After the breakup of Six Finger Satellite, guitarist Juan Maclean went into geek hiding, teaching english in New Hampshire until good friend and DFA/LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy reeled him back in. Soon after Juan put out the acclaimed electronic dance full length Less Than Human as “The Juan Maclean” and toured extensively both with a full band and doing DJ sets.
This Friday, Feb 2nd he’ll be taking over Will Eastman’s Bliss dance party on the Black Cat mainstage. I sat down with Juan for a few minutes to talk about sex, drugs, rock and roll and beating up people.
BYT: Señor Juan! …it’s cool if I call you that right?
JM: Why wouldn’t you call me that, it is my name.
BYT: Right… moving on… besides the upcoming DJ set on Feb 2nd, anything else interesting on the horizon you’d like to shamelessly self-promote?
JM: I am working on LP#2 right now, it will be out some time this year. It will be a tour de force of disco, acid, techno, techyes, some old skool house elements, all combined into one sound that has never been heard before. Right now we are analyzing whether or not consumer grade speakers can reproduce all of the sounds, and whether or not some of these sounds will affect people’s health adversely. Other than that I have been traveling a lot dj’ing, mostly throughout this world.
BYT: Sweet, you should try to throw in the brown sound. What kind of tunes can we expect from you? What’s your DJ setup – vinyl, digital, laptop, ipod on shuffle?
JM: In my dj setup, I only play vinyl. Sometimes I play cd’s, but I usually forget them in the cd player at the club. In general, I come to party. My motto is ‘have a good time, all the time.’ I can basically take any of the records in bag and make something happen. I lean heavily on old skool disco, house, and techno, new electro house stuff, nu-disco. In general, I try to only play good records. My main goal is to make girls dance, and gays if they are there. Once those two groups start dancing, then straight dudes will dance too, cuz they want to go home with the aforementioned groups.
BYT: Exactly, ever mix in some live performing with the DJing? I have a theremin that I sometimes bring to my DJ nights but it usually just ends up being annoying to everyone but me.
JM: Well, the Theremin takes years and years of practice. Eric B., the Juan MacLean’s Theremin player, practiced for years before he felt comfortable ever playing it in front of people. Otherwise, you end up just making funnny noises that are endlessly fascinating to you, but annoy everyone else. Similar things happen when people get in front of analog synths with lots of knobs to diddle, they endlessly tweak the sound without ever playing anything. We call it getting ‘moogmerized.’
BYT: Yes! I have a synth + no talent, so I just sit there and get moogmerized for hours. Hence I only do it alone. (insert witty segue here) I read somewhere that you were a big Philip K. Dick fan – what did you think of Linklater’s film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly?
JM: Oddly enough, I haven’t seen it. I think I am too freaked out by it, as A Scanner Darkly is one of my favourites. That and the fact that it’s animated. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, but I don’t know. I’ve generally liked other Dick adaptations, like Blade Runner or Total Recall. Blade Runner is a masterpiece, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time. One time me and my girlfriend stayed up for 3 days shooting cocaine and watching it over and over, and by the end we were convinced that the other was not human, and we were both freaked out that they could in fact be some sort of android. I just came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter. We were doing so many drugs every day that sexual relations were out of the question, so it was a moot point. Irrelevant, too, for that matter.
BYT: Oh Juan! You and your crazy antics! Re: the Atlanta incident (for those readers who don’t know what I’m talking about – read up on it here )I think one reason why people dig rock star indie DJ dance nights is that you get the sense that you’re partying with these people you admire. At a show there is a separation, but usually dance nights the DJ is right there and you can say hi to him/her – or at least stand next to them, hoping some of their sweat will fly on your t-shirt or something (ohpleaseohplease). Your bud James Murphy stepped into the conversation claiming this was a problem. Obviously this incident was a case in point, but I’m guessing it wasn’t the norm. Do you really want people to leave you the hell alone during a DJ set, or just drunken mic stand wielding douche bags? Has anything changed since that night, like bodyguards blocking the DJ booth?
JM: Things have changed a bit. I think dudes are less likely to barge in on me. By pure coincidence, there was a similar incident in Boston, my hometown, the next week. I was at this club, I was waiting to go on, and this dude started hitting on my sister, and her boyfriend was standing there. This is all fine, we were getting a laugh out of it, except that he got really belligerent and creepy pretty quickly. I stepped in and told him to beat it, and he gave me the finer. He not only gave me the finger, he stuck it right in my face. He was some drunk frat douche. So I grabbed the finger and bent it back, apparently breaking it in the process, and kneed him in the face as he bent over. I was standing in a circle with like 50 of my very best friends, so they intervened right off the bat. The bouncers took him outside. I gave them some money to give him for his finger and never heard from him again.
I do get thanked by dj’s all the time now, they are like “thanks for doing what I always wanted to do.” I don’t think people know how much you get disrespected when dj’ing at times. I play with Tim Sweeney a lot, another DFA dj, and people have threatened to beat him up unless he plays hip-hop or something.
Surprisingly, though, I like to be right there in front of the crowd. I hate being in an isolated dj booth. One of my favourite shows of last year was at a club in Germany, I forget the city at the moment, but the dj setup was right on the dance floor, and it was just one of those nights where it was 3am and people were crying they were on so much ecstasy and having such a good time. But nobody ever bothered me, mostly people didn’t even try to talk to me, cuz they were dancing and I was dj’ing. I don’t know if people realize that you are not actually just throwing on records, there is a lot to do that requires a lot of concentration.
These things only seem to happen in the united states though, where people aren’t as familiar with dj/club culture, I think. The indie dance night can be problematic, cuz a lot of indie people don’t really like dance music, they think it is too gay or something. I like gay stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love girls and everything, but the gays tend to be the most fun.
I guess the girls and the gays are my favourite people, with straight dudes trailing in a distance 4th after cats.
BYT: Oh, I think you’ll be quite suprised with the straight indie DC crowd, they go craaaazy at dance nights.
(shuffles feet nervously)
Speaking of James, let’s start a rumor about him! Like, he sleeps vertically in some sort of space age oxygen tube or something!
JM: I have known James for so long, I know everything there is to know about him. I could tell you things that would blow your mind.
BYT: Do you feel the paycheck from doing the remix of Snakes On A Plane (Bring It) by Cobra Starship was really worth your soul?
JM: I was dj’ing in Australia a few months ago, me and Tim Sweeney, and in the middle of my set, in the middle of 500 people off their heads dancing like mad, hands in the air and all that business, this kid comes up to me and says “will you play your Snakes On A Plane remix, that’s the best thing you’ve ever done.” It really freaked me out. I had to go out back and be talked down by Maurice Fultoun, who for some reason was there as well. I said “Maurice, is that really the best thing I’ve ever done?” He was like “Juan, you know what Jesus said after they nailed him on the cross? He said “nobody is even gonna remember that I walked on water and turned water into wine.” So that made me feel better, cuz everyone remembers that stuff about Jesus, but he knows that cuz he’s up in Heaven. I’ll probably end up in the Lake Of Fire, and I don’t know if they let you see the Earth down there.
BYT: I’m sure your younger fans can give you reports when they join you. Follow-up curiosity question – why were there two versions of the remix which were exactly the same, save for Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds vocals being absent on one?
JM: I turned in the first one, and they were like “what about Maja’s vocals, would you mind adding those in?” And I said “great idea, of course I don’t mind.” There are actually some other subtle differences, differences in the bass.
BYT: Ok, enough about the god damn remix. The first time I saw you live I had only just heard the album and knew nothing about you, and I was expecting someone sitting behind a laptop and a synth boring the balls off of me. And then out comes this energetic full band extravaganza. How did this come about? Was it always your intent to play this music live with a full band?
JM: Funny you should put it like that – whenever I show at some place for the first time, people are like “oh, we thought you would just bring a laptop.” Fuck that, laptops are for pussies. Well, I have one, but I don’t use it for that. From the beginning, I vowed to play with a real band. The first band was me, Nancy Whang, and James Murphy. Then Nancy and James went on to play in LSD Frownsystem. Now it’s me on keyboards and vocals, Eric B. on synth, theremin, and vocals, Justin Timernick is the electro-percussionist, Jerry is the mustache, he plays drums and is one of the best drummers I have ever seen or played with in my life. He is like a machine. He is really the centerpiece of the entire thing, people are really blown away by him cuz you have this machine of a drummer playing electronic dance music. Plus, the mustache too. All of those guys, though, whatever they do, it all works in a magical way, and it really is an entirely different experience than the recordings. Ideally, I would like to do second albums, like companion albums, of ‘band’ versions of all the songs.
BYT: Thanx Señor Juan – looking forward to Friday!
JM: No problem, see you there.