The Art Of The Remix With The Juan Maclean

Better known by the deceptively exotic Juan Maclean moniker, the loosely hinged slow jams from DFA flag-bearer and House enthusiast John Maclean have been providing DJ’s with bathroom breaks and night owls with truly euphoric club moments for a while now. But despite the irrefutable epic-ness of tracks like “Happy House”, “Give Me Every Little Thing” and “Tito’s Way” the former Six Finger Satellite guitarist has proven to be as adept at remixing tracks as he is at constructing them.

Just look at the dude’s remix back catalogue, an eclectic body of work which includes tasteful reworkings for the likes of The Presets, Marina & The Diamonds, Chairlift, The Tough Alliance, The Midnight Juggernauts and most recently a cosmic re-imagining of “Sleep” by Melbourne songstress Romy. Pedestrian recently caught up with Maclean to discuss the finer points of the remix process, upcoming collaborations and Passion Pit rejection.

For some context here’s a stream of the infectious source material Juan refers to:


FACT* ROMY is cute, new & from Melbourne – suss out her myspace.

Can you explain your remix process from initial conception to final execution?

The very first thing I do is listen to the track for a couple of days, mainly driving around in my car. I try to get a good sense of the original, particularly the feel of the song or if there is some sort of message that is conveyed. Then I load all the individual tracks into my sequencer and delete any elements that I would consider not essential; I basically try to get to as minimal an arrangement as possible. Then I’ll make a decision as to how close to the original I will stay, if I will use the original song structure and things like that. Sometimes, if it is not a dance track in any way, I end up just keeping the vocals and building up a whole new track. From there it’s just a matter of building the track up again. Sometimes I’ll have someone play lived drums over it. It’s really pretty different for every mix. The one thing that is always the same is that I try to arrive at something that is as minimal as possible. In the end I listen to it at incredibly loud volumes, in order to see what it would sound like in a club, and this usually leads to getting rid of even more elements, mostly percussion embellishments.

What are the creative differences between creating an original piece and remixing?

My overriding principle with a remix, except on rare occasions, is to make something that DJ’s will play, something that works in a club setting, while remaining faithful to the original in some way. When I am writing something for an album, I really do not consider this at all. Oddly enough, I find it much more stressful working on remixes than my own stuff. I think it is because while doing remixes I am always working within someone else’s parameters, no matter how much I am leaving my own mark on it.

How long does it usually take?

Generally, if I am home the entire time, two weeks. That is the standard that I plan for. Sometimes they can go very quickly, but sometimes it can take much longer as well. I don’t ever let anything go unless I am sure that it is the best I can make it.

How long did Romy’s remix take?

This one took much longer. It is hard to say because it got interrupted by a nearly three week Australian tour on my part. However, even apart from that, I spent much longer than I usually do because I essentially wrote an entirely new track around the vocals. I made many samples and stabs and things like that out of pieces of the original tracks, most of which are fairly unrecognizable. This takes a long time as well. Plus, I got into this whole realm of thinking about it that was very conceptual, like “ok, this track is about someone staying out late, on the dancefloor, but it seems like a sort of upbeat message to someone that maybe you want to get home to”. That was my interpretation anyway, I could be entirely wrong! Anyway, I put a lot of thought into how I could highlight this idea of being in a club, recalling a dance club setting. To do all of that from the beginning takes a lot of time on my part. Plus, the more I got into it, the more I loved where it was going, which made me a bit more obsessive and precious about it than I normally would be. And then throw in that Romy is so nice and easy to deal with, it made me want to do something amazing for her even more.

Are there any pressures to conform to a certain style of music when approached by labels to remix their artists?

Generally people know what they are getting into when they approach me to do a remix. I do very functional remixes that are meant to appeal to DJ’s. No one has ever pressured me to deviate from that. I think there would be no point. For example, there seems to be this whole world of remixes that are specifically made for the blogs, and I don’t do that. Mine are all generally 120 – 125 bpm, have an intro and an outro, have breakdowns and buildups, etc.

Have you ever had any remixes that you loved get rejected?

Only once. I’m not sure if I should name names, but I will – it was a remix I did for Passion Pit. I spent a long, long time building up a blinding House track that I was quite proud of. I sent it to other DJ’s looking for feedback, everyone was impressed, and I was sure it would be a hit. However, they didn’t like it at all, and went so far as to insinuate that I had simply combined the vocals from the original with a track I already had lying around. I went back and did an entirely new one that was very slow, very much more like the original, not like what I usually do, basically useless for the dancefloor.

Dream artist to remix?

That’s a really tough question to answer, and it’s one I get asked all the time. Surprisingly, someone like Beyonce. I would love to have access to her original vocal tracks and be able to incorporate them into a real old school sounding House mix. This is very much the sound of both Deep and Tech House at the moment, big vocal loops are back in full force, and it’s a sound I love.

Did you get deep into the remix of Sleep?

Probably far too much! I really got lost in it for a while, like I would one of my own tracks. Honestly it is one of my favorites I have ever done. I still have the chorus singing in my head every night when I lie down to go to sleep, I listened to it over and over, looped on repeat, so many times.

What are your plans for the rest of 2010, any collaborations or exciting stuff coming up?

Well, the biggest thing is certainly my upcoming DJ Kicks release, which I am very excited about. I have never done any collaborations before, so it’s interesting that you mention it because I am going to do a series of collaborations, a series of 12″‘s that will come out on DFA Records. The first is with Florian Meindl, who is a Tech House producer from Berlin. I’m very excited, he just did a remix for me.

Title Image Provided by Juan Maclean