With his debut album, Max Cooper expands on the glitchy, melodic sound which has become his signature. Kristan Caryl called him to discuss 4D sound systems, his creative process and Simon Cowell.
Unsurprisingly for someone with a PhD in computational biology, Max Cooper is a thoughtful and articulate interview subject. Anyone who’s heard the music the man makes will likely have picked up on that too. Coming on labels like Sasha’s Last Night On Earth, FIELDS and most frequently Traum Schallplatten, it’s richly melodic and inventive stuff that balances achingly emotive and beautiful stylings with a very real dancefloor heft. Brainless genre music it most certainly is not.
His most recent opus is debut album Human, which sees him step away from the dancefloor to indulge his more abstract, cerebral and experimental home listening side. Balancing these opposing forces – dance music and listening music – is what Northern Irish-born Max excels at when in the club, where he works and reworks his own material on the fly, as well as mixing in the music of others, blurring the boundaries between DJ set and live performance. As someone equally interested in visuals, Max reports that he’s currently working on a new AV show, but that’s not all.
Following a debut show on a specially designed, long-developed 4D sound system in Amsterdam last year, Max is working on a second one for later in 2014. For a genuinely fascinating insight and lowdown on that, as well as memories of his musical education growing up in Northern Ireland, his interest in psychoacoustics and making music with the image of Simon Cowell in his head, read on…
Attack: Hi Max. Where are you at the moment?
Max Cooper: At home in Crouch End. I moved to London in 2007 – not for any musical reasons, but because most of my friends after uni in Nottingham had moved here, as you do after uni. I also had a job here, which was one of the main reasons. I’ve stayed because I like it despite the hecticness and everything being too expensive.
when I get offers from places that get lots of adverse media hype I'm happy to take them. Juárez is one of my favourite places to play despite being called the murder capital of the world.
Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Belfast. It’s a beautiful place. Well, the city’s not beautiful, but generally, you’re always about ten minutes away from the countryside. The hills rise out of the sea, you have unspoilt views, so I’m definitely not a country person but I’m not a city person either. I like to get away from things and be amongst nature. Belfast has a good balance of that, but obviously also you have the Troubles and bombs and stuff. I used to live next door to a barracks and every day I’d see armoured cars with guys with guns and stuff in big metal-plated Land Rovers with guys pointing guns out the top at everyone they went past. When I was a kid it was just normal, it didn’t have a big negative impact on me or anything.
It’s not like you were cooped up inside all throughout your childhood?
No, not at all. That’s the thing: life was pretty normal. The police stations were basically fortresses, and the police could be aggressive ’cause they got a lot of stick off people, and there were lots of armed checkpoints, but society functioned normally because the level of violence was quite low. If you compare how many people died in Northern Ireland to LA, it’s nothing. The number of people dying from gun crime in the US is magnitudes bigger than anything that happened in Northern Ireland, yet obviously America functions as a country. Well, some of it doesn’t, but Northern Ireland wasn’t as bad as many places in the world. I think just ’cause it was closer to home for people in the UK, and in the news a lot, that possibly its reputation is worse than the reality. It did depend where you lived, though; there were certain places where communities are divided by walls and there are a lot of sectarian views. But I didn’t live in a place like that. I was insulated from it.
Are your parents still there?
Neither of my parents are Irish, so again I didn’t have any of the, Oh, your grandfather was killed by so-and-so… There was no in-bred sectarianism in the family. I felt a bit like the stuff going on there was not my business, which is again another reason why I have a different viewpoint on it.
Do you even feel Irish, then?
I do, but I feel British as well really.
So there was no big rush to leave as soon as you could?
No, not at all. I wanted to go to Queens [University] in Belfast but my parents said it’d be good if I tried new things and went further afield, which I’m pleased about, because it’s good to widen your world view. I went to Nottingham, which was fun.
Where did your musical education come?
I was DJing and quite heavily involved in music in the late 90s in Ireland, then I started uni in 1999 and again I was DJing all the way through. I didn’t start writing music until later on, about 2004 or something.
So despite the Troubles there was still a music scene for you to get involved with in Belfast?
The Troubles, they didn’t really… I can’t really think of much that didn’t happen. It wasn’t a war zone, everything functioned as a normal society with the added caveat of armoured checkpoints that you’d see when driving about once a month or something. Obviously the marching season, July 12th, you don’t go out because there are loads of scumbags marching about, lighting fires and basically wrecking the place. Generally, people have twisted views on things because of the history and media hype, but that’s not the reality – it’s a normal place, people are friendly and you’d have a great time. That’s why when I get offers from places that get lots of adverse media hype I’m happy to take them. Like Juárez in Mexico, which is one of my favourite places to play despite being called the murder capital of the world. I’ve been there when it was bad and it was way worse than Northern Ireland, but at the same time society functions and still some amazing things go on – even more amazing things than normal places, actually.