Air Max 97 is an artist at the leading edge of club music. Between his original work as Air Max 97, his label Decisions and his work mixing and mastering other peoples projects, Air Max 97 is a name that has become synonymous with sounds that break apart the formulaic status quo of dance music.
After spending years crossing the globe, 2020 finds Air Max 97 bunkering down in Sydney to focus on his various creative projects. We caught up with him to find out what’s keeping him motivated in an unprecedented year.
What was the pivotal moment that began this artist project?
My friend Romy, who I worked with at an organic chocolate factory, invited me to DJ an opening set for Pictureplane at a party in Melbourne in 2013. That’s when I picked the name Air Max ’97, and when I was bitten by the DJing bug.
How does Ableton Live fit in your workflow / studio / career?
I do everything in Ableton! Writing, producing, tracking vocals, mixing and mastering. And performing live sets.
You work across a range of creative fields, from design and art direction to creating and mixing music. Could you explain how these different fields can influence each other, or what the link is between them?
Each element can contribute to a broader process of world-building around a particular project or release. It’s a rewarding challenge to really optimise each body of work sonically and then give it some context or direction with artwork and press copy — or to have a hand in one of these things for someone else’s work.
And how does your environment (or city / location) influence your work?
Simultaneously a lot and not so much: I’m very used to continuing my work regardless of where I’m living and how long for. But there are very special things about each place, including but not limited to people, urban environments and food that will greatly inform my day to day life and in turn my work. Most recently, living in London broadened my collaborative relationships, and I found the music community there really vibrant and welcoming. I always enjoy my time in East Asia so much — I happily spend days exploring cities like Taipei and Hong Kong on foot. I’m also very influenced by going out to see other people play, so being exposed to local artists and DJs wherever I am is always inspiring.
What are some key skills / concepts for successful collaboration? What advice would you give to people looking to work collaboratively?
Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and reach out to people — though connecting through a mutual friend or as the result of an IRL meeting has a far higher success rate than a cold-email. Chemistry is really important, not every collaboration will work and that’s OK! If you’re sending people material, go with stuff you think they’ll love but also throw in some wild cards; I’ve often been surprised by which instrumental ideas artists will actually choose. Try to meet face to face in a studio, especially for recording — you can develop and refine ideas quickly and organically in a way that isn’t really possible URL. Leave your ego at the door, do what is right for the song / project / artist.
Your label DECISIONS is constantly pushing the boundaries of club music – what inspired you to start a label, and what motivates you to keep it going?
Thanks! I wanted to release my own music autonomously, not having to rely on other labels. I then realised I had a small platform to share music by my friends and kindred spirits. Discovering really exceptional music that I want other people to hear is what motivates me to keep running the label.
Music has endured and outlived all societal changes – how is “2020” influencing your evolution in music?
I’m doing more mixing and mastering, and continuing pop production projects as Backlit. I’m quite enjoying being in more of an auxiliary role for other artists. I’ve been channeling resources to efforts associated with Black Lives Matter where I can, and doing some long overdue reading around that. I haven’t really caught the hang of livestreams for better or for worse; though I “played” Club Cringe a few months ago which was fun. I returned to Sydney when all my gigs were cancelled and took up surfing, a lifelong dream. So all in all I’m not mad!
Do you use VST’s? If so, what is your desert-island plug-in?
Yes a lot!! I’d find it hard to live without FabFilter Saturn. Aya showed me how to use it properly, thanks Aya.
If you were to say to someone, “listen to the drums on this track” – what song would it be? And please include a couple of sentences for why.
I’ll share two — an older track and a new one:
Randomer – Brunk. Deliciously swung and punchy.
Azu Tiwaline – Tight Wind ft. Cinna Peyghamy. Deep, detailed and immersive.
Is there a time you’ve heard your own music being played somewhere that has spun you out?
Actress played a really beaten up copy of my first DECISIONS 12” at a show in Melbourne a few years ago, that was surreal. Anytime an artist or DJ I love plays one of my tracks I freak out!
What’s the best music advice you’ve been given? Or what would you go back and tell yourself as a beginner?
A year from now you may wish you had started today. Be persistent and patient. Be motivated by pursuing your own curiosity and satisfaction as much as possible, and let any external validation or opportunities be a bonus.
What do you usually do when stuck on a track?
Leave it alone for a good long time, preferably forget about it entirely and then come back to it totally fresh months later to either rework it or bin it. Or I’ll send it to Aya and get her to sprinkle her magic over it to become an A2A track. 🙂
I’m working on a DECISIONS compilation due out late 2020 with material from label alumni as well as new faces and friends, and I just finished another Air Max ’97 12” for a label I love that will come out early 2021.
Do you have one hot Ableton trick that you use often that might not be super obvious?
Cut, copy, duplicate and paste time: shift-command-X/C/D/V. Also un-check “Create Fades on Clip Edges” in preferences, that will kill your transients!!
Is there a native Ableton device that you think is overlooked or that you use constantly?
So many! My top five most used are:
- Auto Filter for a quick high or low cut.
- Limiter to catch peaks for gain staging or to smash bass really hard and get nice saturated tones (Andrei Eremin showed me the latter trick — thank you Andrei!).
- Utility for bass mono-ing, reducing width of tracks, automating panning and volume etc (instead of doing that on the main mixer section, allowing those to be ‘global’ values).
- Compressor because it’s user-friendly and transparent.
- Spectrum to figure out the fundamental note of samples.
More creatively I use Echo, Vocoder and Ableton’s delays a lot. Overdrive is underrated too. And Max for Live is a whole world of power and fun.