Mike Huckaby, as humble as he is as a person, is a spiritual contemporary, a music maker of grand design, who manages to give house music from DETROIT TECHNO CAPITAL! the depth and profoundness that this city oozes somewhere beyond its shattered surface. It is part of his life story to wrangle with machine and get them to express emotions. One of them is the grand Waldolf synthesizer which let Mike shed tears and blood until he figured out how to coax it into making the sounds of sheer beauty and spiritedness that is generally associated with his music. It also culmitated in the creation of a release series called “My Life With The Wave” – all sounds used on these two seminal records are created by only using the Waldolf Wave synth. The “Life Project” goes even further.
After focusing on the productions generated with the “My Life With the Wave Production CD” and gathering them in mixed podcast formats, Mike, as well as presenting himself abroad DJing, has become a brilliant tutor for well-known hard- and software companies, sharing his skills and passes on knowledge via tuition and workshop sessions. He also works at Youthville, teaching kids from deprived areas in Detroit his musical know-how. So whilst his music expresses feeling and proficiency in equal measures, and goes beyond the pure reflection of its glamorous past well into the unforeseen, his person acts in the same vain: Huckaby makes house music go yonder, into abstraction; then he roots it, and sends it back to where it came from, into intimous settings, the streets, and the clubs, connecting people, moods and ambients… Meoko is thrilled to find out how Mike does it all.
Detroit Home of The Brave!
First of all, thanks for giving me hints of what to check out, and where you feel the focus of your activities is… I was very thrilled to watch these Detroit documentaries, and even more amazed to see what a deep and spirited person you are. Thanks for that! It does not come as a surprise though, because your music, for me, transports all this in some kind of non-descript ethic that is travelling via your sound… Do you feel this is kind of true?
Mike Huckaby: Hmm, I don’t know if that is something I can make a comment on. I just do what I do. I am satisfied with releasing every track I make available to the public. I have to be satisfied with it first. I have to take praise in perspective. If you condition yourself to like the positive feedback people give you about your music, then it is going to rock your boat when you see a negative review of your music. Feedback is all subjective. You have to be satisfied with your own music first. My music has to pass the test of moving me first. Once it does that, I dont care what anyone thinks.
What is your musical journey? Where do you feel, in general, in private and in interview situations, did it start?
Mike Huckaby: My musical journey is to learn how to convey emotion through sound. Plain and simple.
How is your family situation? Are there people in your family that share your passion for music, sound making, etc.?
Mike Huckaby: I owe a lot of my rhythmic influences to my uncle. He would make my brother and I play the drums until our hands were red when we were kids. That was a very signifant influence for me.
Who or what got you into music production?
Mike Huckaby: Simply being in Detroit did. Like I have said so many times, the music found you and created opportunities for involvement. That’s just the way it was growing up in Detroit.
You once talked about Chris Simmonds being a fellow music producer who had a huge influence on you how you made and perceived making music, is this true? Who else opened your mind and broadened your horizon when you much needed it?
Mike Huckaby: I would listen to everyone. I would even listen to artists I didn’t like. I would study things about other producers and production methods, and flip them into my own style. Chris Simmonds was the first person to sit down with me and answer some of my technical questions that I was struggling with for years.
Was it Rick Wade who first published your music?
Mike Huckaby: My first 12 inch came out on Harmonie Park, so essentially, yes.
What was it that you wanted to get the Wave in the first place, who or what gave you the idea you can make house with it…. and how long did it take you to get a knack on it?
Mike Huckaby: Buying the Wave was a huge mistake, but I made it pay off. I remember contacting Waldorf when they had an office in LA. I asked one of the sales reps at Waldorf: ‘So is it really true you can get any sound out of the Wave?’ The rep quickly replied: ‘Oh yeah, absolutely.’ I then turned around and looked at my record case and said to myself: ‘Oh really? ‘ I then concluded that if that was true about this synth, then that was the only synth I had to buy. But that thinking was seriously flawed, and it is what got me into a lot of trouble. When the rep said that you can get any sound out of the wave, that was partially true. It didn’t mean I could get any sound out of my record case on the wave. What the Waldorf rep meant was that through all of the synthesis methods and modulation capabilities, you could create any sound possible on the Wave through those methods. That taught me how to listen. That was a painful lesson, but a worthy one.
How did you have the idea to make „My Life With The Wave“, and why are there two parts, but no further part planned?
Mike Huckaby: There were several years that passed by where I wasn’t using the Wave at all. I had never sat down and simply learned how to use it properly. I was even contemplating selling it. But I knew I could never do such a thing. So instead of selling it, I decided that the time was right to start using it. So I began to conceptualize the idea of making an entire 12 inch release from using just the wave. I wondered if that was something I could actually do. So I began to dive into it heavily until My Life With The Wave Vol 1 and 2 were finished. Those projects spanned over nine years. It took nine years to create Vol 1 and 2. The My Life With The Wave story is over now. It’s time to move on and explore different synthesis possibilities on different machines. Basically, it drove me crazy, to the point of exhaustion. I was really burnt out on creating My Life With The Wave Vol 2.
You give a away a lot of samples… What is your thought behind sharing your material?
Mike Huckaby: I look at it as a way to sharpen my sound design skills. The feedback that you get from other producers, and how they will use you sound design is invaluable. I haven’t given away as many sounds as you might think though. Don’t believe the hype. I am extremely surprised to have made two 90-minute Soundcloud broadcasts of producers all over the world using the My Life With The Wave CD. Furthermore, I just did a workshop in Denmark with Strom School where the focus was producing music with the My Life With The Wave sample CDs. That was a very unique workshop. The whole project paid off, and producers have been using the My Life With The Wave samples since 2007. It’s been nearly ten years! Check the shows here:
What is the current set up you are using?
Mike Huckaby: The Waldorf Wave, Maschine, Ableton Live, loads of plugins, the Manley Slam compressor, The Moog Sub 37 synthesizer, and the
What kind of machines never left your studio?
Mike Huckaby: All of the above.
What are the newest additions?
Mike Huckaby: The Sledge Synthesizer, The Moog Sub 37, and The Emu Sp 12. The Sp 12 is a instrument that I plan on using heavily in the near future.
How do you feel about all those companies like Ableton, Native, Waldorf, etc contracting you to produce tutorials etc? How did this first happen?
Mike Huckaby: It was a win/win situation from the start. They saw my ambition to learn, and I was using their products heavily. With my reputation as a DJ and a producer, combined with teaching at Youthville just added more to the formula.
What is the Nave?
Mike Huckaby: The Nave is a software synthesizer that can emulate the possibilities of the Wave to a certain extent. I had a lot of fun doing official presets for it. I used my Wave skills on it and learned a couple of things as well. Im always looking for a reciprocal relationship between hardware and software.
How and when did you realise that you have a knack for teaching, and that it goes beyond a strive to teach, but to share and make others feel just as passionate as you are?
Mike Huckaby: I never realised I had the knack for it, its just something that came my way. I think my empathy has grown from doing seminars. When you have a chance to meet up with programmers from Ableton and Native Instruments, and they are showing you certain tricks and tips that you would have never known, you just feel compelled in a way to share some of the things that you have learned. Like I said, nobody wants to be stuck.
Tell me more about your labels, how did they come about, who is and will be on it, what are you planning in the future?
Mike Huckaby: I wanted control over my music, so I decided to create Deep Transportation and S Y N T H just for that. I have no plans to release anyone’s music but mine on these labels.
How did you export the harmonics – and make chords of them – of the rocks you found in Egypt? Did you try to do this with rocks from Detroit? Or any objects found in Detroit?
Mike Huckaby: Ha, the rocks from Egypt. I am constantly asked how I did that. It’s a device I created in Reaktor. And that is all that I can tell you. And I only did this with rocks from the pyramids in Egypt. Although I did sample some things around Cern in Geneva, Switzerland, when I did visit there. Maybe I will do something similiar in the future.
Who or what inspires you apart from rocks and Egypt, and why?
Mike Huckaby: My primary influence is Jazz. Jazz is the umbrella that house music resides under. I have always had a thing for expensive things and subjects that required a lot of devotion. I am hard-headed in that way. So, one question would lead to another, or another avenue to pursue or learn.
What is a piece of work of another artist that had a huge influence on you on how you conceive and conceptionalise a piece, an album, a mix?
Mike Huckaby: Larry Heard’s Slam Dance. The whole 12 inch actually. I just couldnt believe how much diversity he demonstrated on that EP. It made me question just how much skill a producer had to have to make a record. On one side you had smooth deep house tracks, and then an aggressive techno track on the other side. That EP really made me wonder how talented he was.
What are the ideas behind tracks like „Bassline” and „Fantasy”, it seems like you like you toy with certain concepts again and again and make them an ongoing series?
Mike Huckaby: Well, the baseline series is heavily influenced by Kevin Saunderson. Kevin Saunderson is known in Detroit as the bassline master. So I guess years of listening to his productions somehow has had an effect upon me. Fantasy was just an entire track I made from the Waldorf Wave.
In Detroit, there is nothing to do you say… and to combat depression, you mention to create music, and to do that „quite merrily“. Why do you think that this happens to humans, specifically in Detroit? There are so many depressing places on this planet, and it seems like the people in Detroit, as depressing it might be, somehow overcome this depression and turn it around, turn it into something worth living for…
Mike Huckaby: It is just the way to channel that so-called depression. Its actually a gift more than it is a curse.
How did you come to do Youthville… Is Youthville something existing in any mayor city…? Who is it run by? Churches? Government? How did you come to engage with it, and in which sense did you manage to open their range of activities? Did you propose electronic music production to them?
Mike Huckaby: Youthville is a privately funded organization. There is nothing like Youthville in the United States. It was really way ahead of its time when it was created. It will still be another several years before Detroit catches up on its impact locally and even nationwide.
How does it feel to start from scratch with the student from Youthville, if they do not actually know much?
Mike Huckaby: You simply ask them to name their favorite artist, producers and songs. The students are influenced heavily by their parents and families, and the internet. So they already have rhythm, and an idea from the beginning in mind.
How to you manage to capture their attention?
Mike Huckaby: You capture their attention by simply listening to them and observing them. But the most important thing to do to capture their attention is to speak their language. If you don’t know their favorite producers, and the songs they are listening to, you will look like a fool to them. And if you loose that window of opportunity, you’ve lost everything. But beyond that you have to manage being a disciplinarian. If you don’t establish discipline in the class room from the ver start, the student will never respect you, and you will never have control over the classroom setting. So it doesn’t matter what program you are teaching. If discipline is not establi
hed, they will not learn a single thing.
How do you
xplain the p
enomenon of electronic music to them?
Mike Huckaby: I don’t push it on them. I explain the legacy of music from Detroit across all genres of music, and simply let them indicate their musical interests, and what they want to produce. I am there for them, not me.
You say in one of your interviews that there are parts of the Detroit story missing and people are starting to ask what they are… Explain!
Mike Huckaby: Well, people are just starting to see that other people make up the Detroit story, and have something to say. The entire Detroit electronic story is still unfolding. It is a never ending story, you could say.
In terms of electronic music business, not making music, what kind of advice do you feel like giving?
Mike Huckaby: Learn the business, and set up a publishing company. I owe Eddie Folkes a lot for helping me in that area. He really sat me down and showed me the importance of having publishing rights pertaining to your music.
If you would not have turned to music, what would you be doing?
Mike Huckaby: That is something I have no idea about! Like I have said over and over, music wasn’t a way out in Detroit, it was the only way out.
You say you like to “convey a message of peace” via your sets and music, seems like this world needs it more than ever. Do you have something more to say, for people to keep up the faith and to conclude this interview?
Mike Huckaby: Just stay true to yourself and you will be included in all the circles, conversations, and opportunities you ever could have imagined. Some of those doors you might have thought would be closed to you, but they will open. I know that for a fact. I am getting remix offers from artists that I would have never thought would ask.
Last but not least… What did you put into your Meoko mix, what was paramount for you when you made it?
Mike Huckaby: Just some deep house tracks that I’m feeling. Check it out!
Words by our dear Katrin Richter