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TRCH David Suchet

Max Cooper On Studying a PhD in Nottingham and Performing at the Acropolis of Athens

17 September 21 interview: Lilith Hudson

Originally hailing from Belfast, electronica DJ and producer Max Cooper came to the University of Nottingham in the late nineties. He left the city eight years later with his debut EP and a PhD in Computational Biology, two assets that would coalesce to influence his career for years to come...

What is your best memory from your time in Nottingham?
That's tough. I  think my overarching positive memory was the feeling of potential - leaving home and arriving somewhere new where I could go out every night. Also studying in a field that was growing rapidly at the time too (genetics/genomics). After the shackles of schooling and home life in Belfast, everything opened up and I began to explore what I wanted to do on my own terms, having a load of fun in the process. 

Did you have a favourite night out?
It would have to be the Marcus Garvey Ballroom in Lenton. The first time I went was in 1999 for my first ever DnB experience. I'd never even heard of DnB until I met a friend, Ross, in halls. He suggested an event at the Garvey - I think it was called Synaptic. I just remember experiencing something totally new in so many ways. Stealth also needs a mention, we had a lot of great nights there. More recently it's all about Wigflex, whichever venue they take on still has that Notts magic going on.

What’s been the highlight of your career since graduating from UoN?
Recently I was asked to work with the Acropolis in Athens for my live visual show. I love using special architectural structures as a canvas and building a live audio-visual experience tailored to each space and audience. As someone with a research background, the Acropolis, where much of modern science, philosophy and politics was born, is up there with the most special locations I've worked with so far.

Your work is experimental in exploring the intersection between music and science. How would you describe your art and main influences?
Nature is an endless source of rich aesthetics and inspiration. Not just looking at a tree or a mountain, but looking at the systems which yield them, and the systems which yield those systems. I spend my time reading science and philosophy of science, and noting down ideas which lend themselves to visual projects for my music videos and live shows. The musical side to this process often works as if I'm making a film score, using the visual stories as a guide. Sometimes I'm able to embed the technical ideas more literally into the musical structure too. 

My friends would go out and I'd sit in my makeshift "studio" working all night on the weekend with duvets hanging on the walls

You began releasing music around the time you graduated from your PhD. Were you making music during your studies?
Yes, I was learning to make music for the last couple of years of my research and during my Postdoc at UCL. I was working hard at both and waiting to see which one could turn into something more. It was music that won in the end.

How did you manage your time around that?
It was long hours of work. My friends would go out and I'd sit in my makeshift ‘studio’ working all night on the weekend with duvets hanging on the walls - which don't really work by the way - and my dodgy laptop sat on a lunchbox full of ice to try and stop it from overheating. I kept hammering away at it and making a lot of terrible music, and stringed together enough flop records to get started.

How are you feeling about the return of live music and performances? Any projects in the pipeline?
I had my first proper, non-socially distanced show at Nuits Sonores festival in Lyon. It's hard to describe the feeling of performing, but it's something that grabbed me immediately at my first gig in some unknown bar in Belfast around 1997 and sent me down the DJ rabbithole. It was really nice to get back to that. I hope it doesn't all get pulled out from under us again, for the sake of the wider industry. As for new projects, I have a new album remixes package coming soon, a new album and visual show on the way soon after that, and a lot of exciting projects and releases on my Mesh label. Plus some ongoing physical and digital installation projects which can function outside of traditional events, such as PVNP.

Any words of wisdom to students?
I'd say experiment with life. Find things you enjoy which could become a job and then work harder than everyone else at those things. If they don't work out, you had a lot of fun in the process anyway. I had a lot of knockbacks and still make projects I end up doubting or hating, but I love the process of creating, so that aspect is less important. Getting stuff out there which I believed in and keeping a constant flow of output has generally served me well, alongside trying to ignore all the noise of everyone else's views.

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