Jeff Mills: ‘The Wizard’ is still working his magic
Jeff Mills is a musician who has been at the forefront of techno music for over two decades now, having been involved with the genre since its infancy, and working as a DJ way before the music even existed. Highly regarded thanks to his forward-thinking approach to music, soundtracking the future in his own inimitable way, Jeff Mills is a highly regarded proponent of high-quality, innovative music and live performances. This year his record label, Axis, celebrates its 20th anniversary and to coincide with the anniversary he has compiled a huge book documenting some of the visual projects that have released in conjunction with the label.
It’s been 20 years since Axis started, what was your original intention with the label?
The initial objective was to create a label that constantly focused on bringing forth theories and subjects that related to everyone. Not just party and dance music, but also explored the listener’s inner self. In 1992, I felt that the world had enough dance-music-only Techno labels and that there was plenty of room for labels of a slightly different nature.
How has your own musical vision evolved in those 20 years?
By design, it has changed and evolved as I have as a person. Rather than measuring my progress based on the movements in the dance music community, I chose to create products that are closely held to my character and personality. In all the years of my career, there has always been a constant desire to describe what the future will be and sound like.
And how about the way in which Axis itself has evolved?
There have been ups and downs like in any business in the music industry. Over the years, I’ve realised that it’s better to not focus on trends and what people would prefer. What makes better sense is to keep a particular style and character to the music, while exploring subjects that are relevant and useful to the listener.
What would you say have been some of the key developments in your approach to music in the last 20 years?
Realising that technology only makes things easier to materialise. It isn’t responsible for the creation of a idea or concept. Only by working on one’s belief system will you be able produce those obscure and abstract ways of seeing reality and the world around us. What I truly believe is the best piece of equipment I own.
And which developments within music/technology itself have affected your musical output most?
My technique and method towards making music hasn’t changed in 20 years. I still do not use computer software to sequence. Only classic analogue synths and machines. Through the web, I can develop concepts much quicker than in 1992. Searching out archives and information necessary to build the projects.
When you started Axis, did you have any firm targets and, if so, 20 years on – which of those targets have you successfully completed?
Over the years, the targets have changed, but overall, yes. Around five to six years ago I began to see the apparent change in the type of people that follow the label’s output. I don’t consider it anything like a success, but it’s fantastic that after 20 years, the label has people who really understand its objective.
How have you been celebrating the 20th anniversary of Axis this year?
Though special parties and events. The main feature is a book of photographs documenting the projects and concepts Axis has presented over the two decades. The book is entitled Sequence, it’s 320-page book with 30 track compilation on an inserted USB card. The book will debut in October 2012.
How long did it take to put together and how does it represent Axis and yourself?
I started putting together various ideas about four years ago. We really started the task of gathering the bulk of the information about two years ago. What the book displays are all the projects that we’ve created. Most were materialised and presented, but some never saw daylight or have yet to be presented. The book was designed as a reflection of what Axis was, and has become, as the result of the patience and patronage of the listeners.
How important has Axis been to you over the years?
It’s been and looks set to be my life’s work. Around 1996, I made the commitment to spending the rest of my life to creating this style of music. Since then, it became more clear as to the type of things I need focus on or the way Axis needed to be managed in order to survive all the changes in the industry. Selling music isn’t the only objective.
Of course, your career spans more than 20 years – in the beginning, could you ever have imagined making the impact you have?
I have a strong belief that Techno is more special than any other genre of music and that with it [and with a certain focus] its possible to achieve extraordinary things. For instance, with Techno it’s possible to move tens of thousands of people within seconds. Or, it’s possible to generate feelings about the future without playing a single musical note or chord.
And could you have ever have imagined still being recognized as such a significant musician?
I think that doing or being something significant in music has a lot to do with how the producer feels about the music he or she is making. If music is being made for a reason that many people can identify with, then the chances are greater that enough people could think of that as “relevant” or “key”. I tend to think more about the intent of my actions more than how I’m measured.
What keeps you motivated after all these years?
The idea that tomorrow is always the chance to start again or discover something new. I try [though its difficult] to decrease the economics of this industry, leaving more mental space to explore and take more chances.
Away from music, how do you like to spend your time?
Normal things. Museums, movies, reading. I’m really into collecting things, so quite a lot of time is spend searching. At the moment, I’m in the process of building a larger collection of books of Science Fiction and Space Science.
To read this interview in full go to marcusbarnes.comAxis, detroit, Jeff Mills, music, Sequence, techno
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