The Juan MacLean

If you haven’t yet heard of The Juan MacLean you’ve probably been sitting in a nuclear bunker waiting for shit to hit the fan or eroding in Middle America. With their latest effort, The Future Will Come, released in April on the acclaimed DFA records, The Juan MacLean are now touring, leaving kids from city to city whistling their tunes. If you like to dance to robot-tinged lyrical content and club/dance songs with actual melodies and instruments you will probably be into them.

The Future Will Come can best be described as an if-they-mated Gary Numan, The Human League and your favourite Nineties piano house jams. “I guess the idea was to use dance music production techniques to make pop songs,” Juan explains. This is most evident in the biggest track off the LP thus far, “Happy House,” a 12-minute piano-fueled dance epic with dreamy vocals and a 303 bassline breakdown at the end which translates into a 20 minute jam session at their live shows, and if you haven’t heard this you’re hanging out at the wrong places.

Now if Juan MacLean looks familiar to you it’s because he probably is. Before he formed his current band he played guitar in Six Finger Satellite, which was signed to Sub Pop throughout the Nineties. “That was my first and only band I was ever in. In between music careers I was actually a music teacher for a little while, for three years, in Massachusetts, in a juvenile detention facility. I had to quit when The Juan MacLean started taking off.” Hailing acclaim from music media heavyweights, The Juan MacLean’s first album Less Than Human certainly did take off.

To outsiders, New York City seems like a magical wonderland where the majority of decent music, fashion and cultural phenomena emanate from, which is why it makes sense that The Juan MacLean formed there. According to Juan, “Nancy [Wang, The Juan MacLean’s dreamy, lead female vocalist] and I just met each other from being in New York, probably around 1999, through James Murphy first. When I was making my second 12-inch “You Can’t Have It Both Ways,” I knew I wanted to have a female vocalist and Nancy was around so we just called her in to do it and it started there. Jerry as well, our drummer, was just someone that’s a friend of ours in New York who had played in different bands, and D.J., the keyboard player, was actually the first assistant engineer at the DFA studios. So it’s all just a group of people who are friends.”

Two key instruments are central to the sound of The Juan MacLean, “The [Roland] SH101. We have two of them on stage that we play and it’s all over all of my recordings. It’s my main lead synth, I use it for bass lines a lot, and the [Roland] TB303 as well gets used a lot.” Now this doesn’t mean anything to you unless you are A) a gear nerd or B) trying to figure out the band’s influences. Both of these instruments are heavily used in early Detroit techno, and fittingly Juan cites this as one of his major inspirations. “My primary influence was early Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May. Derrick was the first one I met and I played with Kevin a number of times and Juan Atkins and I are going to do a series of shows called ‘Juan vs Juan.’” But the roots of Juan’s sound go back earlier, “I mean that’s how I first discovered all those [early Detroit Techno producers] was by being into Kraftwerk.”

Apart from musical influences, literature and films have contributed to Juan’s future-themed lyrical content. “I guess even though I’m not a fan of science fiction as a genre in general, two science fiction writers I’d say have been big influences are Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. And subsequently the movie Blade Runner or Logan’s Run and one we were just watching in the van again the other day, THX 1138, which is a little bit unknown. It’s George Lucas’ first movie. Those are probably the biggest ones.” Which is how one would fuse images of a dystopian future with dance music to make something amazing.

So, being on the label that helped kick start the interest in disco and house in the early 2000’s, how does Juan feel about the sudden hype surrounding its resurgence now? “It’s good. I feel like when we put out “Happy House” for example and it blew up the way it did—which totally took me by surprise—I think people were really getting tired of what’s been called ‘electro,’ like really slamming, hard, distorted Ed Banger style electro stuff. I think people are really craving a return to melodic music, vocals again and that kinda thing.“ It’s The Juan Maclean who are satisfying those cravings crafting dark, catchy, pop inspired dance tunes. Basically if you have feet that like to move rhythmically and are a fan of amazing production you will be into The Future Will Come.

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