Music & Interview
Mike Davis is a Berlin based Canadian who founded Brenda in 2015. Also releases under a collaborative project Company.
Hi Mike. Nice to have you for this „Music & Interview“ feature. Let‘s start with a small introduction. You were born in Canada. How was your youth there? What music did you like being a teenager? Tell us something about your life in Canada please.
Nice to be here Jürgen. Thanks for inviting me. My youth there was good. When I was very young I moved some hours from Toronto to a small village where I grew up. A place where winter is a synonym for hockey and there weren’t many strangers.
As a teenager I listened to lots of different genres but I guess rock and it’s more progressive varieties mostly. Like Fugazi, Mars Volta, Portishead etc, I’d say a fair share of trip hop. Also a lot of soundtracks in my youth for some reason, but I will admit not really any good ones, I just liked soundtracks as a kid. I gravitated towards punk and metal in my early 20s as I played drums and enjoyed playing fast and the political leanings, and later more funk, jazz and world music when I started university. I guess I’ve always been a product of my environment.
(Mike Davis Promo Pic 1)
You now live in Berlin, a city that seems to be very attractive for young people & artists. What was your reason for moving here? Did you already speak German when you came here or did you learn it after your arrival? Was it difficult to get into a new life, looking for new friends etc? Please tell us something about your start in Berlin.
My reasons weren’t just artistic ambitions. I took a German literature course (in English) in uni and became interested in Berlin. Also my father is from Ireland so I had an EU passport that seemed like a waste not to try out. I had played a bit and was learning some production but I originally came for an exchange at Humboldt for my final year. Couldn’t speak a word of German, but had to take German classes for the program and kept it up at the Volkshochschule for a few more levels, so now I get on fairly well.
No friends can be nice, I wanted to focus on music after studying so getting into a new life just meant getting into music, a new language. I’d argue the will to learn a language eases said “new life” difficulties. You can enjoy pretty mundane things and situations, alone or otherwise, if you’ve always got language in the back of your mind. Anyway, I had my old ambitions in this new setting, it was exciting.
(Mike Davis Promo Pic 2)
Let’s talk about techno. When did you discover it as one of favourite styles? Who were your techno heroes? Which tracks did you like becoming an addicted for techno? Which other styles do you listen to?
I’m a pretty late bloomer with techno. It was always marginally in my life, but in strange ways. For that reason I never really had any techno heroes or anticipating or following particular artists. Now I get a lot of fulfillment from looking backwards and finding my thing. If I had to pin it on something, and this probably sounds pretty lame, but around 13 or 14 years old I remember listening to the Orgy cover of “Blue Monday”, I think on a mix cassette I had. One of the first encounters with some mechanical, slightly metallic percussion. Also Rammstein’s “Du Hast Mich”, insert “Firestarter” and “Voodoo People”, and there I was. This was probably the nascent beginnings of my techno, definitely hinged on the intersection of genres. Some other titles that stick out …
KLF – 3 A.M. Eternal
808 State – In Yer Face
Pet Shop Boys – So Hard (Extended Dance Mix)
(Mike Davis Promo Pic 3)
Canada has a very famous protagonist of the techno world: Richie Hawtin aka Plastikman aka aka aka … Could you please give us an insight into the Canada music scene esp. electronic music? Someone unknown who we should check out?
Tough one, the Canadian music scene as a whole is quite vibrant, especially for such a sparse territory. I was much more familiar with Canadian indie music of the 2000s than electronic. Canadian indie of this time was pretty great. I kind of wanted to make music seriously, but it wasn’t until I attended Mutek in Montreal in 2011 that I felt like the community was something for me. He’s not Canadian, but experiencing Amon Tobin’s “ISAM” at Mutek was pretty instrumental in my accelerating my interest in electronic and making original stuff. After that I spent more time going to the shop Play De Record, and linked up with a crew throwing some underground parties, which I found much more accessible and interesting than the legal scene in Toronto. I think it was only after I left that I began to notice quality bookings (in my opinion) in Toronto, beginning to show an eclecticism that could rival anywhere. For instance Unsound Toronto, Forth, etc..
I would recommend checking out Maxwell Church and Benjamin Wood. Two very talented Toronto guys, but I know they are both really busy with life. I think Basic Soul Unit is aware though and is nurturing some fresh Toronto talent with with Jason Ulrich and their Lab.our project. Admittedly my Canadian lens is pretty central but I’m a fan of Local Artist and Cloudface out on the West coast.
(snippets of “Lab.our 07” by Maxwell Church)
From Canada to Berlin. What do you think about Berlin’s techno scene? There are a lot of well-known clubs like Berghain, Tresor, Watergate, about blank just to name a few. Also many producers live in Berlin. Many people see Berlin as one of most important creative cities in the world. What’s point of view from a Canadian guy?
At least visiting Berlin and it’s clubs is valuable if you want to make music or DJ. It chamged my understanding of how techno is consumed and indeed nurturing my own consumption in a different way than Toronto had. However as mentioned before, other cities are taking cues from places like Berlin and forging their own respectable path, and it is in my opinion not necessarily a creative advantage to be here. I think you should approach music very personally, so doesn’t really matter where you are. Of course there are more clubs and parties here, any day of the week, especially throughout the summer, but at the same time it becomes a challenge to isolate yourself from the activity of everyone else to really do something unique. Berlin hast also lost much of the affordability factor, but at the same time it’s in the middle of Europe, so it’s very practical. Important thing is not to dwell on comparisons and just be yourself, and that’s just a choice.
(Mike Davis Promo Pic 4)
I know you for some productions but unfortunately never have seen you spinning records because you don‘t do it so often, right? Why? Is there any reason? Are you more into producing than into djing?
Yeah it’s been a while, but I’m not really more into one more than the other. After some gigs here I thought it was more worthwhile to work on my position, in part I wanted that to derive from production, because I like the idea of contributing in that way, to a musical Canon. I don’t mean it’s necessary, there are people who prove doing both is not necessary, but I would prefer to do it. I love to make music.
I was playing funk and disco records in a little bar every month for a while, the odd gig in some bigger clubs through some friends and networking but it was more like playing for a party instead of really enacting myself on the decks. Next day I would make techno in my bedroom. There wasn’t much continuity, fun but I was a bit of a lost cause.
A couple years ago I was in a shared studio space in Lichtenberg because I was also making electronica with some mates. I set up some monitors and I would use the studio on the days we weren’t rehearsing. This first taste of making music in a studio setting was it, techno felt the most free. I’ll just keep developing my sound and hopefully it will form something cohesive that could generate some activity, I’m still young 😉
Apropos producing. How do you produce your stuff? Where are the ideas coming from? How do you start with the production of a track? Which equipment do you use for it?
With a mix of gear and software, and no set way of mixing them together. Sometimes using one or the other only. but almost always in the confines of Ableton, which is nice. Not sure where ideas come from but I notice technology is increasingly dictating them. I usually start a track by following or resisting my first instinct when approaching my gear. But I also come up with ideas at home, even with just the midi notes, or really basic ideas, and then take them to the studio.
My equipment consists of some outboard stuff, synths, compressors, pedals, my modular, a small console, lots of vsts and digital processing.
(Mike Davis’ track “Communiqué From An Absent Future 2” on BRENDA008)
Beside creating your own tracks you also run a nice label called Brenda. When did you start it? What‘s the idea behind it? Who has released there? How do you select the tracks for the next release(s)?
The impetus for starting Brenda was to release Francesco (aka CNCPT)’s music, also with the intention to start putting out my own music at some point but at first it was just to give CNCPT a platform. We met when he was working the bar at a restaurant beside my flat at the time, which I guess was around the end of 2014. Eventually he showed me some of his work and I almost immediately proposed we put it out. He agreed to it and we did some white labels and I distributed it myself, we’re working on the label together now and soon we’ll be on our 10th release.
Just the two of us so far on the roster but we listen to demos, and “Company” was created for the collaborations that ended up happening. We share a studio out in Köpenick now so it’s all kind of happening in one place. Selecting tracks usually by either of us collecting a set of tracks that we think could work, listening and discussing.
(snippets from BRENDA00p by CNCPT)
We talked about your favourite music in the youth, about Canadian artists, Berlin‘s scene.. so we would like to know your 10 favourite records of different genres and why they are so important for you.
Okay here goes.
01. Let’s Call it a Day by Move D & Benjamin Brunn (Bine Music)
Some of my first and still finest downtempo for me, getting to know this one and much of Bine was important for me.
02. 62 Eulengasse by Pete Namlook & Tetsu Inoue (Fax +49-69/450464)
Just about any piece or album from Fax could be here but something about this particular result. RIP Peter Kuhlmann.
03. K&D Sessions by Kruder & Dorfmeister (!K7)
Brings me back.
04. Step Three by Blo (Afrodisia)
Nigerian psychedelic gem
05. The Increased Difficulty of Concentration by Air Liquide (Sm:)e Communications)
Wonderful collection from some legends that transgresses brainwaves.
06. London is the Place for Me (Parts 1-6) by Various (Honest Jon’s)
6 releases in this series but it’s a gorgeous collection of Calypso jazz beautifully compiled and packaged, always puts me in a good mood.
07. Newbuild by 808 State (Creed Records)
Have tried to buy this twice and both times it was “lost” in the post.
08. Low by ESP (Synewave)
Common reference point for me.
09. Time Explored by Clementine (Djax-Up-Beats)
Some of my favourite Luke Slater prod. material comes in the form of Clementine, this is the one I have.
10.Dummy and/or Portishead by Portishead (Go!)
(Mike Davis Promo Pic 5)
We are already reaching the end of our small interview. And as usual I would like to ask you what‘s coming next. Any new releases on Brenda? Own productions? Any DJ gigs?
Yes sir, BRENDA009 should be out on the 27th of April, and then I’ll release another EP, to be followed up by another Company release and bringing us into autumn. Might have a remix surfacing on New York Haunted as well. I’ll be playing in Brussels at the end of May but few details as of yet.
Thanks a lot Jürgen.
Thanks for this cool interview & the great mix
Mike Davis’ “Communiqué From An Absent Future EP” on Brenda
Mike Davis’ “Communiqué From An Absent Future EP” on Brenda
Mike Davis’ “Invisible Line EP” on Brenda
Company’s “Metrical” on Brenda
CNCPT’s “Peonia” on Brenda
Tracklist of Exclusive Mix:
01. Electric Indigo – Second Organ
02. Nebulo – Fake Cadillac
03. Cosmin Nicolae – Sector Acuamarin
04. Plant43 – Grid Connection
05. In Aeternam Vale – Non
06. Chevel – The Call
07. Shifted – In Equal Measure
08. 400ppm – Cladogenesis
09. Jonathan Fitoussi – Music For Synthi
10. Ø [Phase] – Boundary Interactions
11. Museum – CCC
12. Manent – Assioma 1
13. Korridor – Futurist
14. Alpha Tracks – Sage-Green
15. Thomas P. Heckmann – Zeitmaschine
16. Viers – Oyasumi
17. Blue Hour – Common Ground
18. Mark – … Careful Development Without Haste
19. Kellen303 – Planet X (Interstellar)
20. Chevel – Arp 2600
21. The Empire Line – Ø (for Vainio)
22. Cosmin Nicolae – Semnal
23. Komarken Electronics – Spaciousness (The Exaltics Remix)
24. Alva Noto – Uni Sub
25. Feathered Bug – Zanshin