“In order to go beyond just playing local gigs, you have to produce tracks,” advises Max Graham. “It's the only way to gain any kind of notoriety. When I started producing tracks that did well, it changed everything. You get noticed when you start making records.” The Montreal-based progressive-house DJ is certainly speaking from experience: thanks to the popularity of his song “Airtight,” which was featured on mix compilations by Chris Fortier, Paul Oakenfold, and Dave Ralph, he went from local gigs in Canada to a fully booked international touring schedule that includes residencies at Chrome in Boston and at British superclub Gatecrasher in Sheffield.
Graham has recorded several tracks for Scotland's Hope Recordings, including the single “Backdraft” and the forthcoming release “Falling Together”/“Shoreline.” He also just issued the fourth and latest installation in Kinetic Records' Transport series (formerly called Tranceport). The CD is a good representation of Graham's DJ sets, mixing up songs with strong, euphoric textures and emotive melodies, such as Hybrid's “High Life” and Blackwatch's “Skin Deep,” with nasty techno like Peace Division's vocoder-laden remix of Boom's “Boy Versus Girl.” What really sets Graham apart from the rest of the progressive-house pack is his own immaculately produced material like “Tell You” and the club mix of “Shoreline.”
Making a brief visit to New York City to promote Transport 4, Graham manages to spare some time on a Wednesday afternoon for record shopping. For his excursion he's chosen the renowned Satellite Records — one of the best sources for house and trance music in the United States. He couldn't have picked a better day, because on Wednesday the store stocks its shelves with the latest crop of new releases from labels all over the world. Of course, all the local DJs are aware of that fact as well, so the store can get rather crowded. Fortunately, Satellite recently moved into a new space below Houston Street that is about seven times the size of the little closet just a few blocks uptown where the store used to reside. The new store provides plenty of room for browsing and more than a dozen listening stations for checking out the fresh vinyl. Satellite is not a “too hip to school you” kind of shop, and the helpful clerks are willing to drop some knowledge on anyone who asks.
Like most internationally acclaimed DJs, Graham receives most of his records for free from labels and friends who produce their own tracks. When he does take the time to shop for records, though, he likes to visit Massive Records in Oxford, England, run by Joanna Massive, who also compiles an esteemed chart of the hottest progressive-house tracks. Graham likes the Boston branch of Satellite too, and he frequently buys records online from Groovetech.com.
When Graham enters Satellite's New York store, he heads immediately for the wall where the trance and progressive records are displayed. Within minutes his arms are full of vinyl, and he carries his stash over to a listening station to begin the process of choosing the singles that will find a place in his record box. Here are his comments:
“You Won't Stop Brasil”/“Going Through”
The Cyber label sound is good for me — chunky and tribal but not too deep. It's pretty pumping but not quite progressive — it really doesn't fit into the trance category. There's almost an electro thing going on here as far as the beats go, but the sounds are coming more from a house direction.
“Pipeline” (John Creamer and Stephane K remixes)
All Blackwatch stuff is really good. It's been huge for me. This track was featured on Dave Seaman's Renaissance release. The Creamer mix is it. He is on fire right now. The production is really good. It's got just enough sounds and things going on. I love the kick drum. It sounds so good in a club. It's a bit deep, but it has strings and a few little sounds that will work late in the night. Crowds love the trippy vocal spiral on the original Blackwatch version of this.
The Trilamb label is one of my favorites. They put out everything from really techy tribal stuff to almost full-on techno. The Trilamb stuff by DJ Randy is kind of my sound. I am really into this track. It almost has that disco-house type of style, but it's a lot harder and yet it's still very soft on the ears, like Underworld's “Kittens.” It has a really techy sound without being hardcore techno. It's a bit deep and doesn't really change a lot. I like just a little more energy than this, but it will still work perfectly in my sets.
“Graverobbered”/“Steve Stabbs Back”
Ecomo sounds a lot like Joff Roach and Mac Zimms, who record for the Trilamb label. He has those same sort of dirty house beats but still sounds tribal. The A side is really pumping and has a sort of muted and flat but really crispy sound. I love a crispy, clean production sound. With a record like this I usually jump straight to just after the break. I am really into stuff that kicks in with energy. It doesn't have to have a big drum roll — sometimes that stuff doesn't kick in right away either. I don't care so much about the buildup to the breakdown — I want to know how it kicks in. The B side is almost like an electro beat done with house sounds — a little like that “You Won't Stop Brasil” track.
Bedrock's stuff has been a little too deep sounding for my taste lately. It's a classy label, though, and it's really forging its own sound. The B side is too deep for me, but it is really nice, soulful trance. I might play it really, really early in the night. The A side is big and chunky. It has a little feeling of anticipation like you know something is coming. This would be good just before a peak-of-the-night track. It's not pumping enough to be a peak tune, but it's a big enough record to set up the peak.
King of Spin
“Call of Ether”/“Bootneck”
I love this kind of crispy, clean production. This stuff is really deep, but it's really good. The production quality is top notch. The A side is one of those tracks that I'd play during the first hour of a four-hour set when I want to start picking up the energy but I don't want to go full on. It's a good transitional track that I would play as the first breakdown of the night. It's not a big breakdown but there's just enough to let people know something's gonna start happening. The B side is the same style, and it would work early in the night, too. There is no big riff that is going to come busting in. It's really smooth, textured, and ambient sounding. I wouldn't play this if I had a two-hour guest spot, but if I were going to play a long set, which I love to do, I would definitely play this.
“Inner Sanctuary Sessions” (B-side)
You can tell right off that the production is top notch. It has a little, shifty feel to it. I love that there is a bit of melody and it builds nicely. The melody is awesome — it's getting hard to find good melodies that aren't cheesy. I really like to play tracks with strong melodies and sort of a Pete Tong vibe. I like big, epic strings but only when they're not cheesy and overdone. Sometimes I will drop one really big vocal record by itself, without anything else. I'll just stop the music in the middle of the set and let the crowd feel the anticipation. This song is kind of progressive — perfect for the beginning peak of the set. A record like this definitely picks up the energy and gets people dancing. It's like a techno riff, but it's not aggressive, and I really like those kicks.
I've never heard of this guy, but Advance is a good label. Some of its stuff is really deep and some is really chunky. This is kind of like the Trilamb style with really serious bass lines and simple chords. The beats are almost dirty and scratchy. The A side is a bit too dirty, but the track on the B side, “Gama,” is really nice — a little more organy than percussiony, although I like the percussive stuff. That bass line is perfect.
“Muzak” (Steve Lawler remix)
This is actually a big record from two years ago. I know Steve's stuff, and a lot of it is really deep and tribal, but this track has so much energy. It's interesting to see how he used the two elements in one track. It has a roller coaster thing going on that changes a lot and great breaks. The way it kicks in is really nice — I like stuff that wakes you up and has a lot of changes. Stuff that is linear is too flat and just sounds really boring. For the dance floor I like a structure that has a perpetual rise and fall like a wave and keeps the drama going. This version is actually quite similar to the original. Steve hasn't done too much to it, but I am going to pick it up anyway.
Check out www.maxgraham.com for more info on Max Graham.