Thanks to its unique, recognisable and confusingly timeless character, Mike Parker‘s music needs no further introduction among the followers of hypnotic techno. Currently Parker works as a professor of fine arts in the Western New York region while simultaneously pursuing his musical endeavors.
After busy years 2016 and 2017 with tracks and remixes with Atmophile Electronics, ARTS, Lanthan.audio, Dynamic Reflection, Spazio Disponibile and his own label Geophone, Parker is taking a well-deserved breath between releases. Surely, there are new releases on the way during the fall season.
In the summer Parker returned to Europe to play shows at Cafe d’Anvers in Belgium, Berghain, the Freqs of Nature Festival in Germany and Gamma Festival in Russia. Monument had the pleasure to have a beer with the legend after his masterly curated set in Berghain.
You are back to Europe for the first time this year. How has it been?
Especially Freqs of Nature Festival was really amazing; it is well a organized event, and I can see why people are sad it is ending. I also played there last year, and it felt like a reunion with Rrose, Matrixxman, Takaaki Itoh and Cio D’Or. I stayed there for three days. I had a great time.
In Europe, the crowds are generally larger than when I play in American cities. I also notice among the audiences that there is a certain awareness or recognition of specific tracks and releases. People here follow the music more closely, I believe.
How do you see the recognition for the music in the European crowd?
Sometimes it’s from conversations I have after the set, people approach me and specifically mention certain tracks. It’s more rare in the US. I think in Europe people are paying more attention to certain details. I also get a lot of questions from young producers. They ask me questions about my working methods, but depending on what they ask, I don’t always have the right answer. It’s important to find your own way, but it is of course OK to be influenced to certain extent. I was influenced by other artists as well.
At Freqs of Nature you played two sets, a ‘normal’ techno set and an ambient set. What is your relationship with ambient?
I don’t always get to play ambient, but it’s actually something I really enjoy doing.
In some ways ambient sets are very reminiscent of my beginnings as a DJ. I was playing ambient and industrial music during my college radio days at Carnegie Mellon University. This was a really good student radio station, we had a free independent format, and that’s how I started. College radio also opened my mind to sound, and helped me to learn about new kinds of music – this was the time before the internet.
Speaking of internet, you removed your artist page from Facebook for a while. Why?
I took a break from Facebook because it was distracting me from my studio, but now the page is back. Currently, the main platforms for me as an artist are Bandcamp and SoundCloud. I like Bandcamp very much, I recommend people to go there.
The users can review all the tracks of my albums, most of the Geophone back catalogue is there, and people can preview entire tracks. That’s a good way to do it. I also like the way it’s structured for the artists; it’s very user-friendly. If I want to change something on my site, I can just go there with my phone and do it immediately.
You started with ambient and industrial. What sparked your interest in hypnotic techno?
I was always interested of the sounds more than the beats. The beat is what really hooks people, but I was more into the weird alien sounds. For me it was the perfect logical progression into this music. For me, techno combines all the things I like in electronic music, and I am not the only one who feels this way. I have talked to other artists with similar musical experiences. They might have listened to Depeche Mode or Joy Division and then subsequently became interested in techno. That’s a perfectly logical thing.
For some years ago you went from vinyl-only to CDJ. What was the reason behind the change?
I was playing exclusively vinyl for my entire life, up until 2.5 years ago. At first, I did not like playing with CDJ’s, but I have learned the advantages of them – I can for example test promos or unreleased tracks. I still miss the interface of vinyl, and I used to associate the tracks with the artwork, the jacket… now I just have the audio file. I’m still adjusting to that.
I still buy and play vinyl, but if I go on long tours it’s impossible. The new CDJ’s, in my opinion, have very high sound quality. That’s what finally convinced me. I researched it, and when I bought the CDJ-2000NXS I was really happy with the sound. I play with two or three decks, it is enough.
How do you work when preparing and playing your DJ-sets?
I don’t believe in pre-planned for myself, the mood and the reactions of the crowd are changing anyway. I only have a rough outline of the set, and I always change it when I start to play. The tracks that I choose, including my own tracks, are very improvised, and you have to wait for the right moment to drop a certain track. Sometimes I get excited and I mix too quickly, and I have to tell myself to let the track play longer.
Your live sets are rare. What are the occasions you choose to make a live set?
Everything is considered. I reserve the live PA for special occasions, such as for Labyrinth in Japan or Berlin Atonal. It’s an enormous amount of preparation.
Now I’m reforming my live set, I want to change it because I want it to reflect my current state of mind. You won’t see any live PA’s this year, but maybe next year.
You are renewing your live, and have started playing with CDJ’s. Have your productions changed in the recent years?
We are living in an amazing time for electronic music production. As the technology improves and changes, new possibilities open. I am learning to navigate some new synthesisers right now, and I recently completed an exclusive track for another artist’s mix compilation. It was interesting and challenging to create something for that specific purpose, where the artist had specific parameters in mind, while encouraging me to operate within my own sonic palette. My sound is recognizable now, but I want to continue expanding it, without changing it’s essence.
You have ran your own label Geophone for more than 20 years. Please, tell us about it.
I run my label as an expression of my artistic intent, not really to make money. That has never been the purpose. In the 90’s I was releasing records on the label, pressing them in Detroit, using the same manufacturing process that everyone else was using. I sent out the records to distributors (selling mostly in Europe), but I did not know who was playing them – maybe only once in a while, if someone sent me an email. In those days, I might have pressed 300-400 copies of a release – they would sell, but I did not know who was playing them. That was the vinyl culture before social media.
So your music was already selling in Europe, but you were not yet touring. How and when did that change?
Things started to pick up around 2008-2010, it was the time I got signed to Prologue. That time they had a booking agency and I was in their roster with Cio D’or and others, and I started getting bookings in Europe. I also met Donato Dozzy, who was involved with the Orange Groove label and of course his own label Dozzy Records, and I collaborated with him. That was kind of a breakthrough.
You and Cio D’Or seem to be good friends.
We have been friends for ages. I enjoy playing with her. We did our first b2b set together at Gamma festival in Russia; this was the first time we went back and forth together and we had so much fun. I hope we get the chance to do it again.
Back to Geophone. During the years you have released only your own tracks, with a few exceptions (Stanislav Tolkachev, Voices From The Lake, Eastern Renaissance and Echologist on GPH catalogues 19 and 21). Why these exceptions?
Some friends sent me amazing demos, therefore I just had to release them. They were so good! But mostly I release my own tracks, that’s how it was from the beginning, and I think that’s how it will continue. But if the opportunity arises, I might release something from others again.
How do you work with Geophone in general?
For me, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the tracks, not to release something unless I think it’s really justified. The years 2016 and 2017 were really busy for me, a really productive time period. With Geophone, I don’t have to release that much. If I release one record per year, it is fine, because there is no commercial pressure to sell a certain number. It’s more like an artistic statement: if I want to release, I do. If I’m not ready to release, then I don’t.
Do you have other upcoming releases, projects or gigs?
I’m working on new projects (and some remasters of older tracks), but I don’t want to reveal them just yet. I will also probably return to Europe in December and January.
And finally, is there an artist who you would like to give a shout-out?
The record “Dwell In Motion” by Desroi on Avian is a bad-ass!