Intoxication, Sway, Wetness, Vividness: An interview with Air Max ’97

Son Raw talks to Melbourne's Air Max '97, repping the Tropical Waste Crew, synthesizing club and bass in singular ways.
By    January 19, 2015

1. credit - Willow DarlingSon Raw is AFK

I first met Air Max ’97 last year while hanging out at NTS Live with the Tropical Waste crew, and his set and subsequent Progress and Memory EP grabbed my interest for their unique slant on Club and Bass music. At a time when the idea of non 4X4 club tracks was beginning to acquire real currency online, Air Max 97’s music stands out from the pack by synthesizing rather the copying influences, a crucial trait at a time when so many producers are apt to rip off underground scenes wholesale. His latest Fruit Crush EP on Liminal Sounds continues this exploration, combining Pulse X style Bass to sweaty club rhythms while merging both to colourful melodies recalling a time when “Bass Music” wasn’t a dirty word. I spoke to Air Max 97′ via email to discuss all of the above and more.

First up – why don’t you introduce yourself to our readers. Where are you from, how’d you first get involved in producing club music and/or music in general?

Hi I’m Oliver and I produce club music as Air Max ’97. I was born in the Netherlands, grew up in New Zealand and now live in Melbourne Australia. Air Max ’97 began in 2013 when I was asked to DJ a night my friend Romy was putting on. From there, DJing was a catalyst to start making my own edits and tracks. As for my involvement in music,  that stretches back to when I was in art school. I played in improvisational free noise bands and for a couple of years I made a lot of field recordings that now make up part of the sonic palette of Air Max ’97. This project feels like my first proper thing though.

Your music, both production wise and in terms of your mixes, draws on a lot of different regional sounds yet still comes out as cohesive. What let to your particular combination of influences?

I’m a pretty explorative and restless listener. I arrived at club music and became re-acquainted with pop and hip-hop after listening to a lot of indie, experimental and noise music. I’ve always vibed off music that exists at the borders of genres or aesthetics. Even though my net is cast wide sonically, somehow certain tracks catch my ear and these are ones that end up in my sets and mixes, regardless of when or where they’re from.

In terms of your time in free noise bands, so much of that scene (to my knowledge) relies on chance and improvisation whereas electronic music can be very planned due to the workflows inherent in various DAWs like Ableton or Logic. How did you reconcile those two vastly different approaches? In terms of texture – I can definitely see the link.

Yeah, you’re right, it’s so easy to be trapped in the grid in DAWs. I try to consciously introduce noise into my workflow, literally and figuratively, and breed happy accidents. My field recordings and some sloppy cutting and pasting help.

You’d previously released Progress & Memory on Liminal Sounds – did your approach change between the two EPs?

Yes and no. I feel like Fruit Crush is a little more cohesive and the mix downs a bit tighter than my first EP. But it’s still the same playful experimental approach to club music. There is usually some small idea that gets a track started, and then it’s a matter of trying to do right by that, avoiding brick walls and eventually ending up with a finished thing.

Personally, hearing Fruit Crush (the track) was a real treat. It reminded me of first hearing BokBok and Ikonika tracks at a time when everyone was into very dour Dubstep. Obviously the musical elements you draw from are quite different, but in a similar way it feels like a much needed burst of “color” into a musical discourse concentrating on stone faced Grime. How did that track/direction for the EP come about?

Wow that’s a generous thought, thanks! Firstly, I should say that the specific selection of the 3 tracks making up the EP was made by Sam and Sara at Liminal Sounds. They made the choice from about 10 dubs I sent them, so the vibe of the EP is partly indebted to them. It’s true though: colour, texture and dynamics are really important to me. In terms of the tracks’ relationship to Grime, it is a context I’m humbled to be welcomed into in some small way, but not a genre tag I feel comfortable claiming for myself, as I feel pretty culturally and geographically removed from the origins of that sound. But yea certainly what I vibe off most in the tracks I love, Grime included, are ones that are kind of abstract or manage to contrast elements in an unlikely way, like sharp sounds with round sounds, different textures, etc. The EP sounding different to other stuff out there reflects my desire to really follow my ear into my own sonic territory, I guess. I try to keep influences peripheral and not just carbon copy stuff.

There’s a definite sense of abstraction on the EP – to me, the songs sound like imaginary or artificial spaces but at the same time, there’s definitely a sense that they were made for a “Real” club. When you designed the tracks for the EP, what were you trying to evoke?

Intoxication, sway, wetness, vividness, dislocation, iridescence, kinesis, hypnotism, recursion, contrast, light and dark. Honestly it’s a pretty intuitive process though that occurs and mutates through the making.

Tying back to the idea of a variety of influences – in terms of the creative process, are you considering a certain scene when making tunes? I know you co-run a club night called Club ESC…

I’m not creating with a specific scene in mind. But I suppose I do produce stuff I want to play myself in the club, which I do, and over the past year club ESC has been my most regular context to play in. I see myself belonging to an international club underground, which I think is a pretty diverse space.

In regards to that international underground, have you heard any responses from members more localized club scenes? One of the weird paradoxes I’ve experienced is that while club music has proven to be really open musically, the scenes are a bit more insular.

I have good relationships with people from different regions and scenes, and try not to invest too heavily in genre tags. I don’t know if the scenes are insular or just kinda small? Perhaps it has to do with cultural specificities that can’t really be engaged with entirely through the Internet… I’ll be on tour more this year, and I’m excited to make more AFK connections.

How’d Armour Form with Strict Face come about? You guys both live in Australia, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear since your styles are quite different.

We booked Jon Strict Face for club ESC #2 back in Feb last year. The next day, without much sleep, we worked on a track at my apartment and ended up with Armour Form in a few hours.

Any musical favorites of the moments you’d like to share with our readers?

I recently recorded mixes for the Truants’ Functions of the Now series, Triple J and Mixpak FM that have lots of my current favs 😉 I just got the entire back catalogues of Missy Elliott and Trina.

Finally, anyone you want to shout out?

Sam and Sara at Liminal, Aspartame, Rap Simons and our extended club ESC family, Rushmore, Leo and Tim at Awesome, Willow Darling, Mum, Thomas, Lotic, Jikuroux, k-Trax, Strict Face, Vkim, Imaabs, JGB, DaSoLee, Bjork, everyone who listens to/DJs my trax, etc.

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