Artist Of The Month: Maceo Plex
Artist Of The Month: Maceo PlexJanuary 18, 2023
Maceo Plex is one of the world’s most in-demand DJs and producers. But as you’ll soon hear, Maceo really defies easy categorisation. With an eclectic new album coming soon via his Lone Romantic label, we sat down with one of the most interesting minds in dance music.
“Getting to play in front of these huge audiences again, it’s been amazing and I’ve had some incredible shows,” says Eric Estornel, reflecting on his first year back DJing fully after the pandemic.
Beatportal is speaking to the man more commonly known as Maceo Plex in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year, as he contemplates another long plane journey, this time from Dallas to Tel Aviv to see in 2023. “I like New Year’s, but prefer playing after midnight, that’s when the party really gets going” he tells us.
Born in Miami to Cuban parents, but raised in the Texan city of Dallas from his early teens, 2023 marks 30 years since he first began DJing. When he moved to Dallas, a station called The Edge and a show called Edge Club were both pivotal for him as a young musician and producer: “It’s funny because I wasn’t really getting a lot of the Chicago and Detroit stuff until later on.”
Soon, the young Eric had picked up his first set of decks and a synthesiser and found himself spending hours and hours in his bedroom, either practicing his cutting and scratching or figuring out how to make music and becoming ‘completely obsessed’.“I almost wish I could become as obsessed with one thing as I did back then,” he tells us. “But it’s harder as you get older as you just have so many other priorities.”
Originally drawn to sounds like hardcore, drum ‘n’ bass, jungle and Miami electro, his obsession paid off with Eric first building a name for himself under his Eric Entity moniker and picking up support slots with the likes of Green Velvet in Dallas before eventually taking on the Maetrik moniker for his techno productions and the alias Mariel Ito for his more IDM and electro flavoured music. While he built a fairly successful career as a respected DJ and producer as Maetrik throughout the 2000s, it wasn’t until he took on the Maceo Plex alias towards the end of that decade that the wheels were set in motion for his career to go supernova.
“For a long time, I wasn’t really drawn to four-to-the-floor and definitely not to house music,I was playing that kind of Cologne minimal sound you’d get on Kompakt or experimental electro. But we (Eric and his wife Christine) ended up moving to Valencia in 2009 as I was getting booked in Europe a lot more and that’s where I started to learn how to make people dance more and keep a groove. It was really intoxicating at first and that led to me experimenting on some house productions.”
That experimentation struck gold, first with a series of singles on Crosstown Rebels, including “Vibe Your Love” and “Your Style,” which became key tracks during an early-2010s purple patch for richly melodic global house music and led to Maceo Plex releasing his debut album Life Index on Crosstown Rebels, becoming one of the most in-demand house DJs in the world and then launching his own Ellum Audio imprint.
“I had this sound which arrived just at the right time, during the era when deep house made a big wave,” he tells us. “But I think it had more synthesizer or a little more sound design. I just saw it take off and my crowds get bigger and bigger.”
To the casual observer, Maceo might seem to have more in common with fellow top-tier Timewarp talent like Adam Beyer or Sven Väth, but there’s a restless creativity and desire to experiment which has seen his sound increasingly difficult to pin down in recent years. In 2017, he resurrected his Maetrik alias for the tough and uncompromising Return EP and in the same year, he released his second full-length album Solar, named after his son and charting an experimental path that took influence from everything from ambient to glitch to breakbeat.
When he took the reins at Pacha, one of Ibiza’s most lavish and opulent clubs, for his Mosaic residency in 2016, he used the platform to bring headsier DJs like Joy Orbison, Jon Hopkins, Red Axes and Paranoid London to the island. A move which turned heads in dance music circles but arguably appealed less to the club’s increasingly VIP table clientele. “I’m really proud of what we did there, and I built some great relationships,” he says. And it was as forward-thinking as Ibiza was going to get at that point: they even booked cosmic disco producers like Prins Thomas! We should also mention his DJ Kicks compilation, which featured everything from “Raise The Dead” by Kimbu Kimra and “Sandmann” by Move D to Jaydee’s “Payback.” Many of these were new mixes or edits that reflected his strong, eclectic attention to detail.
It’s a mindset that sees Maceo constantly strive to do what’s not quite expected, such as filling his 2018 fabric mix with IDM, late-90s cuts from the likes of Texan breaks group Paradigm Shift and names like Pinch and Cologne experimentalist Wolfgang Voigt — artists fairly distant from the big rooms Maceo often finds himself in.
“I do find myself torn sometimes,” he begins. “Between playing the music that’s expected of you and people want to hear in some of the huge rooms I play. And playing some of the stuff that flexes my more artistic side. As time goes on I’m hoping to work more on live performances, so I have the freedom to do that.”
That’s not to say Maceo doesn’t still have time for creating all out club hits though, capable of shaking the absolute biggest dancefloors to their very foundations. He added his own magic dust to one of dance music’s most iconic track’s in 2021, Insomnia by Faithless. “I know they liked this remix as I worked hard to keep the essence of the track. It’s so sad that we’ve lost him (Maxi), but I’m truly honoured I got to work with him and he approved of the track. He was just such an important figure in dance music” reflecting on working with Faithless, in the days after the passing of their iconic frontman Maxi Jazz.
Spending his formative years in Dallas and now residing mostly in Barcelona, Maceo has taken influence from each place, and there are parallels to be drawn between his desire to not be pinned down, both geographically and artistically. The rise of his Lone Romantic imprint, which allows the DJ and producer to flex his musical taste, operates in a way the more house-focused imprint Ellum Audio doesn’t always. “I’m into music that evokes emotion,” begins Maceo Plex. “And the whole idea behind Lone Romantic is that it opens up what we’re able to release musically. Ellum Audio then fits under the umbrella of Lone Romantic for the more dance floor material, like the Solomun remix we released recently, for example” referring to his spin on Maceo’s 2020 track “Nu World,” adding another layer of euphoria to the peak-time, Depeche Mode-esque anthem and putting it back at the forefront of DJs minds.
This year will see him flex his artistic side on his forthcoming album ‘93, with the title referencing his 30 years in the game and drawing a line between the music that influences him now and influenced him then. With collaborators including Perry Farrell, front-man of the legendary Jane’s Addiction, plus newer names including Oscar and The Wolf amongst others, it’s a chance for Eric to work with some of his musical heroes and pay homage to his musical origins at the same time as giving new artists he’s inspired by a leg-up.
“My wife is the reason I’m called Maceo Plex, she was a complete diehard fan of Perry Farrell,” he says. “and the name comes from the Jane’s song ‘My Cat’s Name Is Maceo’. Weirdly, he did an interview a few years ago where he talked about DJs and producers he liked, I was one of them. When we got in the studio together, he was super down to earth and easy to talk to and just a really sweet guy.”
There’s also space on the record for a legendary voice from the world of dance music, with Kirsty Hawkshaw, famously sampled on Orbital’s classic “Halcyon and On and On”, (coincidently released in 1993) lending her vocals to the track “Shine On & On”.
“I had this groove and chords going which really resembled “Halcyon On and On,” he says. “It actually resembled something between that track and [the Orbital track] “Belfast.” I sent it to Orbital and they liked it and I ended up playing it at Shine in Belfast, which inspired their track, and then I named it after that. We’re putting together a video for the track which is made up of clips of people dancing at Shine and is going to look amazing!”
With an emphasis on constantly broadening and evolving his sound, this album sees Maceo experiment with everything from trap tempos to trip hop and the dancefloor cuts Maceo is more commonly known for, it promises to be grander and ‘better produced’ than anything he’s made before, with an aim of finding its place in the pantheon of classic electronic albums. His new single, “Moon Sky” with Ishi for example, fits in the trap genre more than any other space.
“The last album was slow and had a lot of heartfelt songs,” he tells us. “But this one’s got big-room jams and a lot of eclectic music that’s electronic but not really danceable. It goes all over the place but somehow stays very cohesive. I just can’t wait to get this album out and for everyone to hear it. And then my focus is on the live show. I really want to get the collaborators from the album to join me to play on some of the key dates. I’m really hopeful we can make that happen.”
Maceo Plex’s new single “Moon Sky” with Ishi is available to pre-order now via LONE ROMANTIC. Buy it here.
Sean Griffiths is a freelance journalist living in London. Find him on Instagram.