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MAKJ Bringing His Traditional Turntable Skills And Big Electro House Sound To Pure Lounge

In Music
Merging old-school DJ techniques with a modern sound, MAKJ stands out

Merging old-school DJ techniques with a modern sound, MAKJ stands out

In an age where too many DJ “performances” amount to little more than the pressing of buttons to initiate pre-recorded tracks, Los Angeles-based MAKJ stands out as a craftsman of the turntable. He scratches, beat-matches and improvises on actual vinyl. And he laments that these most elemental of DJ-ing skills have apparently been discarded by the current electronic scene, which he says often values massive bass drops and gaudy stage production over technical ability.

“I really feel like it’s a lost art right now,” says Mackenzie Johnson, the man behind the MAKJ moniker.

Johnson is one of the hottest new electronic musicians in the country—boasting a quickly growing fan-base, popular collaborations with Bassjackers and Lil Jon, and appearances at electronic music festivals, such as Ultra and TomorrowWorld. What is less known is that Johnson spent his formative years as a professional racecar driver in Asia.

Born in San Luis Obispo, the 29-year-old Johnson says being a professional racecar driver isn’t all that different from being a musician or DJ, and he credits his former career with helping him succeed in his current profession.

“I learned a lot: how to work with people, how to manage my money,” he says. “And how to be self-sufficient at age 14, which is a pretty hard thing to do nowadays.”

It was as at age 15, when he was already a veteran driver, that MAKJ first fell in love with DJ-ing. “I saw a DJ playing and was super interested in what he was doing,” he recalls—“just the way he was making the crowd react to certain songs was really amazing to me.”

After graduating from Cal Poly, where he played frat and house parties, MAKJ was mentored by the late and legendary DJ AM, before bursting onto the scene.

MAKJ mixes a variety of electronic music, incorporating contemporary EDM sounds, house, and trance influences with older DJ-ing techniques. “Everything I’ve taken from the past or everything I’ve learned, I use nowadays,” he says about his penchant for old-school flair. All of these threads combine into music that is absorbing, enticing—and most importantly—accessible. “It’s quick, DJ-friendly,” he says, “You can hear it anywhere from a college bar to a Vegas nightclub.”

While it may seem that MAKJ’s ability to manipulate the discs would give him a leg up, technically speaking, MAKJ says it doesn’t really make much difference to the audience. “The general public doesn’t really know what a DJ is doing,” he says. While he bemoans the dwindling art, he still sees it as an integral aspect to his sound. And, in hopes of remedying the apathy of crowds, MAKJ has begun to incorporate GoPro cameras in his performances, so that he can show the audience what he is actually doing. He plans to hire a full-time visual coordinator next year.

In the last two years Johnson has toured extensively in America, Asia and is wrapping up a recent jaunt in Mexico. His next stop is Sunnyvale’s Pure Lounge—a comparatively small venue for a MAKJ show, which Johnson welcomes.

“When you’re standing up there in front of God knows how many people, you kind of get lost,” he says. “EDC in Vegas was a perfect example—the stage was so big the audience didn’t really didn’t know where I was.”

While MAKJ now understands how to play to those giant crowds (relying more on showmanship than musical ability, he says with dismay), and despite the money such performances bring in, he still prefers intimate atmospheres.

“I came from playing house parties, so I really like the intimate vibe,” he says. “I like small parties where everyone’s watching what I’m doing on kind of a personal basis.”

However, you will be hard-pressed to find MAKJ at any house parties anytime soon. After this current hectic tour, he has another full tour planned for 2015. It kicks off in February.

MAKJ shows no sign of slowing down, no matter how excruciating the schedule. When it gets particularly hard on the road, MAKJ likes to remind himself of his fortunate position and how he got there.

“There’s definitely a lot worse places I could be in. I think about that every time I question this whole thing,” MAKJ says,  “I remind myself that I could always be doing a whole lot worse.”

MAKJ performs at Pure Lounge in Sunnyvale Dec 11 at 10pm. More info.

 

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