Award (the Canadian version of the Grammy), mixed the fourth installment of Kinetic's Transport mix series and reached No. 23 in DJ magazine's Top 100 DJ poll.
Graham's most recent mix-CD endeavor, Shine (System, 2004), is based on a bimonthly club residency that he holds for eight hours in Toronto and 10 hours in Montreal on Friday and Saturday nights of the same weekend. While compiling and mixing the CD, Graham tailored the tracks to his liking by using Sony Sound Forge to add his own outros and ultimately provide for a smoother mix. After Graham was satisfied with his track edits, he burned them to CD and mixed those with the vinyl tracks — on Technics SL-1200s, a Pioneer CDJ-1000 and a Pioneer DJM-500 — to DAT, then went back to Sound Forge for mastering.
Given Graham's hip-hop background, one thing that really makes his live house set stand out is the incorporation of scratching. Therefore, a club's setup is important for Graham and usually dictates whether he can scratch on any given night. “Some of the house setups that I play on have three decks on the top and the mixer on a slanted face in front of you,” Graham says. “It will be a big rotary mixer, and a hip-hop DJ could never play on a setup like that. On the other hand, Spundae in Los Angeles has a hip-hop setup with both decks and a mixer in the middle; it has a big fader, and the decks are mounted on steel, so they are rock-solid. I can do anything, and the records won't skip.”
Despite all of the elements being under his control while mixing Shine, Graham elected not to scratch over the tracks. “I wanted to get some on there, but I had to do it separately,” Graham says. “Because I was so consumed by the mix, I really didn't get any on there. Also, scratching isn't really for home listening; it's more of a live thing. It didn't really fit into any of the songs because I like to scratch over breakbeat stuff, and that's not the type of music on the CD.”
Shine represents that period of a club night when a DJ transitions from peak-time anthems to a more sedate cooldown. Piece Process' “Solar Myth” sounds like a progressive reworking of New Order's “Blue Monday.” And with Sander Kleinenberg's “Buenos Aires,” Madoka's “Afterburner” and Junkie XL's “Tennis,” the vibe chills out more with each track instead of building up to a peak climax — not your typical mix CD.
Looking back at a career that's been filled with many accolades, it's amazing that Graham spent years playing records like 2 in a Room's hip-hop/house booty jam “Wiggle It.” But he still brings the unpretentious party-loving attitude to the dancefloor and his mix CDs. In the end, Graham wants to inspire the same reaction that he had when he attended his first rave: “Oh, my God! It all makes sense now!”