After spending over three decades at the forefront of dance music culture, Kompakt Records’ Michael Mayer has managed to perfect quite the balancing act.
The German producer extraordinaire runs a tight schedule, spending his weeks co-managing the colossal record company, Kompakt, and his weekends trotting the globe to play at international clubs and festivals alike. We were lucky enough to snag a bit of his time to talk about his recently released DJ-Kicks compilation for !K7 Records, and his secrets for handling such a wide load of responsibility.
Straight from a string of shows in the states and wrapping up with Detroit’s Movement Festival, Mayer sits alone in his quiet Cologne studio at Kompakt HQ. Though he no longer goes by his Supermayer moniker, he is still revered as a superhero in the dance music community.
“This was the third time in a row that I played Movement and could stop the rain,” he shares with a laugh. "That’s why they keep booking me I guess! I seem to be like the lucky charm of the festival.”
“DJing has been my greatest passion since I can remember, since I was like 14-years-old,” he explains to Magnetic. "I’ve always had this need to protect this passion from bleeding out. That’s why I got so busy with my company Kompakt and its distribution services—dealing with Excel sheets and fax machines and, you know, the important stuff [laughs]. But it gave me a good feeling, I felt like after 5 days on the job, I’d be super happy to be in the club again and to play records.”
"It’s also like a yin and yang thing. During the week I’d be sending records all around the world and selling records, then on weekends when I was finally able to play these records out loud, it gave me purpose to start again on Monday and take care of the business side of things. It’s intertwined, it all belongs together somehow.”
He equalizes his lifestyle as masterfully as he balances the EQs on the decks and in the studio, but neither skill came without years of practice and experience. From the 1980s until now, Mayer’s journey as an artist isn’t the only thing that’s developed over the years; the landscape of dance music and its counterpart culture have evolved, regressed, and revolved time and time again.
“It was around ’91 when I stopped playing hip hop and downtempo stuff and took a position that 4-to-the-floor music was my thing and that I needed a certain tempo. But that was the moment where lots of things were happening in my life. I was classically trained and all of a sudden these records were using samples that were completely out of tune and I couldn’t explain with my musical knowledge what was so great about it—what exactly is functioning there—it was a bit like a punk-rock moment for me, you know? The imperfection was exactly what was so sexy about this music. So this was a pivotal moment in my musical life.”
Michael Mayer’s DJ-Kicks signifies yet another milestone in his illustrious career as a DJ and brims with emotion and personal history. Michael describes these tracks as “true companions”— a “group of records that went through heaven and hell” with him.
Distinguished for his emotive style, Mayer tells Magnetic, “I wouldn’t agree that I’m this 'Sad Lad of Techno music' which is something I’m often reading! I’m not a sad person, per se, but I always felt that—especially in the ‘90s when rave culture was full-on and every track had pianos and snare rolls and there was this constant pressure of euphoria, and I always disliked that. I always thought there must be more to House music than just happiness and excitement, you know? House music can do so many different things to you, and I’ve always preferred the more introspective side of house music—the more soulful side. Especially the changes between tension and release, sadness and happiness.“
“It’s like when you’re painting, you don’t want to only paint in pink, you want to use all the colors. I always thought it was important to give all kinds of emotions space on the dancefloor. “
Naturally, we asked him about the memories and emotions that pour out from our shared favorites on the mix:
Mekon ‘Please Stay’ feat. Marc Almond (Röyksopp Remix) (2000)
"This is the oldest track on the mix—a record that’s been traveling a lot with me. There’s this one moment I remember especially, when I played it in Hamburg at a funky little club in St. Pauli in the red-light district of Hamburg… There was one guy—topless, pretty uh, wild and drunk—he was just freaking out about this record so he came up to me to ask what it was, and actually this guy later on became a DJ... and his name is Solomun!"
Kasper Bjørke ‘Apart’ feat. Sísy Ey (Michael Mayer Remix) (2014)
"I have many amazing moments with this one. It’s one of those tracks that never really broke through on a broad level, but it’s one that I really love and has longevity in my eyes and fits perfectly in my sets. It’s one of those tracks that can really open up a whole new level within the party. The vocals are so strong and they remind me of lots of things that I used to like in my youth days, like something between ABBA and Boney M, kind of that disco stuff. It’s a real crowd pleaser, I have to admit."
The Lionheart Brothers ‘The Drift’ (Prins Thomas Diskomiks) (2013)
"This is another that’s been a secret weapon for a while for me. It’s such a strange mixture of all kinds of different genres, really. It’s part indie-rock, part disco, it’s something only Prins Thomas can do, you know he’s a magician when it comes to remixes. The original version is 12 minutes long if I’m not mistaken. It’s a journey within a journey. This track takes you to so many different places, it’s like it was made for me."
Up next on Mayer’s schedule will be gigs at Pacha Ibiza, Noisily Festival in the UK, Melt Festival in Germany, DGTL Barcelona and Amsterdam’s Loveland Festival.
See his full itinerary here.