In prior articles and during some of my event reviews, I have discussed the interesting dynamic that takes place when artists decide to perform back to back DJ sets. It requires a certain level of risk, as both artists must approach the set with a similar mindset and requires the artists to vibe with each other\’s style and progression. For Intermodal, the bond required to find success in this play style comes naturally, as not only do they have similar artistic approaches, they are brothers. Coming off of a stream of recent releases and garnering a rapidly growing fan base in a short period of time, Intermodal was invited by The Fux and Proper Productions to perform at Spybar on the debut of a new regular Thursday night event they will be hosting. I had a chance to meet up with Marty and Mike McKenna, the artists behind the name Intermodal, and catch up on their progression as artists and where their music fits into an ever evolving world of electronic music.
John C: So it has been about a year since your first release, a remix of My Body by Treasure Fingers and The Knocks. Obviously you two are brothers, but how long have you guys been collaborating as artists prior to that release?
Marty: We both used to make bass music under different monikers and were working with different friends, including Robot Dentist who produces bass music and plays all over Chicago. I made Bass music under the name Enoptix and he [Mike] was MCK. We collaborated on a couple tracks, and we realized, \”oh we work really well together,\” and we did that for a little while working on some bass tracks. Well after awhile we got tired of doing the bass music, I mean I love bass music, but only if it is the gnarliest and heaviest shit, like heavy drum and bass, and it got to the point where it was a little bit repetitive. We both started getting into electronic music, by hearing house and techno, you know what everyone used to call techno, right?
Mike: Video game music, mainly was where I got my inspiration by playing all the old racing games and that was a big inspiration to me. I was always a big fan of the \’techier\’ side.
Marty: Yeah even when he made bass, it was also like hard electro house, and tech-orientated. So we got tired of the bass music, I played Spring Awakening for the second year in a row, and then after that, we thought ‘for this winter, let’s play something new.’ So we started playing around with tracks, and we had actually thought about the name a year prior, when I saw Intermodal on the side of a truck. We started working on tracks in October of 2013, and we released the My Body remix that January, and here we are.
Mike: We had actually prepped 2 or 3 of our releases from that time.
Marty: Yeah, we had My Body done, but we had the Busta and Mike Jones done around then as well, the idea was to stack our releases so we could use them to build a fan base and help with the initial marketing and getting our name out there, and here we are. (pauses) I guess that is the short answer.
John C: My Body seemed to receive success rather quickly; especially considering it was your first release. Within a month it had over 30k, and to date has had over 130k listens. As a first release were you expecting it to do as well as it did?
Mike: Honestly, not to that degree, we do this as such a fun hobby that to see it grow out of something we made out of a third floor apartment studio was just really interesting to see.
Marty: Yeah, we were still in a bedroom studio when we made My Body. Everyone thought we were crazy when we said we were going to make house music. All of our friends were like \”What are you doing? You are going to make house music? You will have to start all over, new Facebook, new Twitter…\” and we were just like ‘forget all that we just want to do something different artistically, if we can do the social media thing and build off it, then great. We just wanted to make music, right? We weren\’t concerned with how it would do. It really helped that The Knocks put us on blast when they retweeted it and they put us on their Soundcloud. Treasure Fingers retweeted it also retweeted it and the EDM Network supported us. I guess it was just something that at that point in time everyone just wanted to hear something like that. I mean, we liked the track, I guess others do too.
John C: Let’s discuss your approach to music, beginning with your inspiration. What are the artists or ideas that inspired your concept for Intermodal?
Marty: We definitely took the bass music influence a little into it, I mean we are still bass heavy.
Mike: We value the production level of drum and bass artists like Ed Rush and Optical and Noisia that have such a clean and peculiar sound, and we wanted to bring that to and work it to something that was more up beat.
Marty: Like our spin on house music. We were born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, we have lived in Chicago, as in city proper, for the past couple of years and we knew this was the birthplace of house music so we wanted to do that and put our spin on it. I could list artists for days, or the labels we follow…even our dad plays blue’s harmonica, so we grew up listening to blues music, and we write in a lot of minor keys and give our music a bit of that darker side. We can really say we have pulled our influence from everywhere.
John C: It seems from ‘My Body,’ which had a deep and soulful vibe, you transitioned slightly towards the Booty/G-House direction. Was this a natural progression in the studio, or was it more in line with the music you expected to make as artists?
Mike: Yes, it is kind of a heavier sound, the ‘g-house feel,’ and that was natural to the way we were already making music.
Marty: It started with The Bounce.
Mike: Right, The Bounce was our breakout track. I had worked up the concept for ‘The Bounce’ in like one day, and we had a bunch of other studio sessions after that to type it up in.
Marty: Yeah, that track was already done in like May, and it just got released in October. We had handed that track out to all of our friends that were Chicago DJs, immediately they started playing it out. We had support from Amine Edge and Dance, Tommy Sunshine, I mean, immediately these people were playing the track out and we were like ‘this is cool and we like this sound, let’s mess with this for a bit.’ We still have other breakbeat tracks and UK House tracks like the My Body tracks in the works. The recent ones have been a bit more bass line orientated.
Mike: Because they fall that way naturally, we don’t really try to….
Marty: …It’s also partially from the order release of labels.
Mike: Yeah it is, like October we had 3 different releases. We didn’t plan it that way, but you are bound to what the label wants to do.
Marty: Yep, Locked in the Cut was signed in April and it didn’t come out until October. Then the Mr. Business release was signed in August.
John C: Yeah, that was originally scheduled to be released in September, right?
Marty: Yeah, and then it was delayed into October. So it was like \”yeah, we haven’t had music released in awhile, then all the sudden all of these releases.\”
John C: We briefly touched on this earlier when you mentioned your father, but if you had to choose one musician outside of electronic music that you would consider influential to you, who would that artist be and why?
Mike: For me it would be some sort of Blues musician such as Stevie Ray Vaughn or Robin Trower. They are two very good guitarists and they write a lot of their stuff in a minor key, and it’s very soulful. I play a little bit of guitar, so I would say they influenced me a lot.
Marty: I can’t pick one musician. I like the blues stuff to Hans Zimmer, you know, music scores, to like Pharrell. I love Pharrell, I love Pharrell productions, I love the tracks he produces, I love his style of beats. But then artists like J-Dilla, modern artists like Pretty Lights and Gramatik. From bass music artists to The Beatles – I saw Paul McCartney play two years ago at Wrigley Field, it was mind blowing – dude is 70 years old, played for two hours without a break, that is insane. So yeah, I can’t do it. I can’t just name one. I’m sorry, but I can\’t answer that question.
John C: Ha, no worries. In terms of your production, I know you utilize analog synthesizers in the studio, including some units by Moog and Elektron, but are you strictly hardware based for sound design or do you incorporate VSTs for a hybrid approach?
Marty: We love…well first off, (leans towards recorder) shout out to u-he software: Zebra 2 is the shit! We used to use all the Native Instruments stuff, and everybody uses Massive and everything. Then I discovered Zebra one day, and they also have another one called Diva, which is an analog emulation, but it brings your computer to it’s knees. Zebra, though, we use a lot for the more complex sounds. But basslines, that is typically coming from outside of the box.
Mike: We are huge fans of gadgetry, so just the mere fact of having an analog piece at your finger prints is absolutely astounding to me.
Marty: It switches up your workflow too. I work at my day job, I am software engineer, and I sit at a computer all day, so it is nice to be able to get off the computer and make music. Instead of staring at Ableton, I can fiddle with some knobs on a synthesizer, especially with some of the more classic pieces and companies like Moog. The Minotaur is one of my favorite analog pieces.
Mike: That was the first one we got too and it just has such a rich analog sound to it.
Marty: Yeah, that was the first one we got. We have a new track coming out soon on our homie\’s new label, and I am not going to reveal the name of the label yet, but the track is called Slow Grind and it might be in our mix, and there is a bassline in that track that was made with the Minotaur, and it just slams on a club system.
John C: Transitioning towards your live performances, you have previously incorporated a drum machine into your sets. Do you think the live-hybrid DJ set approach allows for more creative freedom as DJs?
Mike: Without question. You are always going to be bound in certain ways – well don’t get me wrong, some DJs can do magic with just a couple of turntables, but we just love the fact that having a live element in the show especially as there are two of us on stage.
Marty: Yeah, there are two of us, so it gives the other something to do and if you familiar with the tracks and vibing with each other – which we do, because obviously we are brothers and have worked together for a little while, and obviously the more we do it, the better we get. You just get a feel for it, for what to go for. Its not necessary to go real heavy with it, sometimes just subtle effects or loops, or some blips and bloops. It is definitely something we want to expand on, but we are just taking it slow right now. We love to DJ anyway; DJing is fun.
Mike: Yeah, and I feel like that is an essential part of this type of music anyway, just for the vibe itself, a DJ set is an essential piece off it.
John C: Now we touched on this a bit earlier, but as musicians that have grown up in Chicago, do you feel as if the city played a roll behind your calling towards house music?
Mike: It did. Being from the \’burbs originally, I was the kid in all my class listening to fucking Sandstorm, and Tiesto, and all these fucking old school tracks like Sleepwalker and shit and people would look at me like I was fucking retarded. They were all listening to Lincoln Park’s Hybrid Theory along with all the other mainstream pop artists that were in at that time.
Marty: Growing up in Chicago, or around Chicago, in a musical family, with a dad playing in a band, definitely had an influence on me, but I am a big nerd. The internet had a big influence on me, because I had Napster, which was this unlimited supply of music, even though it was slow as shit on our 56k dialup.
Mike C: Or Winamp! Playing MP3s and different skins and shit. I remember one of the first points where I thought ‘ok, electronic music is a real genre’ when Winamp would release those midi clips of popular rock and roll songs.
Marty: (Laughs) You could even put them on your Angelfire website!
John C: Along side all of your flashing animated images and backgrounds?
Marty: Haha, exactly. Please sign my guestbook!
John C: It seems the cliché criticism these days claims that the electronic music scene has weakened due to its pop culture adaptations. As artists that have grown up in Chicago, would you agree?
Mike: No! Never-ever-ever will I agree with that statement, No.
Marty: All it does is push this side further. If there is hot shit on the pop music side, everyone down here …I am saying here because we are standing in one of the best underground clubs … we are just going to push the sound further and weirder and people who are into that shit will eventually follow it.
Mike: The people who are in the scene, I mean we can name all of the people throwing their weekly parties and killing it, like Porn and Chicken.
Marty: There is more shit going on here now then there even was a few years ago.
Mike: And all of these people are so passionate and they love to do it so much that they themselves will never lose the novelty of this.
Marty: Like, I am not going to stop making electronic music, ever.
Mike: Someone who goes to a festival initially, and doesn’t normally do this type of thing, they can lost interest in it much faster.
Marty: I am not into the whole EDM scene, I think there is a distinct difference between EDM and then stuff like this. But if you can get someone to a festival and they check it out, and get them to ask “Ok, what is one level deeper?” Suddenly they are in our world. So I think it can be great for everyone. Haters are going to Hate and people who spend their time pushing out negative energy should find a more constructive use of their time.
John C: Tonight you are performing at Spybar, a club that has hosted some of the world’s most legendary house and techno artists. Is this your first time playing here?
Marty: Yes, it is our first time playing here. I can\’t even count the amount of times I have come here as a fan.
Mike: We are definitle going to hold true to the roots and plays some techno, tech house and some bassier shit.
Marty: We been looking forward to it since as soon as we got the word.
John C: Having just released your debut EP, Mr. Business, quickly followed by Locked In the Cut and the Tap That Remix, it seems your production releases are not slowing down. What does the future hold for Intermodal?
Marty: Without giving to much away we mentioned the slow grinding track, we have a track coming out on perfect driver music in a couple months.
Mike: We can\’t really say much about that release yet.
Marty: We have a couple remixes we are working on for some larger artists and then just signed a couple tracks to some smaller indie labels. I don\’t want to give anything away, or at least not too much, but we are going to play a lot of it, and looking for peoples feedback.
Mike: We pretty much have at least a release a month coming out for the next couple months.
Marty: Yes, a lot of music coming out soon.
John C: Excellent. To wrap up the interview, this is something I will be implementing with local artists going forward, but you two will be the first attempt at it. Since the idea behind my writing is to promote the artists within our scene, if you could yourself point our readers in the direction of a local artists that deserves some spotlight, who would that be?
Marty: Just one?
John C: You can each do one.
Marty: Man, only one artist… I am going to give my shout out to Mikul Wing from Midnight Conspiracy and Autograf fame. That dude put me on as Enoptix, he let me open for him for Midnight Conspiracy at the metro for a sold out show when we were just getting started and then he has put us on shows as Intermodal and he has given us tons of advice, he is one of the nicest guys I know, and he has a killer mustache. So Mikul Wing is who I am giving my shout out too.
Mike: I would probably give the shout out to D-Chang of Regulators. He has been one of those people, you know we have been friends for a couple years now and I saw him at a different alias and he has always given us some good guidance and been very supportive of our music and has connected us with some good people who support our stuff. So he is definitely a big one for us, and they are doing really well themselves right now.
Marty: Yeah, Regulators are killing it.
Mike: Yeah, and like he said Mikul Wing is another example of someone who is just busting his fucking ass out their with the music.
Marty: But there is so many people who have helped us out, so please no offense to anyone who was left out, like our manager, our homie Steve, so many people have helped us and deserve credit.
John C: Excellent, and to conclusion to that, I will actually be meeting with Mikul and the other members of Autograf before their performance on Saturday.
Marty: Awesome. Those guys are great.
John C: Well thank you guys for taking the interview, and I look forward to your set.
Mike: Thank you.
Marty: Thank you.