Mike Servito on the current popularity of EDM and the fading line between house and techno
Mike Servito is a New York-based DJ and resident of the monthly Brooklyn techno club night, the Bunker. He came of age in Detroit during the 1990s, and you can hear it in his sound, which pays a substantial debt to many of the legendary mixmasters of that era. Equally inspired by techno heroes Derrick May and Richie Hawtin as he is by house icons Derrick Carter and Ken Collier, Servito has never strayed from his roots.
We caught up with Servito, who continues to craft spontaneous and creatively programmed DJ sets strictly from vinyl, to get his take on the current popularity of electronic music, the ever-fading line between house and techno and what Denver can expect when he performs this Saturday at Fusion Factory.
Westword: What do you think about how DJ culture has evolved since you got your start back in the 1990s?
Mike Servito: The evolution and popularity of the DJ is crazy to me. The technology has really pushed it to a whole other level, but it's had little to no effect on me. I play vinyl. I always have and always will. Within its limitations, I find a certain comfort in the challenge of it all. Something about the act of digging through my records and programming on the spot is still exciting for me. Record shopping is still exciting --frustrating at times, but exciting! I can't change that format. It's what works for me. I can't speak for others. CDJs and Traktor and Ableton Live are fantastic, and maybe one day I will embrace all those outlets. But for now, I am content playing my records. It's the way I've been conditioned.
Who were some of your influences?
My influences were practically every DJ I ever saw on any given weekend in Detroit, throughout the entire '90s, everyone from Richie Hawtin and Derrick May to Theo Parrish and Claude Young Jr. I was lucky enough to experience the house sounds of Ken Collier and the techno elements of Jeff Mills in my late teens.
I was exposed to the entire spectrum early on. Mike Huckaby and Derrick Carter are my direct influences. Those are the two that really stand out for me because both were so versatile in their choices and really made anything work for them. In Detroit, we really learned to absorb it all. Our ears were fine tuned by default.
How would you describe the style of music you play today?
I am a 4/4 house and techno kind of guy. I dabble in both. My sound is definitely inspired by '80s and '90s Detroit, Chicago and New York. I feel pretty well rounded and can do both. It also depends on the gig and who I am playing with. I have an obsession with acid house. It's what got me interested in dance music.
I don't feel the need to have any kind of division between house and techno. I think both genres can work well together if you want it to. Whatever works for you. There are no rules in my opinion. No one ever said do it this way, or do it that way. It was always a natural progression. I think it's important to play what you respond and react to.
What are some of the craziest places you've played over the years?
For being this sort of underground, low profile person, I have been lucky enough to travel and play interesting places over the years: Berlin, Vienna, Paris, parts of the UK, parts of Italy. I don't know about crazy, but definitely exciting. I think my most recent trip to Italy with Magda was pretty intense and crazy. I'm hoping to mark off a few more spots on the map still. I think I am slowly evolving at slightly more than turtle's pace.
Any favorite gigs recently?
My gig last month with Prosumer and Murat Tepeli was definitely my favorite for the year so far. We played together in San Francisco and then Brooklyn the next day. Having the opportunity to play alongside them for Honey Soundsystem in SF and the Bunker in New York is the absolute best for me. Musically, they can do no wrong. They have a greater appreciation and understanding for the kind of music we like to play and they are such inspiring and fun loving gentlemen! They are total favorites!
How was the Untitled reunion in Detroit?
The Untitled reunion was a special time for all of us. We just kind of dove in and played together all night, on rotation to an excited, receptive crowd. We have all grown and moved in new directions, but the core of what the night was about is still intact some ten years later. Untitled was kind of like this blueprint for new Detroit nightlife. It had its moments of ups and downs over the years, but we always remained true to what we were doing and how we wanted to sound.
The music was always there. I was very fortunate to get thrown in the mix with such a talented bunch. Matthew Dear, Derek Plaslaiko, Tadd Mullinix & Ryan Elliott. We didn't miss a beat. I owe everything to that night and to Sam Valenti & Jon Ozias. It was a reboot for me and a way to express myself musically every weekend. I would not be in the position I am in without Untitled.
I interviewed Derek Plaslaiko when he was here for Communikey in April. Do you stay in touch with him?
We stay in touch, but not as often as either of us would like I'm sure! I get random texts at like 5 a.m. from time to time; usually a music reference, or lyrics to boggle my mind or trigger a memory. We do get a phone conversation in here and there and there are social media moments that kill me!
But the thing about us is that things never really change. We are consistent when it comes to our friendship. We always end up on the same page, somewhere. We came up in the same era. I have a huge respect and love for him. Plaslaiko is like no other, as you know! He is cut from a separate cloth. He is a mentor and a best friend and someone I hold in insanely high regards.
What do you miss most about Detroit?
I miss the energy and the era of the recent past. There was an excitement back in those days. The record shopping and partying and hanging out; it was all quite unparalleled. I miss the people the most. I miss the simplicity of it all. Detroit will always be my first love. I was born in Detroit. Both my parents worked downtown.
I was always intrigued as a kid, taking any chance to get into the city. Everything from going with my parents to Eastern Market to a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to seeing Prince and the Revolution at Cobo Center to exploring nightlife in the '90s. I was moved and riveted by it all!
What are your favorite aspects of New York?
I love the freedom and the insanity of it all. It's a constant hustle. Its hectic and it's complicated and there is a lot of b.s. to deal with, but it's the only place I ever wanted to be. I definitely missed out on an era that seemed more vibrant and alive, but I also feel connected to a certain resurgence and creative energy that's culminating again, musically. It is a different New York, but there's still something magical about it all.
Where are you headed after Denver?
After Denver, I hit up the motherland, Detroit, for the Movement festival, of course! I have been every year since its inception. It really is something not to be missed. I play a party called No Way Back that is a collaborative effort between Interdimensional Transmissions and the Bunker. A real deal, Detroit style party.
What can Denver expect from you on Saturday?
Denver can expect a quintessential Servito set filled with great tracks, and unconvential, thoughtful programming, mixed with a whole lotta love. I am looking to jack the house and inspire a dancefloor. I have my own expectations to deliver and that is my main priority! I have only heard wonderful things about Denver. I am excited to get out of New York, see some old friends, make some new ones and move a willing Denver crowd Saturday night!
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