Lower East introduce their latest find…
Johnny Mikes has what it takes to catch peoples attention with his cross-pollination of genres and time periods behind the decks. His performances at Crèche, The CAMP and Lo*Kee have shown him to have the ability to inject flair and personality into every corner of club music. And judging by his work in the studio we realised that he has the same skills when it comes to production too, where Lower East have been quick to pick up on Johnny’s talent, resulting in his “Defining Horizons EP”, which is a collection of three inventive tracks that defy categorisation and bring charisma onto the dancefloor.
“Hurting Me” is a skipping slice of electro-boogie with a mind of its own. Starting out as a stripped down and melodic deep house cut, the track morphs into a high paced and chunky club workout. Aimed squarely at the dancefloor but with classic vocal edits offering sensitivity, this has all the energy and power to fuel the fires all night long.
“Butterfly” is less intense, presenting a more laid back, funk-edged house strut. Simple melodies roll out over a dense bottom end of deep bass and punchy drums. The chopped vocals add a playful sense of funk, creating a real party vibe throughout the track. Johnny then returns to his integration of retro and contemporary on “Broken Hearts” fusing an 80s aesthetic with an emotive, deep house sound to great effect. Deft use of classy vocals provides an unhealthily catchy hook as jangling melodies attach the passion. Rolling bass, crisp beats and shuffling percussion ensure this is capable of keeping the floor moving too.
Referencing the past to create the future, Johnny Mikes has delivered a cracking EP that is both versatile and forward thinking.
You had a very musical upbringing, can you tell us a bit more about why you started playing music and what instruments you played?
“From a young age I was really drawn into different musical sounds and my sister was very musical, playing for the Harrow School for Young Musicians. From there I started taking up various lessons. I was playing drums, steel drums, the piano and a very short-lived period with the guitar.”
Do you think that being a ‘proper’ musician has helped you first develop as a DJ and producer?
“For sure, I think it gives you a much better understanding of the way things work and helps give structure to a track. It also gives you a more natural instinct when behind the decks. I wouldn’t go so far as to call me a ‘proper’ musician though. Far from it.”
What was it that sparked the move away from traditional instruments and into the electronic scene?
“Well I gave up all the musical instruments at the start of my teens. I fell out of love with the instruments. Some because of my teachers, others because I was a young teenage boy easily distracted by computers and girls. At the time these were a lot more appealing to me.”
“I’ve always been into electronic music so it was a real easy move to make and I wanted to understand it and get deeper and deeper into it. Luckily I had friends around me who shared the same passion; most notably Cozzy D. Together we would be round each other’s houses talking about all the latest tracks we picked up, DJ mixes we had heard and compilations we had purchased. We were pretty much obsessed to the point where we would miss a lot of college visiting record shops all around London and spending hours listening and talking to the guys behind the counter. We would pick their brains about the electronic scene and seek out those ‘under the counter’ white labels.”
Have you ever questioned the decision to make that transition?
“I’ve never questioned the transition but deeply regret not carrying on with my favourite instrument at the time, the Steel Drums and looking back I would have definitely carried on playing the Piano as being able to play keys is super important. We still have a Piano at home that I have a mess around on but I need more confidence before having a go on keys on my own in the studio. Luckily my super close friend Michael Jansons is a bit of a wizard and turns a lot of my vision when we are in the studio together into a reality.”
How would you describe your ethos as a DJ and how has that ethos evolved over the years?
“I’m so passionate about music and sounds and I think this shines through me when I DJ. To say I’m excitable behind the decks is an understatement. I love the connection and bond you can create with the crowd in such a short space of time, all channelled through a few minutes of a track and moments in time. You all go on a little adventure together and I love pushing boundaries with the music seeing how far you can take the crowd.”
Where did you learn the most about DJing?
“Wow, that’s a real difficult question to answer. There’s no real defining moment but I feel very privileged to have met some superb DJs over the years, which have all influenced me or showed me certain things. I like how diverse and unique DJing can be from the music you play to the platform you play at, from an underground super DJ like Nisekay and Eric Volta at Lo*Kee to a global DJ superstar like Mark Knight from Toolroom Records.”
What has it been like to watch Creche, where you have a residency, blowing up like it has over the last couple of years?
“It’s been great. I’m so happy seeing the hard work that Alexis Raphael and Cozzy D put in paying off. They get a phenomenal response every time they release a line up and the atmosphere is electric. This has also elevated them within the music scene. It’s nice being a member of the family as the boys are very close to my heart. Long may their success continue and the line-ups keep whipping clubbers into frenzy. In May they’ve got Maceo Plex and Art Department, in June they’ve got MK, Danny Daze and Lee Foss. This is the calibre of DJs you can expect to see at Creche.”
Do you feel you can push the boundaries that bit more when playing at Creche as the crowd is so responsive to that approach to electronic music?
“I’ve always been a DJ who likes to push boundaries and never been afraid to try new things. I remember some of the early days of the Creche parties where I would drop in tracks by Madonna and Dead or Alive to amazing responses. It’s great to be able to break down genre barriers and I think this particularly works in the summer months as the mood is never as serious and everybody is taking in and buzzing off the sunshine. It’s a rarity to play at these sorts of parties and normally you would only really push boundaries at little intimate after hours. It’s great to be able to push musical boundaries on the big scale that Creche provides. The other party that allows you to do it on such a scale is Lo*Kee.”
So, why the break from producing; It’s been a few years between the last record and “Defining Horizons”?
“Good question. I think it was a bit of a journey of self-discovery and I went on a completely different path for a while. There were two things that really triggered and inspired me to get back into the studio. The first was my girlfriend breaking up with me and the second was funnily enough my old basement flat.”
“I had quite a spacious basement flat with concrete ceilings, a huge pillar in the living room and a rather long terrace, which I shared with two of my close friends. It became the place where everybody would end up after a night out and many DJ friends would pass through the doors playing epic sets. The music that came out of the flat was so inspiring and all the people who passed through the doors really inspired me through the good times we all shared together.”
Johnny Mikes – Defining Horizons EP /// Lower East
Have you been pleased to the reaction to “Defining Horizons” so far?
For sure, I’ve definitely been feeling the love. The EP reached number 3 in the Beatport Nu Disco chart and had really broad support from the likes of Sasha to Maceo Plex.”
Does releasing music on a label like Lower East, which seems to have a real family feel to it, help breed creativity amongst all its artists do you think?
“I think all the artists on Lower East standout, as everybody on the label seems to have their own vibe and sound. All the artists are doing their own thing but the releases seem to really flow. It’s great that the label seeks newness in sounds, as artists like myself who like to push boundaries may struggle to get signed to other labels. Some labels chase a particular sound and sure enough it becomes difficult to distinguish one artist on the label to another. I really like Lower East’s approach to things. I’m also really fortunate to know some amazing talents on the label like Dexter Kane, WildKats Lee Brinx and Michael Jansons. There are some guys I’ve never met like Rebel but we’ve already made acquaintance through the power of the Internet. It really does feel like a tight family community.”
What else have you got coming up over the next few months?
“Lots more productions, that’s for sure. I’ve just finished a track called “Crowd Control”. Don’t ask me to define it by genre, as it is different from many things out there. The best way I could describe it is ‘Nu School Experimental’. I sent it over to Lower East and they’ve signed it up for a June release.”
“There’s a project I’m super excited about as I’m working on a two-track release with Michael Jansons and Gav Memnos. They will probably be two of the most beautiful tracks I’ll be involved with producing judging by what we’ve put together to date. Electronique Digital have approached me to do a remix of a track by Jobe, think this is June release and following on from this another solo track from myself that will hopefully go to a new label that will be extremely close to my heart.”
“I’m collaborating with Dexter Kane in the coming weeks and I’m talking with Tboy so hopefully we can sort out some dates to collaborate. Gig wise I’m really looking forward to playing at Glade Festival in June with Alexis Raphael, Cozzy D, Lee Brinx and Michael Jansons.”
Release Date: 12 March 2012
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