The Unstoppable Mix Master Mike

September 20, 2017 by Michael Cordeiro

 

In this age of Rock Star DJ’s selling out stadiums, few have achieved the level of success and recognition as Mix Master Mike. His accomplishments are already legendary. Three consecutive DMC World Championship DJ titles, Grammy Awards, the first DJ Turntablist to perform at the Kennedy Center and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The list goes on. What impressed me most about Mix Master Mike is that none of those awards really define him as an artist and musician.
I caught up with Mix Master Mike in Manhattan. He was there to perform a show with A$AP Rocky that night at the Highline Ballroom, but earlier in the afternoon he was performing a small VIP set at NeueHouse (even rock star DJ’s work doubles!). Neuehouse is a combination office space, coffee house, underground club spot. The main floor is like a Starbucks cafe, while the basement is set up like an old throwback hangout club.
We held the interview in a private green room upstairs. The room had really cool couches and chic furniture with those tall fancy water bottles. I gotta admit, I could get used to VIP treatment. Mix Master Mike came in wearing jeans, a baseball cap with a big “M” and a T-shirt that read “Destroy EDM with Metal“. Mind you he was fresh off his tour opening for Metallica.
MikeC: Hey, Mike thanks for meeting with me today. Your schedule is really crazy.
MMMike: yeah, it’s nonstop. Two shows today, then I fly right back out tomorrow for more shows this weekend.
MikeC: You’ve had quite a busy year so far.
MMMike: Between the tour with Metallica and working on two new albums, I’m starting to run on autopilot.
MikeC: Do you get burnt out or sick from the pace you keep?
MMMike: I get tired, but I really try and take care of myself. I don’t drink (alcohol) and I’m pretty careful with what I eat.
MikeC: Speaking of food, you’re half German and half Filipino, right?
MMMike: Yeah, my dad’s German and my mom is Filipino.
MikeC: That’s an interesting combination. I was stationed in Germany with the Air Force back in 80’s. Some of my buddies had met their wives while stationed in the Philippines. When we had parties their wives would make some of the traditional foods like Lumpia.
MMMike: Oh, man. My mom makes all that stuff. Lumpia is so good. She makes it the old way by baking it.
MikeC: Lumpia is like crack, man. That stuff is so addictive.
MMMike: (laughing) Yeah, for me that food is more celebration food for the holidays, but if I had some of that Lumpia right now, I’d be like woah!
(Note: Lumpia is a traditional Filipino dish similar to egg rolls or spring rolls, but a 100 times better.)
MikeC: So besides the tour you’re working on two albums, correct?
MMMike: Yeah, well actually three albums. Two are almost done and one is still in the works. It’s a VR (virtual reality) album. I’m most focused on that one.

MikeC: Virtual Reality? Are you creating videos or worlds for the tracks? How are you incorporating VR into the album? 
MMMike
: We are creating a unique world for each track. Totally immersive.
MikeC: That’s amazing! How did you come up with that?
MMMike: I’ve worked with video games in the past (SSX Tricky & Jet Grind Radio). I really like the idea of actually being in the game. I wanted to take that platform and my music and bring it to a whole nother level.
MikeC: That is totally groundbreaking. Do you think VR is the next step in music?
MMMike: Absolutely. Instead of just “watching” a music video, we create environments for each song, so if you put the goggles on you can navigate through this whole imaginary world which is like a reality or virtual mayhem. Each time you listen to the track you can have a different experience.
MikeC: My brain just went “pop”. How is it going so far?
MMMike: The first one we put out called Magma Chamber won five international awards and the last one we put out Moonbase Invasion just got accepted to the Cannes Film Festival.
(Note: I watched Moonbase Invasion with VR goggles on my Iphone 7 plus. It’s incredible!)
MikeC: That’s amazing! Sounds like you are singlehandedly trying to revolutionize the record industry.
MMMike:It’s more than that. I have two albums I haven’t released yet because I didn’t want to put something out there that I put my heart and soul into to just get lost.
MikeC: What do you mean?
MMMike: Well, kids today, the Millennials, are so ADHD about music. They listen to 10 seconds of a song and move on. I wanted to take these amazing tracks I created and give them another dimension. I want people to listen to them over and over and experience them in a different way each time.
MikeC: I think you’ve just pioneered a whole new form of entertainment. Instead of just listening to music, we should be experiencing music. That’s a great concept.
MMMike: It’s a match made in heaven. Virtual reality and music. This album is the first of it’s kind.
MikeC: Did you create the tracks with the idea in mind of adding virtual reality or was it an afterthought?
MMMike: Both.When I was going to school I would never take direction or follow what’s in or keep up with the status quo. I would always bulldoze my own path. That’s my intention at the end of the day, you know, to make this path that others can go down and build on.
MikeC: I think that’s what’s missing the most from the music industry are pioneers.
MMMike: That’s because no one’s brave enough to carry the torch. Everyone wants to stay in the safety zone and stick to the corporate formula. My whole career I’ve been a risk taker. there’s not enough artists out there with the “cojones” to take some risks or detours. They sit around listening to the corporations say what’s in now and what draws numbers. Ya know, F*ck all those numbers. That’s not what it’s all about. At the end of the day, it’s about integrity and not compromising the art.

 

MikeC: In one of your previous interviews you said a lot of DJ’s were stuck in the 90s, like they were stuck in a “Tribe Called Quest” groove they couldn’t get out of. 
MMMike
: (laughing) Yeah, not to throw anybody under the bus, but I think a lot of guys just revert back to the 90s. I mean, come on, It was the golden age of Hip-Hop. The thing is it can’t be replicated or duplicated, but how about taking that energy and putting it towards creating something new for 2020.
MikeC: Do you feel that the role of DJ in a band has been diminished? Back in the day you had Dr. Dre, Jam Master Jay, Spinderella. Is there still a place for DJ’s in music?
MMMike: No not at all. There’s a lot of technically skilled DJ’s, but they haven’t made that transition to artist or musician. I started out as a DJ then I became a musician. It’s about making that leap or are you just going to stay with all the other millions and trillions of DJ’s doing the same thing. That’s how you set yourself apart.
MikeC: Has all the modern technology, like DJ Apps on your phone taken away from what we do?
MMMike: It depends on how you look at it. I think the millennials are getting it twisted on what the role of a DJ should be. The DJ is a pillar of Hip-Hop and the millennials need to know that. In order to know where you’re at, you need to know where it all comes from. I always go back to Grandmaster Flash and the early guys and then there was DJ Q-Bert and my crew. You have to look at the full spectrum of DJing to have an appreciation for the culture.
MikeC: We pretty much have two sides to the DJ world. Folks that work clubs and bars and those of us that do primarily private events like weddings.How do you feel you differ from guys like Aoki or DJ AM or Tiesto?
MMMike: Well I’m a musician not a DJ. I’m not just playing records; I’m “playing” records as an instrument.
MikeC: That’s a great distinction. Going with that train of thought, many of the mobile guys argue that they don’t need to learn how to scratch or all the fancy stuff because their gigs don’t require it. Should they be learning everything?
MMMike: Yes. I mean different situations require different skills. I think what happens is most guys aren’t thinking about longevity or looking at what they do as an art form. They’re just in it for the short term. I look at everything I do and I want that sh*t to be around forever. I want people to dig that sh*t up centuries from now and be like “Oh, sh*t this was ahead of it’s time”.
MikeC: But does that apply to guys doing weddings and parties? I mean, you’re creating and making music, these guys are working parties.
MMMike: It doesn’t matter. With technology there’s a record of everything. People should be able to watch a video of you playing a party a hundred years from now and be impressed. There’s not enough guys thinking like that. I go back to my influences like Coltrane, Zeppelin, Muddy Waters…you can learn a lot from studying Zeppelin. That music is timeless. Your mixes should be that way too.
MikeC: I get your musical influences, but who were your “DJ” influences? How did you get your start?
MMMike: I ran with a bunch of kids that had a special skill set. I won’t tell you how I got my first set of turntables. I remember my uncle showing me a video of Hendrix in concert. I was so captivated by what he did. I was like, That’s what I want to do, but I had no idea how to play guitar. Then I saw Grandmaster DXT with Herbie Hancock and I said, there’s my instrument. I look at guys like Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughn and try to be an extension of them. That’s where I’m coming from with my music.
MikeC: So, you try to emulate what they’ve done and take it to a different level?
MMMike: Exactly,my whole career is based on taking what they did and playing and creating with the same passion. Much love to those guys. They’re like the great pantheon of musicians.
MikeC: So with all the titles, awards and competitions you’ve won; is their any other title or level you want to achieve?
MMMike: You know, I’m just a big kid with a passion for music. All those accolades and titles came along with and through that passion. There is so many ways you can bend, stretch and play music. There’s like an ocean of wisdom out there for music. I just don’t feel I’ve reached that peak or level yet. I’m not bored with it yet.
MikeC: You and I are almost the same age. Another big topic in our industry is relevancy. Heading towards your fifties, how will you stay relevant? Do you foresee any big changes?
MMMike: At the end of the day I can do music in my sleep. I think I’ve way exceeded my ten thousand hours. (Note: That is a reference to a proverb about mastering any discipline. You must practice or study it for ten thousand hours to become an expert) What keeps me going is the charity work I do for cancer, parkinson’s, orphans and a few other charities. It’s so important to me to be able to use my music platform to help others.
MikeC: We talk a lot about giving back in the DJ community and we try an encourage everyone to find at least one charity they can work with and support.

MMMike: People always remind me of all the titles and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but my mission with music is more than that. It’s trying to use music to shape the world and take people away from their problems. I want to use my platform, my music to help people and inspire others. I’m not trying to sound preachy or like a music messiah…
MikeC
: Oh, I agree. I believe people should use their gifts and skills to help others.
MMMike: Yeah, I’ve had awakenings (revelations) since I was in my twenties. I think now after 32 years of doing this, the picture is so much clearer and multi dimensional of what I can do with music. I’m not at a point where I’m ready to stop.
MikeC: How do you feel about all the new technology? Do some guys rely on it too much?
MMMike: Of course, there’s a lot of bullsh*t going on. If I pay to go to a show I don’t want to see someone on stage fist pumping and playing a preprogrammed set. I want to see some skills.
MikeC: So what is your definition of a real DJ?
MMMike: Someone who can entertain a crowd and uses music to make a difference. Someone who is doing more than just playing records.
MikeC: Looking at the future of DJs, what should we be focusing on?
MMMike: Using music to create your own Opus of sonic assault…
MikeC: Sonic assault (laughing)?
MMMike: Yeah Hip-Hop and music are like a sonic assault to me. You’ve got of all these things that are thrown into the pot like a tasty stew. Ya know, make it good, not too salty, stir it all up nice.
MikeC: What advice would you give to someone who wakes up tomorrow morning and says, “I want to be a DJ”?
MMMike: Look up and watch old videos of Q-Bert and myself and see what we did to get where we are.
MikeC: Awesome! Thanks for taking time today.
Throughout the interview Mix Master Mike referred to himself as a musician and not a DJ. For whatever reason I really did not pick up on that until my wife pointed it out after the interview. After attending his VIP set the difference finally dawned on me. He is a musician. We tend to think of a musician as someone who plays a conventional musical instrument (drums, guitar, keyboards). Ever hear of the MOOG synthesizers from the 1970s? Were they an instrument or something that just replicated sounds?   Here’s the thing. Our controllers and systems have amazing capabilities. How many of us know how to use all the buttons on our fancy controllers? How many of us are actually creating music instead of just playing music? Beat mixing aside, what Mix Master Mike does with his system is unbelievable. Watch the video from his VIP set and judge for yourself.

WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCKwSGk2GTE&t=15s

Michael Cordeiro Michael Cordeiro (48 Posts)

Mike Cordeiro is the owner of M.C. Entertainment. A small RI multi-op. Mike got his start in the entertainment field while stationed in Frankfurt Germany in 1990. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Entertainment & Event Management from Johnson & Wales University and has appeared on TLC’s Four Weddings, hosted an episode of Toddler’s & Tiaras, and does background acting for movies.


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