A standout from the Denver music scene in every sense, Maddy O’Neal is among the brave and the few vanguardists in the EDM world, and not just because she’s a female producer, but because of the way she tends to subvert a lot of the expectations that some people have of the genre, she does this by taking the creative freedom and huge range of influences that electronic music can work with and running with it wildly amok both in the studio and in her live presentation.
One Of Maddy’s trademarks is the incorporation of live instrumentalization into her sets, breaking out into improvisational pieces with her keyboards or drum pads, blowing the minds of a lot of people who may mistakenly believe DJing is confined to turning knobs and clicking play buttons.
Her newest single is one that really sparked our interest. It features the extremely talented trumpet player, producer, and ethnomusicologist Will Magid, better known as “Balkan Bump”. “Follow Me” is a track that we think will no doubt draw a lot of new folks to Maddy’s camp, especially those who normally ignore or even sneer at EDM.
Though the song speaks for itself, we had the wonderful opportunity to discuss it and a lot of other aspects of Maddy’s work directly with her. Check it out:
“Follow Me” features trumpeter Balkan Bump, whose horn section really brings some amazing texture to the track that I think even folks who don’t often listen to EDM at all can appreciate. What brought you to work with B.B in the first place?
Thank you! That has literally been the coolest part about this niche I’ve found myself in because of the instrumentation and organic elements I sprinkle into my productions, I feel like I have been able to sway some non-EDM fans as well and expand some EDM lover’s minds about the diversity of what electronic dance music sounds like. There is such a broad spectrum of sound in this underground scene, and I really try to stretch the limits of that. Balkan Bump was one of these people I had heard of working with a lot of the European dance producers I admired like CloZee, The Geek x Vrv, Fakear etc. I immediately heard this beautiful balance between organic worldly instrumentation (horns specifically just cut through bass so epicly) and choice analog electronic elements. I knew we had to see what our brains could do together.
I think Electronic Music is more about the “vibe” one gets from each track or set than any concrete idea of the author, but that also depends on each artist. How’s that for you? Do you let the music flow as it will when you’re creating or do you have specific ideas and emotions in mind that you want to share with the audience when you make your music?
100%. Honestly, I’ve had this conversation with some producer friends lately and finally like was like “OMG, ok, so it’s not just me”….but when I make my best work it almost feels like I blacked out, and at the end of the session I have no idea how to replicate what I just did, lol. My favorite songs I’ve ever made in this sweet intermediary spot of my mind where I’m just following a vibe with no name, and it kinda works itself out in this meditative safe space where there are expectations or end goal in mind. It doesn’t always work out this way, though. I like to have a palette of sounds /samples /ideas ready to go to help jumpstart the creativity a lot of times too, but my subconscious is really what is driving the ship. All of these pieces of other music and art I’ve stored for later expression.
This new song is kind of preparing the ground for your upcoming album. Tell us a little bit about it and what it means for you
A lot of this album was really about experimentation and breaking these boundaries I had set for myself. I wanted to challenge myself by writing in different tempos out of my comfort zone and switching up the roles of what elements are the go-to in certain styles of music. This song was kind of this crazy genre melting pot…it’s this halftime trap-y banger that is a haunting hip-hop beat at its core with this grimey bass undertone but then also there’s this beautiful worldly Balkan trumpet melody and this catchy reggaeton-inspired vocal hook to tie it all together. I thought it was so special that I was able to pull from all these different cultures and ideas to create something super unique. It’s a head nod vibe, but also has all the elements of sound that catch my ear in a festival setting.
This being your second album, how would you define where you’re at right now with your career and craft?
Oh, man. Listening back to my first album compared to now is always such a trip. I think the coolest part of where I’m at now with my craft is I’m at this place where I fully trust myself and who I am as an artist. I am not trying to be anything other than who I am, and that is an incredible feeling. I had to reverse years of creative trauma I had from a previous musical partner, and had years of learning and experimenting and evolving and stumbling into the realm I am in now. It’s really beautiful to be confident in yourself at any stage of the process because everything you do is an important step in your growth. And, I say that because it feels like this new beginning that I have found this comfort in truly enjoying the endless journey that creating is. I’ve been in the industry long enough to see trends come and go, and technology bust opens more possibilities in sound design and workflow I never thought were possible. It’s amazing to be part of the evolution of all of this, in whatever small way I am. The best thing I can do to play my part is to be unapologetically me in whatever I release to the world, and this album specifically feels true to that vibe.
What makes you gravitate to that funky Future Bass sound you so often incorporate into your mixes?
One thing that most music I enjoy listening to has in common is this element of nostalgia and history to it. The only box I have to check when I make a record is “Does this make you feel something?” I was drawn to funk and soul because it was rich in culture and history and embodied this soulful element that was undeniably passionate. I try to keep that tone in my productions but in my own bass-fused sector. There’s something about feeling all of those things at the same time an 808 sub hits you right in the chest…it just hits the spot. I want to make people feel the way I felt when I heard songs that crossed all boundaries of what “electronic music” was, too.
I’ve read that on average, you’ve been doing over 90 shows a year for the last 5 years, It seems like a pretty insane rhythm to me! How do you manage?
It’s definitely been a lot at times. Right before the pandemic happened, I was approaching this major burnout period from touring. For years I didn’t really know how to balance my personal life with my career or at recharging myself when I needed it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE touring… Playing shows and getting to meet people from all over the world and sharing these experiences with some seriously rad humans feels like I am truly living my life to the fullest. Having a year break from being on the road (as terrifying as 2020 was) was also a blessing in disguise for me, though. I realized that if I was going to be on the road as much as I was, I needed to do it differently or it wasn’t sustainable. I learned to say “No” to shows that didn’t make sense without guilt, I built in time to adventure/see friends rather than just be in and out of hotel and venue, and taking care of physical and mental health was huge in how I feel now. Yoga, a healthy diet, and taking breaks to re-inspire myself (or take time off to work on new music) have been my saving graces.
With such an extensive live show experience, there must be a place or two that hold a special place in your heart and that you’re always eager to return to, right?
Red Rocks is the holy grail of concert venues forever. It is the most magical venue I’ve ever had the honor of playing, and I can’t wait to be back every time… Electric Forest has got to be the coolest, most curated festival I have ever played also. That is definitely on my list of fits to get back to.
You don’t constrain yourself to Turntables and soundboards as many other artists do. What have you seen of people’s reactions when you break out the drum pads or keyboards in the middle of a set?
It’s definitely been interesting in this culture of DJs and CDJS being the standard in clubs. I’d like to think I’m bringing a unique element to my shows by having the ability to break off and improvise/ jam along with my own creations with my midi controllers/drum pads. It’s definitely a lot more interactive and fun for me when I’m doing sets of all original music, so I think that joy translates on stage as a performance element as well. It definitely helps to identify that I am playing my own creations as opposed to just DJing if someone sees me for the first time.
What was the first instrument you picked up and how long did it take you to grow your skill with it to the point where you were comfortable playing for other people?
I played piano and cello briefly when I was younger, but the first instrument I was really drawn to when I first started dabbling in making electronic music was a drum pad. I am naturally a rhythmic person, and I loved taking any sound and chopping it up into a whole new groove. I started out sampling vinyl in the very beginning, and cutting and chopping samples taught me so much about how music was arranged/created and what the possibilities were.
On that same note, is there any other instrument you wish to master so that you can incorporate it into your repertoire?
I’ve ALWAYS dreamt of being a singer. Although I have sung on a few of my own songs early on in my career, I haven’t quite returned to it like I would like to. My own voice is definitely number one on the list to dive deeper into in the future. It feels like the most personal one.
What’s the EDM scene in Denver like? any idiosyncrasies of that particular audience that you haven’t much seen elsewhere?
The scene is Denver is unlike anywhere else I have seen. It is such an incredible community that works together and really feeds off of this culture that we are creating together. It is growing by the day and having been here for 14 years, I know why so many artists and fan-goers alike are chasing to make this place their home. So much collaborative, communal effort goes into making this city what it is, and I think that’s the most special part about it. It’s unlike other places where it feels like everyone is competing for their spot at the table. I also think a big part of what makes Denver so special is that unlike other cities like New Orleans or Detroit, for example, the music scene here was a bit more of a blank slate. It didn’t have the historical roots that some cities grow from, so it was almost like people felt even more responsible for creating the scene that was grown here.
When it comes to your personal sound, who would you cite amongst your biggest influences and inspirations?
Some of my earliest intros to electronic music were Animal Collective, LCD Soundsystem, Jamie xx, DJ Shadow, RJD2 etc. Those were really the artist that cracked me wide open in terms of what was possible in electronic music. My brother was three years older than me and showed me what was cool at the time, and he was way into indie rock and Americana groups. It wasn’t until I moved to Boulder in 2008 when I fully immersed myself in the EDM world where people like Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, GRiZ, STS9 etc. were all really coming up right before my eyes that I had this second wave of influence before I really started my journey as a producer. Those acts all had this common denominator of funk and soul ties that really just hit home for me.
Let’s talk a little bit about Maddy O’Neal away from the stage and the DJ booth. How do you decompress after a live show? what do you get up to outside of music?
I am a super active person outside of touring and studio time. Moving my body is the only way I stay sane and recharged. I try to do yoga first thing in the morning every day, so I can set a tone for the rest of my day’s work. I snowboard, hike and paddleboard as often as I can get into the mountains as well. I’ve got a big ol’ Belgian Shepherd that keeps me active and adventurous outside the house as well. Nature is the ultimate decompression, sometimes ya just need silence and a fresh view.
Maddy is currently right in the middle of touring, here’s the full schedule so you can consider showing up:
7/14/22: Crybaby – Oakland, CA
7/15/22: Walter Studios – Phoenix, AZ
7/28/22: Lollapalooza – Chicago, IL
8/18/22-8/20/22: Secret Dreams 2022 – Thornville, OH
9/9/22: Same Same But Different Festival 2022 – Perris, CA
9/10/22-9/11/22: High Ground Music Festival 2022 – Colorado Springs, CO
9/23/22-9/25/22: Lost Lands Music Festival 2022 – Thornville, OH
9/30/22: The Intersection – Grand Rapids, MI
10/1/22: Park West – Chicago, IL
10/14/22: The Elm – Bozeman, MT
10/15/22: Wilma Theatre – Missoula, MT
10/28/22 – 10/29/22: Freaky Deaky – Baytown, TX
10/29/22 – 10/30/22: Hulaween – Live Oak, FL
Story: Samuel Aponte Photos: Courtesy of Stephanie Parsley
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