For many listeners, Michna’s debut LP Magic Monday came out of left field. It had a little more bounce and a lot more bass than you’d expect to find on a Ghostly release, not to mention plenty of horns (often played by Michna himself) and a playful use of sound effects and vocal samples. He created a sound that showcased his large pool of influences but managed to pull them together in a way that somehow made perfect sense. Maybe because the record was so hard to categorize he won over fans across the musical spectrum and has continued to show his range through remix work for artists like Joy Orbison, Kelis, Albert Swarm and most recently Matthew Dear. His follow-up EP Moving Mountains is a balanced attack of intricate soundscapes and DJ-friendly tracks designed for the dance floor. Rarely taking a day off, Michna DJ’s regularly, is preparing for tour and is already putting together an LP of all new material. He toured extensively in support of Magic Monday with the help of his Raw Paw crew which included live drums, saxophone, System 128 on visuals and Michna’s own special bag of tricks. But after trying to assemble this ambitious set-up on a nightly basis he decided to take a different approach this time around developing an inventive solution to the problem. “I came to the conclusion that it has to be you and a suitcase. So what’s the biggest show you can do with just you and a suitcase? Inflatables. I’m hoping to get custom inflatables but if not I can just use weather balloons to bounce visuals off. It’s amazing the kind of stuff you can get off Amazon.”
Knowing his affection for analog equipment I wasn’t at all shocked to find a configuration of tube tv’s, an original Ninetendo game center, a vine of assorted cords and many other relics from eras past when I visited him at his apartment/studio in Brooklyn. I’ve known Adrian for several years now and as we scanned through his iTunes playlist things got a little off track with some of his hilarious, true life stories from years spent as a DJ, musician and record store clerk so we didn’t quite hit the standard 25 that Replay would typically capture but there is plenty of material here for those curious about his listening habits and unique sense of humor.
1. Snoop Doggy Dogg “Beeyotch” – I DJ off of this computer so there are a lot of things like this… (Laughs, then plays sounds of lasers, bomb drops, air horn, etc.) This computer is only 10 months old. The other one probably had a lot of Nine Inch Nails songs with 60 plays on it.
2. Miike Snow “Animal” – You know this one. I still play this out. I have a mix where I go from this to Trus’ Me “War”. It’s just a mix that works every time.
3. Jesse Wakmen “Waterboy” – So I never wanted to run a record label but it was set up because we were really lucky to get the rights to all the Secret Frequency Crew stuff (Ed. Note: SFC features Michna’s early IDM work) because all those labels crumbled and no contracts were signed. Initially when iTunes was invented our stuff went up and I was like, ‘Wait who is getting these royalties?’ And also Bleep had our stuff up so I told them, ‘Look, I’m the owner, take it down and I’ll get it to you through my own distribution.’ That was right when AJ (Finizio) started Seed Distribution. He went to a lot of the old school dudes and incredibly a lot of them were like, ‘How do we know iTunes is going to make money?’ (Laughs) So he came to me to put up the Secret Frequency stuff and I started Rellman Enterprises (named jokingly in honor of a former manager) in 2004. I got dropped from Beatport because I’m not Skrillex. I was fine with that as long as I was on iTunes, but AJ said he needed me to release more stuff if he was going to carry my label. So I started putting out the Egg Foo Young stuff, and other things I had only put out on vinyl, but I also started looking for other people. One of the first guys was Jesse Wakeman. He was recording everything in his bedroom straight to four-track, very influenced by Wavves and stuff like that. What’s cool about Jesse Wakeman is he used to send CD’s to our house and they were just noise. First of all the packaging looked like noise, then the music was noise so I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ It was a mystery, but it was so perfect! He was friends with an old roommate and I just wanted to know more about this guy and as our relationship developed he started making more poppy songs. His first album was called Warm Up the Virgins and a lot of the songs are very short. By default I think the shorter songs get more plays but I like his stuff.
4. M83 “We Own the Sky” – This I just love. There’s really no story.
5. TV on the Radio “DLZ” – This is another one I love. The hook on this is just ridiculous. I feel like people forgot about them for a little while.
6. Michna “7am feeling on top of the world” – So there’s this dude that went to the University of Miami named Billy Corben and he directed Cocaine Cowboys. We have a mutual friend and in 2011 he was putting together a documentary on Limelight, in the same spirit as Cocaine Cowboys but focused on the ecstasy trade. I wanted to do the soundtrack so I started submitting tracks. He wanted someone who had been there at the time so I told him, ‘Dude I used to go to Limelight.’ I mean I wasn’t a regular but I went a few times. They ended up hiring Brian Leiser (Ed note: Leiser was a member of Fun Lovin’ Criminals responsible for the 90’s hit “Scooby Snacks”) to score the soundtrack, and it worked out because I was able to write more Michna music. This was a track I did for that project and you can probably guess from the title that the vibe was a sunrise, post rave theme song.
7. Animal Collective “Taste” – I honestly don’t know why this song specifically has so many plays but I’m not surprised that Merriweather Post Pavilion as a whole is one of the most played albums.
8. Julian Casablancas “11th Dimension” – I play this out if I’m going into indie rock territory. I heard Busy P play this out to a huge room mixed into some house beat after I’d been playing it and that was inspiring. I liked this album because I could tell he spent a lot of time being real nit-picky with the keyboards and all the layers of synthesizers and guitars. It does have kind of a stiff feeling because it’s a one man band but there’s something I like about that. Just the idea of him coming from The Strokes and doing it all himself. There was a funny thing where he claimed in an interview that he was a self-taught musician and the first commenter on the page was this guy who was like, ‘Julian you took lessons with me from ’98-2000. You always wanted to be a star. You became a star.’ So his teacher called him out, which I found really funny.
9. Tiga “Speak Memory” – This Tiga album I like a lot. I like the way he ties in Soul Wax and DFA. I feel like he’s the link to that family. You can tell it’s all analog. There’s one track that says featuring James Murphy but there’s no vocals on it so I’m guessing it’s him on the synth. It sounds like him.
Prefix: I know you have some good James Murphy stories.
Michna: Yeah, he came into Etherea (Ed. Note: A record store on NYC’s Lower East Side where Michna worked), this must have been 2003, and he must have just had like three cups of espresso because I mentioned something about sound quality and he went off for the next 15-20 minutes. Like, ‘Producers don’t care’ and ‘iTunes’ and ‘mp3’s’! He wasn’t really hating, he was just talking about the state of where things were. He could have been the bitter old man if he wanted to like, ‘It’s all shit. It’s all garbage.’ But he was making exceptions like, ‘There are still real engineers out there you just have to find them.’ But yeah, ‘White ear buds!’ he just went on a rant and I didn’t have to say anything, I just sat back and enjoyed it. But he eventually ran out of steam and then it just turned into a hazy memory of audiophile business.
Prefix: Did he buy anything?
Michna: No, it seemed like he was just walking down Avenue A and popped in there just so he could speak his mind to somebody who might care. (Laughs) I think he browsed for about a minute and then started talking. Then two years later he walked into Turntable Lab and was just looking around. I always thought that the “Yeah” bassline sounds like he ripped off “Disco Inferno” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack so that was in the back of my mind and the 12” for that song was right there on the wall but he didn’t see it right away. I pulled it off the shelf and decided to just say it, ‘You know what? I love this record but this bassline reminds of the one from “Disco Inferno” and he goes, ‘Oh, all my basslines sound the same.’ (Laughs) I thought, wow, he’s so quick to just come up with that. That’s the best answer you could possibly say. Then I looked at the sleeve, pretending to read some notes on the back. We had actually just gotten some Scion stuff in, back when they were doing promo records, and I know some people were a little uncomfortable with that because it’s basically saying ‘Property of Toyota’ right there on the front of the record. So I looked at the sleeve and said, ‘What’s this? It says ‘James Murphy uses exclusively Gibson guitars.’ Immediately he was like, ‘Let me see that!’ He literally grabbed it from me and saw that no, it didn’t say that and he laughed and thought it was funny. He was in there with a friend and he loosened up after that. He wasn’t hating at all that day, they were just checking stuff out and were into what we had in the store at the time but they didn’t buy anything. I always remember when people buy something. Like one day the taller guy from The Chemical Brothers walked in, I didn’t know he’s like 6’4” or something, and I was debating if it was him or not but after a minute I was convinced it was. So he comes up to the counter and he has some reissue of a Talking Heads 12”. So he just wants that one record and pulls out like $7 cash so I can’t see his name on a card. So I just said, ‘Does anyone ever tell you you look like the guy from The Chemical Brothers?’ and he was like, ‘I am him mate!’ (Laughs) I cracked up but he was all smiles so it was cool.
Prefix: I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of characters come into the shops over the years.
Michna: Yeah, I think Kool Keith was probably the best. Well, not the best but the one I remember the most. He actually came in two or three times and he had some hangers-on, basically freeloaders with him, like this one guy from the Bronx that just seemed like a drug dealer. He could intimidate you just by being his straight up gangster self. But the most epic time me and Nick Hook were sitting in the back and we hear this voice go, ‘Yo, I got CD’s.’ We both knew it was Kool Keith’s voice, so we turned our heads and he was standing right there. He was holding a box of The Commissioner 2 CD’s and he was like, ‘I got ‘em signed! Get ‘em before they hit eBay!’ He wanted us to buy this box of like 10 CD’s. I told him I couldn’t because it wasn’t my call but I would buy one myself and Nick said he’d buy one. So we bought two and when he left Nick says, ‘Whoa that must be rough. Even Kool Keith is walking door to door hustling CD’s.’ (Laughs) We went into A1 (Ed. Note: Another nearby record store) later that day and they had a little stack of The Commissioner 2 sitting near the register too.
10. Black Ghosts “Anyway You Choose To Give It” – I guess I saved myself, I had some respectable music in the beginning, ‘Oh, I only listen to M83.’ (Laughs)
Prefix: That’s actually why I started doing these features while looking at people’s computers, as a reaction to these curated playlists people put together where it’s always Brian Eno or some David Bowie album that nobody liked.
Michna: Steve Reich (Laughs)
Prefix: I’m not saying that’s not in the collection but it’s not what you play every day.
Michna: Exactly. So Black Ghosts to me are still interesting. They had this mixtape that was awesome, but now sounds very 2007, 2008. It has the singer from Simian (Mobile Disco) and I was interested in the project because our boy Fake Blood aka DJ Touche from The Wise Guys produced it. I just find it amazing that when the dust cleared, he decided to say fuck trip-hop and became Fake Blood. So I was following it because of him but now they’re kind of trapped in Europeanland.
11. Michna drop “The Magic Is All Around You” – That’s sampled from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show. He walks in the theater and this voice goes, ‘In a place like this the magic is all around you.’ So I pitched his voice down and use it as a drop because I love that sample.
12. Elliott Lipp “Calling Me” – His album Peace Love Weed 3D – I like as a whole but it’s also the album he was playing behind when I toured with him. He mixed it at the guy from Telefon Tel Aviv’s place in Chicago on a big analog board so that’s really cool. I think this is probably his strongest record.
13. Hip Stars Inc. “Embers” (from the album Super Hits) – Ah, here’s a guilty pleasure. Aramis who promotes Pop Life and Grand Central in Miami, we were in his car and he had burnt a mix CD. To me that’s still so old school but he just said, ‘Yeah, I buy the songs on iTunes, burn them to a CD and play them in my car.’ But it makes sense to just have 12-15 really good songs on a CD. We all used to do that but that’s lost now we have the shuffle. So this song is insanely pop but sounds a bit different when you’re riding around Miami. It has kind of a Verve thing going on then the autotune… (Laughs) I don’t know…
14. New Found Glory “My Friends Over You” – This CD is awesome, Drive-Thru Records Greatest Hits. The girl I dated in Miami, she knew all these bands before they were big, so she was 100% responsible for getting me into pop-punk and the Ataris, New Found Glory, going to see them play… I lived in Miami for five years without a car, so living in that city without a car you’re always at the mercy of somebody else’s music. I was with her the most and these CD’s never left the car so my love for those bands is all her fault.
15. Caribou “Hannibal” – I mean Swim? Come on. He’s just on a roll man. He can do no wrong. Especially since we’ve followed him since Manitoba Stop Breaking My Heart. What I think is interesting is the album before Swim, Andorra, is totally different. It’s amazing and totally underrated. Swim seemed like it was him kind of getting into the DJ, night life side of things. I know him and Four Tet had a night at Plastic People and this seems like his idea of an underwater house album.
Prefix: I think they were hanging out with Thom (Yorke) a lot then too.
Michna: First name basis? (Laughs) ‘Yeah, we were just hanging out with Thom.’ No, I’m sure that had to be an influence. This might be my most played track by the numbers but I loved that whole record.
16. DMX Krew “Cherry Ripe” – I always like checking in with what Rephlex and Aphex are up to. This song definitely has a good pop electro feel to it but he has so many duds you have to sort through to find something like this.
17 . Goldie “Rhythm Killa” –There it is.
Prefix: I know you used to be heavy into drum & bass. Did you ever try to make it?
Michna: I tried to make one or two tracks and then just realized it wasn’t happening. I had a phase right when I started DJ-ing where the only genres I really had were hip-hop and drum & bass but I had just discovered Ninja Tune so I was mixing the trip-hop records with hip-hop. Keeping up with drum & bass was such a rat race. There were all these imported 12”s that you’re spending $15 on and somebody else already has it, so I just decided I can’t compete with this. I also thought it was corny that you had to have the big tune to play at the right time, I’d rather just play Funki Porcini or some weird shit. But that combination helped me because in Miami nobody was playing that. Right before I moved there actually this guy just gave me a crate of amazing New York hip-hop records. He just said keep what you want and I was like, ‘I’ll keep the whole thing.’ It was full of Showbiz & AG, Slick Rick, Nas Illmatic – all the essentials. So when I got to Miami that gave me a bit of an edge because I had what people considered “real” New York records. So I used to play at Beat Camp when it peaked around ’98, ’99, 2000. The main room was drum & bass and the side room was either trip-hop or electro. Me and Induce were in there and we had a really cool scene going and that’s where the whole IDM thing tied in. People called it electro then but if you heard it now it would be IDM. I was also doing a radio show at UM (The University of Miami) so that’s how I got my hands on all the Schematic and Chocolate Industries and Beta Bodega stuff. They’d give me stuff early and I always loved playing advance copies of shit so that was my intro to that type of sound. But going to London was life-changing. My dad was from West London, Ealing, so I have family there and I would go for extended periods and I remember going there in ’96 when I was 18 years old and it was all hitting me like a ton of bricks. I picked up a Mixmag and Goldie was on the cover, my cousins were like, ‘You have to go to the Metalheads night and go to Blue Note.’ The only things I really knew at that point were The Prodigy and The Orb so that just seemed like the next level. I actually didn’t go back to London until 2000 and it was all UK garage everywhere then. But I liked that and I wasn’t even that into drum & bass any more so I started buying that stuff. But most of it had terrible R&B vocals on it so I basically started looking for MJ Cole-type shit that didn’t have vocals and found some things but realized that DJ Zinc was moving more into break beats anyway so I started following that. But both of those times in London were real eye opening moments for me.