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Looking Back with Max Graham

Looking Back with Max Graham

Over the course of the last fifteen years Max Graham’s career has weaved a winding path. Traversing through trance, progressive house, techno, and electro, Graham has carved out an indelible name for himself within the dance music scene.

However, much of what many fans associate as tent poles of Graham’s sound did not begin to come to fruition until the release of his first Cycles compilation in 2008. At the time Graham was a freshly signed Armada artist; then, along with Cycles, Graham released now classics Sun In The Winter and Nothing Else Matters as the first singles from his debut artist album Radio. Having released Cycles 5 in January of 2014, along with countless trance anthems over the past six years, it’s safe to say Max Graham has hit his stride.

On a grey gloomy day in Vancouver we at Blueprint were lucky enough to sit back and take a moment to reflect with Graham. While exploring the breadth of his career, we began with—specifically his past with Vancouver—we began with a brief stop in the late 1990’s.

***

I begin by inquiring about a series of trips Graham made to the UK in the late 90s where he attempted to spread word that a new sound was becoming relevant within Canada. Graham stops to think, his response is humble and to the point:

“What I did was visit the labels I loved and let them know that there was someone in Canada that loved their sound, the Progressive House of that era, and was trying to push it in my little corner of the world, which was Ottawa at the time. Canada’s dance scene was very strong during that period but had a very different sound than I played, but at no time did I attempt to promote an already massive and healthy Canadian scene to the UK.”

Pushing a little further I wonder how Graham perceived his role both within the Canadian music scene during those early years. Graham shrugs, “I wouldn’t say that I took anything upon myself in the name of the Canadian dance scene.” Just as before, an ever grounded Graham continued, “it was nothing more than me visiting small progressive labels that weren’t really well represented in Canada to let them know, and ask for their help, in spreading that sound.”

Graham has taken a moment to think and I jump in: “but you must have been known within the Canadian scene?” Graham shakes his head, “I don’t think I had any role in any scene other than Ottawa and our club Atomic during that period. He chuckles to himself, “my first track didn’t come out until 2000 and I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who knew who I was outside of Ottawa at that time.”

I suppose it is futile to ask, but I run through a follow up anyway. I ask, “has the expanded presence of the commercialized dance scene changed your role within the larger community.” As I expected, the answer is modest and brief: “I don’t think I have a role, I just do my own thing. If I’ve helped anyone else with direction either directly or indirectly…that’s awesome, but as for a role in the larger community, I don’t really see it that way.”

Taking this as a queue to move away from Graham’s stature within the dance music scene, I look towards his deep relationship with Vancouver. In the late 1990s, shortly after he made the decision to dig into the realm of producing, Graham moved to Vancouver, so I asked him simply: what made him choose to move here? Graham smirks: “a girl and a need to get out of Ottawa to focus on things. Simple really.”

And so, bolstered by his loves of music and romance, Graham readied himself for a new experience with a new frame of mind. With this in mind, I inquire about the new vibe of Vancouver’s scene and the potential differences with his experience in Ottawa.

As Graham begins his answer, polite, refined, and level-headed: “every city is very different, at the time both were growing strong and they are totally different cities, so the differences run very deep.” Perhaps he doesn’t want to single out a city as his favourite, or diminish a scene based on personal preference when it ultimately has its own merits. Either way his answer momentarily draws things to a standstill.

***

…After a moment’s hesitation I switch gears. Graham produced four tracks while living in Vancouver—Airtight, Tell You, Yaletown and Falling Together— and I am sure Blueprint readers would love to know if our city inspired the tracks.

“Well, I had an apartment on a high floor that overlooked most of the city and the mountains, so that helped. I also didn’t really know anyone so I was just holed up in my place making music. In Ottawa I was always hanging out with friends and couldn’t focus, so moving out west helped that way massively…”

“…That was an important time in your career,” I interject.  “After you produced Airtight you were asked to accompany Paul Oakenfold on a tour.” Graham beams. I ask, “what was it like getting support so early on in your producing career from a DJ, who, at the time, was widely recognized as one of the most popular artists in the dance music world?” With zero hesitation Graham answers, “pretty amazing, I mean that gave me the confidence to realize I might be on to something with the production side of my career.”

***

Graham’s first show in Vancouver was so long ago that he doesn’t remember anything about the event…momentarily we both sit in silence…as a clock ticks I decide to focus on the first time he crossed paths with Blueprint. Back in 2005 at what was then called Red Room Ultra Bar Graham played his very first Blueprint promoted set. Looking back on what is now nearly a ten year relationship with the promotions company I take the opportunity to ask Graham how it that all came about?

After a slight pause Graham responds, “how it started I don’t remember, a DJ’s agent has relationships with the promoters and it would have been between them at the time. But I can say that my relationship with Blueprint is one of the longest I’ve had in my career and still going strong.”

Graham smiles at his legacy with Blueprint as I inquire about how the crowds he would draw back in 2005 differed from today: “the lack of cell phones and texting definitely made people dance more and be more in the moment,” Graham admits, “but that’s about it.”

I agree technology does take precedence in dance music, both behind and in front of the decks—Graham nods in silent agreement. “How about Stereotype Fridays,” I ask.

“What about it,” Graham responds looking slightly confused.

“February 9th 2008 was the first time you played Stereotype Fridays at Celebrities,” I say, and just by looking at Graham I can tell it’s a fond memory. “What was that initial experience like and how has that same experience fundamentally changed over the course of the last six years?”

“It’s always been one of my favorite clubs to play,” Graham says. “The vibe is amazing, the staff gets it, and the people are right there, which I love. The new renovation is incredible and I would put it up there with the best clubs in North America without a doubt.”

With such a long history with Celebrities and Vancouver as a whole, I ask how Graham has seen Blueprint Events grow over the years. “Well,” Graham starts, “Blueprint for me is Vancouver. They have grown themselves and the scene and exposed Vancouver to so many new sounds and artists. I think everyone involved in the scene in Vancouver owes credit to Blueprint for sticking with it and keeping it about the music.”

I can’t help but agree, “Blueprint & Alvaro Prol have pushed dance music into the limelight in Vancouver like no other company has in recent years.” Graham nodes in agreement. “Well,” I say, “I know I have taken up a lot of your time…so just one more question. Your upcoming open-to-close set is a rarity in Vancouver. What can fans expect from six hours of Max Graham?”

Graham smiles, “tech house, techno, trance, and progressive house—a long slow build and a wide variety of music—I can’t wait!”

And with that we say our goodbyes. With his history in Vancouver, one thing is for sure: Max Graham is just as excited for his open to close set as his fans.

The last batch of tickets for Graham’s Friday, March 14th set are available. Grab yours while you still can—trance fans simply cannot afford to miss such a rare set from a DJ with an ear for rabbit hole sets. 

– Ryan Hayes

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