We chatted with Max Mira over messenger about his insights about underground electronic music in Montreal, gentrification and his love for community based parties.
Max also recorded a Guest Mix as Ossifer for our first Mixed Signals podcast series via Soundcloud. The mix is a deep, eclectic and hypnotic techno journey, showing aspects of dub techno and experimental sounds.
We are so happy and we suggest you listen to it while you read this because is a good one.
I met Max a couple of years ago at Stereo Montreal for the night / morning that Rrose and Mike Parker created an apocalyptic parallel micro universe for us. That morning we clicked and have been in touch since then.
Each time we saw each other, great conversations took place and I found interesting to know more about his vision and perspectives about the community based techno events that he put together with Inner Circle Montreal, his insights about music as a DJ, his work at North of Nowhere Records and the current gentrification bullshit that is happening in Montreal that is affecting underground music today.
Max at Inner Circle Montreal
You have been involved with the collective Inner Circle Montreal and since 2017 you guys have been put a lot of dedication to expose a side of underground electronic music that often is unexplored but is very exquisite in dynamic music and open concepts.
How did you get involved and when did you realize that you wanted to explore the underground and not stay on the surface?
I grew up in a small, conservative town in the United States, so even the commercial electronic music that I first discovered felt “underground” there – so I guess that notion of kind of being a musical “outsider” kind of stuck with me early on! For me, “underground” means liberation, and (somewhat paradoxically) inclusion. It’s a social and musical space where difference is not only accepted but celebrated, and I personally couldn’t have it any other way.
Why do you think that techno focus the events on the all night to morning formula and not all morning to the end of the day type of events? What do you think is so appealing about that?
This context describes pretty well my early experiences with rave culture, when a friend of mine introduced me to the dubstep scene in 2007-2008. Right away, I was blown away by those shows – not only the energy and the music but also the diversity of people and their freedom in terms of chatting with strangers, dressing however they wanted to, etc.
A couple years later I moved to Montreal for university, and was able to leverage these experiences to land a gig as a promoter. This was kind of my entry point to the scene here, and as the years went on I started meeting more people, DJing, and producing and so I suppose organizing events was kind of the logical progression of that.
That time of being in the audience and starting to become part of that community must have been potent, especially in a city like Montreal. How was the transition from audience to promoter and why did you decide to start doing events?
Definitely! It’s an amazing city where individuals are really able to find their niches, I think.
The transition was pretty smooth, because I was able to establish pretty broad social networks through my university circles and only promoted shows I was certain would be good. If you’re passionate about live music, you probably do some promotion anyway in trying to get your friends to join you – the only difference is that it was on a slightly larger scale and I got some pocket money for it!
I started doing events when a group of my friends, all young DJs relatively fresh in the scene, decided we had something new to offer the community. We had attended lots of other crews’ events around the city and constantly discussed what we liked and what we thought was maybe missing. So we decided to put our heads together and take a shot, and although our first party was a bit of a shitshow, we had a great time and were hooked after that!
There is a big push towards events that are more inclusive, with more harm reduction tactics in place, and this is awesome.
That decision, let’s call it branding, about which music to play, DJs to book, the experience to bring or even which venue / space to use came based on the environment you were already involved in and wanted to enhance or is that something that you guys decided to explore unconsciously?
I would say it came about very organically – a combination of our own personal and artistic preferences, the precedent of what other crews in the local scene were doing, and our knowledge of electronic music’s history and global culture.
Max as a DJ
You have been DJing for a while now, how did you first get in touch with the type of music you’re playing today?
The main style I play today is techno, and I was lucky to have a good friend introduce me to it and take me to Stereo early on. That was a pretty mind-blowing and inspirational experience! I felt like I had finally discovered my musical home.
Oh Stereo, you did a DJ set there right? How was that?
I saw Pan-Pot! They have a broad appeal, good techno for a beginner.
Was there any specific DJ or event you went or even a track that inspired you at the beginning to start playing music?
Organizing events probably helped a bit in terms of paying more attention to how music sounded on different sound systems and what mixing styles and techniques got the best reactions from the crowd. But overall, my mindset as an organizer and as an artist are two very different ones. Which makes it interesting when I occasionally play a set at my own parties!
I think smaller and more underground labels and artists have generally come to terms with the fact that you can’t really make money by releasing music
Which setup do you usually use when DJing and there is a set up that make you feel more comfortable or to be able to reach what you want?
Xone 92 mixer all the way! Aside from that, I mostly used CDJs, with a bit of vinyl thrown in on occasion. I have fun mixing on all setups, but definitely feel most comfortable on CDJs due to the looping capabilities they have, which is very useful for mixing techno.
yeah the Xone 92 is fucking nice. Are you a vinyl romantic at all?
Not a romantic I would say, but I definitely appreciate the medium – the skill and feel involved with mixing it, the digging and collecting aspect, the exclusivity of some old and new music only existing in good quality on vinyl. It’s something that I would like to explore in the future once I have more time and funds!
Max as Ossifer
You have a techno project as a producer called Ossifer, which is very deep, dark and eclectic in some way, does the music come naturally or you set yourself a defined goal to create it?
I don’t set any defined goals, the music is the result of experimentation guided by certain feelings and inspirations and ultimately ends up being a big eclectic like you said!
And what have been the most challenges you have felt as a producer?
The biggest challenge is definitely lack of time! I feel like I have an abundance of inspiration, but rarely get those nice chunks of studio time that you need to implement in. That’s probably the main challenge.
Time is always a challenge you are so right and sometimes the whole branding that comes with when starting something new can be intimidating for many people. Is that something you enjoy in general?
There were some really cool events at this small loft called Fattal Werkstatt in Saint Henri that were a major inspiration. I don’t think the place had a capacity of more than 60, but it was always a great, sweaty time with very interesting and eclectic techno. I really enjoyed the freedom of those events and they definitely influenced how I set up my own events.
It can definitely be difficult as we – sometimes it takes my partners and I weeks just to agree on the name for an event or other project – but ultimately I do enjoy the creative challenge and the challenge of upholding consistent values and aesthetics across brands!
Max at North of Nowhere Records
You play part in a label called North of Nowhere which has quite a solid roster and series of releases focused on Montreal Techno. Since 2014 ,the music distribution business has grown exponentially and things have evolved in a way that now, basically anyone can have a record label or release their own music due multiple platforms available.
How do you see this evolution and do you think this affected the way artists perceive the concept of “I need to be signed on this label” or even the concept of what a label represents?
Actually, I joined about half a year ago. But it was definitely a label that I had admired for years.
I think smaller and more underground labels and artists have generally come to terms with the fact that you can’t really make money by releasing music, so small labels function mostly as platforms to help get good music to a wider audience, with a curatorial function as well.
Do you see that lack of revenue has had a more positive or negative impact in the music or community?
Well, money definitely helps but it’s ultimately secondary. If you’re in this scene to get rich, you’re definitely in the wrong place! It would be nice if there were more grants and things like that, but we are able to survive without them.
The Montreal Gentrification
… on the other hand, I’ve always seen Montreal as the last frontier of do what you want cities in North America, and a lot of people often compared it to Berlin. In the past years there has been an increase of Gentrification laws and more conservative bylaw crackdown.
Have you felt this change and how this have been affecting you, first of all as a citizen and as a DJ / event organizer?
It’s definitely harder and harder every year to find venues. Some people say that it’s just part of a cycle, that more venues will always pop up – but the fact is that there are now condo developments in many of the well-located industrial areas, and as we have experienced many times, condos means noise complaints. Montreal is booming, which is great overall, but it makes it difficult to find locations that are secluded enough to do all night events.
I even got some sympathy from a cop once who came to give us a noise warning, he said that it’s crazy how fast the development has been and even many established venues are having trouble with noise complaints.
But all in all I think the scene is in a very good place. There’s been a solid evolution and many young promoters and artists are making their marks. There’s a big push towards events that are more inclusive, with more harm reduction tactics in place, and this is awesome.
We are also lucky to have groups like MTL 24/24 advocating on behalf of the nightlife community, but the system and conditions in place are certainly challenging, especially for mid to large sized events.
The scene will adapt and survive as it always has, but there is no telling what will happen in the next couple of years with this pandemic changing everywhere. We certainly have lots of big plans in the works and I know my fellow organizers do too, so the future will bring lots of good I think! Alright back to work time, thanks a lot for the interview, great questions! Let me know if you’d like to follow up on anything at a later time and if there’s anything else I can do to help!