Controlled chaos from a sonic daredevil.
Bring up Traxx in certain rooms and you'll be met with a hushed, bewildered reverence. Schooled on classic radio in '80s Chicago, he came to prominence first as a DJ in the early '90s, then as a producer in the early '00s. Traxx, real name Melvin Oliphant III, has continued to hone his craft as a purist and a true original. A true devotee of "original house, NY Danceteria, cozmic Balearic rhythms, new wave, new beat, post-punk, disco, minimal wave, industrial, Detroit techno, hip hop, jazz and most importantly Prince," when Traxx is behind the decks, it only sounds like him.
As of late, Oliphant has quietly built up a magnum opus laying out his singular perspective. In 2015, his label Nation released a box set housing six 12-inches, a 10-inch and a flexi featuring a rogues' gallery of raw producers and collaborators (D'Marc Cantu, JTC and Beau Wanzer, to name a few). This year, after a tour warming up arenas for LCD Soundsystem, he posted hours and hours of deck sessions to Nation's SoundCloud, recorded live at nights like Michael Serafini's QUEEN! He recently launched two residencies in his native Chicago, one exploring '80s new wave and new beat sounds (Passage), as well as a quarterly night called Paisley Park, dedicated to unreleased music by Prince. On June 16th, he'll be joined by Justin Aulis Long and Mick Wills at smartbar for a new party called Function. Later this month, Mutant Beat Dance, his band with Wanzer and Steve Summers, will release its 200-minute, 25-track debut album.
Oliphant has a serious aversion to taking the easy way, to playing it safe, and it's made him one of the most exciting disc jocks working today. Live, he performs with a near-religious fervor which he carries over into conversations about music. (Other producers, like Powell, have made entire cuts centered around Traxx's impassioned harangues.) On his two-hour "demonstration" for RA, legends like Depeche Mode, Chris & Cosey and Section 25 mix seamlessly with modern "jakbeat" acolytes such as Gavin Rayna Russom. Oliphant's own music is generously spliced throughout. Even with a full tracklist, this set defies imitation. Instead, it encourages you to follow your own trip.
What have you been up to recently?
Recovering from playing in Detroit for two special afterparty engagements—Mecánica 01 and The End Section III—and catching BADBADNOTGOOD and Wu Tang Clan at Movement, both of whom I was greatly looking forward to witness.
How and where was the mix recorded?
This specific demonstration was created at home on my mix setup, recorded on a new handheld Tascam digital recorder in mid-March of this year, just days after the announcement of the Mutant Beat Dance album.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
The selection put together is to give a mathematical variety of rhythms juxtaposed in union, to locate the common threads that unite unlikely partners within a sonic construction.
Music in general has always been with me since the youngest age, I'm told from within my family. Chicago radio and parties I witnessed, danced at, or participated in kept me endlessly curious.
I observed the ways disc jocks would play music that I was familiar with, but in an unfamiliar fashion. Staying up late to record radio shows that aired on WBMX, WKKC, WNUR and WGCI, to later listen to the tapes repeatedly with religious conviction.
You launched your first Chicago residencies this year, The Function, Passage—a night dedicated to new wave and new beat—and Paisley Park, a quarterly Prince tribute night. Why is Prince's music and legacy so important to you?
Prince's music defies easy description. His sound has an inventiveness that spoke to me in ways that all other music didn't have the ability to. A pure musical genius who will never be replaced, and is forever missed!
You're respected around the world for your contributions to music and your raw DJing. In some instances, DJs who look up to your approach transcend the underground and end up on festival stages. What are the pros and cons of being a cult favourite?
It is important to note that I do not affiliate myself with the term DJ. I prefer: daredevil, deknition, or sonic painter. The pros are that I get to be myself at all times, and I don't play by anyone's rules. As a student of music, and always learning, it is special to be able to share my findings with others. I don't see any cons when my art has a voice of its own that is unrestricted and unconfined.
What are you up to next?
The release of the debut 25-track album of Mutant Beat Dance dropping soon on Rush Hour, a cover of Experimental Products' "Glowing In the Dark" by Chicago outfit Echodroides, to be released on [Nation sub-label] Kode, the next edition of Paisley Park on June 27th at my residency at Danny's, the launch of a new series of parties titled The Function that I'm putting together with Justin Aulis Long at smartbar, and enjoying the good weather for the rest of spring into summer!
Photo: Franziska Pilz (Konvex Fotografie, Dresden, Germany)