Minus Label's Magda Talks Movie Soundtracks, Detroit Techno, and Her Debut Album
It's impossible to talk about minimal techno without mentioning Minus label darling Magda. The Polish-born, Detroit-bred DJ-producer is one of the most highly respected women in the male-dominated EDM game. For over a decade, she's earned cred through hectic touring and an unwavering commitment to the cutting edge -- an approach shared with Minus label mates Richie Hawtin, Troy Pierce, and Marc Houle.
Until now, Magda had mostly manifested her musical prowess behind the decks, save a few sporadic remixes and original releases.
But the release of her much anticipated debut album From the Fallen Page (two years in the making) this past October finally solidified her rep as a producer. She has also embarked on an international tour that will see her stop by the Electric Pickle on Saturday to throw down with longtime creative associate Marc Houle, who will be supporting his own new LP. The party comes courtesy of local techno magnates LINK and it'll also feature residents Maurizio & Danyelino, and Hardline.
We caught up with Magda in advance of her performance this Sunday at the Electric Pickle to talk about favorite movie soundtracks, her penchant for spooky atmospheres, and the story behind From the Fallen Page.
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New Times: How did the album initially come about?
Magda: It changed many times. But the initial idea was to take several elements and try to combine them, try to find the middle line between disco and more dark, minimal weird stuff. A band that's great at that is Goblin. When I heard their stuff, I was very inspired. I also loved their soundtrack-type feel. So that was sort of the initial idea, the direction I would go into. But eventually that wore off and I started going back to my time in Detroit, and thinking about all those memories and forgotten times that I had there: the sounds I heard that really had an impact on me. I started making the hi-hat patterns in a different way, making it more percussive and using a lot of melodies. It definitely changed direction.
What was the creative process in the studio?
The process was quite long. I started over two years ago, and I made a lot of different recordings but nothing ever came together as a whole. At the end of last year I wasn't sure where to take it still, and finally this year it all made sense somehow together -- that's when I really decided I was going to focus on this Detroit influence of mine and take it in that direction. I just really wanted everything to sound as warm as possible, so I used analogue gear for a lot of the basslines, drum patterns and melodies. And I used the thing I can't live without, my Eventide H8000 effects processor. That really made the entire album I feel - it shaped the sound and gave it depth.
What is the idea behind the album's name?
It's about lost memories -- like when you stumble upon an old book that you used to write your thoughts in, and you totally forgot about that chapter in your life. It resurfaces; you find one page that brings all these memories back, moments and experiences. So it's pretty much about that. It's about me remembering those times in Detroit, because it's easy to forget with the fast pace of our lifestyles.
Aside from Goblin's work for Dario Argento's horror movies, have there been any other soundtracks that have been an influence for you?
Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack is just incredible. I saw the remastered version in the theater, it's amazing. It surrounds you entirely and creates a very intense atmosphere. I also used a lot of atmospheric sounds on the album which I don't recall myself really being into before, so I think somehow that subconsciously came into play.
Are there any specific periods in Detroit techno's history reflected in the album?
I would say the early '90s, when I first started going out and discovered this strange mysterious world in the middle of the ghetto -- these crazy places: abandoned, scary buildings and desolate areas with fog steaming up from the streets, in the middle of the night with not a soul around. That was the atmosphere that we were surrounded by, going to these first parties. I was traveling to Poland quite a bit, to the countryside. There was this really thick fog there, and it really reminded me of those days. It kind of made sense and reminded me of those days -- this gloomy, melancholy, spooky feel that kind of set the tone for everything.
And what influence did Berlin have on the album's sound, having recorded much of it there?
I did record a lot of the album in Berlin, but I also worked on it on the road a lot, so I can't say Berlin shaped the sound. I think it was a combination of all those places: being in the woods, riding on the train. I remember specifically that it was pouring rain outside when I was on the train in Switzerland, and I was listening to one of the songs -- again, I had this nice melancholy feeling and it all made sense with the melodies. And I engineered it in the UK, so that's another area. It's hard to say which had the most impact.
How much did you gear the album for the dancefloor and how much for home listening?
I think I wanted to do a bit of both -- this is my first album, so I definitely wanted to make tracks that are playable on the dancefloor, but at the same time I really did want to make it quite atmospheric and moody; something that could be listened to at home or in the car. I didn't want to make it just clubby, too pounding or too weird. I really wanted to find that balance.
As a DJ, how much of your sets are generally prepared in advance versus improvised spontaneously on the decks?
As far as track selection goes I never pre-plan, unless I'm playing a really big show and I'm extremely nervous -- then I'll pick out some things I want to play. Other than that I do a lot of edits, tons of edits -- that really takes up a lot of time. But at a club you have to see what the crowd is like, what they respond to, and take it from there. It's more fun to be spontaneous.
What have been some of your favorite stops on the tour so far?
We're pretty fortunate to be able to play the venues that we like. It's always a pleasure to play in Germany. I'm definitely looking forward to playing the UK -- it's always fun there, a madhouse! And it's really nice that we're going to finish the tour in Japan: it's always a special place and I'm very much looking forward to playing some of the songs there.
You're also touring with Marc Houle, who is supporting his own new album Drift. What can you tell us about your personal and creative relationship over the years?
It's really funny that me and Marc are going on an album tour together, because I remember back in the '90s when we were living together, sitting there saying "Oh wouldn't that be great if one day we were on tour together somewhere in the world?" And now it's actually happening. We've been friends for so long, and have a really good dynamic together. We're quite different in our approaches to things but together we make a really good team.
Did you exchange feedback while working on your respective albums?
That's one of the great things I love about being in Berlin and having friends around the corner: you can always ask them their opinions or get some advice when you get stuck. That's definitely true for me and Marc. I think everyone gets stuck at one point. When he doesn't know where to go he'll call me and I'll come over, have a fresh ear and tell him maybe this or that. He definitely did that for me with the album, because I came to a point where I was very stuck -- I didn't know what was good anymore, what was bad, which direction to go... He was able to come over and have a fresh ear and say "OK, this is really nice, you should keep going with this, this is strong..." So it's things like that -- we always help each other.
What does the future have in store for Magda?
I feel this year has been so intense -- I got more done this year than I had in a long, long, long time. So I'd like to keep the momentum going and definitely do some collaborations, with friends and other people outside the label. I'm also working on a live show for next year, which I'm excited about too.
Magda with Marc Houle, LINK residents. 10 p.m. Sunday, December 12. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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