Inside the mind of Michael Terzian – by Nick Tolentino
writen by Nick Tolentino (From The Soul)
1. How did you get into House Music & when did you start deejaying?
I started deejaying in mid 1995, at approximately 22 years old. Though, I had always been a musical enthusiast, from about the age of 12, the time when I discovered Rap Music. Later, in my college years (around 1991-93), two close buddies of mine who were House Music enthusiasts, would consistently cue me in on what was going on in the underground Dance scene, by lending me mix-tapes of local House Music radio shows in Montreal. Needless to say that I wasn’t too fond of this Dance stuff right away, since I was a die-hard Rap aficionado.
But around that time, I suffered an important injury to my pitching shoulder, which forced me out of playing baseball (I had been playing organized ball since 6 years old). So although I was extremely frustrated and semi-depressed about the fact that I could no longer play my favorite sport, I decided to stay active by taking up jogging on a regular basis. So, I crossed-over from a team-sport to a lonesome, solo sport which required a lot of patience and spiritual stamina. Of course, I would jog while listening to Music. And with that, I slowly came to the realization that Rap Music was an aggravating and irritating soundtrack to jog to. Hence the easy fix was to try out these House Music mix-tapes that were lying around. So it all started in this bizarre fashion for me, in that, because of an injury, because of jogging and because of a couple of tenacious friends, I slowly began my own personal relationship with underground Dance and House Music.
In terms of deejaying, that came a couple of years later, when I was working at HMV, a music store.
Before HMV, I had already amassed quite a hefty collection of tapes and CD’s. But once I got that job, that’s when I really started purchasing a lot of House Music (and still Rap) albums and compilations (on CD, or CD single). Before you know it, I was regularly listening to local radio shows like Noir et Blanc (with DJ Eddie Lewis), as well as Utopia’s Paradise (with DJ’s Tony Desypris, Claude Dabass, Mark DiPalma and Peter Lightburn). These shows were pushing the sounds that I had been slowly falling in love with and connecting with (these were the shows featured on those old mix-tapes that I was jogging to). Before you know it, I was regularly calling in to Utopia’s Paradise and speaking to Tony & Peter, asking them what song was playing, because they usually would not mention song info on the air. Next thing you know, Tony’s walking into HMV looking for me just to simply introduce himself and connect. Soon after, I also became good friends with Peter and then a little while later he started working alongside me at HMV. At the time, Tony was also working at a vinyl shop called BPM. And after Tony had won me over following a lengthy discussion with him on the importance of preserving vinyl, hence began my somewhat addictive vinyl-purchasing habits. Tony was also the one who got me hip to the idea of spinning on 3 turntables, rather than 2, in order to be more creative and to be able to better present a musical story.
My first club-gig ever was at a university beer bash at a pub on Bishop street in Montreal, on September 13th, 1996. The first vinyl I started with was “Saturdays” by Alexander Hope (Easy Street Records). It was a pivotal night for me on a personal & musical level, because seconds before playing my first song, my best friend walked into the DJ booth to notify me that my favourite MC at the time, 2Pac Shakur, had just died in a Las Vegas hospital, after having been shot several times a few days earlier. I was stunned and numbed by this tragic news. Because of my sadness and disbelief, I didn’t have too much fun that night, although I delivered the goods.
2. How would you describe your sound or style as a DJ? Has it changed over the years?
It’s hard for me to describe exactly what it is that I do behind the turntables. I’m telling a story, without wanting to tell a story. You could easily listen to my sets and almost be able to tell if I have a broken heart, if i’m mourning the loss of someone, if i’m about to go on vacation, or if i’m in the mood to show & prove. But it’s all in the sub-conscious, unless of course i’m creating a mix CD with artwork dedicated to something or someone. Only then will I sift and pick specific records that try and tell the story I want to share.
But, in a club setting or on my radio show, when I play the Music that I love, I find myself in that unexplainable spiritual zone. I’m in self-actualization mode. I could try to describe the Music that I showcase, with a few adjectives: tasteful, eccentric, tough, edgy, moody, life-affirming, with lots of vocals. The essence of my sound hasn’t changed over the years. The only things that have changed are my technical skills, my ability to read a crowd, my overall ease behind the turntables, as well as my familiarity with the songs that I love.
I should mention that for the most part, I like to play songs out from beginning to end, especially if they build, and are structured properly with vocals. As we know, the good majority of House Music songs run easily past 5 or 6 minutes. I have heard tons of deejays who destroy songs by mixing out after only the first verse (sometimes even during the verse), or just prior to a pivotal instrumental peak. I find that this is highly insulting to the artist. It’s our duty as disc-jockeys to not only promote the songs we love, but to honor them, by showcasing them atleast close enough to the way the artist intended it to be. Within the House Music realm, I try to avoid being monotonous. During my club gigs, I like to sprinkle my musical sets with deep & melodic instrumentals, mean techno grooves, powerful vocal songs and a few Afro-Latin workouts.
3. I know that you are a major advocate for the preservation of vinyl. Have you now embraced the mp3 console era?
I have accepted it, although I haven’t embraced it. I think that any nightclub that considers itself to be cutting edge, should have 2 turntables (if not 3), and 2 cdj’s (if not 3, as well). There are some clubs with 2 or 3 turntables just sitting there gathering dust, while the majority of their resident or guest DJ’s just use them as coasters for their drinks or to rest their laptops on them. An absolute damned shame. I think that laptops and CD’s are great for traveling deejays, making for easier and hassle-free transit. However, there is no excuse for local DJ’s to be playing mp3 or CD’s in their hometown, unless of course the club does not have turntables, or if the song does not exist on vinyl.
4. What’s your mixer of choice and why?
I stand by my Allen & Heath Xone 62 with vertical sliders. I’m not a fan of the knob. Fred Everything convinced me about the A&H 62’s reliability and durability, telling me that A&H used to produce machinery for the English army, or something like that, and that if I wanted to, I could throw it down a flight of stairs and it would still keep on ticking! Mine hasn’t fallen yet.
5. Describe to us how Salvation From Sin radio started
Well, i’ve been doing radio for many years, stemming from my almost 10-year stint at Utopia’s Paradise. So, the transition towards doing a solo show was very easy, inviting and even exciting, as I could now customize a show to fit my personal needs and desires. I wanted to do a show that would not only help, but belong, to our local, and hopefully even global, House Music community. My first show was in February of 2010, and we haven’t stopped since. In the spring of 2011, we celebrated our 1-year anniversary with a superb Sunday evening tea party at Club UN in Montreal, with honorable guests from NYC, Jephte Guillaume & Victor Simonelli. We also recently celebrated SFS’s 100th edition, which was a 7-hour extravaganza, which ran from midnight to 7am straight, even featuring a LIVE impromptu performance by vocalist Wayne Tennant who was just chilling with me and some friends in the studio.
6. How much of an impact does your show have on the community?
In terms of impact, it’s difficult to say. But, I hope i’m making some kind of a difference for our immediate community, but moreso, the global House Music community, because God knows i’m trying hard. With the grace of social networking outlets, I have been able to connect with people on a worldwide basis and have fans from all-over, since CJLO also streams LIVE on the net. I’ve also been able to set-up LIVE telephone interviews with a plethora of artists and DJ’s, as well as featuring musical showcases on artists who I admire and follow. Most notably, I have interviewed and featured the likes of Joe Claussell, Larry Heard, Ron Trent, Juan Atkins, Byron Stingily, 95 North, Zepherin Saint, Slam Mode, Jenifa Mayanja, Antonio Ocasio, Arnold Jarvis, Jay Denes aka Blue Six (of Naked Music NYC), Pirahnahead, Gene King, Slow To Speak (Francis Englehardt & Paul Nickerson), Aybee, Anthony Nicholson, Glenn Underground, Shaheer Williams, Chris Brann of Ananda Project, Chris Gray (of Deep4Life), Christopher ‘Gate-AH’ McCray, Foremost Poets (aka Johnny Dangerous), singer Wiltrud Weber of Tet Kale Records, Paul Scott of BOP, Plusgroove, Eddie Perez of Smack Music/Mentalinstrum, and Vil-N-X (Nathaniel X and Mr. Vil).
I have also featured local acts such as the legendary Robert Ouimet, Miguel Graca, The RawSoul, DJ Scott C, Christian Pronovost, Jojoflores, Bacanito, IndySoul, recording artist Wayne Tennant, Mike Perras, Stephane Belfort, Don Barbarino, A-Soul, Pat Boogie, Lil’ Dave, Lexis, Mat Ste-Marie, Phil Lefebvre, DJ Moka, Thomas Galetti, DJ11even, JaBig, as well as a couple of unique shows featuring local House Music promoters Man Claudy and Mike Steven, where I not only interviewed them, but also played an all-vinyl set of all of their favourite songs over the years.
Finally, in April 2011, I did a fundraiser for Japanese relief efforts after the disastrous tsunami, featuring a full 3-hour edition of vinyl versions of House songs produced by and/or sung by some of my favorite Japanese artists.
7. Do you believe that people appreciate your radio show?
For the most-part, I would say yes. And this stems solely from the reactions I’ve gotten from the DJ’s and artists who I’ve invited over the last 2 years, as well as feedback from our fans. Just last night, someone who I met for the very first time, told me that he not only is a fan of the show, but feels that what we’re doing for local artists, by featuring them and getting them exposure, is tremendous. I was positively stunned. It’s actually nice to hear that once in a while, because I think that I sometimes suffer from amnesia (just joking), and need to be reminded every so often that what i’m doing is not only pertinent and necessary, but also appreciated.
For the most part, the individuals who have accepted my invitations to be on the show have been extremely appreciative and full of praise, some more than others. It’s nice to hear a staple like Detroit’s Pirahnahead tell you that SFS is his “favorite show”, or someone like Ron Trent saying that he needs people like me to be able to keep spreading his own gospel. However, it’s funny, because there are still individuals in the local Montreal scene who have flat-out ignored my requests to have them on my show, so I don’t know if EVERYONE really cares or appreciates what I do.
8. How do you prepare for a DJ gig?
It depends where I’m playing. If the club only has CD players, then my preparation time is only about 5 or 6 hours of sifting through my CD cases and picking out songs that I think should be heard on that night. Now if the club has turntables, which is my preference, the required preparation is much more demanding in terms of time and energy. In that case, it usually takes me approximately 24 to 48 hours of calmly sifting through my vinyl-library, and re-listening to old joints that I haven’t heard in a while. The day of the event, I like to be with myself and not communicate with others, just in order to stay focused, as well as to properly rest, eat a nice dinner (not too big) and even take a hot bath just to relax my senses. When I drive to the club, I don’t listen to anything, and if I do, it’s Classical Music or melancholic Jazz.
I like to come musically-loaded to an event, so I will easily have 300 records with me, with a minimum of 2, if not 3 crates full of vinyl. However, this kind of practice can be hazardous, as I recently found out when I tweaked my left elbow while carrying up a really heavy crate of records at Mercury in Ottawa, resulting in a pretty severe epicondylitis (“tennis elbow” for a solid 4-5 months). Granted, it was my biggest crate, which takes about a 100 records. But hey, anything for the Music!
9. If possible, how would you change the House Scene today?
The answer to this seemingly simplistic question is quite complex, because several different elements make up our so-called “House scene”: producers, deejays, promoters, & club owners.
Firstly, for original producers, I would simply advise them to stop being so McDonald’s-like. In other words, ease up on the over-abundance of releases, and focus more on producing fewer, yet more quality songs. I’d much rather support a producer like Aqua Bassino, who pumps out 4 or 5 amazing records a year, rather than an individual who pumps out 25 average tracks a year, all of which sound like the last generic song that came out. I remember of a producer who had been the talk of the global House Music scene several years ago (based on a couple of fantastic releases that this individual had released). In any case, this particular person had said that since those songs became so huge, it was now time to ride the wave and that his/her short-term goal was to release as many records as possible, as fast as possible!!! Let me tell you, those songs that came out, all fell into the average or sub-par category. The effort put into the songs was obviously minimal, and the final product proved it. Today, we barely hear of that producer… Finally, it’s up to the producer to help direct the limelight back onto the vocalist. I’m kind of tired with some of these long and complicated artist titles (Dj Luciano Pavarotti, Nabisco & Eric Pavarotti featuring Kenny Bobien…lol). Again, producers (as well as DJ’s) have become very egoistic, and some are very narcissistic. Can we just bring it back to the vocalist, who in my opinion, truly carries any song. I recently bought a 12″ record by Arnold Jarvis, and it simply read “Arnold Jarvis”. I had to look at the super fine print to realize that the 3-song EP was actually produced by Timmy Regisford and Adam Rios. I like that. It’s respectful and it would make me want to support the producer more.
For the DJ’s, I would ask them to be a bit more critical with their purchasing behavior, and not settle on buying average joints, even if it’s from Black Coffee or Louie Vega. I think lots of deejays suffer from the “peeing contest” mentality, wherein they want to constantly demonstrate that they own every single new “Soulful House” joint that Traxsource puts out, even if the song suffers from monotony. Keep your sets tight!!! Also, be more original. You don’t have to be like Karizma in order to get a crowd’s attention. Play with the songs. Don’t be so linear in your musical approach and your musical selections and styles. Play old songs and mix them with the newer stuff. Unless you’re trying to break a new song, I also don’t wanna hear the same Jovonn or Boddhi Satva song at every single party you play at, that almost every other House DJ plays anyways. I like some of these South African House songs, for example, and I know that the SA musical scene has been thriving and become very prolific, but I seriously don’t want to hear 3 hours straight of only songs purchased on Afrodesia. I would much rather hear a song by Black Coffee, followed with a song by Loleatta Holloway, followed by a Masters at Work joint and a John Heckle track.
I would also ask DJ’s to refuse playing for peanuts. Montreal is notorious for offering little or no money to their jocks, unless they are part of the few elite. Finally, for deejays who also like to dabble in production and editing, you should have a little more tact and self-respect. Don’t re-edit an original song by Stevie Wonder, by simply adding a 4/4 beat to it, and then go ahead and call it a damn “remix”, and then have the nerve to title it “DJ ERIC feat. Stevie Wonder”. I recently came across one of these remixes, and the DJ actually stated that it was his OFFICIAL remix of some R&B artist, which I later found out was not the case. It has become a free-for-all. Like I said, have some more self-respect, be more tactful, display some humility, and don’t be fake by stealing other people’s intellectual and artistic property and tagging your name on it, as if the original artist owes you something. It’s quite saddening and comes back to that peeing-contest mentality that I alluded to earlier.
For the promoters (not all of them), they need to stop going after the quick buck. I know of a few promoters who love Deep and Soulful House, and who used to even promote it at a certain point in time, but now, they actually promote clubs that will play LMFAO and high-energy Electro-Pop. This is the main reason why Deep, Soulful Garage has suffered. It’s due to the fact that the promoters have jumped ship and gone for the proverbial “Crystal”. In most of the clubs out there, this is the case. All of those local jet-set clubs in the 90’s that were pushing Underground Music and selling it to the kids as something cool, have now been replaced by clubs pushing the same crap that pop radio is showcasing. It’s up to the promoter who believes in our Music to keep hyping this Music to those young kids, and make it seem like Deep House is hip & jet-set and that you need to be in on the secret in order to be part of it. Our scene is no longer like a fine precious French restaurant with only one location in town. It’s become like McDonald’s: it’s everywhere, it’s cheap, it’s easily accessible.
For the club owners, similar to the promoters, I would say don’t be afraid to lose money in order to eventually gain money. A lot of owners are in it to win it right away, and don’t understand the concept of losing to win. Some of the best parties in the world are those that took time to build a loyal and extremely faithful clientele, with ownership having the same vision as the party organizers and the DJ’s of the event. And when I refer to the concept of time, I don’t mean months. I’m talking about a few years. It takes time to build a home.
I would also ask the owners to respect their deejays by paying them better. A c-note for a real 2-hour DJ set is insulting. On the other-hand, I wouldn’t pay more than $100 for a DJ who only walks around with two USB sticks with hundreds of mp3’s on them. This brings up another point. Owners need to clarify their musical mandate by looking at themselves in the mirror and asking if they should save a couple of bucks by booking a young USB deejay who’s cock-diesel, or pay a bit more and get a seasoned hardware DJ, who works the crowd through strategic peaks and valleys and who better exemplifies the true tenets of the DJ concept. Finally, the promoter must stop imposing on the DJ to promote the party and bring his/her crowd. That is the promoters job. If you want the DJ to promote, you must first pay him/her the sole DJ salary, and then a separate promotions salary.
I think that if all of these elements came together properly, we would have a much more thriving House scene today.
10. What record shops do you shop at, or do you strictly download mp3 format?
I get most of my mp3/WAV files from promo mailing lists, and I also regularly buy essentials from the usual websites (Traxsource, Afrodesia, Juno, Dancetracks, etc.). But for the most part, i’m still heavily buying vinyl, mostly from Downtown304, Juno Records, or even DIscogs for my used records. I don’t shop anymore in Montreal, as there is only one shop left for new Techno or House (Atom Heart), and even then, their selection is extremely scarce. I’m glad to see that there are many producers that are releasing “vinyl-only” projects, and going to war against the mp3 market.
11. What advice can you give to young DJs who are starting out?
Don’t just DJ because you went to a club and saw a DJ and thought that it was cool, so then you just decided to become one. It has to be your calling. You have to yearn it to earn it, just like any other hobby. You don’t make that decision over night. With that said, if your foray into disc-jockey-hood has come about in a natural way, and that your core fundamentals with respect to this art-form are rooted in passion, desire and child-like love, then I would say to better your technical skills, but do not seek perfection, as there is no such thing. After having enabled your technical savvy, stay focused more on being picky and choosy when collecting music. You don’t need everything in your collection. After that, get to know your songs. Listen to them as much as you can. Play them in your DJ sets, not once or twice, but regularly. The more you play a song, the more you will discover it’s full attributes and characteristics, it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses. Once you are able to dissect a song in this way, the better you’ll be able to mix, and i’m not talking about beat-mixing here, i’m alluding to REAL mixing, which is the ability to display emotion thru transition. A skill that only few DJ’s can boast.
12. How can people access your online mixes?
I try to upload and showcase one fresh new mix on my official Sound Cloud page on a weekly basis (www.soundcloud.com/michaelterzian). It’s essentially a free download featuring the latest edition of my radio show (Salvation From Sin). Just look up “michaelterzian” on Sound Cloud.
You can also add me on Facebook where I often have my mixes available, but please ensure that you request my friendship with a small personal message, or else, I probably won’t add you.
13. How can promoters book you?
For bookings, please contact : http://www.motionfm.com/contact/
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