During our trip to MEG Montreal last weekend (for those that missed it, our complete festival review is here), XLR8R corralled a few of our favorite artists to sit down for a quick chat. One of them was Machinedrum (a.k.a. Travis Stewart), who performed on Friday night at the city's Sociéte des Arts Technologiques alongside Rone, Jimmy Edgar, and Seb Diamond. (Technically, the event was part of Osheaga MEG Pro, a collaboration between MEG and the Osheaga festival, which was also happening last weekend in Montreal.) Although we only had to chance to talk for a few minutes, Machinedrum was happy to address a range of topics, including his thoughts on Montreal, his passion for collaboration, his plans to leave his current home in Berlin, and how he thinks the EDM boom is actually helping everyone.
XLR8R: You've played Montreal before, yes?
Machinedrum: Yeah, many times.
Is it a city you like to play in?
It's a city I've been playing in for years. I've known Rob Squire (a.k.a. Prison Garde/Speakerbruiser/Sixtoo/Megazoid) for a really long time, and I've actually known Seb Diamond as well as Jacques Greene since they were super young teenagers and they used to book me here. Even Lunice I've known for a long time. I used to come up to play the Turbo Crunk parties when I was living in New York, and I would actually be more excited about playing parties in Montreal than I was about playing in New York at the time. I just saw this crazy thing going on with these young kids. They'd be small parties, but they just really went off. I knew that it was going to be something that was ongoing.
Also, it feels like I'm in Europe every time I come here. There's the French thing and just an overall vibe—especially with understanding electronic music—that kind of reminds me of the same sort of feeling in Europe.
Over the years, you've garnered a reputation for working fast and being really prolific. These days, you're doing Machinedrum, Sepalcure, Jets, and other projects. How do you manage to constantly do music?
I'm trying to figure it out as I go along, more or less. I don't know. The things that feel right, I do, and the collaborations that make sense, I really want to make them happen. The concept of collaboration is really interesting to me, and I like to explore it with the right people because it's something you can never really experience by yourself. So when I see the opportunity to do that with somebody, I try to follow through with that as much as I can.
When you're working on Jets or another collaborative project, does it feel like you're entering a completely different creative space?
Kind of. [Jimmy Edgar and I] have known each other for so long that we kind of understand each other in a different way. It's the same thing with Praveen (a.k.a. Braille) and Sepalcure—we also go really far back. There's a certain understanding that happens in the studio when you already know each other personally, so you can kind of get away with doing things and allow each other to [say], "Maybe you shouldn't do that." And you trust the person enough, because you already know them so well, that you can let that lead your decisions.
With your collaborative projects, do you only work on stuff when you're in the room with the other guy? Or do you sometimes bring in ideas that you've done yourself?
I try to. It's kind of an understanding between me and Jimmy and me and Praveen and even with Om Unit for Dream Continuum that we really try flush out stuff together as much as we can. It's usually in the post-production stages where swapping [files] kind of begins. With Jets for instance, a few of the songs we started on our own, like years ago, and then tried to revive them in some way. But I feel like the pure essence of each collaboration really comes out of the studio experience and us being there in the flesh and seeing how a song generates.
You have a new Machinedrum album, Vapor City, coming out in September. Does its release mean that you will be focusing on your solo work exclusively for a while?
After the album comes out, there's definitely going to be a focus on touring and all of that. But I'm trying to take a break from [doing constant shows] and focus on the studio. There is going to be a focus on my own stuff, but also a lot of focus on collaborations that I've been wanting to do, because I really enjoy the experience of collaborating with different people. There's just something about it. I've spent so long making songs on my own, so I kind of know how that is. There definitely is an unpredictable quality to it, but it's even more so with collaborations. I want to focus on that as I get off the road more often and head into the studio.
How long have you lived in Berlin now?
For two years and a couple of months.
How are you feeling about the experience?
It feels good. I love the people there. I love the music scene there. I feel like I got to experience it more when I first moved there, and now that things have been taking off a bit more with shows, it's harder to really relish that experience. Every time I go back now, I'm basically just holed up in the studio, trying to get as much work done as possible... At that point, you're like, "Why even live in one of the biggest club cities in the world?" I feel like I'm being gravitated back towards the US. [Moving to Berlin] was never really a permanent decision. I was seizing the moment, because I saw an opportunity to play a lot of shows in Europe and milk that for what it was. I could still do that, but like I was just saying, I'm trying to get back more into the studio realm of things, and I don't need to be in Europe for that. Also, my German is shit. [laughs]
Does that mean you're going to be moving back to the US?
I'm moving back. I'm ready. I've never even told anybody that I planned on living in Berlin for the long haul. It's always been known that I was just trying to figure out this shit and really, like I said, take advantage of what's been going on in Europe. And to see how things have changed [in the US], just since I've left, has been crazy. Literally, within the year that I left, this whole... like, Skrillex wasn't even really known two-and-a-half years ago when I moved. And to see that whole shift with EDM happen within the States, it seems like a resurgence of the whole "electronica" thing in a way, where people are understanding electronic music as a common thing, a household name. I think it's great what's going on, and I've always had faith that it would happen again.
So, in your opinion, does the whole "EDM"—we hate that term...
Yeah, I hate it too. Just like "electronica," it's an inevitable thing. It's a name that you give to a mass understanding of electronic music. Because electronica at the time meant a lot of things, and so does EDM.
Do you think that the push of artists like Skrillex and that world has risen all boats, so to speak? Do you feel like it has trickled down?
Totally. I feel like there's a very big trickle-down effect. Even if people don't completely understand [artists] that are trying to push certain sounds or be a bit more leftfield or experimental, at least there's an understanding of what's going on [with electronic music] that is more within the pop spectrum. When I was doing laptop shows 10 years ago, people had no clue. [People would say,] "You have a laptop on stage? Are you just checking your email?" That was a constant thing. Now, people don't really ask that. They're like, "Yeah, you're just rocking this rave. It's dope!" So, that's cool with me. Even if it's a basic understanding [of electronic music], at least there's some sort of momentum leading towards a forward-thinking kind of movement and it's not just rock bands anymore.