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Max Graham: Opening Doors & Closing Nights (Exclusive Interview)

Max Graham sits down with Dance Music Northwest for a second interview

Our generation is one of instant gratification and short attention spans, consuming something quickly and then moving on soon thereafter. The mere idea of an open-to-close set flies in the very face of this all-too prevalent mindset. It’s a walking, talking cultural contradiction, yet despite this it’s a format that’s been thriving since the very early days of dance music. One of the pioneers of this movement, Max Graham rolled through Seattle to give the Northwest it’s first ever open-to-close experience as part of his Cycles Tour.

Understandably “not comfortable in a 90 minute set,” it’s clear that Graham’s old-school roots made him the ideal candidate to bring Seattle an unprecedented five hours of music. Any time you’re keeping a new crowd engaged for that long though, the thought is that there’ll be some struggles. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I think the timing is right, where a lot of this generation is starting to look for more. They’re moving beyond baby food and starting to understand the seven course meal and really appreciating the different flavors, rather than just ‘give me the sugar.’ They just know that there’s more out there.

The predominant formula of the last few years of dance music has been a “90 minutes of bangers” type approach. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with a methodology that brings more fans into the fold, the movement has reached a point where a return to our origins is the new demand.

Max Graham at Foundation Nightclub

Max Graham battled through a brief blackout as he delivered five amazing hours to Seattle.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you did a single thing for five straight hours: No getting up to use the restroom, no eating, no breaks? For a vast majority of tasks, this would feel like work. For Max Graham, it’s just another night of doing what only comes naturally to someone who used to spend entire nights spinning in Top 40 clubs back in the early days of dance music.

It’s getting back to the way we all learned to DJ. Anyone who’s been doing it for longer than 6-7 years, that’s sort of normal to go in and just play the whole night. Even back when I was a top-40 DJ to learn how to take it from R&B to house, to cheesy 90s dance and then even play some reggae. To learn how to program a whole night in the top-40 club from nine until three in the morning, it seems quite natural.

Go to any number of festivals throughout the year and there’s a good chance the mainstage sets you hear are the same ones you’ll get from those artists at every single one of their tour stops. Naturally, an audience only wants to hear the same music on repeat for so long before they begin to crave a new experience. Ready to deliver on that mission is Graham, making the focus of his Cycles tour that journey into the intangible “something more.” For the man spending five straight hours behind the decks, you can bet there’s nowhere he’d rather be.

Ever the man of metaphors, Graham likens the festival experience to that of a trade show. “It’s great to have have a chance to go and so sample many different DJs. You get to sample all of them and go back and pick the ones you like,” he posits. But the backlash from that experience has been an entire generation of fans who have been left with that hard-to-describe feeling they’re only getting the tip of the iceberg.

It should come as no surprise that for an artist who makes a 6-7 hour set look easy, Max Graham’s definition of “coasting” is the three months he spent culling through hundreds of new tracks to work into his marathon sets. Everything Seattle heard during their five hour Cycles set was part of that arduous process, with each hour divided into a 20-track folder where we ended up hearing maybe 12-13 songs per-folder-per-hour. All this hard work culminated in a musical odyssey through techno, trance, and everything in between.

Max Graham At Foundation Nightclub

Foundation Nightclub takes it all in. (Photo Credit: AJ Apuya Photography)

The landscape of the modern music scene has found itself in a constant state of flux. With fans of just a couple years already feeling burnt out on the relative sameness of the mainstream, the diversity that Max Graham offers is breath of fresh air.

I think there’s so much music to play and so much music I like from different genres that it gives me a chance to dip into all of that, and that for me is more satisfying than whittling it down to 15 bangers and going home.

The last time Max Graham passed through Seattle, we talked about his upbringing in the New York hip hop scene of the 80s. This time around, Graham provided us a glimpse into the future of dance music. As “a lot of these kids are starting to ask for more and want to discover more,” our scene has begun to mature past the aptly described “baby food” and into full, hearty meals. For five hours on a Saturday at Foundation Nightclub, Seattle was well-fed.

Check out our last talk with Max Graham, where we talked over what made him dance music’s world citizen! For more info on tour dates, his weekly radio show, and more on our favorite open-to-close DJ, check out his main site here

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Written By

Pop culture junkie, dinosaur enthusiast, and proud Managing Editor. While an avowed basshead, has been known to be ever-so-slightly trance-curious under the right circumstances.

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