Meet Sydney’s Newest Techno Talents – McLean & Mai
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Meet Sydney’s Newest Techno Talents – McLean & Mai

For any Sydney-sider that has experienced a Motorik event, chances are you’ve found yourself at a thumping Mclean & Mai set.

The 24 year-olds, Michael and Declan, have very slowly made a strong reputation for themselves in the Sydney circuit, off the back of their debut EP release for Motorik last year, titled Octo. With heavy grinding beats, the duo made critics and labels across Sydney notice, and with good reason. Since then, the two have been locked away in their studio, tinkering away at new material, while popping out every now and again for a belting set for good measure.

All that hard work has come to fruition, as their sophomore EP Tier 3 is releasing this week, on February 24th via Motorik. Here at Stoney we were lucky to catch them at a moment where they weren’t busy, to talk about how they met, their new EP, and where they find inspiration for techno.

Stoney Roads (SR): Tell us about yourselves. How did you meet, and how did you get to making music?

Michael: We met each other throughout a Sound Design degree at UTS approximately 3-4 years ago. Whilst Declan was presenting an assessment, he caught wind of a Turbo Recordings sweater i was wearing at the time. Just one of those moments where game recognises game (haha)

Declan: A lot has changed since turbo records ha ha.

SR: Has making music always been a hobby of yours?

Michael: I haven’t always been into composition, I feel it was around the age of 16-17, soon after I started DJing in town, I started to really consider making my own tracks.

Declan: I started playing guitar when I was about 12, so I’ve always had a pretty quick knack for writing out a song. From there I picked up Ableton pretty young and on it I was trying to emulate guitar sounds as much as possible, that’s definitely how I first learnt synthesis. I didn’t really start djing properly until I was about 21.

SR: Was techno always a part of your lives growing up, and what were your specific musical influences from a young age?

Michael: Not necessarily. Techno for me came quite later on. Ever since i started collecting, I was mainly into bands like The Cramps, Roxy Music, Gang Of Four and Joy Division, and was/still am a massive hip-hop guy, the Wu-Tang Clan, Jeru The Damaja, Dr. Octagon, Madlib and the like. I feel growing up skateboarding had a massive influence in these choices. But In terms of dance music, my earliest introductions were via my brother Bosco’s limited vinyl stash. There was an array of Ed Banger releases, some older Kitsune ones, a couple of Bang Gang numbers and From there I branched out to other similar artists like Cut Copy, Canyons, CCS, The Rapture, Washed Out, Twin Shadow etc. but then somewhere along the lines, I took a massive right turn and got heavily into electro trash, then went onto real aggressive electro techno which was all connected to my soiree into the djing world, playing weekly parties at The Oxford Arts. Very quickly i got over those aggressive genres, and techno and house took a hold, and like a lot of people do, i started to backtrack and got into older guys like Sterac, Jori Hulkonnen, Luke Slater, Mr. G, Moodyman Radio slave etc. etc., and that basically brings us to now. It isn’t necessarily a chronological journey, doesn’t really have a rhyme or reason, but that’s just how its come to fruition.

Declan: I was always into indie bands, I think DFA records was a gateway for me into club music. They always had really tasteful disco and house DJs doing remixes of LCD, The Rapture, Hercules and Love Affair which was almost just like dipping your toe in the water of club music. At the same time as that bands like Soulwax, Simian Mobile Disco and Hot Chip were having their moment. Pretty much all those acts DJ in their own right too, seeing that out at a festival or a club as a youngling was pretty eye opening.  I think once you turn 18 and really start clubbing properly you start to appreciate electronic music fully for what it is, you understand it’s an experience as much as personal listening.

Techno came real late, if anything I was more into synthesizers themselves then the genre. It was more through collecting a few different synths we found our place making techno because that’s what really came naturally with these instruments.

Tell us about your creative processes. How do you construct tracks, find inspiration, and work with one another?  Does it always come easily working with each other or are there differences?

Michael: We predominantly both work with hardware. We utilise synthesisers, drum machines, sequencers, pedals, analogue mixers etc. and then use Ableton as somewhat of a multitrack recorder, but also for eq’ing, compression and mix downs. For me finding inspiration can be a bit of a struggle, i tend to go into a writing session from a sound designers perspective, as opposed to in a song writers headspace. I tend to hit record and tinker with pieces of kit until i find a loop or sound out of a recording that contains a spark, then i’ll roll with it. Sometimes i go into a session with a plan or an idea, but generally speaking, i like to tinker. I feel when we first started jamming, we weren’t friends prior so we didn’t know each other all too well, so it was hard at first to be objective about certain things in fear of sounding like a dick. But as time went on our overall goals and mindsets slowly became harmonious and our relationship grew to the point where we are quite comfortable with expressing our thoughts and opinions during sessions, but that’s not to say we don’t each have our own unique points that we bring to the table, overall we have a yin and yang mentality.

Declan: I think we had to be pretty brutal with each other when we starting out, it took a lot to get on the same page about everything but because of that we’re now really quick and open with our criticism – anything which helps us get to the strongest possible track we can we make is all that matters really. Michael definitely focuses on finding the right sound, then I’ll push the track forward, develop the structure and arrangement.

I also love digging for samples, I find myself on really weird pages of discogs buying 10 records at a dollar each to get the weirdest drum loop I can find or for just a few seconds of vocals. I always find that a great starting point for a track even if you don’t end up using by the end it helps build a structure in the first place. In terms of really working with each other I think we’re so comfortable with each other in the studio now we know when to pull each other back or let one of us just ride an idea out.

SR: When you’re not making music what are you both doing?

Declan: I have a full time job working for a luxury fashion brand in their logistics department. How techno is that?

I also do quite a lot of film photography and spend as much time as I can going abroad.

Michael:  I work several mundane jobs, but do skateboard quite a lot, a relatively new skatepark opened up near me which is fantastic. I am also heavily into Gunpla, which is a very specific type of model making and painting. I also own a 92’ LS400 which needs quite a lot of attention.

SR: With ‘Tier 3’, how did the idea come about? In terms of the title as well as the music. Did you want to make heavier, more club-oriented tracks, or is that just what came out?

Michael: Tier 3 is the title track of the EP, and was named so because it suited the track, has quite a robust feeling to the name. We felt it was the strongest track of the bunch, so we decided on it being title.

In terms of how Tier 3 came about, just a stupid amount of experimentation, from a technically standpoint. Tier 3 goes against a lot of production principles, but we made it work, besides its a signifier to the fact that technical constraints don’t always need to be adhered to. In terms of the body of work as a whole, we didn’t really have a plan on how we wanted it to sound, we generally make songs to whatever mood we’re in at the time, and the Tier 3 EP happens to be a manifestation of the strongest tracks that we’ve created in the past year.

SR: Are you satisfied with what you created on ‘Tier 3’? Why?

Declan: Definitely, it really summarises what we’ve been up to over the last year since our first record came out. We’ve been pretty lucky with getting to play some seriously cool parties, we’d always take that experience back into the studio and make something out of it. The EP is definitely made to work within our own sets, I think that’s why the tracks are quite varied so we can play them no matter what kind of party we are playing.

Michael: We are satisfied with how its turned out, specifically the slightly broader range of tracks on offer, but which all still meld quite well together as a body of work.

SR: Going back to making club tracks, do you think you’ll explore more experimental or ambient genres in the future?

Michael: We’re both heavily into ambient techno, but ambient as a standalone genre also. At the moment we’re trying to make more functional dance music, stripped back, adopting a less is more outlook, and so far has worked out splendidly.

Declan: It’s funny a friend from university just hit us up about working with some vocals so some actual songs could be right around the corner. We also have pretty large amount of ambient and beat-less tracks we’ve made, sometimes just for personal listening other times to open up sets with. I don’t know if they ever need to be released but we definitely play them. I’m thinking one of the M&M Series mixes will be all ambient pretty soon.    

SR: What’s next for McLean & Mai in 2017? Will we see only the one EP or will there be more? Any tours?

Declan and Michael: There will indeed be more releases in the near future, but generally these things take time and there is a little red tape involved, so patience is needed.

We have a handful of dates lined up for the EP, somewhat of a mini tour:

24/02 – Ricardo’s Motorik Party / EP launch

17/03 – I.O.D, Harp Hotel Basement, Wollongong

24/03 – OWT, Canberra

25/03 – Cakes, The World Bar

22/04 – OWT, Civic Underground

McLean & Mai’s Tier 3 comes out this week, and if their previous EP was anything to go by, it’s sure to be a real head-turner. Suss out the title track from their Octo EP below via Youtube.

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