This week we caught up with Mikkas Skulstad, aka Djuma Soundsystem, to discuss his extensive DJing and production career. The Norwegian born, Copenhagen-based selector has a long illustrious discography and a highly impressive list of venues which he has performed over the years. His new single, Disambigua, is out now on Chapter 24 and includes remixes from Jonathan Kaspar, Aaron and KatrinKa.
Over the years he's steadily released music and mix CD compilations on labels like Neurotraxx, Rebirth, This is, Eskimo, IO, Toolroom, Elite, Audiomatique, Get Physical, Soundz, Fukai, Noir, to name just a few. He's also remixed, or been remixed, by artists like Tiger Stripes, Noir, Moby, Trentemøller, Uner, Maya Jane Cole, Umek, Martin Landsky and many others.
How's it going Mikkas, what have you been up to?
I've just finished my big world tour in July and took time for a vacation and played a few domestic gigs. Now I’m planning a new world tour, I've just been at the travel agent now sorting the details. I think it will probably start in November and last for six months or so.
The only problem is that to make music I need to stay at home. I find it hard to make music when I'm on the road.
So starting at the beginning, where did the name Djuma soundsystem come from?
Well the original concept was to try and make Arabic music that was more dancefloor music orientated. This was end of the 90s when me and my partner Lars started and there was so much chilled out music with Arabic influence but no dancefloor music. Djuma is Arabic for Friday so that's where it came from. It also means Lion in Zulu. We later slowly drifted away from that concept regarding Arabic music but we kept the name.
Tell me about the Norwegian electronic music scene
Well I’m originally from Norway, but now i'm based on Copenhagen. Talking about Norway, I think it’s pretty healthy at the moment. I've got a lot of peers that I respect a lot here. It’s not one particular sound but I’m more into the more organic house and techno and there’s quite a few people who do that well. When I travel the world, the warmer and nicer the climate the colder the music is. When I play Norway I can play down and more deep and groovy and they are more into that.
Who do you consider your peers in Denmark then?
There’s my good friend Pete Oak, Denis Horvat and Nandu, whom I used to share studio with. There's also quite a lot of lesser known but very talented people there, so I also try to do collaborations with people just as long as they are talented and/or creative, hopefully also to give them a well deserved break. Lately I've been working with Westerby, Baime, Emok and Bongo & Pusk – all mates from Copenhagen. Some of them got on Get Physical, and some even hit the top 20 on Beatport's deep house chart, which they were very thrilled about.
When/where did you start getting into electronic music?
I started as a DJ when I was 15 – so I’m 45 now - the production came quite a bit later. I definitely come from the DJ side of things. Initially I started making my own edits to be able to play more out as a DJ. But then after a while I found DJing has a limited potential creatively, so I got into production which is a much bigger challenge creatively. I still love to DJ and if I have an idea for a sound I don't feel truly exist, I like to try to chase it. Like for some years now I've been trying to fuse African influenes with more European electronic sounds as a kind of pet project, both in dj sets as well as in my productions. All of a sudden it seems to be a bit in fashion right now, which is both great - as there’s a lot of cool sounding music that I would love to play, but also I'm a tad dissapointed as it was my little personal thing, and it make the hunt for it almost a bit too easy. The essence of house music is like fashion and if there’s a trend coming it also always blows over quite quickly. For instance, I've been asked by Get Physical to make the next Body Language compilation which will have that sound, and it worries me that I kinda get this race a against the clock thing going on. But the beauty of African music, is that there's not just one perticular sound or rythme, so there's really a lot to get inspired from. For the most part I'm happy that the electronic scene seems to be ready for those inspirations now.
When did you decide you wanted to produce?
About 15 years after I started Djing I guess.
In terms of production who are the people you most look up to?
In the 90s I was not that into house music, it was breakbeats all the way. If I continued that I would have probably ended up as a dubstep producer or something, but I found a partner who got me into crate digging, looking for original breakbeats like jazz and funk, and then we went towards nu jazz kind of things. That was my way into production, and when that started to get a little boring after a while, my eyes started opening up more to deep house.
Have you got any favourite memories in terms of DJ sets or events from over the years?
Well, it’s always memorable to play for a big audiene, and it always looks best on pictures, but it might not necessarily be the best gigs. It's more when I have the audiences full attention, and I can really toy around with them, which can't really happen the same way at a big venue. After doing this seven month long world tour, I ended up in Kiev for my last gig. I hadn't slept for two days and were quite tired, but the enrgy was just great, and they wanted me to play for just a little more and and a little more. In the end I ended up playing for 8 hours in stead of two, and then had to be dragged out of there to go straight to the airport. A great final. My biggest gig ever has to be in Brazil some years back, where I played for something close to a million people. It was new years eve in Rio and so everyone was on the beach and I got to play down from 11 till midnight.
What does your production setup look like currently and has that changed significantly since you first started?
Well I’m sitting in it right now – it’s mainly just a treated room with a midi keyboard. I have a couple of synths but its not the main thing in the studio. I think it’s a lot of software can do amazing stuff today, so I try to keep it ”in the box”, so also can work a little on the road. I still make music on Acid, it's very old, but its more the external plug ins which I use a lot that has most importance for me. I try not to be to geeky about things like hardware, and focus on getting my ideas down.
Do you have a favourite piece of kit?
I use Equilibrium on every single sound, it’s just a great EQ that I use. The Valhalla reverbs I use a lot as well. And I love the native instruments stuff.
So what's coming from you this year/early next year in terms of music releases?
That really depends. I will try to finish as much as I can before the next tour and hopefully I can make some music on the road. I just finished a track in New Zealand which I'm sending around to labels now. It sounds a bit shamanic, with an Irish vocal, something between techno and and something organic. I need to focus a bit on this Body Language compilation as well, so I'll make some exclusive tracks and remixes for that.
What about playing out – do you have a busy schedule in terms of DJing?
I'll play some gigs in Copenhagen and also Malmo which is just across the bridge. I will also do a few gigs around Europe as well. But for me, its better to have as much time as I can get at home in the studio before going away. I love travelling, but even the exciting places starts to look very similar in Europe. So I prefer to go outside of Europe to see and live differently.
Do you have any tracks of yours that are your faovurites?
No. When I listen to other DJs and they play their old favourites, I think I should do the same, but there’s so many cool new things. I guess I don’t have the patience, as theres so much new stuff that I want to play and I forget to play old stuff. I’m not very nostalgic.
So your tunes have been remixed many times over the years by some very high profile artists. Do you enjoy having your music reconstructed by other people?
Yeah I do a lot, but today I sometimes get a little disappointed when it doesn’t sound like a remix of the original. I guess I’m kind of old school in that way. I think it should sound like the original material, just with a new personal take. If you can't tell that it’s a remix, why not just make a new track instead?
I, like many other people, remember Trentemoller’s remix of Les Djinns very well – is there any remix for you particularly enjoy?
Trentemoller did a very good job on Les Djinns. Coyu from Suara made a good one too, Oliver Schories and Ost & Kjex as well. I've got a new single coming out on Chapter 24 these days and I'm very happy with the remix pack. Quite often the label just choose who will remix, but this time we were allowed to have a say in it and we hand picked some remixes together. One of my favourite producers at the moment, Jonathan Kaspar, made an amazing one and Aaron's remix was on the money as well. Even the third remix from a newcomer called KatrinKa positively surprised me a lot.
So in terms of new artists – are there any up and coming people that you have been enjoying?
There’s sooo many, but in general I would say this is a very good year. It’s like if I went to the top 100 deep house tracks in the charts a few years ago there wasn’t much I would play, but now this year there's a lot of really really inspiring music for me. It’s almost like a lot of the big room and EDM stuff disappeared a bit, and I certainly don’t miss it. It feels like it gave space to even quite hard and cold techno which seems to thrive now, or on the other hand the very deep organic house. I feel that these are really interesting and inspiring times as a DJ right now.