Q&A: Danish DJ Mike Hawkins Brings Progressive Electro Beats to SF

Electronic musician Mike Hawkins hails from Denmark, and has received international acclaim thanks to his dance-heavy tracks with uncanny production skills and unstoppable DJing performances around the globe. He is also the founder of  highly successful record label, Megaton Records.

Hawkins’ latest efforts in the electronic music scene have focused on idiosyncrasies, which is to say he strives to promote innovation in an industry that’s currently lacking. Supreme creativity remains key to a fruitful career and Hawkins has done just that with his infectiously unique style and his collaboration with like-minded artists who also want to bring something new to the already crowded EDM space.

Hawkins has bounced across record labels like Spinnin, Ultra and Warner in addition to heavyweight imprints such as EMI, Hysteria, Parlophone, and Positiva. His impressive ability to manifest house techno tunes has been recognized by big-time electronic acts, including Tiesto, Hardwell, David Guetta, Steve Angello, Zedd, Martin Garrix, Knife Party, and Steve Aoki…to name a few.

To preview his upcoming show in SF, we interviewed Mike Hawkins to learn more about his musical upbringing, the style of sounds he’s currently seeking to create, and what he enjoys most about visiting San Francisco. His diverse talents will be on full display when he comes to San Francisco’s Ruby Skye on Saturday, December 19.


Which DJs did you listen to growing up?

As for DJs and electronic music, I was listening to stuff like Infected Mushroom, the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Moby, that whole sort of line. I’m also trying to include that in my music, particularly this year. As for music in general, I grew up in a house that had a lot of different music playing all the time. My dad was really into Iron Maiden. My mom was really into James Brown. I was exposed to a quite a lot. For a long while, I was a metal kid listening to rock music.

What or who motivated you to pursue music professionally?

I don’t think anyone actually did it. If anyone motivated me, it would have been my parents indirectly. I just remember getting a copy of some cheap sampler way, way back. Way before all the Fruity Loops stuff. I got a really cheap sampler on a CD in a computer magazine. I was like 13 years old. It was even before I had ventured onto the internet. I just started mashing sounds together, like weird sounds. It probably didn’t sound good, but that sparked something.

What genres do you prefer to align with the most?

To be quite honest, right now I’m trying to align my sounds or output artistically with things that are not electronic music. I feel like when I do music, because I am an electronic music artist, it stays within the boundary. I can safely try to steal as much as I can from different genres outside of electronic and it will still sound like electronic music. Even if I sat down and tried to make folk music or R&B, it will still sound like electronic music but it would sound a lot different.

One of the biggest problems in electronic music, when it becomes really hot and when it reaches a pinnacle as it is now, you often run into a lack of innovation because people try to copy each other a bit. What’s cool now, what records are hitting, and how can I do stuff like that? I’ve always tried to steer clear of that.

For a while, I could feel that I was slipping a little into that mentality of what are the other guys doing. It probably took me a half a year to realize that I was basing my artistic decisions too much on what’s hot or what’s going on. That’s not very healthy for my development as an artist. I locked myself in the studio for a few months wrapping up now, tried to find as much music that I can that I love that’s not electronic music. If I was the initial artists behind this, how would it sound?

The result is I have seven or eight records ready and they are very different. I can’t go into much detail, but they’re very gritty, funky, very alive is the keyword here.

Right now there’s a trend going, it’s almost the standing joke that every single DJ out there is trying to underline how they are not an EDM DJ. You know, that’s cool, but then what are you? That’s what annoys me. When you talk to someone and ask what are you? They say I don’t know, but at least I’m not an EDM DJ. So what do you actually do? It becomes this sort of hype contest of trying not being something harder than trying to be something.

Nobody tries to pick up a new sound and champion the shit out of it. They try to avoid stepping into something that’s unpopular. By doing that, they are actively helping the scene on its way down at the moment. Everyone can whine about a lack of innovation, but if you’re not actually trying to do something about it, then what good is the whining? It just motivates others artists, fans and listeners not take to industry seriously.

You can tell already this is a topic I’ve discussed with a lot of people. I guess that’s sort of the key. If you’re an electronic music artists, that’s cool, that’s the result of you growing up in the modern age. You just make music on your computer because it’s what’s accessible for most people. When you sit down and try to be creative, what are you drawing that inspiration from?

It’s like a musical gene pool. If you ask five people to re-populate the earth, it’s going be the same five people. If you want to keep something fresh and exciting and not stale and boring, you really have to go out there and what can you bring into your community from far away. The same thing is true for music.

Do you have preferred platform for listening and discovering music?

I guess SoundCoud to be honest. I find it hard to discover music today. It sort of goes against itself in a way because there’s so many platforms, there’s so much stuff, but there’s also so much noise. Sometimes I wish SoundCloud would have a random button and you could just click it and something random would come up and you could see what’s cool about it. Discovering cool music is really hard.

You can sit on BeatPort for ages and hear the same five records. You can listen to SoundCloud and hear the same five records as well.

I’m annoyed with SoundCloud, let’s put it that way. I’m not anti-SoundCloud. I’ve gotten a fair amount of weird warnings. Just recently, I got a strike on my account, which is the first of three strikes. Three strikes and you’re out. I got a strike on my account for uploading one of my own remixes. To be fair, this is not SoundCloud’s fault directly.

I did a remix for Naughty Boy and back then I was with EMI, so then the division of EMI gets bought out by Warner and the division that Naughty Boy is with gets bought by Universal. Universal issued a take-down notice on my account. I didn’t see it or pay attention to and I got a strike on my account. I feel like SoundCloud, I like complaining but I feel like they’re trying to be the good guys. They’re not monetizing the shit out of the platform with ads. They’re not doing all this weird stuff other platforms are doing. Their biggest struggle is that all the major labels are monoliths.

Have you ever visited San Francisco before and what do you like most about the city?

Ah man yeah! I had the best sushi of my life in San Francisco. I’m actually a vegan, so that sort of explains it. I have a really cool Sushi place where I live and nothing has beaten it so far. Last time I was in San Francisco, I was there with my girlfriend, we went around town to see interesting stuff. We found this little sushi place somewhere in the Mission, which was just hidden away. It was amazing good inside. It looked beautiful, it tasted amazing. I’ve been dying to go back. That’s the first place I’m going to be going.

I’ve been to San Francisco two times, I love the vibe there. This is the biggest cliché in the world, but it feels like Europe in the U.S.. It’s an easy-going feel that you don’t see elsewhere in the U.S.. It’s really one of kind.

What do you have planned to cap off 2015?

I have two records coming. One of them is called, “Burn the Maps.” It’s a big melodic, record. I did it with my friend, Spencer Tarring. We did this record together earlier this year around April. He found this amazing vocalist. There’s something about it. It’s sort of, the vocal has something, the lyrics say something, and everything feels right. That’s coming out in a couple days.

After that, I have a new record coming out on Spinin called, “World and Fire.” Ironically enough, it’s probably going be the last big room electronic music record I make for a while. For a coming year, I have about seven or eight records ready and everything just sounds different.

As for the album, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m an album person in that sense. I’ve actually been working on one but it’s taking a long time. I don’t want it to be, ‘OK here you go, here’s 10 EDM records packaged, let’s call it an album’. It’s something in the foreseeable future.

It’s tough. Doing albums is tough, for me, it’s hard because I don’t want it to be a string of singles put together. It needs to have a story. For me, the album is dead right now. It’s not dead because nobody cares about it the album, but because we killed the album. Why would anyone out there in their right mind would buy the album when you can buy the single that you like? A lot of the artists are trying to put out albums and they’re doing miserably. They’re doing six or seven records together with four or five with passion songs. They’re trying to sell this bundle of record that feels like an awkward family gathering. You see each other once a year, wrapped together in a neat package.

For me, a real album, at least what got me turned onto the album, when I bought an album, I would go right away from school back home, put the album in my CD player and just listen from track one to track 12 and hear that story of what that artist was trying to do. The only artists that are still successfully doing that are Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk did really well with their new album. They’re telling stories and making art. For me, it has to be for the sake of telling a story and making art. Until that, I think I’m going to stick with singles and perhaps an EP here or there.

Written by Carlos Olin Montalvo

Follow me @carlosolin