Mad Maxx is the solo project of Max Peterson. Now with 2 decades of experience under his belt, the Californian producer has released under aliases like Biodegradable, Sirius Isness, Mad Tribe and Wild Monkeys. More recently, Mad Maxx performed at Boom Festival 2018 in Portugal.
Hi Max. I know you were born in California but moved around a lot.
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 to the United States mainly 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 United States 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.
What kind of influence did moving have on your career?
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!
Your father was an accomplished musician – did this have an influence on choosing music as a career?
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.
You’ve worked with guitarist Jon Klein (Siouxsie & the Banshees). Is guitar underutilized 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! In total it took about 3 hours and we did everything via Skype.
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.
Did the Californian scene play a role in your career choice?
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.
How do you find the time to balance producing for all your active projects and touring?
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 until about 2 months ago.
For the last few years, I have been working non-stop, producing, gigging and getting the label organized.
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.
Are you still actively involved with United Beats Records?
These days, I am more or less out of the admin work concerning the label, we now have a label manager who has taken the reigns of all that.
I mostly do quality control, meaning making sure the tracks are good and covers are nicely done. We are revamping the whole label now, logo, distribution, artists, website etc… so this has been taking most of my time at the moment, but once it’s done, things will be a lot smoother for me to take a step back and start expanding it in other ways than releasing music, as in bookings, event making, merchandising.
You played at Boom Festival a few weeks ago. How was that?
Boom was a complete blast this year! The location is always amazing and all the new additions they build every time make it even more exciting and mind blowing to attend. The spirit is definitely still there and keeps growing as it touches more and more people each edition.
It is the true gathering of our scene, so well organised that you really feel the years of experience that when towards building such a smooth functioning festival of this magnitude. I was honoured to play there, and I would do it again in a heart beat.
You’ve also been to South Africa a few times. We’re excited to have you back for Alien Safari Sprung this weekend!
Yes I have visited South Africa on quite a few occasions under a few different project names, and I just love it there! So much to see, to do to smell to taste, it’s a sensory overload coming from Europe.
I have petted cheetahs, held owls, gone cage shark diving, seen penguins, ridden the Table Mountain Areal Cableway and hope to do more cool stuff this time too.
And of course, the parties are really tip top, I am always very excited to perform for such a dedicated crowd in such beautiful locations.
Do you enjoy working alongside someone?
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 maximising 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.
What kind of impact have the tools and technology made on you?
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 you have a count on how many songs you’ve worked on?
More than 350 tracks.
Do most psytrance DJs and 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 etc. … 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 everyday for this incredible life I live. The money is important, but I know I will never get rich doing psytrance, and no one else will either probably. 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!
Have you dealt with dodgy promoters in the past?
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 artists friends about him.
Thanks once again. Anything to add before we finish off?
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, take care.