“Don’t go outside/You’ll get swept up,” Millionyoung sings on his new standalone single, "Huracán."
Like many people in South Florida, the solo chillwave artist (real name Mike Diaz) spent the early-morning hours of September 10 staying away from windows. He didn’t want to watch the destruction of Hurricane Irma unfold but also badly wanted to know what was happening outside. “Nature can be terrifying but also, in a way, impressive,” he says.
Diaz released some of the tension by making music. His family had gathered at his grandmother’s house near a hospital in Fort Lauderdale to ride out the storm and had spent most of the prior evening watching the news and listening for tornado warnings on the radio. He’d safely locked up most of his musical equipment but brought a small, battery-powered keyboard to sketch out a new song over a couple of hours.
“After the storm, I was able to unpack all my equipment and flesh it out by adding some vocals and other things I couldn’t do while I was there,” he says. “A lot of my lyrics are kind of spur-of-the-moment, and they get a meaning afterward.”
The product is "Huracán," whose proceeds will go toward hurricane relief through All Hands Volunteers, as well as the ASPCA’s animal rescue efforts. The song is available for download for a name-your-own-price donation on Bandcamp.
Like many of Millionyoung’s arrangements, "Huracán" is intricate enough to sound like it was recorded by a band. Diaz builds songs from the ground up, starting with guitar chords and a vocal melody and then layering multiple tracks of himself playing synthesizers, bass, electric guitars, and hand percussion.
“Sometimes it starts off just sounding like an acoustic song,” he says. “Then I try to create an ambiance with synth textures to go along with that. I add layers to it until it becomes what people hear in recordings.”
Diaz ditches the solo approach onstage, though: He leans on a cast of friends to help bring his brand of superchill electropop to life. For instance, Sebastian Hidalgo of the Miami-based synthwave act BayRan has become a fixture of the live lineup, and he even lent a hand by mixing another recent single, “Rare Form.” Such collaborations with like-minded artists make Diaz’s music a true product of the local indie scene.
“I make music that, first and foremost, I want to listen to,” he says, “but a lot of my friends have similar taste. We all share ideas with each other, show each other tracks and help new artists who are trying to compose songs.”
When New Times last caught up with Millionyoung, about two years ago, he called Miami “a city that's just starting a new chapter with endless possibilities.” Now, as he gears up to release a new album next year, he says the indie scene is coming into its own thanks to venues like 1306 and the Electric Pickle that provide platforms for new artists to perform live.
“It’s still party-driven,” he says, “but not what you’d see on South Beach — more of a mellow vibe.”
Fairly or not, Millionyoung is often slapped with the label “chillwave,” a genre of laid-back, warm-weather electronic music with generally nostalgic vibes. Diaz achieves such an effect with pulses of blissful synthesizer, mesmerizing drum patterns, and electronically processed, distant-sounding vocals. It’s the sonic equivalent of watching a lazy South Florida street go by through sepia sunglasses.
He neither embraces nor backs away from being categorized as chillwave. He says it’s lazy to make broad generalizations about music, but digs most of the artists associated with the movement, so he doesn’t really mind.
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The Florida native certainly embraces his hometown, however. An obvious homage, the accompanying art for “Rare Form” is a vintage-looking photo of palm trees and pink flamingos, an aesthetic you can practically hear in the Latin-flavored, polyrhythmic hand-drum patterns that drive Milliongyoung’s music.
“I don’t sit down and write songs that are specifically Miami-esque,” he says, “but I can definitely hear it.”
Having lived through several hurricanes, Diaz has observed the resiliency of South Florida over the years, and he’s seeing it again now. He describes Irma as a (really big) bump in the road rather than a long-term setback for the local music scene. Most of the music venues forced to cancel shows in the aftermath of the hurricane due to flooding or power outages have at least partially reopened, and many have already hosted benefit concerts to offset the costs of damage.
“It’s been pretty heartbreaking to see some of the stuff that’s been going on,” he says, “but it’s also been cool seeing people coming together and helping each other out.”