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Electronica Producer Max Cooper Will Return to Notts for Wiglex City Festival

24 April 19 interview: Eileen Pegg

Wigflex City Festival is set to be an impressive showcase of the musical talent Nottingham has spawned. One of these names is Max Cooper, an established producer who’s returning to his uni hometown this May. We quizzed Max on the Notts he knew, before he heads back to play...

When Wigflex City Festival launches this May, there’s no doubt that Nottingham’s in for something it’s never experienced before. Wigflex first launched in 2006, meaning this multidisciplinary event is over a decade in the making, as the brand has steadily gained respect from the electronic music community at home and further afield. Sprinkled throughout a lineup of global-reaching acts are names of individuals and crews who’ve played a part in shaping Nottingham’s creative pulse.

One of these people is Belfast-born electronica wizard, Max Cooper. He spent seven years in Notts, gaining a Ph.D in computational biology from the University of Nottingham in 2008, holding down residencies at techno party Firefly, and carving out a career that now sees him tour the world.  

Before Max returns to the city, we sat down with him to learn about his student years, his new album and his thoughts on coming back with an audio-visual show that’ll knock yer socks off.

Did your relationship with music start in Nottingham?
I was already into DJing, but a lot of my musical education happened here. In my second week of uni, a friend took me to the Marcus Garvey for a d’n’b night. I think it was called Synaptic. I’d never seen anything like it before and it changed everything.

You’re renowned for your residency at the famous Firefly parties…
I was there when it launched in 1999, in the common room of a campus hall at university! It was tiny, with one of the original residents and founders, Jeet, playing. He came over and asked to borrow some records. That’s why I found out about it. I used to give him my old trance tapes but he never asked me to play until I took some musical influence from the city and our travels, and started doing something more interesting. It was my turntablist breaks mixtape that led to me playing.

What is your favourite memory from your time in Notts?
There are far too many good memories to choose just one. It was a great time, particularly the undergrad years when we could have fun and experiment rather than being totally academically focused.

Alongside other venues, Firefly used to be at The Bomb. Were you here when it closed?
I seem to remember attending at least four different closing parties at The Bomb! People kept saying it was the final party, but then there was another. It was a big loss, I had a lot of special nights there.

I wanted to make an album about the mind, so I decided to shut off all incoming information and not talk to anyone, see anyone, or have any social media or emails for a month

Were there any other notable places in Notts for you?
I used to DJ every Wednesday at a bar in Hockley called Synergy, playing hip-hop, funk and turntablist stuff, scratching and beat-juggling. It certainly didn’t leave a mark on the city, but it was another important part of my development as a DJ. I already mentioned the Marcus Garvey, but that was a serious venue for a mad night out and the main home of Firefly.

You recently returned to Notts when touring your Emergence album in 2017, with an audio-visual show for Wigflex at Brickworks. What were your thoughts on it all?
I was pleasantly surprised to be honest. Lukas Wigflex used to come to the Firefly events and I knew him back then; he’s always been a big character and a great DJ, but he knows how to put on a party. Not that sterile black-box thing, a bit more chaotic and loose like a proper night should be. That’s what Firefly always was, and when I played at Wigflex I could see he’d captured the same thing. It was great.

You’ll be performing an immersive AV show at Metronome in May. Do you know much about it?
I’ve been told it’s a beautiful space for doing the visual show. These days I’m playing as many concert hall spaces as sweaty raves, but that’s exactly what I’m into. There’s artistic merit in both.

You have a new album out, One Hundred Billion Sparks. Will you be playing your new work?
It will be a combination of the new and old work, which I’ll attempt to spin into a visual story as well as a musical one. It’s an interesting way to approach the shows. I never pre-plan them; I have a load of visual and audio content that I control and rework live.

Another Notts connection is with Nick Cobby, who’s made some of your music videos. Do you still collaborate now?
Nick is amazing. We’ve done a lot of projects together and are currently working on a new one, part of my forthcoming commission for the Barbican in London in September. There’s Andrew Brewer (Whiskas FX) too, who created a lot of my early videos and has always been a big inspiration to my development on the visuals.

Has your musical output always been connected with your visual work?
I always loved visual art, but I didn’t have the skills to express it, so it’s taken time to develop a working process that allows me to do so. I write each album with a visual story created in parallel from the outset, with each track acting as a score to a chapter that’s created through collaborating with artists.

Tell us some more about the process of making your most recent album.
I wanted to make an album about the mind, so I decided to shut off all incoming information and not talk to anyone, see anyone, or have any social media or emails for a month. I tried to delve in and find what was in there with complete focus. It was a great experience, but difficult at times.

Are you excited to be part of the Wigflex City Festival project as it launches?
Absolutely, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the new chapter of electronic arts in Notts.

Max Cooper is performing a live AV show, joining over 60 acts, talks and workshops as part of Wigflex City Festival on Sunday 5 May at Metronome.

Buy Wigflex City Festival tickets online.
View the full Wigflex City Festival lineup.
Max Cooper website.

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