Continuing our coverage of "Morgan Page Presents 3D: A Visual Experience," EARMILK had the opportunity to speak with one of the staples of the tour, producer and dj-extraordinaire Maor Levi. Supported by some of the biggest names in EDM and progressive dance music (including Above & Beyond, Myon & Shane 54, etc.), Maor's touch with melody combines with his musical versatility to produce some of the best Progressive and Electro-House today. Now on tour nationally with Morgan Page, Maor continues to release incredible and wonderfully diverse tracks, ranging from soulful deep house tracks to club-rattling electro-house bangers.
During the tour, we had a chance to sit down with Maor and pick his brain regarding a wide range of topics... and boy did he talk to us! While it began as a casual conversation, Maor's affable and slightly irreverent personality hastily moved us into new topics, and we ended up discussing his not only his career, but the current trend toward festivals and the EDM scene in general. I came away from the interview entertained, enriched and further enthused for his music, and I'm sure you will too after reading. So check it out below to gain some insight into the mind one of dance music's most talented producers.
EARMILK: So to start, you’re on tour with Morgan Page and Audien, tell me about the experience?
Maor Levi: Well it’s the first time being on a bus, so… it’s kind of like, it’s really new to me. I’m used to airplanes, you know? The bus thing makes everything easier... you go to sleep, wake up in a different city, it’s really amazing. And you know everyone’s on the bus, you know? Tour managers, support, everyone is friends, like a really big family doing this tour, so it’s been really fun. You get to create friendships..
EM: You get to know people better, because you’re traveling with them and around them for a longer duration of time…
ML: Yeah, we sleep together, we eat together, do everything together [laughter]. It’s fun man, it’s really refreshing.
EM: So what do you do to pass the time between gigs, besides listen and make music?
ML: Hahaha, I might play a little [Grand Theft Auto V], I don’t really watch TV, don’t have the time…
EM: GTA5? I’m going to have to give you my gamer tag! We can get down.
ML: Haha, yeah man if I ever get time to get online we’ll get it down.
EM: Cool. Alright, so back to business. Let me ask you about some of your recent music… Most recently, you have the Walden remix of "First Day," which is an absolute banger. Do you have any new collaborations, anything coming up in the near future?
ML: I do actually, I can’t really tell though…
EM: Ah... You can’t do that to me! Give me something…
ML: Well there’s so much going on. I have some vocal tracks coming… some really well known vocalist… I shouldn’t really say anything… but I might be cooking something with Heather Bright. She’s incredible, a great vocalist and really really nice person. It’s in the early stages now but we’ll definitely have something coming up.
[Note: check out her recent outing with Rivaz and Benny Benassi, "Tell me Twice."]
EM: That’s awesome! And as far as your own productions go, I know a lot of it gets highlighted on your show MOARBASS...
ML: Yeah, my radio show.
EM: Yeah I know you produce it once a month or so, but what about an actual album release? Anything in the works with that?
ML: Haha, funny you ask, I’ve started my album like, four times and deleted it four times. Because I’m always learning new things, so I’m kind of like, "Ok, this sounds like s---" and I start all over again. Hopefully next year I can start putting something together. I’m not making any promises!
EM: Well I’m really looking forward to that. Can I ask you about one of my personal favorite tracks, "Beautiful Disaster"? An amazing track by the way. What was it like making that track?
ML: It actually started as an instrumental track, and I sent it to my manager and he was like… there’s a really good vocalist named Daphne… She did some some stuff with Project 46. I heard her voice and it was really unique. So I was thinking, she might be really good for this track. I sent it to her, she wrote something really catchy, and she nailed it. We came up with something really good.
EM: Well the vocals are amazing! So, you’re actually entering the second half of the tour now, and I actually wanted to ask you about this particular outing. Normally this is a full, 3D experience, with lights, and production equipment, and the full works. And you couldn’t really do that here.
ML: Yeah… we love playing everywhere, but nightclubs are all different, you know? So for this venue, the team couldn’t really do their thing because of space and equipment concerns. Still, we hope this is going to be an awesome show.
EM: Well, its unfortunate but yeah, I can already tell you that this is an awesome show. Your set earlier was incredible.
ML: Thanks, I’m trying to play everything that I really like right now.
EM: Speaking of which… did I hear a dubstep drop in there?! I know you have influences from all over… I’ve heard deep house sets out of you, electro, obviously melodic progressive trance… Talk to me about your influences? Where do they come from? How did your music become so diverse?
ML: Well, when I stated making music, it started off usually as Psytrance, and middle trance. Actually, I never really feel like I produced pure trance. My foundations in music start with house music, back in the day. Psy trance came later, when I started getting into it. And you know, when we got into the 21st century, things changed. New technology, and a lot of producers came out of nowhere with good sh—. Even me, really, even though I’ve been making music since I was 15.
EM: I was going to say that. You've been in the game for a long time...
ML: Yeah, I sold my first record on Anjunadeep when I was 15…
EM: Yeah you were one of the very first artist to sign on Above and Beyond’s Anjunadeep label.
EM: Yeah, so it really sounds like you’ve taken your influences from all corners of electronic music.
ML: Yeah. You know, if there’s something I really hate about making music, it’s recycling. I mean, I was really sad to see the Beatport electro-house chart become basically a dutch house chart. There’s really very little “electro” about it. Arguably, there’s no electro-house on it now. So, it’s really taken over… but there’s nothing original about it. It’s sad. But there's alot of electro-house stuff coming out that is awesome. Guys like Skrillex, Knife Party, they’re doing it right. Especially Knife Party because you know they had a long history as Pendulum, and experimenting with genres. I really love their stuff.
[Note: check out Maor's tongue-n-cheek "contribution" to the electro-house genre by listening to his "remix" of Martin Garrix's "Animals" below!]
EM: Going from that, we do you think about the new DJ Mag Top 100, recently released? And speaking of Dutch House, Hardwell is our new #1 DJ… And you actually posted a note on Twitter recently about it, asking your fans to NOT vote for you! That definitely caught me off guard.
ML: Well because man, it’s not based on talent really. Not to say the guys on the chart aren’t talented, but it’s definitely based more on popularity than anything else. That, and who is willing to spend the most money on advertising and getting their place on the top 100. Not to call anyone out, but there are a bunch of people on that list who don’t deserve to be there, and even more people on that list who are ranked higher than they should be. So I really don’t pay attention to the poll, I love making fun of it. I really don’t care [laughter]. I’m just going to do my thing, enjoy making good music. I’m really not doing this for fame, or money… just enjoying the traveling, meeting new people.
EM: and you know what, you keep doing your thing! Because you’re supported by some of the biggest names in EDM today. Group Therapy literally plays at least one of your tracks each show, and it’s one of the most popular EDM radio shows out. Myon & Shane 54 talk about you like you’re practically their brother!
ML: Yeah, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to make really good music that I love, and love what I’m doing. So yeah, I don’t really need the DJ Mag Top 100 as long as I love what I’m doing. If I were just doing it for fame and recongnition, I’d be bummed that I didn’t get in and probably just quit. That ain’t happening. [laughter] That’s why I don’t believe in DJ polls like that. But congrats to the people that made it in, or whatever. Next question. [laughter].
EM: Haha, moving on… I got to see your set at Tomorrow World as well, and again, you were amazing. You really played very melodic, yet edgy still of progressive trance. What was that experience like?
ML: yeah, it was great. I had to play a lot of different stuff mix it up a bit. People from all over the world are there, so you have to play different stuff, but keep it still you, you know? It was really fun.
EM: And what did you think of the set up Tomorrow World for trance fans? The trance addicts stage you played on was pretty much right beside the Mainstage of the entire festival. Some people felt like it was drowned out by the Mainstage, maybe it should have gotten its own area. Do you think trance was highlighted enough at the festival? What do you think of the state of trance now?
ML: Honestly, I’m not really that big of a fan of a lot of the “trance” out there now, like a lot of the uplifting stuff, for the same reason I have a problem with a lot of the “electro” house dutch house stuff. The producers keep recycling a lot of the same stuff. I mean I get a lot of trance demos and promos, and I check and listen to everything I can. And a lot of it sounds the same! Sometimes I even see demos from certain labels, and I already know what the track is going to sound like, what kind of sounds it’ll use, you know? It’s like, “Oh, I heard that a week ago” but then I’ll check the track and it’s something “new.”
EM: So a lot like the hard house, dutch style house we talked about earlier.
ML: Yeah. I mean, if you ask me what kind of music I met, I’ll tell you, “everything-step.” That’s my approach to music. Because I like a lot of things, and I try to actually blend everything into something on the foundations of house. Lower BPMs…
EM: Yeah, somewhere between 128-135 I’ve noticed…
ML: Yeah, but I’ll sometimes go faster, sometimes slower. But what’s most important is having that signature sound, where you make something unique and creative and original, but people still listen and say, “Yup, that’s a Maor Levi song.” I think a lot of producers today take a project, change a few things in it, and call it a new track. I like starting completely from scratch every damn time. But still have that signature feeling and sound. It’s what the genre needs now, more originality.
EM: That’s great to hear, having been an electronic music fan for a long time. I’ve watched the evolution of trance, from trance, to trance 2.0, whatever that means…
ML: Yeah! People today trying to classify all these different types of music into different genres… What are you doing? Why are you doing it? You’re just creating in-fighting. Music is all about dancing, and keeping people entertained. Like, sometimes people say to me “you don’t play music anymore, you just play electro bangers.” Well, if you look at it from a DJs point of view… it’s DANCE music. Not “Sleep” music. [laughter]. If I want to listen to ambient and downtempo I can do that at home, and I know because I love and I make that kind of music too. But in a club or a concert, it’s dance music. You have to entertain people.
EM: Give the people what they want!
ML: People lose interest really fast, especially in today’s culture. It’s like back in the 90s, when people would actually listen to a trance track from 10 minutes, and enjoy the four, five minute trance breakdown [laughter]. These days, you have to keep it moving. It’s the world we live in right now. You have to squeeze as much as you can in, quick and hard, but still perfectly timed transitions, are everything now. It’s not like how it was before, when you could finesse a transition for 3-4 minutes, really build into it and work it up, sometimes even drag it out. You know, I’m not even blaming anyone these days for weird mixing, because intros and outros are a thing of the past, man. Producers these days make tracks with short intros and so you can’t really work it the way you could in the past. Nowadays everything is rushed, so we have to adjust.
EM: So so true. Ok, just a few more questions. So where do you want to go as a musician? Like Audien said, you epitomize the word “musician,” in that your music touches on some many aspects of music, from melody and harmony to intricate chord progression, etc. In your sets, you throw in so much stuff…
ML: Yeah, I have so many different sides of me. My sets can get kind of crazy like that.
EM: Exactly. So how do you reconcile all these different aspects?
ML: Well, I watch the crowd a lot of the time, and feed off their energy. I don’t have a pre-made set, wherever I play. Obviously I have a huge playlist of songs I like and I know people like, and I have it all tailored to how I want to play it when I drop it. Obviously you have to prepare, you know? But to just put together a one, two hour whole set and press play, that’s not my style. Again, its not like back in the day when you could just kind of mix in whatever. Now you have to strike a balance between a DJ set and a concert set. A good show, with room for improvisation. I mean, EDM is so mainstream now. People listen to this stuff, and judge you…
EM: [nervous chuckle] well…
ML: [laughter] As a DJ its important to make it sound good, and have a clean set. Luckily people like a lot of my songs so I get to play a lot of my own music which I know pretty well.
EM: [laughter] of course.
ML: As far as playing the popular, banger stuff, I play that stuff sometimes too, but I do my own edits, sometimes right there in the mix, and try to make it sound good. Haha, you know, even sh-- sometimes has good parts in it. So I take this crap, polish it up, put it in my set when it’s nice and clean and smells good.
EM: [laughter]. Well it certainly sounds polished in your set.
ML: Yeah man, I’m just doing my thing, and loving it. There are no rules in music, you know? So why not take something I think I think sounds sh—ty and make it better? It’s what the big guys did in the past too. I have so much respect for all the old daddys, all the Big Boys, the guys I used to listen to as a kid. And I will never lose that respect. Even if I get more popular. Sh--, I don’t even want it, honestly, but let’s say I do get into the DJ Mag Top 100 poll, and I’m before Richie Hawtin or Carl Cox. Tear that list up immediately. Honestly, if you ask me right now who I think the best DJs in the world are, I’d say Richie Hawtin, or Carl Cox, or Dubfire. I don’t care what that list says. I have roots, I know exactly who was there before me, who knows the real sh--, and I’ll never forget it.
EM: Carl Cox has been making incredible music since the early 80s, man…
ML: Carl Cox was spinning when I was a f---ing sperm, ok? So will I ever think I’m on his level? Hell no. I mean, yeah we play different stuff. Another reason why the DJ Mag top 100 makes no sense to me. It’s all different genres, which require different techniques and have different scenes. That poll is all over the place and mixes up everything like its all the same. Again, it’s all popularity. You’ll never see a techno DJ in the top 10, you know why? Because the best, pure techno Djs are underground. No one’s ever heard of them, and they don’t want to be famous. They like it that way.
EM: Man, I could talk to you forever, but I don’t want to keep you too long [laugther]. So lastly, anything you want to say to your fans out there?
ML: Yeah guys, just keep it real! Keep supporting the music, buy tracks, and you know, go to shows and go to shows and support your favorite DJs so we can keep making music. Spread the love.
EM: Hell yes. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.
ML: Thank you.
Thanks for reading guys, and make sure you check out MPP3D when it comes to a city near you (and check the links provided below for tour information).