[INTERVIEW] JOHNNY TRIKA
Introducing MJDLive's next guest, Johnny Trika! We had a very cool conversation where he talked candidly about his start, biggest challenges and rewards so far, approach to playing live, production talk, advice to his younger self, and we even squeezed a story involving a unicorn into the mix..! A talented, minimal techno producer based out of Montreal, he’s released two EPs on renowned label, SCI+TEC, with a third on the way. Constantly honing his craft, whether in the studio or for his live sets, he is one to watch as he expands creatively. Thrilled to give you this compelling conversation and a glimpse into his artistic process and mindset.
Thank you for taking the time to talk today!
Where does your sound come from? I’m curious about how you approach sound design and sound creation..
Well, I try not to think about it too much. I don’t really force what I’m going to make. It’s hypnotic almost, my music, and I like modulation, I put a lot of effects on some sounds. There can be one sound, and all these effects on it, and it can turn into this completely new, weird sound. A lot of my tracks have these weird things going on at the same time, unique sounds. Sort of like the trademark of my music. I have maybe a bit of an idea in my head, but not much, it just unfolds and unfolds, like ‘Oh this sounds good, maybe I’ll work on this more.’
It sounds like consistently getting yourself in the studio is the thing to do.. and then seeing how it goes from there..
Ya, exactly. Sometimes I have a bit of an idea of a melody or something. Even some sounds or patterns, but I never have an idea of a full track.
Do you just go and sit and..
Ya, I start playing around with sounds and see what comes out. And if it sounds good, it sounds good.
How did it start for you? How did you start to produce, and who have you learned from?
I started going to parties here [in Montreal] in 2011. My first party was actually Bal En Blanc (laughing). Some of my friends convinced me, ‘You should come everyone’s going, it’s electronic music.’ Because everyone was into hip hop, all of my friends, so I’m like, okay why not? So I went and I was like, wow, you know? It was crazy - visuals, big stage.. all these trance guys.. Markus Shultz, Ferry Corsten.. All the big trance guys.. That was really big a couple years ago in Montreal. So slowly got into that. Then I started going to some Circus [club] events because they were doing some big trance events, and so then I was more and more hooked. But I still wasn’t making music then. I was really passionate about the music and I remember Circus had this monthly night which was techno. It was called Dark Knights. And they would bring an international in once a month. It was techno, but really heavy techno, like hard, 130 bpm techno - really fast stuff. I started going to those events slowly, then more and more and then it was like a huge switch. Like, everyone switched to Stereo, and Stereo started booking more techno acts and sorta took over the scene in Montreal. That’s when I found out about Dubfire and Carl Cox and all these guys and I guess that’s when I just started wanting to make music. All these people were making music and I’m like, let’s see what I can do, you know? I wasn’t really thinking much about it, it was sort of like a hobby.
So you literally just bought the software and sat down and..
Ya, I bought Logic. I had a few VST [Virtual Studio Technology]’s and started playing around a little bit. For a good year my music sucked really bad, (laughing) like, it was really, really bad. Through that year I learned a lot. It started from harder techno, and then it went into more minimal techno, like what I do today. The day I got connected with Dubfire was end of 2013 at Stereo. I was making music but, whatever, it was okay, you know? And one of my friends told me, you should give some of your music to Dubfire on a USB. I was like, no you’re crazy (laughing), I’m not ready for that. But he was like, do it, you pretty much have nothing to lose. So I thought about it a bit and I ended up doing it. He messaged me like a week later. Like, ‘I really like one of the tracks, keep sending me music.’ So then I realized, oh wait, maybe my music is good, you know? That helped my self-confidence a bit. I got really inspired after that and I made a lot of music. Until today I’m still making a lot of stuff. That was really the turning point. Ever since then I send Dubfire almost everything. And he’s helped me out, to get in contact with some other people and through the years, 2-3 years now, I’ve met other DJs and I send them music too. So, that’s the story (laughter)
Wicked.. love that. I was curious..
Did you learn from tutorials on YouTube? How did you learn?
Ya, definitely YouTube helps. Not everything on YouTube helps, there’s a lot of bad stuff that doesn’t really work on YouTube. But no, most of the stuff is actually legit stuff. In the beginning I would listen to a lot of music to understand the formula of the track and how they were made and how to make a full track. I find a lot of people struggle with that. They get a loop going, a really nice loop, but they don’t know, ‘Okay, what do I do with this now?’ So I learned, thank god I learned early, very early, how to build a track. So over time it got easier and easier and faster and faster to build a formula. Now it comes really easily to me.
Cool, that’s really cool. So breaking down the layers and stripping it back and figuring out how to arrange it..
Ya arrangement is really important.
Actually, you just answered my next question - what happened in those years between 2011 and 2014 when you’d met Dubfire and released your first EP?
Well, it was funny because he wanted to sign.. there was one track on a compilation that SCI +TEC was doing, and I obviously agreed to it. Then I got really inspired and I was sending him so much stuff that he’s like, ‘Okay, forget the compilation we’re going to do your own EP’, like first EP. So that was like a big deal for me. First EP ever, on SCI+TEC.
On SCI+TEC - which is insane (laughing).. That’s a good start - a crazy great start..
Ya, that’s a good thing.
What’s next in terms of production?
My next release on SCI+TEC is going to be in August. It has Daytripper, Double Trouble and Eighth Voice, so those three tracks. I believe those are three solid tracks that are going to do pretty well. I have a lot of unsigned stuff, but the ones that I want to sign I’m saving them and will probably have a fourth release in the works now.
What have your biggest challenges been, and your greatest rewards, so far?
The biggest challenge I think would be to always make good music. Because sometimes you get in the studio and it just doesn’t work. And you invest that time and nothing really comes out of it and it’s a little bit frustrating. I guess that’s the hard part because you get really motivated and you go in the studio and it doesn’t come out the way you want it, you know? You’re not really happy with what you’re making. It’s happened a couple times where I make tracks that are just dead end tracks like, what am I going to do with this, you know? But, at the end of the day, you learn something with every track, I believe, so..
The biggest reward.. I’ve had quite a few memorable ones. Honestly, my last show was unbelievable. It’s this event company in Valencia called Barracca. They book all the big guys..
I saw Skream was on the bill.. Popof..
Ya, they do an event a month or two events a month or something like that. It’s this club, like 20 or 30 minutes from the city centre. It’s outside, in the middle of nowhere. It’s this huge club, like 1000, 2000 people or something, two rooms. They have this unicorn in the middle of the dance floor, you’re playing and there’s people on the unicorn! I’m like, what the hell’s going on! (Laughing) The lights were really cool. The energy was unbelievable. Definitely my funnest gig so far. It was an unbelievable experience. I remember also, one time at Digital Dreams, I was backstage and Deep Dish played one of my tracks. I was on the stage and there was tens of thousands of people, and it’s like, “Wow.”
That was 2014 I think, that summer.. ?
Ya, 2014 and that was like the first big thing for me, you know? Because I’d only seen it on YouTube and stuff. And the fact that I was there,
To see your track played in front of..
Ya, like super huge festival system, that was really cool.
Sounds like you like to travel too..
Oh ya, I love to travel. Traveling is one of my favourite things to do. Love it, absolutely love it. It’s long trips, but you don’t even feel it because all this adrenaline. Going to Valencia, it was like 14 hours of traveling total and I wasn’t tired at all because you’re getting there and it’s a huge party, you don’t feel none of that stuff. Unless you’re traveling longer than that, then it could get tiring but.. I was in this zone, this special zone. It was unreal. Even the show I played with Dubfire at Stereo was a lot of fun too. Finally playing with Ali [Dubfire]..
In that room..
Ya, in that room. Ya, honestly I’ve been to a few clubs around the world and Stereo still has the best sound.
Can you talk about your approach to playing live? You come at this from a production perspective so I was just wondering how you’re feeling about it now -your set up, reading a room, your approach generally..
My live is always evolving so I’ll make a few new tracks, I’ll put some in.. I’m constantly changing. The way I play is I have 16 channels and it’s all kick, bass, hats, snares, percussions, synths, effects, whatever. I can play with all those sliders and faders. Then on top of that I have other effects that I can do. Like, I have a bunch of reverbs, delays and these cool weird effects that I use sometimes. I have a formula or a system, like a base, of a live set. It’s not 100% on the fly, it’s, I would say 50% on the fly. And I have this base so I know what’s going on, so I understand what's going on. Or else it would be complete chaos (laughter). I would be too much looking down like this and I would lose the crowd. So with that formula, on top of that, then I have loads of fun, I take stuff out, put it in, effects, play around.. If I’m really feeling it then it works well. But I always really feel it because it’s all my music. Playing live is completely different. It’s all your material, you know? It feels so much better when you play it. This is me, this is my stuff. I wouldn’t be able to DJ I think, I wouldn’t feel it as much. But that’s just me.
It’s cool to see your trajectory because you have come at it from production initially too..
Ya, from the beginning I’ve always been a producer guy. Even from the start I knew I wanted to play live, I didn’t want to DJ. I knew that’s the route I wanted to take.
Has your set up changed, do you have a pretty standard set up in terms of what you use?
Ya, I use Livid CNTRL:R. It’s a really good controller. Actually, it's designed by Richie Hawtin. He did a collaboration with Livid. I have this little attachment to the controller with more knobs and faders. Then, I have Maschine Mikro, that’s just like a drum machine, where I have a bunch of claps and snares, rides, percs and a bunch of stuff I can add really quick. That’s it for hardware. Not too too much. I don’t want to overdo it because then it gets too crazy and honestly, with traveling I’m up to here [hand over his head], so much shit oh my god (laughing). So I try to keep it as minimal as possible. Everything works though, so..
Is there a piece of advice you’d give to yourself from today to yourself back in 2011 or even before..
Probably don’t stop working! (Laughter) Number one thing. My motto is, I believe in talent, but I believe more in work ethic. So ya, I would tell my younger self, “Don’t stop working.”
I have a sickening work ethic (laughing). Everyone who has ever been successful works really hard. Works more than the other person..
Ya. More focus. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. I would tell myself that.
In terms of influences musically, who’s influencing you before compared to now?
Right now? Honestly? (Laughing) That’s a good question.. A lot of people ask me this question.. I don’t listen to techno (laughter). At all.
Actually, you’re not the first that’s said that.. of techno producers.. Even Prince lately, I was watching an interview with him and he was asked that question and he said, honestly I don’t listen to much other stuff, I have too much to produce.
Ya.. Honestly, I do not listen to any techno. I haven’t been on Beatport in like 3 years. And I do that because I don’t want to get influenced by other music that’s current or popping right now, but that’s the main reason I don’t listen. Honestly, I don’t really like to listen to techno in my pastime. For me, it’s club music, you know? There’s some, like if you want more down tempo electronic music and more relaxed stuff, then ya maybe I’ll listen to that. I only listen to my music, because (laughing) like Prince, I’m always producing, I always have to listen to my tracks. Fix that, fix this, you know? In my pastime, I listen to blues actually here and there, and some classic rock a bit, like in my car when I’m driving I listen to that. Actually, 90% in my car I listen to my tracks to see how they sound in different environments. But ya, classic rock, some blues. Even some Greek music sometimes, since I’m Greek, I listen to a lot of Greek stuff so.. Ya, never techno actually. It’s funny because sometimes I go out with friends and they’re like, 'Oh man, this track - it’s crazy!', and I'm like, I have no idea what this is. And it’s this huge track that everyone knows (laughing) and I have no idea what it is. And they look at me, they’re like, what?! Are you crazy? (Laughing) They expect me to know, since I’m so into this, you know? They’re like, ‘What, you don’t know what it is?’ I have no idea.
So interesting (Laughter) Super cool.
So what are you looking forward to next?
Really looking forward to Sonar actually, in June. Really excited for that. And I’m going to be sticking around in Europe after that, trying to plan some shows now. Also, getting my U.S. Visa soon, hopefully soon. So then I’ll do some shows in LA and Miami, New York and South America.. Everything one step at a time.
That’s awesome. Amazing. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the interview, I appreciate it.
You’re very welcome. That’s awesome. Thank you! Glad we could do this.
Thanks to Johnny for his time and awesome convo, and Zeina Samy for her assistance too.