Mekotam is the heavy-hitting project of Juan Espinosa, fusing waves of Dubstep, Neurobass and Glitchhop. His kick-ass "Break it Down" EP came out earlier this year and a new album for his Cellmod project is coming soon too. A self-employed graphic designer by day and a high-octane beat-slinger by night, Juan has a relentless work ethic. This interview touches on what drives Juan and makes him tick beyond his musical identity.
You’re known for your other project Cellmod in industrial music circles, but when I’ve mentioned other industrial acts to you conversationally you’ve not been super familiar with them. For example I remember mentioning Combichrist recently, who are arguably the biggest act in the modern industrial-club scene, and you had to look them up to know who I was talking about! How did you come to make music that can be identified by some as industrial and do you have a connection to the industrial scene?
The Cellmod project was born from opportunity. Prior to Cellmod I was working on a few different projects, one of them being Mekotam. Through chance I met Alex Matheu from Negative Format who, after hearing a few of my songs, asked if I would be interested in putting together a trance album for a possible release under his label Sector 9 Studios. I created what is now known as my first Cellmod album, Option One. It just so happens that Sector 9 Studios is a label that has recognition within the EBM/Industrial scene. After the release of Option One Cellmod seemed to have found a place in the genre.
As for my connection to the industrial scene, I would have to say I’m as connected to this scene/genre as I am any other scene. I’ll admit, I’ve always been terrible at keeping up with music and genres. I’m drawn to music that moves me. If a song makes an impression on me I’ll follow through and search a bit on it, but generally I appreciate my encounters with music as they come. With the Industrial scene specifically, I know about it and I pay attention to some band. I continue to educate myself with the history and momentous bands involved.
With Mekotam, you’ve been recognised as an EDM and dubstep act. Do you feel more of a connection to this scene? What (and who) are your musical influences?
Yes, but only by default I suppose. During the early 2000’s I spent a lot of time listening to all kinds of electronic music: IDM, Trance, Breaks and Drum and Bass to name a few. Miami (FL,USA) had a very active electronic scene at this time and these were some of the common genres found within it. A lot of the events I would attend were generally a mix of Drum and Bass, IDM and Electro. As time passed it seemed these genres and sub-genres evolved and can now be loosely found under the EDM umbrella today. So while the EDM umbrella is extremely vast in the genres and styles it houses, there are definitely some very specific sounds within in it that I pull influence from. In regards to my musical Influences, there are a few staple bands that I have to say have been the biggest influences for me regarding the Mekotam sound. Most notably would have to be Prodigy and Noisia. The energy and sounds these two groups have produced over the years have been mind blowing to me. They have always stood as a sonic goal I try to reach every time I work on something new. In regards to the latest influences or at the very least the sounds I’ve been pulling influence from would be various tunes from the Trap and Bass genres. Most notably Joe Ford, Oskilator, Snails and a few others. In short, anything with great sound design, solid writing and energy usually catches my attention.
We’ve gotta talk about that remix you did for Katy Perry. How many hits do you calculate that’s had by now, between all the re-posts and re-uploads on various accounts on Soundcloud and YouTube? Do you see yourself doing more bootleg remixes of more commercial artists?
Ha, that remix and everything it has done has been a blast. I find myself shaking my head with a grin on my face every time I see it out there. I originally created the remix as a challenge for myself. Like most, I browse YouTube for music. Every once and a while I’ll come across a “Dubstep Remix” of a pop song and most of the time (almost all of the time) I find myself disappointed with the results but utterly blown away by the views and likes the video would generate. I was convinced the only reason these stats were being reached was simply because of the title had “Dubstep Remix” in it. This seemed too obvious and too easy seeing as at the time the Dubstep trend was really picking up. Either way, I decided to put it to the test. I went over to the Billboard charts and picked out a song that was charting. At the time Katy Perry had just released her album “Prism” which ended up having a few radio hit singles on it. Dark Horse was the next single working its way in the charts. I decided it had enough elements for me to work with. I went ahead, created the remix and posted it up on YouTube and Soundcloud with all the relevant tags I could think of. Coincidentally, the day I put it up I read an article that announced the filming of Dark Horse’s music video which meant it was definitely working it’s way as a top single. After a couple weeks the numbers just kept growing and growing. To this day a lot of my daily listens on Soundcloud and new followers are coming from this remix. The best part of this was seeing how the remix found it’s way around into other people’s accounts as re-posts and others claiming it as their own.
As for more pop remixes,I don’t have any concrete plans on continuing but If I hear something I think I can inject some Mekotam into, I may go for it.
Besides music, you’re also into the sport of Jiu Jitsu, not to mention the e-sport of Counterstrike: Global Offensive, which is a very precise and unforgiving online game that you’re an absolute monster at. Do you find any similarities between the sheer discipline required to excel in these areas and music production? Is there any other way these sports align with music for you?
Yes, absolutely! Like anything, the more you do it the better you get at it. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a self defense based martial art that grants you the tools to defend yourself from a bigger and stronger opponent. As you can imagine, starting off in BJJ you are put in a lot of uncomfortable positions where you are forced to find comfort through patience and knowledge. During this process you learn to recognize the problem and how to attack with the solution. When successful you get to celebrate the fruits of your labor. One of the things I learned with BJJ was not only finding comfort in discomfort but the lesson of learning. The ability to see practice making “perfect” and what that practice specifically did to help. Prior to this, I always felt I would just notice the level I was at of whatever I was doing versus understanding why. Being able to see and measure your own progress allows you to avoid slumps and makes it easier to make the adjustments needed to improve in whatever avenues needed. In turn, this allowed me to focus and work on the weak points in whatever I do. This has helped with my time spent playing Counter Strike as well as my music ventures. With music specifically, I was able to recognize when I was in a comfort zone and potentially being complacent. I found that complacency in music tends to dry out enthusiasm and excitement from the process, so this has helped immensely.
You have yet another project called Dune. Where does this project fit into your musical identity and are you still actively writing for it?
Dune, like Mekotam, was one of the first monikers I ever created music under. It wasn’t until 2014 that I released my first official album Seconds. The Dune project has always been a very personal project where it simply brought me great satisfaction to create the music within the set parameters. While I don’t work on the project often, I generally wait till I have a musical itch for it and just throw paint at the canvas and see what comes of it. As of right now I don’t have any set plans for the project but I’d be interested in taking the project towards score related work in the realm of film and video games.
How’s life in Florida? Is living there important to you and does it weigh in on your musical inspiration?
Definitely. As I mentioned previously, I grew up in Miami, FL where there was all kinds of music available all the time. It was easy to go out and catch a Rock show before you went out to the Hip Hop/Rave event where you’d see “Glowstickers” and Bboys dancing to everything from Hip Hop to Drum and Bass. There was never a shortage of new sounds and always a healthy scene for each genre available to everyone. Not to mention it’s also the birthplace of Ultra Music Festival which has grown to such a titan in the Electronic Music world. I’d say between the music I heard growing up at home combined with the music available to me from friends and the city itself, my music is definitely a product of my surroundings.
Do you have any tips for juggling your projects as far as time management and creative energy go?
While this is something I’m constantly finding ways to try and improve, I have found a few things that have helped me stay in-line and manage everything. The two key components would be focus and discipline. Allocating the appropriate amount of time for each project, managing expectations and setting goals. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned lately was doing everything one at a time and keeping consistent with them. I would always try and get everything done at once and found that this would only cause chaos and eventually one or all things would derail. I’d recommend setting priorities and goals (small ones and big ones) and setting a loose path you can follow towards these goals. While on this path, be sure to allow any necessary adjustments to be made, it’s usually the unexpected opportunities that determine your next step :)
Thus far there hasn’t been a Mekotam live show, although you have played live as a synth player in other electronic bands. What would a Mekotam live show look like, assuming this is something you’d like to do!
At the moment, my focus has really been set on the production angle of music and haven’t given too much thought towards a live show. But as of this moment, a Mekotam live show would probably consist of me mashing up my tunes and remixing them live, hah! With some development, my live show would feature some form of live instrumentation and kick ass visuals.
For the techy types, what is your studio comprised of? What can’t you live without?
While not impressive by any stretch in terms of hardware and equipment I mainly run everything through my custom built PC running Ableton 9 and an assortment of instruments and plugins:
Hardware wise I use the MAudio Profire 610 Audio Interface, KRK Rokit 5 Monitors, Rode A-1 microphone, APC40 Midi Controller and a Korg MicroKey Midi Keyboard.
Software: I use a couple of varying VSTs and plugins but the main staples are Ableton 9, Native Instruments Massive, Z3ta 1 and 2 and Ableton instruments.
Additionally, when I’m in a sound sculpting mood, I’ll jump on the iPad and use Glitchbreaks, Samplr, Thumbjam and Grain Science. Some very kick ass powerful apps that generate some great sounds!
What are you working on musically now?
I’m currently working on the next Mekotam EP which is sounding great so far. I also have a few tunes in the works for what could be the next Cellmod album and possibly another Dune EP.