“My next EP on Perc Trax looks at mental disorders and psychotic episodes through the lens and language of a nuclear holocaust. Two topics that are very interesting to read about when entirely removed, but that are scary when it's a reality you're faced with.”
Chatting to Skrufff in advance of this interview Denver tech type Mick Finesse says he doesn’t believe in DJ biographies, though a cursory Google search turns up a short précis on Resident Advisor. http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/mickfinesse
“Stephen Penders, aka Mick Finesse, has been djing and promoting in locations ranging from Tokyo to Boston since 1999. Now based in Denver, CO, Mick has become an integral part of the local techno community,” the biog explains.
“Having hosted the very popular Dissonance / Resonance afterhours, in addition to regular appearances at Beta’s Beatport Lounge and various other local clubs, Mick has been all the while tempering his own interpretation of techno.
Obsessed with themes of context and contrast, Mick Finesse attempts to peel away layers perception and prejudice in both his namesake and his music. His ultimate goal being to move your mind as much as your feet.”
Accompanying the text is a press picture of a character from a John Carpenter movie wearing a scarily life-like skull mask so what exactly does the biog mean when it says he’s ‘obsessed with themes of context and contrast’?
“In everyday life a slight change of perspective can be extremely revealing and I reflect on things like this a little more often than is probably healthy,” he explains.
“I mean you look at the world today and corporations like Monsanto, BP Oil, or McDonalds and some of the destructive practices that have been coming to light over the past decade and people are starting to become mildly outraged,” he continues, “but alongside that outrage they still drive SUVs, buy chemical disinfectants, ready to eat meals and snacks, and load up on french fries.”
“People are very vain about how they want others to perceive what they are thinking but struggle to maintain their resolve when it comes down to managing their own comfort level.”
So how much does he see himself as an artist as opposed to entertainer?
“Sometimes when I’m making music it’s just a bunch of banging around and goofing off until something works. Other times I have a specific concept or picture I'm trying to paint and I put all of the focus into that. But to answer your question I consider myself an artist more,” he explains, “But in the end I'm just a guy with a computer who is trying to express himself in a medium he's passionate about.”
Though he takes his music- and ideas, more than a little seriously, he’s considerably less self-conscious when it comes to elitism and the importance of dance music for partying.
“I've had some discussions with friends or other DJs about the recent popularity of techno in particular and some people have commented that they prefer techno or house to stay underground and 'douchebags' that don't 'get it' shouldn't be at certain venues or events and I think it's just ridiculous,” he says.
“Some people, in this city at least, toss out insults like someone isn't ‘minimal’ enough or ‘techno’ enough and that’s just fucking insanity to me,” he continues. Don't be so exclusive; when it comes to music any reason is a great reason to be involved.”
“I see some DJs say they are going to 'educate' people too often and I think it's just pathetic and unreasonably pretentious. No one needs that. Half the people at any given event are out to get laid or fucked up so just give them a good time while they aim for that,” he recommends.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): You’re from Denver whereas Ali Well’s label Perc Trax is London based, how does the relationship work?
Mick Finesse: “Ali is really and truly a great guy. I can't say enough good things about him. This guy is very passionate about his label and what he wants to do with it but is never dismissive or condescending when you send genuine music to him. He has a tight grasp on what works and for what reasons yet still encourages his artists to explore. It's very refreshing.”
Skrufff: How did you first connect up with him?
Mick Finesse: “I came home from (Miami) WMC a couple years ago and started writing They Sex Machinas (http://bit.ly/AA2S25 ) as an antidote to the very predictable and overdone tech house sound that pervaded the conference then. I sent it off to Ali and the rest is history.
Originally it was supposed to just be that track and a remix by Perc, but as I sent him more stuff I'd been working on and the concept evolved and we now have the Tunnel Vision EP. Because Ali has been a great mentor and friend I do send him music I write first thing, though some music I write is not a fit for his label and it's understood immediately so he will kindly offer some feedback and that's that.”
Skrufff: How much has the recent explosion of interest in commercial dance music trickled down to you” How much has it changed the game for you?
Mick Finesse: “I feel like it's always been there to be honest. As a teenager in the 90's we had movies like Mortal Kombat or Hackers that had entire soundtracks of dance music. Then they have used stuff like IDM and drum & bass in commercials for car insurance. Maybe I have just always surrounded my life with dance music but I never feel like no-one knew what house or techno or some of the more obscure genres were.”
Skrufff: How ambitious are you to play the likes of Electric Daisy Carnival and Vegas casinos?
Mick Finesse: “Not ambitious at all really. Those events are geared towards a specific crowd that likes progressive and electro house and I'm not a preacher, I don't want to convert anyone or prosthelytize techno or my tastes in music. If they like what I like then great, we have common ground, if not that's great also.”
Skrufff: What do you think of producers such as Kaskade and Deadmau5?
Mick Finesse: “I'm convinced guys like Kaskade and Deadmau5 or even Guetta are sincere in the passion they have for the music they make. I can't condone bashing another artist strictly because they make music I don't like or I feel is pandering to the masses. It's not easy to go into a studio and come out with ideas that resonate with many people so props to anyone that finds success doing what they love. I may poke fun at some of them for other ridiculous antics they do but when it comes to writing music I have respect for anyone that takes the time and effort to be successful at that.”
Skrufff: As a DJ, how important is it for you to perform (punch the air, strike poses? Engage with the crowd? Or not?)
Mick Finesse: “I think it looks silly most of the time; hands in the air or jumping up and down, almost like you're trying to sell people that what you just did is so amazing or uncontainable when likely all you did is phase the low end or flip the cross-fader. I think crowd interaction is definitely important but some people just take it to a level where it seems very staged and disingenuous.
I'm guilty of throwing a hand or two up at a great breakdown on rare occasions and a few drinks into my set, but I usually keep it toned down as is my personality and just bob my head and tap my foot with some clapping and shouting here and there. I’ve never really understood the God complex of DJing like you're leading the crowd, I always feel like I'm just a privileged participant in the process and we're all doing our best to vibe it out.”
Skrufff: How did you end up based in Denver? (And why have you stayed?)
Mick Finesse: “Through my family. My wife is from here and we settled in after she finished school for architecture. We have a one year old child now and Denver is a comfortable place to live and have a family so we will likely stay here.”
Skrufff: I was reading about Denver this week, about ex Sheriff Patrick Sullivan being jailed for giving meth to rent boys: sounds like a ‘Breaking Bad/ Blue Velvet’ (scary) kind of place: what impact has this story (of the sheriff) had locally?
Mick Finesse: “It goes back to my obsession of context and contrast. Everyone hides under these layers of personality in which the truth is always one slip away from exposure. I think people are just desensitized at this point, I haven't even heard this come up in conversation in any circle I'm in. We had Ted Haggard's deal a few years ago locally and now the Trayvon Martin case nationally and I feel like people just expect abuses of power like the reveal of a TV drama. It's a tabloid culture and people today actually feed on shit like this to make themselves feel better about their own bad decisions or indecision in life.”
Skrufff: And how visible/ accessible/ impossible is this dark side of Denver?
Mick Finesse: “Drugs are everywhere and I think people are just incredibly relaxed about it in clubs or at events. You see well dressed 50 year old couples doing blow (cocaine) or asking for MDMA as well as your typical rebellious looking raver smoking a joint in the corner or popping pills. I wouldn't even call it a dark side, the country has been through shit times and people are cutting loose which is a good thing. We don't have anything very sultry like drug related murders or overdoses very often here in Denver and things are relatively easy to access.”
Skrufff: How well known locally are you as international DJ Mick Finesse?
Mick Finesse: “Ali (perc) has posted up a few mixes and live DJ sets I've done which have gotten some decent attention but I don't think I'm known as international anything at this point (laughing). DJ culture is very different from what it was 10 years ago and the music is globalized so DJ sets and DJs are a dime a dozen. I think people want to see artists they follow perform more often than they just want to see a DJ play music they like. That said, as much as I love DJing and playing great music on proper systems I don't have much ambition in becoming a big international DJ and I don't try to promote myself in that fashion.”
Skrufff: I read about problems with black gangs attacking white people in Downtown Denver in 2009 (http://bit.ly/6QsdGM ), have you ever felt in danger personally in the City?
Mick Finesse: “The interesting thing about that article is that right across the street from the club they mention, Bash, is one of Denver's most popular dance music nightclubs Beta, which is affiliated with Beatport. I'd been there a little around that time and never felt like I was in a bad place or was in danger, but it's possible I was just oblivious. There's a few other clubs in the city that people have been shot at or where typical thuggery breaks out at the end of the night but it doesn't happen often enough to be a safety concern.”
Skrufff: Do you own a gun?
Mick Finesse: “I don't own a gun, no, I have a pretty strong stance against them and I don't think they are necessary. I have some friends with guns and they're pretty into it which is just bizarre to me to see people indulge in an object whose sole purpose is to kill or injure.”
Skrufff: Writing on Twitter this week you said you were ‘In a shitty upscale bar in a fancy part of town’: how did you end up there? Why?
Mick Finesse: “I have friends that are bar managers and bartenders from my days of promoting and I'll go hang out with them at other venues to mix it up. It gets a bit boring just going out to hear dance music and having the same banal conversations about this record or that DJ. So a friend and I went out to watch trophy wives and coked out brokers go through the motions while we caught up on old times.”
Skrufff: Chatting to Skrufff earlier you said you are opposed to marketing generally describing it as ‘the bane of artistic endeavor’, why?
Mick Finesse: “So many people are wrapped around Facebook likes and Twitter followers and Soundcloud listens and they hammer people 24/7 over it and it is just absurd. There is a whole industry based around the social network agenda and people pay for this thinking it's their key to success. I remember finding out about artists I liked by sitting in a record shop for 4 hours listening to everything I could get my hands on and by talking to the buyer, or even trainspotting DJs that came into town.
Skrufff: How else can people get to know you? Why do you not accept that people want to know more about you?
Mick Finesse: “We're force-fed buzz words and adjectives and everybody is trying so hard to stand out from the crowd that it really just waters everything down. Be yourself, whether people like it or not. The objective of any type of artistic endeavor is not to be famous. If that's your intent then you're probably doing it wrong.
I've come to terms with the fact that you can't market your way into people’s lives. If you do something that resonates with them then definitely engage your audience on that level but don't overdo the self PR.
Skrufff: How much do you consider you might be self sabotaging by staying ‘underground’ or perhaps being afraid of failing by refusing to put yourself forward?
Mick Finesse: “I think it honestly comes down to the fact that I just don't give a fuck. If I make music and my peers and people I admire like what I do then I am genuinely satisfied, and to have anyone else like what I do is a bonus that I'm exceedingly grateful for. I don't think of this as an anti-pop or 'underground' stance, I'm just respectful of people's sensibilities.
There are a lot of artists and indie labels today that don't follow the now defunct music industry's brand of 'shove it down your throat at every angle' marketing and are doing well for themselves. Because of the internet people can find what they want without being brainwashed into thinking "this is edgy" or "that is sexy". The audience is smarter than that and I'm not going to spend time trying to market at them and convince them to like me when I could be working on something more creatively fulfilling.
I also have a day job and a family and I'm pretty content in life. If I'm asked to come out and play at venues around the world I won't turn it down, that's obviously a very cool thing to do for a living but it just pains me to see when some people get so wrapped up in trying to achieve the superstar DJ life above all else, like this is the ultimate purpose of being involved in music and this is the only goal one should strive for.”
Skrufff: What is your day job?
Mick Finesse: “I work in sales for a startup company that provides businesses with access to private suites at sporting venues, which they use to entertain their clients. So basically I talk sports all day with CEO's and CMO's.”
Skrufff: What do you colleagues/ work peers think of your 'Mick Finesse' alter ego/ parallel life?
Mick Finesse: “The office gets a kick out of it, and thought it was cool to see my name plastered all over Beatport when my first release came out and they will ask some questions from time to time as none of them are into or have been into this kind of music. I think they have this image of what a DJ or electronic musician should look or act like and I'm just this normal guy with a family who focuses on his 9-5 just like everyone else so we'll joke about it every so often.
We have a consultant who is also a good friend of mine also that DJs so when he comes in we'll chat a bit about that and he's always asking on new stuff from me and how things are going on that end.”
Skrufff: Before the interview you also told us ‘Life is great but darkness is often painted’: what did you mean?
Mick Finesse: “When people create something meaningful it generally comes from a place of pain, and works on this level are what resonate with me most. Everyone has dark places and regrets in their life and even if you're in a great place it's hard to stop your mind from wandering back to the negative, or even reflecting on the negative events happening in the world today. It's nice to have an outlet in music to get that out of my head and onto paper.”
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff