Sage Against the Machine

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Posted May 28, 2009 in Music

John MacLean is already on his second music biz life.  Having played guitar for dance-punk pioneers Six Finger Satellite in the ’90s, he walked away from music when the band split in 2001 (earning a degree in his native Providence, Rhode Island, and becoming an English teacher), before reappearing in electro-dance form as The Juan MacLean with the well-received Less Than Human album in ’05.

 

“In the indie-rock scene in the United States in the ’90s, in the beginning, I felt like it was really open in terms of creativity and pushing boundaries,” MacLean mulls. “By the late ’90s I felt it had become very homogeneous and about a certain kind of sound and it just ceased to be interesting to me. Getting back into music, jumping full-on into dance music and the electronic music world . . . it just seemed more interesting to me, like it was ripe for innovation.”

 

The Juan MacLean’s sophomore effort, The Future Will Come, emerged last month on New York’s DFA Records (owned by former Six Finger Satellite sound engineer and LCD Soundsystem mainman James Murphy) and immediately earned critical comparisons to co-ed Brit-synth first-wavers The Human League.

 

“It’s a definite influence, but I also feel that it was a really easy reference,” MacLean sighs. “I think it really came about because of the obvious male/female vocal stylings. In fact there’re a lot of other things that are more prevalent [on the album]: I was obviously listening to a lot of ’90s house music and sort of rediscovering ‘piano house,’ for example. Or a song like ‘The Station’—that was a lot more influenced by Kraftwerk. There’s a lot of Giorgio Moroder influence as well.”

 

Yet, MacLean’s clearly not someone who makes music for the sake of it.

 

“A big element is the live element—at this point it’s so much about playing with other people for me,” he enthuses. “My live band has really turned into a ‘proper’ band . . . instead of making the records on a laptop, it’s having an actual band play and recording in what is sort of this old school way of actually playing all the tracks by hand . . . The production of the record is meant to be an important element as much as the songwriting or anything else.”

 

Yep, though Future is meticulously recorded—testament to MacLean’s nearly two decades as an engineer/producer and the year spent creating the new disc—The Juan MacLean is, in fact, all about introducing some very “rock” elements and attitudes, both on record and on stage, to the traditionally rather sterile, automaton dance music scene.

 

“In the dance music world now, so many people are doing it and in the live realm it’s usually painfully boring,” MacLean laments. “Things that are billed as ‘live’ consist of one or two people standing up there with a laptop. This idea of playing this kind of music live—it’s something that not many people can do very well and it’s something I think has been done at DFA very well with LCD Soundsystem, Hercules and Love Affair or Hot Chip. It’s really an incredibly important thing to all of us.”

 

The Juan MacLean’s live show is almost exactly that: Aside from sequenced basslines, the quartet (MacLean sharing vocal and keyboard duties with LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang; Jerry Fuchs, formerly of Chk Chk Chk, on drums; and keyboardist/percussionist Nicholas Millhiser) is playing real instruments like real human beings, which allows for a certain amount of improvisation.

 

“There are a few tracks—most notably [2008 single] ‘Happy House’—that can go in many different directions. That track can either be eight minutes, or we’ve played it for 15 or 20 minutes . . . It just becomes very dependant on what’s going on in the audience.”

 

In their overall presentation, The Juan MacLean has consciously moved away from dance music’s pervasive anonymity and towards rock ‘n’ roll’s traditions.

 

“We try to put our actual images—our faces or whatever—on as much stuff as possible; just presenting ourselves as musicians, as a band, as personalities with a human face,” he explains. “That’s something that was really missing and turned a lot of people off to dance and electronic music—that it seemed very intellectualized and sort of anonymous. You didn’t know who was making the music and how the sounds were made . . . There was a real disconnect between the people making it and the music itself.”

 

The Juan MacLean and The Field at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, Thursday, June 4. www.thejuanmaclean.com, www.theglasshouse.us, 7PM, $13 in advance, $15 at door.

 


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