Published on May 28th, 2012 | by EDMinsider0
Exclusive Interview: Mike Hawkins
Just recently I was able to catch up with Mike Hawkins to basically get the run down on what exactly he was all about. What went from being a really brief interview, ended up turning into almost 3 hours of conversation about today’s EDM industry and more. I’m hoping that as soon as you guy’s finish reading this interview, you’ll have a really good understanding as to who Mike Hawkins is. I’ll place a bet right now on how HUGE Mike Hawkins and Pablo Oliveros (We’ll have our feature on Pablo next week) are going to be. They will without a doubt be one unstoppable duo in the months to come. Read on!
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Greg Hudson: How did you get into the EDM scene?
Mike Hawkins: I’m from a country which has never really had much focus on EDM. I was a bit of an outcast in my social circle when I was younger; back then it was the really psychedelic stuff and metal that people were into.
I guess I was one of the last few to grow up in the first generation of EDM there. Luckily I didn’t really know how good EDM was supposed to sound otherwise I think I would have probably given up trying to produce. My first productions were pretty bad.
Eventually EDM was the new “black” and all of the sudden it was cool to be Scandinavian and a DJ, so I guess being a bit weird paid off!
Greg Hudson: I can definitely relate to that. Back when I was 11 or so, producers like Tiesto, ATB, Daft Punk, Danny Tenaglia, Erick Morillo and Benny Benassi were some of the ‘baits’ that lured me into EDM. Were there any specific artists that did the same for you?
Mike Hawkins: On the contrary actually, I used to hate EDM because Denmark usually had nothing but senseless German techno and DJ Ötzi-type music going around. Funnily enough I think the interest in having electronics in music came from Linkin Park, Rammstein and System of a Down (as extreme as it may sound) – I was quite the emo-kid to be honest. A friend of mine introduced me to “Infected Mushroom” one day and after going through their first 3-4 albums I was thirsty for more.
My tastes quickly moved to Trance – I still thought House sounded repetitive, boring and senseless (back when house was basically just “beach-music” and “looped beats”), but the melodies in Trance lured me in. One of my biggest idols was Marcus Schossow (I really got into his music right after his Mike Muzaik remix), who today is a very close friend of mine.
Eventually, in 2007 I took a bite out of drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep as well (back when it was still “underground UK bass-music“); I’ve always been very rock-y in my approach to music now that I think about it. House, to me, became exciting when it became rave-y and anthem-y or had that big room sound. Since then I just started loving pretty much everything out there, from Berlin techno to drum ‘n’ bass.
Greg Hudson: From your response it seems a bit as if your real love in EDM lays with Trance, but the productions we’ve heard thus far aren’t exactly Trance. Is there a reason why you never went in that direction?
Mike Hawkins: I think some of my first productions were quite trance-y. But for some reason I never kind of caught it. I hit it at an odd time too; when I was getting good at it trance was becoming a big mix-mash of cheesy super-saws playing one minor-melody after another. It’s funny because at first I was too bad to actually produce trance and by the time I was good at it, the winds had kind of changed. Trance wasn’t really the “it-thing” to do anymore. I fell in love with the big melodic elements in house so my “feel” for melodies and chords came in handy there. House was growing on me.
Some of my first house productions were actually with Thomas Sagstad. We kind of discovered this anthem-house feel together. We both came from totally different scenes; I had my trance stuff and Thomas had his deep tech-y stuff and for some reason magic just happened. Since then I’ve been trying to incorporate more rave-y elements in my stuff; I like to be a step ahead.
I think everyone wanted to be Swedish House Mafia – who by the way are also huge influences on my sound and style – instead of Daft Punk; these guys were the first to truly become “DJ Rockstars” in my mind. Everyone can’t sound like Swedish House Mafia, though. That’s the biggest problem out there right now; people don’t dare to sound different, really. At the moment I hear more Nicky Romero “Ai-Ai-Ai” modern talking voices and SHM “triplet super-saws” than original productions and that saddens me a bit as that’s what nearly killed the Trance scene. (Thank God trance is returning though, thanks to some really talented, new thinking producers!) I have nothing against Nicky or SHM, they pioneered these sounds, but it was fresh when they did it, not when 500,000 other kids do it.
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Greg Hudson: Your latest production ‘Slump,’ due out for release on May 28 starts off with some insane snare action that almost reminds me of some Dutch House productions out there today. Needless to say, the track is absolutely brilliant. Was there any inspiration drawn from that sub-genre of EDM?
Mike Hawkins: It’s funny you mention it; my relationship with Dutch House is very complicated. My girlfriend is Dutch and so I spent nearly a third of 2011 living and occasionally playing in the Netherlands. What works there is just incredible. “Dutchies” get off big-time on march-percussion and beats. I think that is what I find cool about Dutch House; the “bleeps” and “blops” are about more than just melodies, they’re about the rhythm of the leads.
It took a rude wake up for me to start loving it though, which is kind of where Pablo came in. By the time I met him he had always been a sucker for Dutch House and he really taught me to appreciate the style, the same way as I hopefully helped him appreciate the more “big room/rock-y/rave-y” aspects of EDM. I feel Slump – and everything else Pablo and I have done together – is magic because it has it all; elements of Dutch House, marching 808/909 snares, big uplifting anthem stuff, rave-y bass lines, old trance-gate patterns and finally culminating with church bells. I mean, what’s not to love?
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Greg Hudson: I agree with you 100%, Dutch House always held a special place in my heart. Chuckie really helped bring it to light here in the States. Is that type of percussion something you see yourself and Pablo using more and more in tracks to come? Or is that something that just “happens?”
Mike Hawkins: Everything I do is kind of something that just “happens” to be honest. I can sit for months and try to do a certain thing, but the moment I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m just going to play around now,” I have a finished track 6 hours later. The percussion is definitely a big part of what both Pablo and I do, though. Especially snares; snares are a huge turn on to me (Pablo is more of a clap-man). Remember I kind of came from the rock scene so for me nothing beats a tight, juicy, slammin’ snare!
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Greg Hudson: So is it safe to say that ‘Slump‘ was more of a ‘just happened’ production?
Mike Hawkins: It’s safe to say that Slump is definitely the bastard-child that came out of a really kinky one-night-stand. We just went with it and had tons of fun. Sometimes you have those “this is just right!” moments – considering how we spanked the volume to the max for hours kind of confirms that!
Greg Hudson: Is ‘Slump‘ taking you in the right direction? Are there any big names out there who have really caught on to the track?
Mike Hawkins: That “Damn, this is a crazy tune” moment came when we got a private email from Tijs Verwest (Tiesto) saying, “I like this tune a lot!!!” Tiesto is a huge idol to both of us, especially me. I have so much respect for a man who’s managed to stay at the top of the game for so long. He’s the king of EDM if you ask me, he’ll go down as our Jimmy Hendrix, Mozart and Elvis. We ended up going with Spinnin’ [Records] on Slump and to be quite honest I think it was the right choice. Before even sending out the promotion, Sander van Doorn has been playing Slump in his radio show – twice! Spinnin’s guys are crazy professional and extremely effective at what they do.
Greg Hudson: Wow! Some pretty big names right there! Have there been any labels that have jumped on this?
Mike Hawkins: I actually had the luxury of being in the position of being offered several deals from a lot of huge labels. It was a hard choice but for what I want to do long-term, EMI Music seemed the obvious choice. It’s really inspiring working with a team hell-bent on creating hype and generating success. It also puts me in a challenging position that I thrive off of; a big label like EMI doesn’t sign someone unless they believe they can make money off of you. It means long, tiring (but inspiring) talks with different representatives to try shape music that hits broadly but still keeps its integrity intact.
It’s hard at times because at the end of the day, EMI has to consider its economical bottom-line and paying its employees. I’m one of those artists out there who is so focused on staying true to my own style and integrity, but I believe that it’s possible to do both; you can create commercially viable music and stay true to yourself. This is where the A&R reps at EMI have come in handy. They know what sells, I know what I like and the real challenge is to hit a spot in between.
Integrity and sales can in fact go hand in hand, just look at Daft Punk. Really, it’s nothing more than a fun game – the EMI rep will try to tell me to go more commercial and I try to convince them that my weird out-there trippy synth-beat is really cool and we usually meet in the middle. The end-product is so much better because they force me into thinking more about what I do. I was lucky to get a great deal allowing me to keep on signing all the tunes I want to all the small credible underground-labels out there that I love so much.
Greg Hudson: You teaming up with EMI can only mean BIG things to come within the next year. Is there anything specific that you’re looking forward to after the official release of ‘Slump‘?
Mike Hawkins: I’m looking forward to spending time around the world with the people who support what I do, most of all. I’ve been spending so much time in the studio that I almost forgot what real people look like. It’s crazy to imagine what has been going on outside my little box while I’ve been clicking and hammering my MIDI-keyboard for almost a year. It’s not something that happens every day, but getting stopped on the street in Denmark is one thing, seeing people outside of my country giving me a thumbs up for what I do is a whole new dimension of awesome and it means a lot to me.
One of the things I look forward to the most is the release and subsequent video of my track with Jay Colin (who has just been #1 on the UK Dance chart). He’s got to be one of the most amazing and inspiring artists I’ve ever worked with. He did some incredible vocals on “Shut the Place Down,” which is coming out at the end of May. I’m also looking forward to work with Gregory Boyd on his solo stuff; that’s another name you should definitely watch out for! This man has some incredible soul-y vocals and a sublime understanding of both rhythm and melodies. Working with both him and Pablo has been such an eye-opener.
We’ve also been funding a huge video with expensive cars, yachts, bungee jumpers and 500 fps cameras. Don’t get me wrong though, this won’t be your everyday “big pimpin’” music video, we’re aiming at taking controversial to a new level. I’d be surprised if it even gets shown in the States!
Greg Hudson: We see some interviewers asking DJ’s “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I think I’ll go the extra mile (or 40) and ask you where you think you’ll see yourself in 50?
Mike Hawkins: In 50 years I’ll probably be this burnt out has-been with hearing loss sleeping in a trench. Just kidding, hopefully I’ll have had an amazing ride through life, enjoying the sunset with a Mojito in my Ibiza/L.A. villa together with my girlfriend and my family who mean so much to me.
I’ve had a rough ride growing up, but I always had a mom and dad showing me lots of love. The same goes for my girlfriend who I love dearly and who’s always been supportive all the way, even when it’s meant less time for her. Hopefully I’ll have been able to give every inch back of life to the next generation, as the one before has given to me.
Greg Hudson: That sounds VERY promising for you. Finally, if you were able to sit down with 10 of the biggest DJs today, what would you say to them?
Mike Hawkins: It’s actually a really interesting question – what DO you say when you one day actually stand face-to-face with the people you’ve been trying to reach your whole career? At first I’d express my respect for what they’ve done and where they’ve gotten, as someone who’s not there yet I can attest how much hardship and hard work it takes to get there. I’ve had to give up education and so many other things – and it’s not always been a profitable way of life.
I guess I’d let actions speak louder than words and prove to them how fun of a guy I am to hang around and how utterly good I am at both Nederlands and Svenska. I mean, 9 out of 10 of those guys have to be Dutch or Swedish anyways. On a serious note, it’s always hard to prove to people that you’re the “real deal.” You see YouTube comments everywhere saying “I’ll work hard and bust my ass off,” but as with anything else, it’s a matter of likeability and persistence. I guess that’s what I’d prove to them; that I’m likeable and persistent…and very bad at FIFA, but that’s a whole other story. I’ll let Pablo beat them in that!
Article by: Greg Hudson