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John Maclean, who will be deejaying this Saturday at Detroit Bar under his professional identity of the Juan Maclean, projects an air of earnest thoughtfulness even via email. This is no surprise considering he has been making moodily exultant dance music for nearly a decade as one of the stalwarts of the DFA label organization. After all, his own inspirations reach back to some of the legendarily focused musicians of the modern era.
"I always thought Kraftwerk's music had this tension that came from melodic movements, a mixing of darker elements with very melodic, almost sing-song parts. So instead of fully opening up an element—a riff, a synth sound—I tended to close it instead," Maclean says. "For example, closing an envelope instead of opening it, not resolving a riff, telegraphing an impending climax and pulling back instead—these are some of the conceptual ideas I was working with. I was hoping to create a sort of dark tension without resorting to the usual tactics to achieve darkness."
This kind of balance has resulted in a string of striking albums and singles, with his latest effort, the digital-only release Everybody Get Close, a collection of rarities from across his career. It's part of a continuing burst of activity from Maclean as he works on a new album—his previous release was a DJ mix CD, and he has started creating music under a new name, Peach Melba—and he's very clear about where the material on Everybody Get Close fits in with it all.
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"The way I figure it, if a song wasn't good enough the first time around to be on an album, then don't put it on there just because a new medium, such as CDs, makes it possible," he says. "With Everybody Get Close, only one track was an actual outtake that was seriously considered for an album, and that was 'Find a Way.' The rest of the stuff is either remixes that weren't properly released or odd bits that didn't seem to fit in anywhere. So, to me, it is all truly bonus material, not just shit that wasn't fit for release. That said, it does confuse people, releasing stuff like this. None of it sounds much like what I'm doing with my music right now."
Maclean has spent what seems like most of the previous year on the road worldwide, deejaying. But he notes the "heavy personal price" that spending so much time away costs: "You sacrifice any semblance of a 'normal' life at home in order to be on the road, and at some point, you have to seriously consider the question 'Why am I doing this?'"
To counterbalance the drudgery of the road, however, is the constant exposure to new work and inspiration worldwide. "By its nature," Maclean says, "electronic music tends to be pretty experimental, so you have a lot more latitude."
It's a good explanation as to why Everybody Get Close sounds like it does, as well as why his newer work will aim steer clear of what has been his biggest hit so far, 2009's "Happy House."
"It's hard not to be consumed by it," he says. "I actually have a piano-based track up in my studio now, and I keep thinking, 'So I'm making "Happy House II". . .' Which is fine, I don't have a problem with mining the world of piano house if it gets girls dancing. In general, though, I just make music that gets me excited, makes me want to work in my studio all night without sleeping."
We don't know if Maclean will preview a bit of what's to come on Saturday, but whatever happens, he finds being in Southern California again is a treat. "I keep having amazing shows in California, and I spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles area this year," he says. "It's definitely paying off—the shows seem to get better and better. I think the type of music I tend to DJ is catching on finally in the United States; people are getting into the new melodic house sound that is just dominating clubs at the moment."
This article appeared in print as "The Juan Maclean Levels Up: The 'Happy House' maker wants to get girls dancing with his latest, Everybody Get Close."