Recently we released our 97th episode on the podcast with Mike Gervais, so we grasped the opportunity to ask him a few questions. In this post we gain insight about the challenges techno promoters face in Minneapolis, and we also find out more about Mike, his work, love for techno and Twix chocolate.
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In Minneapolis there’s no legal framework in place for events to operate past 2am
We are under the impression that there is a techno scene in your home city (Minneapolis), but what challenges do you face as a promoter?
YES absolutely, the techno scene here is very real. We’re a small but tight group with a deep love and some big hurdles to overcome. To start off, we sit far north and the winters here are snowy, VERY cold and run six months of the year. That doesn’t necessarily hurt us but it means when the weather is nice people don’t want to be inside hanging onto a speaker stack.
This is the land of 10,000 lakes and that’s where people go when the weather allows it. With no techno festivals in the area to cover festival season summer is pretty bleak. Add blizzards or heavy thunderstorms (both of which have ruined events for us in the past) and nature is a real factor that can make or break your night.
Let’s talk more about our location; the middle of nowhere. Unlike many of the major techno circuit cities around North America we are isolated. Too far a drive from other nearby population centers and too expensive for weekend flights since few economy carriers have regular routes to the Delta dominated MSP. If you don’t live nearby, popping in for an event is costly in either time or money.
The largest hurdle is local laws. Long story short, in Minneapolis there’s no legal framework in place for events to operate past 2am. It might not be so bad but we’re in the heart of country/rock + roll/top40bar land and there are no suitable venues to accommodate this kind of music and vibe. That means we’re always subsidizing the venue with more sound, different lighting, DJ booth gear, Etc… It’s more work and overhead costs lay directly on the promoter, so margins get tight real fast. Typically if the night does well the promoter breaks even.
Those of us who have been doing this for a long time have found it necessary to expand our capabilities to stay alive. The more you can do yourself the easier it is to stay in the black. This includes running your own sound, light programming, graphic design, social media, stage/artist/staff management, owning your own equipment (sound system, lighting, DJ gear, etc…), special builds, electrical, and a million other tasks we take on so we end up on the right side of the ultra narrow margin.
Without a doubt, the promoter’s role in this city has to be a labor of love
All that effort and risk for a 2am shutdown can get real tough when the music and vibe we do is at it’s best in a late night setting. The underground events are even more difficult to curate due to the lack of venues, high cost, and legal risk. Without a doubt, the promoter’s role in this city has to be a labor of love. It’s a lot of complaining and grass is greener talk but when all the boxes are ticked and it does come together, the vibe in Minneapolis is powerful.
People know the struggle we face and they bring a lot of appreciation straight to the dance floor. The energy they give back reaffirms our effort making events electric and meaningful. For example, our recent anniversary event with Ben Sims was a legit risk for us to take but turned out to be a heaving pressure cooker every second of the night. You take memories like that with you for the rest of your life.
How could I not keep pushing?
By listening to your set, we get the sense that we are listening to a DJ with roots from the American techno scene. Why is that, and what inspires you as a DJ?
It’s true, my roots go deep here. Inspiration is always changing of course but let’s be real… That energy exchange between you and a locked in crowd is a vibe worth chasing your entire life. When I first started out it was all about the challenge of stepping into the role of the DJ and really trying to replicate what I had experienced from others. For a long time I was inspired by technology, using it to break from the conventional DJ norms and push myself into new ways of DJing. Finding my own voice through whatever machines I was using at the time.
It was only recently that I stopped waving the flag of technology because we’ve reached this point in time where DJing roots of vinyl mixing and advances in technology have hit this sweet crossroad. For me it feels less like a step back and more like a step onto a different path entirely. This constant push forward and evolution of technology has been a huge source of inspiration for me but it’s just one.
Each part of my life influences the rest and the musical aspects have profound influence over their connecting pieces
The many hats I wear as a DJ, promoter, producer, designer, label owner, builder, technician, partner, friend, father, etc… all feed into this influence/inspiration balance. Each part of my life influences the rest and the musical aspects have profound influence over their connecting pieces. Seeing my friends succeed or fail, opportunities to work with people, places, and artists, or missing those opportunities because of obligations!
It’s all so intricately connected. Inspiration can come as easily as a positive exchange with someone or be wiped away completely with a simple lack of balance. As I get older my DJing is influenced by a wider range of experiences and reciprocates that influence back to other parts of my life.
How do you select your tracks before a gig, do you make up an elaborate plan or is it just ad hoc?
I was an early adopter in the digital realm and have been developing my organization method for a long time. I love to discuss with others how they sort their files, tags, playlists, promos, etc… To make a long complicated story short, I manage all my tracks into a handful of “vibe” playlists like openers/closers, late/heads down, drum tools, analog, etc… as well as “new stuff” lists.
I’m always digging for music like anyone else so the core playlist content changes over time but the “vibe” categories tend to stay the same. I take those playlists into gigs with a starting point in mind then just go with whatever direction the night calls for. If a gig calls for something special it’s easy to build new playlists based on the existing organization structure. I’m sure it’s a similar method to what many DJs using digital are onto these days.
Any updates on your productions that we should be looking out for soon?
Up next I have a release on Ben Sims’ Symbolism label. I’m pretty happy about the final selections and looking forward to having vinyl in hand finally. It’s definitely some of my strongest work as of late. It should be coming out April-ish unless vinyl delays blah blah blah. Same old story there.
I’m definitely hitting the gas a little harder in 2016
Then I’ve got SYSTEM04 coming with a track from myself and remixes by Annie Hall, Project 313, and Jesse Jakob. I think it’s a well rounded EP with broad appeal to the diverse techno market. I’ve just finalized SYSTEM05 which is a four track EP of all originals from me.
SYSTEM06 is close to being done and the concept for SYSTEM07 just came together this week. Plus there’s some other good stuff on the horizon but it’s a little early to be publicizing any of it. I’m definitely hitting the gas a little harder in 2016.
Finally, any guilty pleasures?
Easy! Belgian Saison / Farmhouse Ales, and Twix