Every genre had to start somewhere. House music laid down its roots in Chicago. Techno grew from the budding Detroit scene. But the actual art of DJing began hand-in-hand with the birth of hip-hop in New York City, way back in the mid-1980s. This budding East Coast scene saw the rise of artists like LL Cool J and Run-DMC, who back then were considered nothing more than “local bands.” But there’s one person no one could have guessed would rise alongside those legends. His name? Max Graham.
Graham got his start as a scratch DJ in the 80s, inspired more by the man behind the decks than the one with the microphone. Nowadays, he’s known more as a driving force for diversity within trance music, throwing him a long way from his modest scratch roots. Calling him just a “trance artist” though wouldn’t begin to describe his body of work.
For me personally I don’t purchase by genre. I’m kind of too diverse for my own good. If it’s good and it fits my set, I can play it.
This artistic diversity informs his status as something of a world traveler. Graham spent his formative years living just about everywhere, from starting in the U.K. to his brief stint in Spain, followed by his immersion in the New York hip-hop scene before settling down in Canada.
Traveling we get to ingest so many cultural differences around the world, meet different people, taste the food, and all that shapes what you take home as inspiration to the studio.
With this exposure to the rest of the world, he’s evolved into an artist that can’t be put in a box, choosing instead to dabble in everything from techno to deep house when he’s not residing within the bounds of trance. Truly owning a room makes it so Graham is constantly walking that fine line between giving a crowd what they expect and what they didn’t even know they wanted. With that in mind, each set is defined by a simple credo: “If you put it together right, you can take people on that journey.”
When he’s not breaking down genre barriers, you can find Max Graham running his label, Rebrand. While some label heads prioritize prestige when gathering artists into their stable, for Graham it’s a question of cohesion. “It has to be fun,” he quips, “Just creating a group that can inspire each other, collaborate with each other and help each other grow.” In the end, what it really comes down to for the eclectic Rebrand boss is surrounding the label with genuinely good people (and for you young producers out there, know that Graham “listen(s) to every demo,” so know that you’re being heard should you try your luck at getting on his radar).
Things like prestige have never been a concern for Graham, whether he’s looking for fresh talent to populate his label, or controlling the floor in a dark room while 600 people dance the night away.
Some people want to go where the money’s at, they want to be on the mainstage. That’s cool, that’s their prerogative and I’ll never hold it against them, but it’s not me.
For Graham, it’s never a question of how popular a track is, or whether it’ll send him to Tiesto-levels of renown. Drawing from his experiences in the fledgling hip-hop scene of 1980s New York City, it’s clear that his priorities reside more in creating music from a place of passion. Some DJs allow themselves to be constrained by the limits of their respective genres. Max Graham is not one of those DJs, instead subscribing to the idea that “if it moves me, I’ll play it.”
Crowds are fickle things. When a DJ phones in a set with the same old music, everyone in the room can sense it. For a citizen of the world like Max Graham, this is rarely a problem. Perhaps it’s his world travels, or maybe even something encoded into his DNA, but you’ll never catch him in one genre (or city) for too long before you get something completely and wonderfully unexpected.
Tune in every week to Max Graham’s mix show, “Cycles Radio,” uploaded regularly to his Soundcloud linked out below.
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