Home / Artist Spotlight / Trapstyle sits down w/ MAKJ @ Insomniac’s Escape Psycho Circus

Trapstyle sits down w/ MAKJ @ Insomniac’s Escape Psycho Circus


Moses: I wanna start off with the whole MAKJ thing, actually. So your name is Mackenzie.

MAKJ: Yes.

Moses: How did your name come about?

MAKJ: I don’t know, my parents… I’m Canadian….

Moses: No, no… [laughs]

MAKJ: I could tell you the background story about my real name, or I can tell you about MAKJ…

Moses: I mean MAKJ. My bad…

MAKJ: So, my real name is Mackenzie Johnson. So, DJ name came from Mackenzie Johnson, and my buddy was like you should just be MAKJ. And I said that sounds so cheesy! I’m from the bay, in a sense, I’m from the central coast. Mac Dre, I thought he was really cool. And then it just kind of funneled down to MAKJ.

Moses: I never even made that connection.

MAKJ: Not many people do. Until I say the story. And that’s the story! You heard it here first!

Moses: Do you want that out there?

MAKJ: Yeah! Mac Dre is awesome!

Amanda: Why did you start producing EDM? What got you into EDM?

MAKJ: I wouldn’t classify it as me producing EDM. I kind of fell into it. I produce every style of music. A lot of styles, I sing, I play guitar, I play the drums. I am a musician in a sense. But EDM is just very popular in the clubs and very popular at festivals like this (Escape). And it kind of grew so fast, that if you weren’t doing it, there would be no relevancy if you want to say, if you want to make it as a DJ. Because if you’re not producing, in this day and age, house music or producing something that can be classified as EDM. Like, EDM to me is a bad word. EDM was a cool word, three years ago. But now it’s just an over saturated word, like “hella”. It’s like, why did you just say that. So I wouldn’t say I started producing EDM, I think I just fell into it, in the sense that it’s the hot thing at the moment. I love this style of music, it’s just not my first choice to go and produce. Sit behind a computer and hear those wompy wompy beats all day.

Moses: While we’re on the subject of EDM, I love the fact that you’re “Yeah, EDM not really a fan”

MAKJ: I’m being real about it. I don’t want to beat around the bush.

Moses: I feel like outside of America, EDM isn’t a genre. It’s just music, especially in Europe.

MAKJ: It’s electronic music. To me, EDM in the states is going and seeing Kandi Ravers.

Moses: [Motions to Amanda’s Kandi]

Amanda: Hey, don’t bash my kandi! [laughs]

MAKJ: It’s not a bad thing, EDM a culture. But now it’s a bad culture. You don’t want to be affiliated with it anymore, because there’s so much shit that’s gone down in the past year.

Moses: It’s the stigma, there’s a negative stigma around it.

MAKJ: Now there is, five months ago there wasn’t. Shit happens so quick. A couple people pass away, everything gets tied to that style of music. It’s kind of like how everyone trolls. Everyone is going to troll on the internet, and then everything revolves around DJ Mag Top 100. Who was the DJ Mag Top 100, what artists are they? They’re fucking EDM artists. But in a sense everyone is just playing electronic music. EDM is just a scapegoat for people to talk shit, coming from an artist who plays the music. Tonight I’ll be a DJ, not just an EDM artist.

Moses: I really like that answer.

MAKJ: The thing with EDM right now, I hear this all the time. Ask your parents what EDM is. They’ll be like “what the fuck is that?”

Moses: What’s is that? Do I snort it?

MAKJ: Exactly. It’s Electronic Dance Music, but at the same time. I don’t know, it’s such a bad subject, it’s so hard to talk about. People either love it or hate it.

Moses: Okay, let’s talk about your childhood. You said you’re from the bay?

MAKJ: San Luis Obispo. Central Coast.

Moses: Okay, cool. Your manager is from SLO, right?

MAKJ: My tour manager, the guy wearing the Spider Man outfit. I went to highschool with him.

Moses: That’s dope. So you’re from california?

MAKJ: Yeah, California.

Moses: West Coast representing. [laughs] So, what do you use to produce?

MAKJ: Logic. I was talking to Mr. D.O.D., do you know who he is?

Moses: Yeah, I caught his set earlier.

MAKJ: Him and I come from similar backgrounds. He was telling me he used to play weddings, and weird parties in the UK, like formals for high school and shit. and that’s where i come from, playing frat parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs and it’s cool to see other DJ’s coming from that style, being an actual DJ. And becoming the DJ they want to be, not just going POOF I’m a superstar DJ.

Moses: From a mobile DJ, paying his dues..

MAKJ: I still have all my mobile DJ stuff, it’s amazing. Like all my crappy lighting, I have a disco ball. It’s the best shit ever.  

Moses: Any synths of choice?

MAKJ: I’m really into spire, but everyone has been using spire, so you hear spire a lot. I’m really into serum, serum is really cool. What else is really dope? I’ve really been into stock logic stuff. Not a lot of people use it. Kygo uses a lot it, for his tropical sounds. Because it has a lot of wood instruments, and he makes it sound Kygo-ish. He found his sound. But everyone has nexus, spire, massive. Everyone goes to their set in stone plugins and gets their download packs and goes “Oh shit, my shit sounds like this”. Doing something outside the box by using the stock logic stuff that no one seems to go to, or the stock ableton stuff, stock fruity loop stuff, it makes you kinda go, woah, these are actually pretty cool. It’s different, it’s fresh.

Moses: Do you know Kygo?

MAKJ: I do not.

Moses: While we’re on the subject of him, what do you think of his music?

MAKJ: It’s cool.He killed it. He made his own genre. It’s every producer, artist, whatever you want to call it, everyone’s dream. Making your own style, having your name tied around a certain style. You hear anything, “Oh, that’s Kygo”. You hear future house, “Oh, that’s Oliver Heldens”. You hear a wompy wompy, “Oh, that’s Skrillex”. It’s the goal. You want your stuff to be so widely known. I’m sitting on a fucking airplane, and I hear a Kygo song come on, on American Airlines, and I’m like “Yeahhhhh! That’s what’s up”. It’s cool. He made his sound globally known, and that’s the goal.

Moses: That’s dope. I was talking to his manager a couple days ago. I’m going to shoot him this article.

MAKJ: I’m gonna say, the biggest thing ever, every time I’m about to have sex, I put on Kygo and The Weekend. That’s the way to do it.

Moses: I’m going to put that in big bold letters. There’s going to be a bunch of small text and then…

MAKJ: MAKJ Has Sex To Kygo’s Music. [laughs]

Moses: Baby makin’ music.

MAKJ: It is baby makin’ music. It’s awesome. Those Kygo hour long youtube mixes. with like 900 million views.

Amanda: If you could do a B2B with anybody, who would you choose?

MAKJ: 100% AM, if he was still alive. AM would be tight. People who are still alive? I would love to do a B2B with D-Styles, or Qbert. Qbert would be awesome.

Moses: Qbert! Do you scratch?

MAKJ: Yeah.

Moses: That’s dope. So I wanna hear your musical journey. Like, what’d you start out with? How did you end up DJ-ing, how’d you end up scratching?

MAKJ: One of my buddies had a turn table at his house, and was trying to scratch, and sounded like shit, but I didn’t know any better and I was like “Wow, that’s really cool”.. I had $200 to my name, and I’m like “fuck this, let me go spend it on a turntable”.  

Moses: Hell yeah! That’s awesome.  That’s the coolest thing i’ve heard all day. that’s fucking inspiring.

MAKJ: It was a crappy Stanton, no offence to Stanton, a crappy Technique MK-2, the light didn’t even work. It was a  straight arm turntable. And that 200 bucks started my career, which is hard to say. And living in Asia (when I was 17) I started going out to clubs and really experiencing the club life. So I got to see how clubs were run, and DJs do in clubs, instead of doing like, bar DJs, I didn’t know any different. It’s like trying to explain to your parents what a DJ is, they have one mentality in their brain, like a wedding DJ, a disc jockey, radio DJ. It was cool to get that experience out of the way by going to clubs. I know a lot of these guys, like my manager, he used to be one of those guys outside of the LA club handing out fliers. And now, he’s one of the biggest promoters ever. He manages me, and a couple other guys. Just gotta start from the bottom. I know it’s such a cliche thing to say but it’s fuckin’ true.

Amanda: How did you end up in Asia?

MAKJ: I used to race cars. I was a racecar driver for 8 years. My step dad was big into racing, my two other brothers didn’t want to do it, but i was like, “fuck yeah I want to race a car!” So I started with go-karting, and it ended up being a really insane hobby and it almost turned into a profession. And I started travelling, and I started winning a lot of stuff. And as an American, living overseas and racing, and doing really well, it’s a big thing. because America doesn’t have a lot of international race car drivers, it’s all NASCAR and other bullshit. But yeah, that’s how I ended up living in asia.

Amanda: Do you miss racing?

MAKJ: I do, but I don’t. It was such high anxiety sport, very stressful, and there’s a lot going on, and a lot to fuck up. Being more mature, and seeing how dangerous it actually was, my mom must of had a fucking heart attack.

Moses: Speaking of being mature, how old are you?

MAKJ: 25

Moses: Oh, shit! Damn, I feel old, well kinda old, I just turned 26. So you were born in 1990?

MAKJ: 1990! ‘90 was a good year, I wish I was born in ‘89 though.

Moses: I’m ‘89.

Amanda: ‘91.

MAKJ: Yeeah, I’m in the middle!

Moses: I’m happy to hear you’re from the west coast, I don’t wanna take up too much of your time, so we just have a couple more questions. What would you say is the tune that made you realize, “My career is going somewhere”?

MAKJ: Definitely the collab with Hardwell. Sitting on my computer and I had 5 songs and Hardwell used to play a lot of my mashups, and I had that connection with him, because I was sending him edits every day. MAKJ Mash-Ups. That was the big thing, there was DJ Funkadelic, that was Dannic, and then MAKJ were the guys that was making all these edits for Hardwell. So, he was like, “Yo man, when are you going to start producing your own music?” and I was like, “fuck alright, I’ve got these 5 songs” and I was really scared to send it to him. So I put them in a zip folder on Dropbox. DropBox wasn’t even around, Mediafire. I put them on Mediafire. and I send it to him and he was like, “yo, what’s this one song” and I was like, “What song is it?” I might still have it on my computer. It was a collaboration with Paul Oakenfold before it was a collab with Hardwell.

Moses: Insider information right there.

MAKJ: So he was like “What is this song” and I was like “Oh it’s just a song I’ve been working on” And he said “it’s really awesome I’m going to test it out tonight” and he played it and he told me it was bigger than Spaceman, and I was like “Youre fuckin’ punking me bro!” and then I was like “You wanna collab on it?” and he was like “Yeah” and I was just like “FUCK YEAHHH!” And then later I was driving back from a gig in San Diego, in my crappy Acura, and I pulled over to the side of the road and started crying, because I knew that was the moment my career turned around.

Moses: [laughs] You’re fuckin’ hilarous, can I make a meme out of you?

MAKJ: Let’s do it.

Moses: Last question. Final words of wisdom for the budding producer out there?

MAKJ: I’m going to say something very cliche. Don’t give a fuck. If you give a fuck, you’re going to hold yourself back. Don’t care what you’re doing just do it. do what sounds right to you. someone says it sucks, tell them to fuck off. But you want to take some criticism. You can’t take criticism, you can’t’ get far in your life. I’m not sitting here because someone told me my shit was good all the time. people told me my shit sucked and made me want to work better at it. So do you, take criticism, work hard for sure. If you’re sitting at your computer, working on your track, can’t get an idea. Sit there, take a small break, but keep at it. Don’t give up. Literally i’ve sat at a computer for 15 hours trying to tweak a kick. It’s one of those things that’s tedious, but at the same time, if you’re not going to do it, who’s going to do it for you. There’s no better feeling than finishing a track, and going “YESSSSSS!”. And after that, do another track, and another. Keep at it. One track isn’t going to make you a legend, one track won’t get you from zero to hero. There’s too many good producers out there to compete with. Diversify yourself as an artist and don’t give up.