When We heard Mat Playford was taking his DJ residency at We Love... Space to the next level with a custom piece of tech we had to check it out. A short plane ride later we were on the spot where hi-tech magic happens every Sunday night.
Based around two iPads, a custom mixer and a Moog Voyager, Mat blends a regular two-deck DJ set with a live performance and effects machine for a set like no other. Although technology has always found itself in the DJ booth, the rapid progression and variety of ways to perform music as a DJ has completely changed. So, are DJs simply 'playing records' a thing of the past?
How did you get started?
Mat Playford: "When I was five years old, my mum caught me playing air-keyboard in the back of the car to Stevie Wonder. My uncle actually had a Yamaha CS-80 and as a mega hyperactive kid my mum noticed there was noticeable difference in my demeanour when I was in front of these keyboards. I had about six months worth of lessons when I was seven but I gave up because I wasn't learning Stevie Wonder or any music I was interested in.
"But, then when I was 14 my friend called Ben Brophy had decks and a keyboard set up in his shed at home. He knew a few chords and was playing me these House records which I really warmed to. Then at the end of that session, he gave me the keyboard and said I should take it home. It was just some budget Yamaha PSR machine, but it was a really pivotal moment in my life when Ben gave me that keyboard. Then I got expelled from school, so at 16 I went and toured the Greek Islands DJing. I just thought I should get out there and get among it, which looking back, at 16, was pretty brave. After I came back I decided to go to Leeds College Of Music and actually ended up lecturing there towards the end of it, due to having a few tracks out and the encouragement of the now head of the school, Philip Greenwood."
What was that first track called?
"It was me and a friend as Snowmonkeys with a track called Reachin'. It was just a sample looped up and sync'd with some other bits and recorded to DAT. But Galaxy FM started to play it and it just went silly. I think we sold about ten thousand copies before a major stepped in and offered us silly money. We were in our early twenties and fresh out of college and we just thought it was amazing!"
How did you get the residency at Space?
"Well, I have to be honest that I have a really good friend in the promoter here. He books four DJs a night in a club as famous as Space. You can imagine how many demos he gets sent.
"But, before I got the residency, I was here a few years ago and we were all sat around drinking on the terrace and the DJ must have played about eight of my tracks. I mentioned it and asked if he [the promoter] thought there might be a chance I could come back and DJ. He said 'sure, send me a demo'. "So I thought, 'RIGHT!' I knew he was getting loads of demos, so I knew I had to do something special. I stopped making music for a month, programmed a 12-hour mix, put it on an iPod and gave him it. I'm really proud and flattered to be part of We Love... and Space, Ibiza."
Tell us about this crazy machine you've built...
"It started because Carl Craig and Francesco Tristano were doing a live PA here at Space last year. Mark from We Love... sent me their requests for keyboards, because he didn't know about synths so much. I told him I had all of these so I came out and mic'd up the grand piano for them and did a sound check. The other promoter walked in on me playing and asked 'if you can play like that, why are you just DJing for us? I didn't have an answer really, apart from 'because it's harder'. [laughs]
"But they basically spurred me on to make more of an effort and then with the album being released too, it became a double-effort. So I thought about building some sort of modular synth but it wasn't really an ideal setup for what I wanted to do. So I came up with this idea - making a sort of posh DJ setup really, with a live synth component. I'd like to put an SSL compressor at the end of it to control the output."
You're flying in and out of Ibiza for your residency rather than living on the island?
"Yeah, living here is for headcases! If I was in my early twenties, maybe, but I know that I would party far too hard, chase girls and not get around to making any music if I lived here. As somebody who has got a big sense of humour, when it comes to my music and performing right now, I'm taking it very seriously."
And this is version-one of the device? Are there other versions being built?
"Hell yeah. For me, I saw it as the beginning of something the first time I used it and saw all the attention that the device got. Plus, you know, We Love... are never going to let me turn up and just DJ again." [laughs]
Technology in the DJ booth is a positive thing?
"Yeah of course, I think anyone that is still hankering for vinyl is a luddite and needs to get over it. We've moved on and people need to deal with it. I owned a record shop for six years and if I'd have told the 200-plus DJs that I saw regularly that they'd be using laptops in five years, they would have killed me! The scene just eats itself. For example, in the nineties we sampled '70s music and in the noughties we sampled '80s music, so take a guess what's next? So, how long will it be before we're sampling records that are a week old?"
And you're playing mainly your own material?
"Mostly, around 80% depending on the crowd and the vibe. The CDJ side of the live rig enables me to change things up. I don't have a fixed set"
How does playing here [We Love... Space, Ibiza] compare to your other DJ gigs?
"Oh it's incredible here. You get absolutely spoilt from playing here because it's such an incredible club. There's something like 50 DJs here on a Sunday for We Love... so if you can't find a DJ playing something you like, you must be deaf!"