Interview: Air Max ’97

Named after one of the most quintessential set of kicks, Air Max ’97 is more than just a perfectly refined sneaker. Rather, the worldly, Melbourne-based DJ and producer – who came into this world under the christian name of Oliver – is making huge waves in the local scene.

Getting set to join the likes of Crooked ColoursOscar Key SungLUCIANBLOMKAMP and so many more ridiculously good acts at this years Paradise Music Festival, we got the opportunity to sit down with the incredibly talented soul before he makes his splash at the festival this weekend.

airmax97

Who is the person behind Air Max ’97?

I was born in the Netherlands; my family moved to New Zealand when I was really young…and I grew up there. Went to school there, went to art school there. And then I moved here like, a few years ago, went travelling – lived in Europe for a bit, spent a bit more time in New Zealand, and then moved back here in 2011, so I’ve been here since 2011.

I do a variety of creative stuff…I’ve been doing an art practice, exhibition – sort of art practice, and kinda maintain that now as well. As a day job, I do design. Mainly textile and design in a fashion context. And then, in terms of music – music has played a role in my creative life in different ways. My first introduction to it was playing in three noise bands when I was at art school. That was really just super abstract, ear-bleeding kind of stuff. But, I mean, it was that really cool, radical introduction of what is possible, or what is “good” – which was good for me. I’ve never learnt a musical instrument, so to be able to make music in that context with absolutely no rules and no structure was super important.

Moving away from that – when I wasn’t in those bands anymore, I did some solo, much more experimental stuff. But that really fell away. I didn’t really perform it or release anything during that period. I made a lot of field recordings while I was travelling…And then, about three – maybe four years ago? I was lost musically, in terms of what I was into, and I wasn’t really producing anything. Then, for whatever reason, I fell in love with pop music again and was listening to a lot of hip hop and discovered the club scene. I just got really inspired again; and discovering DJ mixes for the first time. I don’t know, it just really became this thing that was super exciting…and then this opportunity came around to DJ, so I kind of rushed-learnt how to do that and had to pick a name for it.

Starting out and being able to perform really pushed out the wish to start doing my own remixes and my own tracks. Making your own stuff is good in the way that you figure out how it sort of functions on a dance floor in the context of a DJ set – that introduces new possibilities for new things to make, or how to adjust that thing to make it work better…DJing and producing properly sort of started in February 2013 [Pictureplane show at Liberty Social]. I had my first proper release this year.

Well, just even speaking to you, it’s obvious that artistic flow just runs through your veins – and you seem very driven. That being said, what was it like to, I suppose, “lose your way” and have that moment of – fuck, what am I doing with my life?

I definitely [got to that point] musically, yeah. Because I was very involved in noise and experimental music – if not so much as a producer and performer, as just a listener and a [punter]…I think I just got disenchanted with it. A lot of experimental music rides on the idea that there are no rules. But, in a lot of cases, I think that “experimental” is really just used as a genre tag, and there are really prescribed aesthetics. I sort of, I dunno, became a bit bored. It just sort of felt like these events that I was going to often felt like the same thing. So yeah, in terms of that music, I wasn’t inspired anymore to take part. Also, I think that I needed to get to a point where I figured out what was okay to listen to or not…Especially in that context of experimental, or “good” music. You know, by default, you’re not supposed to like pop or commercial or anything that’s highly polished, or produced through a certain technique or whatever. Being able to…cast my net super wide in terms of what I can get into and what I can be inspired by. So now, I’m equally as inspired by some of my favourite things – from a hip hop mixtape as I am by some grimey club stuff.

In terms of my creative practice, hitting that wall with music, it wasn’t the biggest deal because I was super busy with other stuff. I think it was kinda good. When I run out of motivation or inspiration with one discipline, that energy always projects onto another discipline waiting in the wings.

But I think that the reason that music has taken a bigger role in my life is because…it’s kind of my primary focus now, and that’s been really wonderful – I’m really enjoying it.

Saying that music has become your predominant focus in relation to your art, why do you think that is? Do you feel that it gives you a greater ability to express yourself wholly?

I’m not sure about this idea of self expression. I think that’s quite a complex idea. But I think that art  – the fine art world – is relatively structured, so there’s certain protocol that you kind of have to stick to and, by nature, it’s kind of rarified. It runs for a short period of time, it could only really be experienced by people in the flesh. I don’t know, I felt that – for all that I was putting in – I wasn’t really sure what I was getting back. And then, for me, producing and then releasing music – putting stuff up on Soundcloud or sending stuff to different producers, and definitely being able to play stuff in the club…and getting feedback from people, and just being able to see plays tallying-up on Soundcloud.

I just feel that, with music, I’m kind of getting out what I put in. I think that just has to do with the format that music takes. By nature, it’s much more readily distributed. I mean, I’m hesitant to use the idea of ‘universality’, but I think that music is more universal than contemporary art. It’s just something that finds a place in peoples lives – it’s different, and maybe a bit easier to grasp than contemporary art.

DJing live has been such a joyous experience for me and is something that I enjoy doing. And that experience – people dancing and vibing out and losing themselves. I don’t know, that release, and that kind of after-dark 3am moment is really special, and has this nice profanity to it. Whereas art kind of happens during business hours, in this clean white gallery.

So where you’re saying that music is a 24/7 thing, all other forms are mildly restricted?

Yeah. It’s like the relationship that these media have in peoples lives…and just the ease of [music] distribution.

Earlier on, you were saying how you, I suppose, almost rushed into the whole DJing scene. Obviously, being rushed – thinking of a name, and landing on the name that you did. I mean, I love it. But how did it come to be?

I dunno. Everybody asks this question…and I always have such a hard time answering it. Somebody suggested that I say that I wear sneakers when I’m dancing for six hours in the club. That’s a cool answer, and I’m all about that – like going to the club and dancing for hours.

I suppose you could really just explain it by saying that it’s a cool name, mad shoes. And that’s why you chose it…

Yeah, well that’s right. And I guess it does have that wavy panelling [on the shoe] that could almost look like an audio wave or something. Yeah, I dunno. I’m kind of into it in a tongue-in-cheek kind of appropriation of like a branded object that exists already. But, you know, names are really hard. At a certain point, you have to pick a name and run with it and not think about it too much.

I actually didn’t have a pair of Air Max ‘97s when I first started the project, and then I found some in an outlet store. There was just one pair left, in my size, and I was like ‘perfect, this is meant to be.’ I wear them to the club, and they’re all bashed up and have beer spilt on them.

Surely you should get some sort of promotion from Nike now?

Well, Nike actually sent me a pair of shoes not too long ago out of the blue which was really cool. But yeah, maybe as an anniversary thing in 2017. We should set something up.

You’re playing Paradise Music. How did you get involved in that?

They got in touch with me. I just got an email…It was on my radar, and then when I got the invite, I sort of ran it by my friend who I DJ with, and he knows a bit more about the local scene than I do. And yeah, he just said to definitely do it.

You have to be pretty excited?

Yeah! It’s like my first festival.

Is it? That’s so cool. Nike needs to get their shit together and send you some fresh kicks in time for it.

For the love of all things sacred, somebody get this guy a Nike sponsorship!

Air Max ’97 is one to watch out for. Constantly moving, he’s getting set to release not one – but two EPs in the next few months. One of the EPs will be a follow-up release to the EP that he released earlier in the year through Liminal Sounds, as well as an EP with London-based label Trax Couture.

Catch Air Max ’97 playing Paradise‘s Club Land stage from 3am-4am on Saturday morning, November 29.

One day to go and it’s all going down! Paradise will be held at Lake Mountain Alpine Resort from November 28-30. Tickets still available from the official website.

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