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Arcadia Interview: Max Cooper


On Saturday 5th May, Max Cooper takes to The Spider at Arcadia10.

Born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he later moved to London where he established himself as one of the most in demand live performers in electronic music, fusing sonic and visual elements in boundary-pushing, experimental showpieces.

We spoke with him ahead of this monumental event.

Good Morning Max. As we know you have just recently been preparing your new album Balance 030. Could you briefly introduce us to the release and tell us a bit more about it?  
It’s a compilation mix for the Balance series, so a mixture of some new productions of mine, lots of work from my Mesh label and lots of tracks from my favourite producers out there at the moment. It’s really about the fact that you can’t put people in a box and define who they are. We’re all so complicated and full of weird ideas and hypocrisy, and I just wanted to try and express that as honestly as I could, in musical form.

So you might think it’s a mess of different genres and BPM’s, but there’s a thread of feeling in there, and I put a lot of work into producing the whole thing so that all those disparate parts could hopefully work as one. It turned into as much of a production project as a normal DJ mix, where I was making bootlegs and edits and augmenting every track in order to make the whole thing smooth and coherent, despite my choice of tracks.

That’s also a way of adding my identity to the project, despite it being a DJ mix. Lots of detailing and binaural work is in there on top of the basic originals. So it’s good for a quality headphone listen, if that’s of interest for you.

Science has always been a subject that has fascinated you I believe as you obtained a Ph.D. in computational biology. We’d like to know what is your relationship with science and why have you always been interested in this subject?
Nature is an endless source of great and beautiful ideas. Science is the study of nature, so I don’t see how it can fail to be interesting. I spend most of my free time trying to learn more, and it provides a constant source of excitement and inspiration. These are great feelings for channeling into creating music, but it also provides rich pickings for visual ideas and most of my projects these days have a visual component. I usually create each piece of my now with a particular visual concept in mind. With the music created as a score to this form which I then collaborate with visual artists to bring to life. I’ve always loved visual arts too, so it’s just a more enjoyable way for me to work, bringing together my three main interests in music, science and visual.

I don’t do any official studies or research in science any more though. That ended around 10 years ago when I decided to try music full time. It’s not really possible to do both properly, simultaneously, so I just do my best to combine them, and work on collabs with scientists and artists when the opportunities arise. Lots more info about all this here in a recent lecture I gave about the science behind my visual shows.

“Nature is an endless source of great and beautiful ideas. Science is the study of nature, so I don’t see how it can fail to be interesting.”
– Max Cooper

Do you think DJs have to constantly adapt themselves to technological changes and, ultimately, that this kind of cutting-edge event – inside the head of a futuristic spider – is going to become more-and-more common in the future?
A lot of the most popular electronic musicians these days are heavily dependent on equipment from well back into last century. They are probably more numerous than the electronic musicians pushing new technology. So no, I don’t think DJs need to constantly adapt to technological changes. But I do think they need to be aware of what is out there so that they can best deliver their artistic aims. Personally, I’m all about both extremes. I run my old Juno 6 and Roland Space Echo from the 70’s and 80’s through modern computationally demanding semi-generative FFT effects and the like, so I get the nice personality of old analogue synths in combination with modern detailing and sound design options.

As for the events side of things, people seem to enjoy the newest technological options, yes. Like my collab with ASC for example.

There is still a love of the dark sweaty room and big sound system option too, so I think it’s the same story!

“A lot of electronic music artists are dependent on equipment from the last century – probably more than those pushing new technology. I do think they need to be aware of what is out there so that they can best deliver their artistic aims.”
– Max Cooper

You’ve been putting out huge shows the past few years with your MESH Live show at Village Underground and alongside Paul Kalkbrenner at Printworks. What do you think of the London scene since you’ve started here?
It’s great! Any city this size with so many different people and ideas is a good place to play music, as you can always find the people that share your interests. People are open-minded too with the exposure they get to so much of the world.

In the meantime, what single night out has been the most memorable for you in London as a DJ and why?
Once I played a gig at a place at the end of Brick lane, I can’t remember the name. It’s probably gone now, but we’d already been out before, then my Irish mates turned up and everyone decided we needed a Buckfast refreshment en-route. One friend fell asleep under the decks while I was on, another lost his shoes, and one ended up stranded inside the venue the next morning and had to climb many walls to escape. I got into another sort of scrape I can’t mention in polite company.

Finally I would like you to talk about the Arcadia brand in particular.Could you tell us what are your thoughts on the concept?
I’m no expert on the brand, but my impression of it is a huge spectacle of a party!

“There is still a love of the dark sweaty room and big sound system too”
– Max Cooper

Do you think that not being directly on the ground and being a part of this fully immersive journey is going to change your set? If yes, are you preparing anything differently for the occasion?
I’ve been wondering about that. I guess it won’t be so well suited to my ambient work, but other than that I prefer to interact with people live and try and get a feeling for the way to go on the set.


Max Cooper plays The Spider at Arcadia’s 10 Anniversary alongside Leftfield Live, Sven Väth, Groove Armada, Dusky and Norman Jay on Saturday 5th May.
Last remaining tickets are on sale now.