As a race car driver-turned DJ, MAKJ has a peculiar story. We caught up before his set at The Grand in Boston and covered his past and the scene in Asia where he started out, the US EDM bubble, and music saturation.

You’ve been to Boston before.
► Yeah. I was talking to the promoter about this today. Seven or eight months ago, I was at Royale. Tonight’s club [the Grand] is new and really nice. All my buddies have played here and they’re like, “Yeah, this is the cleanest club ever.”

Where were you before this?
► Thursday I was in Connecticut and Friday I was in Columbus, Ohio. Then I had two nights off. I went back home to San Diego, worked for two days, and here I am.

And where next?
► Friday I have a show in LA, and after that I have like a week off and then I go back to Asia.

Photo: Haley Lan

Where in Asia?
► Chengdu in China, Taipei in Taiwan, and that’s it. I’ve been doing that a lot this year, like a weekend warrior, it’s pretty intense.

So Asia isn’t new to you, as you lived in China the first part of your life.
► The whole Asian culture is fascinating to me, especially the mainland Chinese people; they’re so into EDM right now. It’s how EDM was in the US in 2013-2014 when everyone was so infatuated with it and the new sound. That’s how Asia is right now. A lot of guys like myself, Hardwell, and Deorro are getting booked now in Asia. It’s crazy because there are so many markets that are untapped in China alone; I can literally tour in China my whole life and not hit every market. It’s crazy.

You were there as a teenager, right?
► I was living in Macau when I was 15-16 and then I moved to Zhuhai which is the bordering town next to Hong Kong when I was 17, then I moved back to the States when I was about 18.

And you were there as a race car driver. I have so many questions about that.
► It’s kinda a bizarre story. My stepdad got me into racing when I was a kid and he was like, “Hey, wanna go do this because it’s fun?” and it turned out to be an extreme hobby and then  the hobby turned out to be more of like “You could actually do this,” and then it turned into a competition thing and then I started local stuff, then regional stuff, then national stuff. And then it turned into “We’re doing this full time.”


A post shared by M A K J (@makj) on

Why did you end up doing that in China?
► More of the world renowned audience was there; people were coming from Australia, Russia, eastern Europe. The same series racing in Asia was around $400k USD, the same series in the States was $2 million USD so it was a drastic price difference. My childhood was really bizarre.

If you hadn’t got into music, do you think you’d still be racing?
► Nah, it’s really expensive and super dangerous. A lot of my friends still race; I saw one a few weeks ago in Long Beach. We hung out and he was like, “Man, it’s a 100% hustle day.” You have to basically borrow money from people because it’s such an expensive sport.

It’s such a particular thing. Do people ask you about this all the time?
► It sounds fun, but it comes with a lot. They ask me about why I was living there and how my whole DJ career started.

I’m not going to ask you that, but I have something kind of related. So you started your DJ career over there and you were just talking about how the EDM scene currently is over in Asia. But what was it like there when you started in the clubs? What were you playing?
► A lot of hip hop, weirdly. It was a lot of Black Eyed Peas. The beginning stages of American pop EDM, but it was just getting pushed over there because there were a lot of international DJs coming from the States and playing over there. The first person I saw was  DJ Qbert and he was playing a mixture of stuff, classic rock with new hip hop. It’s cool to see the drastic change. It’s like your first time going to a nightclub, you don’t really know what to think. It’s really loud music, people are screaming all around you, and there are really bright lights. You’re kind of dazed and confused. That’s how I was, and I started getting more familiar with the nightclub scene in Asia because there’s really no drinking age, it’s kind of like how tall you are to get into the club. That’s the first experience I had with dance music, but I really didn’t get into dance music until I came back into the States and went to college. That was when the whole US EDM trend started happening, when everybody was trying to get people to play Daft Punk, David Guetta and Avicii songs and it started to trickle down and I was like, “Wow, there’s a huge market for this, I’m gonna see if I can make this stuff.” It seemed like a lot of computer stuff going on and I was good at computer stuff.

Yeah, I remember that bubble burst.
► Everyone doesn’t know what to think anymore because so much has happened in the past five years. People are kind of on limbo right now with music in general. I’m 27 and I don’t even know what to think about what music is nowadays. It’s one of those things that you just can’t really have control over. That’s kind of how dance music was, but with dance music there’s longevity because it’s such a distinct sound and people fall in love with it and it tells stories and it’s global. Hip hop, not really. Dance music is everywhere, it just came to the States late.

What do you think about a lot of producers now having crossover between pop vocals and the dance stuff? You listen to the radio and it’s all Top 40 but dance-y.
► It’s dance because a lot of the guys who were producing for pop songs got their jobs taken from them by guys like me, which sucks because those guys have been paying their dues for 40 years and have one or two hits. Then guys like Zedd come out of nowhere and produce hits. You can go to the Apple store and then go to the coffee shop and make a beat, and that beat turns into a cult sensation. You don’t really need to go out and find all the tools to do that. It’s taking everyone’s creativity to the next level, but it’s also taking a lot of jobs. I think of it as the Amazon Prime of life. You know it’s a lot more accessible and practical and people want to do that now. And it’s saturated, very saturated  right now. There’s so much saturation when it comes down to what dance music is; everybody wants to be a producer, everybody wants a tour, and everybody wants to make money. That’s their goal, and that’s not what dance music was built on. Dance music was going to a rave and meeting people, that experience. Kids don’t get that now because they don’t grow up with that.

Given how saturated everything is, do you find it difficult to find music to play out, or are your sets mainly comprised of your own music?
► Oh no, I’m a super open format DJ now. People expect me to only play dance music, which I hate, because I started DJ’ing. I never started producing. I fell into producing when I was DJ’ing because the only way I was going to get booked to play clubs was to start making my own songs. I’m a very open format DJ and thats how I’ve always been. I feel like I’m one of the last to survive; there are like 10 of us that came up and like three of us have lasted because the majority of guys in that 10 group don’t know how to play for a room. They just go and play what they think is good and everyone leaves. Reading a room is very crucial in this industry. You’re a disc jockey. It’s one thing you’re gonna have to learn how to do.

And what are you working on next?
► It’s crazy. In 2017, I released two records. This year, I’m releasing like 12. It’s nuts because I was focusing on other people; I was writing for a lot of other people, a lot of pop stuff, a lot of hip hop stuff, and I was like, “I’m still getting booked out a lot and this year and I’ve just been writing nonstop music.” I have a lot coming out with Deorro, a new one with Steve Aoki, Deorro, and a kid named Max Styler, who is actually from my hometown. [Max] is managed by my old babysitter, it’s the smallest world ever. We have a record coming out called “Boom Shakalaka” on Ultra sometime around the end of May or early June. We debuted it at Coachella and it’s such a weird song, psyrance with a mariachi breakdown. It’s so bizarre but it’s a club banger. After that, I have a record with Deorro and Quintino, and after that I have a record with Max Styler. I’m just working with people I like to work with.

MAKJ with Max Styler, Steve Aoki, Deorro