The Evolution Of Plex
From Sleazy Rider to Lone Romantic, we chart the voyage of Maceo Plex across the night sky.
When Maceo Plex waved goodbye to Hyte at the end of the 2015 season, eyebrows were raised and many fans began speculating about what his next move might be. Few people could’ve predicted a move to Pacha – the home of David Guetta and Bob Sinclar. A venue associated with VIP culture and renowned for having a glamorous clientele. But – more importantly – a venue where he had never previously played. But, if you looked carefully, the signs were there all along:
“Deep down I would rather be more recognised for my experimental stuff. But it wasn’t until I tried house that people started caring. I think it would be a mistake to do too much of the same thing. But I don’t want to veer off too fast”
- Maceo Plex talking to RA in 2012
- “It’s monotonous in sound and volume… it hasn’t evolved much in 20 years”
- Then-Pacha owner Ricardo Urgell on house music, prior to Maceo Plex signing with the club.
- “I’m aware a typical Amnesia-set is bouncy tech house. I just don’t enjoy playing that.
- Maceo Plex responding to online reaction to playing Four Tet’s remix of Eric Prydz – ‘Opus’ at Amnesia Closing 2015
- “For years the trend on the island has been to book the same DJs over and over again. I’m hoping Mosaic will be a place where we can finally let loose. The island is a tech house mecca. But Mosaic’s policy will extend to beyond the current repertoire of sound”
- Maceo Plex on the inception and concept of Mosaic
- “Success has given me the opportunity to make the music that I really want to make. I want to make tracks that are not just clubtracks”
- Maceo Plex talking to Germany magazine, Groove in August 2017
Not since the days of Guy Gerber‘s shelved Wisdom of the Glove project had such audacious underground bookings graced the decks at Pacha. If Wisdom of the Glove’s line-ups were gutsy, then Mosaic’s were balls-out ambitious. The roster included the names Jon Hopkins, Joy Orbison & Modeselektor alongside lesser-known quantities such as Avalon Emerson, Young Marco and Virginia. Not just names which you wouldn’t typically see at Pacha, but artists you rarely find in Ibiza full stop. Truly a tapestry of styles covering the vast spectrum of electronic music. 18-months ago the idea of being able to see Len Faki going hell for leather in Pacha would’ve been laughed at. At yet now, it’s a welcomed reality thanks to Maceo Plex and his adventurous booking policy.
But it wasn’t just at his residency where Maceo was pushing the envelope. He continued his love affair with the island with an ambitious 10-sets in 24 hours, including playing at some previously unused locations. The premise was simple: a different mood or genre at each performance. Pandering to both his – and the island’s – eclectic tastes. The challenge would also involve staying one-step ahead of the authorities. It’s fair to say the venture caught the imagination of the island. He also found time to take Mosaic to Pacha’s outdoor venue, Destino for an enthralling day-time edition of the party. With guests Pachanga Boys and Michael Mayer against the outstanding natural backdrop of Cap Martinet, it’s fair to say the occasion delivered. Maceo even opened on the theme from Miami Vice for one of those youhadtobethere moments!
Around the same time he jumped ship, Maceo released ‘Solar Sampler’ on his own Ellum Audio. This was the precursor to the long-awaited second album. Or so we thought. In the end, we had to wait the best part of another 2 years for ‘Solar’ to drop. But it we think it was worth the wait! More on this later.
In the interim we were treated to ‘Journey to Solar’, an EP of dancefloor-focused tracks which didn’t make the cut for the full album. These were still peak-time club tracks. But they dared to tread less familiar territory. You sensed that change was on the horizon. It’s often said that to know where you’re headed, you must first know where you’re coming from. So with that in mind, let’s go back to the beginning.
When the Maceo Plex moniker arrived on the scene, electronic music was in a different place to where it is today. The Jamie Jones & Lee Foss led Hot Creations along with Damian Lazarus’ Crosstown Rebels were soaring in popularity as house music emerged from the minimal era. The low-slung groove of producers like Miguel Campbell dominated the airways. As electronic music fed off the aftershock of the EDM explosion, this fresh style of house found favour with the masses. Slower and as at home in the bedroom as it was on the dancefloor. Classic Plex tracks ‘Stay High Baby’, ‘Under the Sheets’ and his remix of ‘Highbeams’ typify the sound of this era.
The stars had aligned. But Estornel cut an awkward figure in light of his newfound popularity. He took success reluctantly. It hung over him like a poisoned chalice. Indeed, he publicly questioned his own artistic integrity. So what do you do when fate deals you such a card? You become a master of your own destiny.
Fast-forward to today, and the sexually-charged, sultry vocals with which he made his name are gone. They’ve slowly been replaced by more solemn, melancholic lyrics. Words that are less superficial; more personal. No longer self-assured; but instead vulnerable. Words that probe deeper into human relationships. And ask questions of our existence. The beats, too, have become harder. More linished. This is what Eric Estornel is alluding to when he talks about the kind of music that he wants to be making. Music with substance which dares to tread off the beaten track.
On paper, the eponymously-titled ‘Eternal 808’ should be our favourite track. But, actually, it gets lost amid the stronger offerings on the LP. ‘Solar Wind’ is instantly identified as being the track that Maceo opened his Ellum Boiler Room Showcase with (and a track we’d been trying to ID since we first heard it). Having already invested in this track, it’s a personal highlight.
We don’t know what a Tesseract is. But if you told us it was a mythical beast from a JRR Tolkien novel, then we’d believe you. Thusly, the track growls with menacing drive. ‘Wash Away My Tears’ is a vocoder-heavy, reflective piece of electronica which drips with Maceo’s signature, while ‘Indigo’ is a slab of indie-tronica complete with gruff vocals courtesy of British singer/songwriter Jono McCleery.
But it is ‘Kepler’s Journey’ which is arguably the pinnacle of the entire album. In fact, the track is so epic in execution it feels longer than it’s 05:39. This cinematic piece of electronic music could quite easily soundtrack star-gazing and exploration of the deepest corners of our galaxy.
Whilst the musical direction has irrefutably changed, what is recognisable is nods to his previous work. Some subtle – and some not-so-subtle – references which rear their heads throughout. Again, we see the evolution. The gradual development. A process by which the current state has developed from an earlier state.
The horns that come in the final third of ‘Swan Dive’ are reminiscent of those used to such devastating effect in his rework of GusGus’ ‘Crossfade’. ‘Lucid Dreamer’ contains elements which first reared their head in ‘Conjure Balearia’s breakdown. And the intro to ‘Polygon Pulse’ echos that of his ‘Heads Above’ remix – a repeater which reverberates throughout all time and space.
A skit using a child’s voice – similar to the one found midway through ‘Conjure Floyd’ – proceeds ‘The Separation’. It creates a sense of disorientation. For the indecipherable ambient noises, it could be the chaotic hubbub of a teary goodbye at the school gates. The album – ‘Solar’ – is named after his son, afterall. Coupled with the repetitive and mournful lyrics “Come back, come back, come back, come back to me” we start to crowbar a few pieces of the jigsaw together.
Maceo also flaunts his eclecticism across this body of work. The album’s opener ‘Sparks of Life’ erupts into frenzied breakbeat after a stalling start. The previously mentioned ‘Kepler’s Journey’ also dabbles into breakbeat territory before morphing into full-blown sci-fi techno. And this should come as no surprise.
Much like a constellation, he has come to rest in his original position. Making obscure, less formulaic, more experimental music. Making the music he wants to be making. From sleazy rider. To lone romantic. The transformation is complete.
On Saturday 7th October Maceo Plex headlines Printworks Issue 002 Opening alongside Rødhåd, Daniel Avery, Mind Against, Vril (Live), Monoloc, Fort Romeau, Charlotte de Witte and more.
Last remaining tickets available here: