Now based in Japan, Max Essa is a UK musician, producer and DJ known for his nu disco and balearic styles of music. Max is a frequent collaborator with Chicken Lips artist and Bearfunk head honcho, Steve Kotey.
How did you begin making music, do you come from a musical background?
I don’t come from a particularly musical background, although growing up we had a piano in the house. I was fascinated by popular music and bands from a pretty early age. I finally got around to starting my own band with some friends when I was about 13-14 years old. We played Chuck Berry covers in a shambolic punk style!
Why do you think nu disco developed from the House scene?
Well obviously house and disco are inextricably linked. I think that some people just wanted to make house music that took it’s cues a bit more from the feel of disco – maybe a slightly looser, live feel, maybe a little more melody.
Were you DJing on the house music scene and if so, what made you start to look towards disco records for inspiration?
I started DJing at the beginning of the 90s with the DiY Sound System from Nottingham. They were one of the crews who really pushed the deep house sound in the UK and Europe early on. From the start I played house records alongside older disco and jazz-funk tracks…It’s what I like. Early on that was how it was. It was only as time went on that people allowed their tastes to get narrower and narrower until they couldn’t handle dancing to anything under a certain tempo and made in a certain way.
A lot of nu disco records are slow by house music standards, what do you think has caused that change in tempo?
Well, certainly dance music just got faster and faster from the beginning of the 90s onwards. At some point a different groove has to come back in. A lot of different factors probably came into play. Discovery of older DJs like Daniel Baldelli and what he was doing at the Cosmic club in Italy in the 1980s and tiny scenes around the world who were into this kind of obscure stuff being able to connect with each other via the internet and a larger trend developing.
Nu disco is a broad term for eclectic styles of music, how do you define it?
I think you summed it up very well – a broad term for eclectic styles of music. If you look at the nu disco section in any record shop you’ll see wide array of tempos, styles, re-edits and original productions.
Did you serve an apprenticeship of making re-edits before moving on to instrumentation?
I served an apprenticeship learning an instrument, trying to write songs and playing in bands for ten years and then spent the next ten years in studios trying to learn how to make a good record.
Has your sound evolved, if so, in what way?
In the 90s I was trying to make house records, some had a disco edge to them. A few years ago maybe around 2004,2005 I started to look at slower tempos and not really care if it was suitable for the dance floor. Now I find I’m edging back to the 120 beats-per-minute mark again. I still use a lot of guitars in my recordings but I’m doing more vocal tracks than I have done in the past.
Do you feel like a songwriter in the same way that someone who sits there with a guitar or piano might do?
I don’t think of myself as a songwriter as such although I do sit there with a guitar or keyboard as a starting point more often than not. But I also programme all the drums and percussion,write all the other parts, mix and produce the tracks etc.
Do you think nu disco has influenced a more eclectic sound in dance music than that of a few years ago?
I think that dance music is more eclectic than it had been for a while. I think that whatever nu disco is it is part of that, not the other way around.
How do you see the music created by those on the nu disco scene evolving?
The people who actually have some ideas to contribute will continue making wonderful new music, traveling the world making new connections and collaborating with each other. The myriad of bad editors of other peoples work will get bored and fall by the wayside. A lot of the people I know who make music are interested in getting away from the computer as much as possible and playing live and recording in a more ‘live’ fashion.