Producer Max Peterson has been performing under various aliases for two decades.
It wasn’t until 2007 when the California-born producer started his solo project, Mad Maxx. More recently he has formed the record label United Beats Records, and released as projects Mad Tribe, Wild Monkeys, and more.
We had a chat with Max to discuss his music career, owning a record label, the current state of the psychedelic scene and more.
Mad Maxx is scheduled to perform at the upcoming Alien Safari Flying Circus in Cape Town.
You were born in California but moved around quite a bit?
I was born in California in 1979 and moved to France in 1984. My mom is French and my dad is from the States. We moved back there mostly because my dad was doing music and wanted to be there for work.
I left France when I was 15, and went to live in the US, because I wanted to become a professional baseball player. It didn’t work out obviously, which I’m very happy about!
I moved around a lot as a kid, just because life took that turn usually, and I guess it became a way of life for me.
I feel very fortunate I could experience long distance traveling at a young age. I have lived in America, France, Spain, Holland, Mexico and other countries.
Your father was an accomplished musician. Did that help in your career choice?
My dad was definitely a great influence on my career, however he never forced music on to me as a child. He wanted me to like it on my own.
As a child I was always in his studio, following him around in Paris to all his recording sessions. Music was always there and being made around me at that time.
I learned music theory in France as a kid, but never really paid much attention to it. I still don’t remember it! But it has never discouraged me from making music that makes sense musically.
To the contrary, it has inspired me to be very free and creative in a lot of ways. Technique can sometimes get in the way of that!
However, I have picked up musical and production knowledge on the way, working with a lot of different people whom I thank dearly for all the inspiration they gave me.
I am sure moving around was also inspiring.
First off, I would say that in this field, and particularly in the psytrance scene, moving around is vital. There is no way an artist would survive only making trance in his studio and selling tracks for money. If that time existed back in the 90’s, it’s long gone now.
By nature, artists are pushed to travel and to have experiences while traveling. These experiences may very well affect the way one writes and produces music. I believe it’s up to the person to absorb experiences, and to be able to express them through their music.
Now lifestyle wise, it’s also a choice. I chose for some time to have a fixed base in Barcelona, for example. I have also, at one point in my career, chosen to be on the road for years and not to have a fixed base to come home to.
I believe both options have their advantages and disadvantages, but I have to say, being on the road is one of the best ways to make valuable contacts and to be heard as a musician. It makes us realize how the world can be our home and how connected we are all together, despite our cultural differences and skin colors. Now this is good material to write music about!
California must have particularly been a special place.
One of my favorite psy trance scenes in the world is in California.
It’s the place where I got into this music and it will always occupy a special place in my heart. I was first exposed to PsyTrance in San Francisco on New Years Eve 1996-1997. I was 17 years old at the time and was immediately fascinated by what was going on. I felt right at home the minute I walked in to this sweaty warehouse located in some dark back alley of the Mission district of San Fran.
A few months later, life brought me to own a record shop in downtown Santa Cruz, California. We sold Vinyl, Cd’s, Tapes, even had a black light room filled with all the early Space Tribe clothing, where customers could judge the potency of their potential purchases by wearing 3D glasses!
Owning the store led me to DJing since we were getting our hands on all the latest music via the store. It quickly became my primary focus. Then came, producing.
What’s the Cali scene like nowadays?
Well, since it all began there for me, it has this special place in my heart. I have never stopped going there even after I moved away almost 20 years ago, and this is due to the amount of friends I have there and what this scene meant to me, and what it helped me become.
Today, California is seeing a boom of psy trance, which is amazing for America after so many years in the dark about what this is all about.
I think it’s about time, and people there are very ready and hungry for something new and exciting. America is the land of pop music and for once, things are taking a turn towards a global underground movement, which gives a nice spark of needed freshness to them. But the people, is what really makes it a special scene there.
Having owned a record shop and currently release on formats like vinyl & CD, is it upsetting to see how things are shifted towards the digital?
Having been through all the formats of selling music, I find that what is happening today is nothing more than the evolution of what was happening back then, which is inevitable in the end. However, recently there has been a re-emerging of Vinyl in the music industry on a global scale.
I myself have just released 2 vinyl’s in the last 2 years as Mad Tribe with my partner Space Tribe. We have sold out of both records, and we were shocked at the attention these 2 physical ep’s got, considering we are dealing with people who download music for free most of the time.
Those who didn’t grow up with music on a physical format, are so happy to be able to hold a record in their hands and have that experience which downloading will never be able to provide.
You’ve known Olli Wisdom (Space Tribe) for over a decade but only formed Mad Tribe a few years ago. How did the two of you meet and what finally made you cement yourself as a duo under the alias Mad Tribe?
I have known Olli for 20 years now, we met in San Francisco back in the late 90’s when he used to come play his intense psychedelic journey DJ sets at our underground warehouse or outdoor events. I was so blown away, that it was at this moment in time that I decided this was going to be my life path.
A couple of years later, I creates a project called Sirius Isness with my ex-girlfriend Davina, and we made our first track together as Space Tribe vs Sirius Isness in his studio in the jungle of Australia. Ever since then, we have been inseparable in the studio, and decided to make this a proper project and to call it a proper name only 3 years ago. From that, came Mad Tribe.
Do you enjoy working alongside other musicians/producers or can it sometimes be a pain?
Working with other people is great; it gives a lot of creative input to the track being made. I try to not make it be a pain, by being very upfront with the artist I am working with. If there is a sound I’m not keen on, or a part I could do without, I prefer to let him or her know sooner than later.
Some techniques can make it easier to work with people sometimes by getting the ball rolling faster and maximizing productivity. I also love working alone, because then I can go wherever I feel like going … to where there are no limits! Making music alone is a luxury for me at the moment and I do enjoy it very much.
You’ve worked with Jon Klein from Siouxsie and the Banshees/Specimen on guitar. Do you think the guitar is underused in psytrance?
It was a pleasure to work with Jon, he is a real sweet guy and a hell of a guitar player. What we did with Jon, was to send him a stem of the mix we were working on and he played a full part over it. We then cut the parts we wanted to keep for the track and voila!
It’s a great experience to work with Jon, he is always up for something new, and very good at following the vibe we are on. I think guitars in trance should be used wisely, since it’s such a recognizable instrument, people can have a tendency to be biased about it. I think anything in moderation is OK.
How do you find the time to balance everything?
Yeah, good question! It’s been very hard to balance both sides of the job lately. I haven’t been able to enjoy any free time at all, aside from a few days at home here and there to finish mixes or to actually have a beer with friends.
For the last few years, I have been working non-stop, producing, gigging and constantly working on my record label (United Beats Records). I have no time for a hobby or television, and when I do have some time, I usually try to get some sleep or watch a movie. Getting some exercise is definitely in the stars if I want to continue working as hard as this in the future.
Do you think the tools & technology available have made it easier to produce music?
Well, the musical tools have evolved so much since I started producing. One used to need to have at least $10,000-worth of gear to be able to produce something decent. Nowadays, with a laptop and some headphones, you can do just as well.
Still, having the right gear and right knowledge about it is a big advantage! A lot of new producers think it’s easy, but in reality production skills have to be earned the hard way, through experience!
There are a lot of advantages to the fact that this new technology makes things easier and opens up new creative avenues for producers. However, it’s still just as hard, if not harder than before to make a good track.
The easiness of the software can often make people lazier and forget the essence of the music itself, hence the story will sometimes be left out to be replaced by something more intellectual…
Do most psytrance DJs/producers make a decent living?
Honestly, it depends on a lot of things. Your location, your name in that specific country, how long you have been playing for, and so on. After the crisis in 2008, there was a very big slump in artist salaries and a lot less of parties happening around the world.
Things have picked up a bit again for everyone, thank god! In 2006-2007, about 6000 new trance projects emerged from all over the world. Imagine a funnel, which was already small for all the artists at the time, and now 6000 or more trying to get into the game.
It took its toll for a while and put a lot of other artists out of work. Promoters were attracted to the lower prices of the newer projects, thinking that by having 20 headliners in their party, they would bring more people and get rich. Fortunately it’s not the way things work.
Now it has balanced back a bit, and people have realized more about sound quality, so they are pickier. In general, I can say there are good months and bad months, nothing is ever predictable and I cannot count on one thing only.
I feel very fortunate to be able to do this job and give thanks every day for this incredible life I live. The money is important, but I know I will never get rich doing psy trance, and no one else will either probably, besides a few.
However, the amount of experiences and travels definitely make for a very happy and exciting life. I have learned so much from this job, which has become a way of life, and I couldn’t t imagine doing anything else at the moment!
How do you deal with dodgy people in the music industry?
Funny question [laughs]! Well yeah, there are actually more dodgy promoters than honest ones. I thank the honest ones for giving me hope to continue doing what I am doing.
But when I encounter a dodgy one, usually he will know what I’m thinking about 5 minutes into the conversation. Either he gets his scene together or we will get into it somehow. If the problem is about money, it can quickly get ugly and either I won’t play, or I make them go to the ATM as soon as possible.
After the moment is over, this promoter will go into my black list and I will make sure to warn all my artist friends about him.
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen psytrance catapulted into the mainstream. What are your thoughts on the general direction and quality of psytrance music today?
Yes, psy trance has seen a great deal of changes in the last couple of years. Mainstream electronic music is one of them for sure, and I think it’s a double edged sword at this point. On one hand, thank god it’s getting more world wide attention for the simple reason being that it’s evolving. I think a couple of years ago the mainstream scene realized it needed a bit of freshening up and it was getting somewhat boring., which led to some psy trance remixes and collaborations being exposed to a wider audience.
Of course it was well received and blew more than one mind away, hence the rapid increase in popularity of our very own psy trance. On an other hand, there is always the danger of new genres being made, and we all know that this level of business can lead to greed and power hunger. What I really hope, is that the artists from our scene get the credit they deserve if this really gets big, and not some already well connected wannabes who are just copycatting the sound what we’ve worked on and loved for so many years. It’s always a fine line with fashions and styles, but I know that no one can ever take the essence of trance away from me, no money can buy that, only patience, experience and an open heart.
You’ve had a successful career over the last two decades, but are there any goals you would still like to achieve?
Yes, absolutely, if I put a limit to my dreams, I should really question the validity of my passion. I would absolutely love to evolve into scoring movie music, getting a bigger studio for that and expanding my horizons with even more interesting people to learn from and to work with. I will never stop making psy trance, or living this lifestyle, but new things are a great source of inspiration and help make you a better and more complete artist.
Have there been any highlights for you this year in your career?
Yes many, Ozora this summer was amazing as always, a few parties in Brazil were mind blowing as well. Had a great one month tour in Australia and New Zealand which I loved. Also really enjoyed playing a 5 hour set in my favorite club in Buenos Aires, those guys are just incredible. And I’m sure South Africa this year will be one of them too!
This won’t be your first time in South Africa, having played at Groovy Troopers a few years ago. What was your experience like and why are you excited to be back?
First off, South Africa is one of my favorite places to play in the world. Each time I’ve been, I’ve loved it more and more. Yes I played for Groovy Troopers a few times as Sirius Isness and Mad Maxx, and in Jungala as Mad Tribe and Mad Maxx which was also epic. I am definitely mega excited to be back and play for Alien Safari for the first time, I’ve been working hard on new stuff and will be ecstatic to be able to share it with you guys.
Any upcoming releases you want to mention?
Yes, I do!
There will be a new remix by Makida, of my old track “Edge of Time” from my first album, coming out on “Party Smart 3” our main compilation on United Beats.
Also I will include a 3rd remix I did of “At the end of a Rainbow” by Gms and Alien Project. One Mad Tribe and Alpha Portal will be out very soon on Future Music, and a new Mad Tribe EP on digital and 12 inch Vinyl coming out on TIP will be out soon too.
I have 27 tracks on the go as of today, so yes loads of new music to be finished, a track with Sonic Species, one EP with Mekkanikka, one collab with Astrix, and load loads more.
Thanks for the interview, see you at Alien Safari Flying Circus! Anything to add before we finish off?
Cape Town, stay psychedelic! Thanks guys, can’t wait to be there and feel the African sun!