Machinedrum Owes His Music Education to South Florida

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UPDATE: Machinedrum will now play Sunday instead of Friday, after Flying Lotus' 9 p.m. slot.

Machinedrum is the sort of band name that should belong to an industrial metal outfit. It’s cold, digital, and robotic. Yet the man behind the avant-garde IDM project, Travis Stewart, couldn’t be warmer and more affable if his heart were a soft, glowing baby sun powered by harp-strumming angels.

When New Times spoke with Stewart, he was minutes from boarding a flight to London. The well-traveled music veteran lives in L.A., has called Berlin home for three years, and attended school in Orlando at Full Sail University, where he graduated with a degree in recording arts. His next stop will be III Points in Miami, a city with which he has a long history.

“Back when I was in Orlando, I used to play Miami all the time," Stewart says. "Actually, one of my earliest shows was Infiltrate, which was a sort of subversive answer to Winter Music Conference at the time. This was, like, 2001 or something. They were an unofficial WMC party. They put together acts like Otto von Schirach, Richard Devine, me, and Jimmy Edgar. This was, like, a really long time ago," he laughs.

Although he never played WMC, or Ultra for that matter, Stewart still enjoyed all the spring EDM shows blossoming throughout the city.

“No, I never did anything official. I went down almost every year for about five or six years just to go to the afterparties' unofficial parties... It was more exciting; the lineups were more to my liking. That’s what’s so exciting to me about III Points: It’s a festival in Miami that caters to the kind of music that I’m really into, and they have a very diverse lineup. It seems to be a very good thing for Miami.”

He’s not wrong. As auteur of left-field, independent electronica for the better part of two decades, Stewart is certified to judge the quality of the off-the-beaten-path acts populating not only this year’s lineup but also every group of performers since the festival’s inception.

Speaking to those credentials is the fact that Stewart released his first album as a senior in high school and then quickly followed that up with his initial Machinedrum LP, the critically acclaimed Now You Know, at the age of 19. Since then, he’s been at the forefront of crafting genre-defying tracks that dabble in ambient, dubstep, glitch-hop, house, and jungle.

Having been in the game for a while, Stewart is finally seeing one of his early visions come to pass.

“Well, something that I thought was inevitable was the overall understanding of DJs. Not even DJs — people that are performing onstage with laptops. Those first performances I played in Miami back in the day, people would question, What is that dude doing up on the stage with a laptop? College music at that time was jam-band kind of stuff, very traditional band-oriented type of stuff. Now college music is electronic and rap and all this stuff. The kids understand what we’re doing now. It’s such a different climate. It’s so much more accessible compared to the past.”

Does he ever feel like he can sit back now and say, "I told you so?"

Stewart laughs. "A little bit. I’m not gonna come at it like that."

Instead of being snarky, Stewart is concentrating on growth. Whether it’s seeking inspiration from any number of musicians outside his field, reading or watching interviews with other producers, or learning new software, Machinedrum is a mechanism pushing forward toward something positive.

This tree of knowledge has born a new fruit in the form of his latest record, Human Energy. It is, in many ways, an antithesis of and remedy for the abundant hostility and negative vibes that persistently permeate the world.

“The album really represents change in my life," he says. "I moved to a new city, just got engaged, there’s just a lot of positive momentum. We’re all surrounded by the news and everything that’s going on. And I’m not trying to say that this is the answer to all of that. I’m not ignoring it — it’s just nice to have something out there in the world that can kind of take your attention away from all the darkness.”

Machinedrum at III Points. 8:40 p.m. Friday, October 7, on the Main Frame stage at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; manawynwood.com. Tickets cost $99 to $299 via iiipoints.com.

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