Exclusive Interview with MAKJ
Minutes before he would appear in front of ten thousand screaming fans, Mackenzie Johnson was backstage channeling his energy into a ritual of focus. He was uncharacteristically quiet as he stretched his long limbs and loosened his body. The Californian DJ, better known by his stage name, MAKJ, has lived nothing short of a fast-paced life. At only 23, he has gone from a career in professional race car driving to mastering DJ techniques under the guidance of the famed DJ AM to gaining ever-growing popularity as a house music producer, collaborating with names like Hardwell and Henry Fong. On his Global Entry Tour, MAKJ landed in Prague to play at Magnetic Festival, the Czech Republic's biyearly dance music festival. After a set that kept the crowd jumping at every drop, he animatedly discussed the touring life and his new direction as a producer, post-performance adrenaline still emanating from his body.
What was the process like going from just DJing to actually producing your own music?
Quite easy. I mean, I've been DJing for about 10 years, so I kinda knew the route I wanted to take in regards to how I wanted to produce. Because DJing every single night in a club, I was able to see what people liked at a given time. So being able to see that is 90% of the battle in production, knowing what people want to hear. So it was easy, just learning how to make the sounds was the hardest part, and that's why I went to school for it. So for me, going to school to learn how to produce was probably the best decision I could've ever made.
Did you go straight to mashups or originals first?
When I was DJing I was making my own personal mashups because I didn't know how to use any of the software besides the really basic stuff. And basically doing the majority of my mashups live, I would sit in my room and be like, 'okay well I need to make these,' before I could go to them live, and that's what was able to kind of branch out my name in a sense. Because more DJs wanted to play my stuff, and I was able to give it to them, and they were like, "oh, okay, well this guy--I see him DJing so now I'm gonna be able to play his stuff live"--A.KA. mashup--because it wasn't really my stuff, but they thought it was my shit. And yeah, it just kind of went from there.
Could you take me through the creative process of writing "Derp?" How did that come about?
Really drunk on a tour bus. Sorta like, *sings* "DERP. DER DERP DAH DERP DERP." Um, yeah, basically how it went is we were on the tour bus and we were like, "We need a melody…" and then Marlin, the other half of Bassjackers, was, ranting around on the bus going, "DERP!" Like, "Well maybe if we make that into a sound and then we can, like…Derp…Oh! Derp! Der-derp dah derp derp." That's basically our creative process right there.
What is the derpiest thing you've ever done?
That was derptastic...
Derpiest thing I've done live? I tried to do a double backflip off of a stage and ended up whacking my head. And as everyone knows I have a really, really long neck, so it was like--it was like a whip. So, it was pretty stupid.
Do you have any acrobatic experience?
Nope. No, just all gangles, all gangles.