Over the past year, Mikey Melas, or Jensen Interceptor, has sealed a reputation for producing hard-as-nails electro. Although some sounds may be familiar, it is not a nostalgic project. The twisted form that his music takes is a direct punch to the guts, and refreshingly unique. Take Trigger Zone, his latest EP – a collaborative project with electroclash legend The Hacker – where concise electro meets cavernous EBM.
Answering his Skype call, I’m greeted by a fast-paced and energetic Australian voice. “Man, I always feel a bit weird saying, but it’s my birthday today. I just had some lunch with some friends and got in the studio for a bit. I’ll probably take it easy tonight.”
I’m not altogether surprised when Mikey tells me he’s been in the studio. The way he talks about production is reminiscent of someone who has just started making music for the first time; brimming with ideas and inspiration. “I just love being in there. I love writing tracks,” he says. “So if I’m in the studio, it’s a great day. And even if it’s an unproductive day, that just fuels the next productive day.”
In the past year, the Australian has released on Clone, Central Processing Unit, E-Beamz, and Private Persons. Trigger Zone is the first EP released on his own label, International Chrome. The work rate is astounding, but not wholly intentional: a combination of delays, and distribution issues led to several of his releases dropping in the space of about five months. Some of the material is over two years old.
“It has been a little overwhelming, as it would have been nice for them to come out one at a time. But they’ve all sold out, and the labels are hitting me up for more. Its great, it’s been wild.”
Mikey has other reasons for staying in on his birthday. He describing a disenchantment with Sydney’s club scene, noting “I don’t know what’s going on, but the government here are just building more and more high rise apartments, casinos, and shopping malls. They’ve made it incredibly hard to run a licensed venue, and they’re trying to get rid of nightclubs altogether, which is really quite tragic.”
Mikey grew up in Maroubra, a working-class suburb just outside of Sydney. He describes a surreal dichotomy in the distribution of wealth, with popular tourist destinations such as Coogee beach, or Bondi, only a short drive away. “Dance music was all around me. I had an older brother who was five years older than me, and he was heavily into the acid rave scene,” he recalls “Him and his friends had decks, and they’d bring them round to our house, and have parties”.
Sneaking into his brother’s room, he’d find Underground Resistance records, and other Jeff Mills material, alongside gabba and hardcore artists, such as DJ Spellbound and DJ Crisis.
“He was listening to all kinds of stuff, from early Chicago and Detroit house, to really hard gabber and Belgian rave records. This was when I was around the age of about 12 or 13, and that’s when you start becoming more aware of music, and you start buying your own tapes and records. Music was really becoming more important to me.”
Hoping to make “his sets harder” with the aid of his own edits, Mikey was introduced to music production through close friend, Jordan Feller. Together, Mikey and Jordan began experimenting with Ableton, and would soon release EPs on the local label Bang Gang 12 Inches, under the name ‘Light Year’. The pair drifted creatively, and Mikey pursued solo work under the Jensen Interceptor moniker.
Many of his older efforts are almost unrecognisable when compared to his recent releases. Tracks such as ‘Relax Or Get Murked’, or his remix of Djedjotronic’s ‘Pleasure & Pain’, could be described big-room techno. Nowadays, Mikey’s work is more visibly geared towards electro; the snap of a snares, room shaking 808 bass, and arpeggiated synthesisers.
He wishes he could of made this transition sooner.
“Electro was something I’ve always loved. When I was listening to the early UR stuff, and a lot of the Detroit stuff, I was exposed to things like Aux 88. That segued to Aphex Twin. I was a huge Kraftwerk fan, and I had always been kind of obsessed with that sound. Drexciya as well. I can still remember the first Drexciya record I heard when I was around 15, and it just kind of blew my mind. It was wild.
“I guess the reason why the earlier Boys Noize stuff was straight techno was because I was still quite new to production, and learning how to make tracks. And I didn’t know how to make electro, to be completely honest. I’d always been into it, and I wish I were putting it out earlier in my career. But I think I needed to get through making the techno stuff to get there.”
Another contributing factor towards Mikey’s darker sound choices is an adoration for old cinema. He lovingly talks about John Carpenter’s Halloween. “I was heavily into horror films and sci-fi films when I was young. I had a religious dad, and he ran a tight ship, so I was never allowed to watch those scarier films. It always appealed to me. So when a new film came out, I would sneak into movies, or I would go round to friend’s houses where their parents were more-chill, and we’d hire films and scare the shit out of ourselves.”
I recall to him my experience with the ‘more-chill-parents’ phenomenon: returning home after playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the first time, devastated and shaken from the atrocities I had just committed. “Yes! For me it was a Freddie film,” he recalls. “I was really young, and my friend and me snuck into the cinema. And I remember coming home so shook, and scared shitless. My mum just knew what was up straight away. Oh god it was terrible, but great at the same time.”
This influence is demonstrated clearly in his music: released on Zone, his Midnite EP is Carpenter-esque, conjuring images of Hollywood horror minutiae; dimly lit graveyards, dry ice, and luminous blood splatters.
It could be attributed to a crossover within the creative process. The title of his track ‘Illinois 78’ is a direct reference to Carpenter’s slasher classic, Halloween. The track gleams with daunting synths, smoky pads, and hard driving snare hits. Small vocal samples are also taken from the film directly.
Mistakenly, the sample was stretched for too long at the end of the track.
“I listened to it the whole way through, and then, bam! You get hit with this bit from the movie, and it scared the shit out of me. It was too late; it had been sent to the distributor so I couldn’t change it. I think it’s funny; it’s kind of cool. I would love to be in a club where a DJ is playing it and they forget to mix out.”
The Trigger Zone EP shares this macabre sound pallet. ‘Industrial Drive’ is a throbbing piece of EBM, with a colossal synth melody. The influence of The Hacker is also undeniable; the crisp drum processing, and big jabbing synths are reminiscent of his signature brand of techno.
Despite being friends for several years, the EP came as a result of a creative flurry.
“When I was coming back to Europe, The Hacker was coming over here to play some shows, and he messaged me asking to hang out. We got in the studio, smashed it for a few days, and came up with EP. It was just too perfect, and we knew this had to be the first EP on International Chrome.
“When I come across some of his older tracks, it will be like a Helena Hauff Boiler Room, or a set list from a festival she played, and there will be a Hacker song in there. I’ll click on it, and it will be released in 2000 or 2001, and it’s just killer. It’s crazy how consistent he’s been from day one.”
There may be producers reading this, aching to know Mikey’s secret formula for maintaining a consistently strong output. He doesn’t proclaim to have found a flawless work routine, but seems to place value in his ability of knowing when to quit.
“A few years ago I was quite hesitant, and shy. I would make some tracks and I’d never release them. Now I kind of know when something isn’t great, or when something is decent. A lot of young producers will tell you they don’t know when a track is finished,” he muses. “A friend of mine told me a while ago, you need to treat projects like their worthless, and that was invaluable advice.”
Trigger Zone is out now on International Chrome – buy the vinyl here.