Shortly after the boom of America’s indie electro movement in 2007, Ben “Swardy” Swardlick, Eric Luttrell and Andy Coenen met in San Francisco and formed production and DJ trio, Pance Party. After rising to the top of Bay Area’s club scene as well as the pages of every DIY dance blog, they gained a reputation for hard-hitting and sophisticated production style, which became the foundation of their current audio-visual super project, The M Machine.
Over the course of roughly five years, they’ve released a debut split LP through OWSLA, remixed artists like Datsik & Kill the Noise, Madeon and Dog Blood, toured the world, and cultivated a generous following of devoted fans.
With this week marking the release of the group’s excellently curated Metropolis Remixed EP (and closing out the Metropolis saga), we jumped on the phone with The M Machine member, Swardy, to talk about the trio’s history and where they plan to take their music from here.
• So how did you guys meet up?
I’ll take you back through it. So Eric and myself were at UC Santa Barbara. He went off to Berlin for six months and came back having gone through the music transformation a lot of people went through around ‘06-’07, where everyone started listening to Justice and Digitalism.
He and I start messing around with Logic and got pretty interested in doing sound for games, so we went up to San Francisco. We were gonna do a year-long game audio program but we met Andy up there, who was thinking about doing the same thing. We immediately clicked and started listening to and trying to mimic some of the sounds we were hearing in the electro house and fidget world — the early days of American dubstep — pretty much everything coming out on Dim Mak.
We started writing tracks together as Pance Party around 2009. A couple years later, The M Machine birthed and here we are.
• How did you end up meeting Sonny and getting involved with OWSLA?
Aaron Greene, who is one half of our management team, thought it would be a really good idea for us to take a trip down to Santa Cruz, where he was doing the booking for a club called Motiv.
At the time, Skrill had a pretty cool following, which was just beginning to really grow because he had just released My Name Is Skrillex. We went down and met him and hung out after the show and immediately thought he was so clearly gonna be the next big thing. But he was really chill. He was gonna fly out to Australia the next day, so we invited him up to our space and he stayed with us for a little bit. We played each other’s tracks and hung out and sort of became friends from there.
About a year from then, his label booted up, and as soon as we felt like we had material that was OWSLA-worthy, we sent it their way and they were down right off the bat.
• Can you tell us a bit about the iconic space you’re living in right now?
Yeah, we live in Journey’s old warehouse. Their touring, lighting and visuals crew, Nocturne, grew into one of the most successful visual LED technology companies in the world. They used this space to house their lighting rigs. There’s still fixtures and high-wattage outlets all around the place. On one side we have a music studio, which we use now for our own purposes, but back in the day it was a place where Journey, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead would record, and subsequently a lot of contemporary artists as well.
I think we’re just crazy lucky. Most people are in basements and small rooms where they pay a lot of money to rent legit studio space, and we have one tacked right on to our house.
• You guys have previously mentioned working on a comic book or a video game piece, is this something you’re still considering?
Absolutely, yeah. I’m not aloud to talk about the specifics, but we’re in negotiations with an indie game developer and they seem super excited about having us score the entire thing. I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but it shouldn’t be too long before we know whether or not we’re gonna be doing this.
• So when you guys got the Metropolis remixes back, were you all in the same place geeking out to them?
They trickled in one at a time and we had a general sense of excitement that guys like Digitalism, Kill the Noise, Proxy and Shinichi Osawa were gonna be on this release. But honestly, it didn’t really click until we had all the tracks and did a listen through.
The coolest part is that those guys did great. You cannot deny the Kill the Noise or Digitalism remix; and what else would you expect? There’s a couple less known dudes on this release too, whose contributions I think are phenomenal. I’m so excited for people to hear Robotaki and Matt Lange, Trifonic and Tantrum Desire.
The best way to go with these releases is always to let the people who are the most excited about the project do the remix, as opposed to worrying about brand names.
• Can you give us a brief play-by-play of the story behind Metropolis?
It’s actually all fleshed out in the liner notes for Metropolis part I and II. We treated every song like a chapter and worked with some hilariously talented writers to come up with a prose for the album. It’s on our website with concept art and streams for each track. It’s definitely for the hardcore M Machine fans.
• How’s it been experiencing this hardcore fan-base, with The M Machine being your biggest band project to date?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I got a message on Tumblr the other day asking if I had some final words now that the Metropolis series is coming to an end. I didn’t really have anything all that cool to comment on, but If I was going to re-answer that question, and if we’re being totally honest, I’d say our expectations after releasing both parts of the album were that we would have a pretty big reach — basically a large fan-base.
As artists, there’s always going to be the chance that fans might not be focussing on what we’re most excited about, meaning their favorite songs might not be ours, or they might not care about the liner notes or these codes we’ve been using to release secret content — but it’s almost been the exact opposite.
I would say the rise has been slow and steady, but on the flip-side, every single person who’s into The M Machine seems to get what we’re trying to do. It’s a smaller, but way more valuable fan-base, who enjoy the liner notes and celebrate people like our visual artist, Chris Blackstock. I feel like at this point, we can basically nerd out as hard as we want, and at the very least, our core fans are gonna be down.
• That’s probably more valuable than someone passively putting your tracks on a playlist.
Yeah, the real takeaway has been the Tumblr crowd and the people who stick around after the show and in general, the amount of people who are getting behind songs like “Luma”, “Faces”, “King Alone” and all these less obvious EDM contributions.
• Have you ever thought about re-releasing some of the old Pance Party tracks as a fun nod to your early fans?
Yeah, we talk about it all the time. We’ve been sort of quiet about Pance Party, but the further we get away from it, the more we’re able to see it for what it was, which was our training ground. And I think, especially musically, our heads were in the right place.
People on Twitter are always jokin’ about the idea of an M Machine x Pance Party collaboration. Our roommate, Cam, really wants us to do a show where Pance Party open up for The M Machine (laughs), which I also think is a good idea.
• What are your thoughts on the music scene when you first started out versus what we have now?
There’s obviously a trend, and people like to rip on the Beatport top 10, but I dunno, sometimes it’s just so easy to look backwards and feel like, “Aw, back in my day it was great,” y’know. At the time, we couldn’t get enough MSTRKRFT, Congorock, the Beetroots and Digitalism — it was Chromeo remixes and Justice… but you go back and realize, that stuff was amazing and it’s really cool it pushed its way into the “mainstream”, but I would argue in most cases, artists like Mat Zo, Porter, Andrew Bayer, Robotaki, Phonat and Moderat, are more famous now than a lot of the stuff we were listening to back then.
You have to remember the market is so much bigger now, especially in America. There are a lot of labels making money off these Beatport electro house festival vibes, but this actually allows them to support artists who are trying to do something more artistic and cool. And I think we should be excited about that.
Could you imagine if we heard Koan Sound back in 2007? They would’ve destroyed everybody. I think we’re gonna see one of the craziest music renaissances that has come around in a while.
• Who are some of the other artists you’ve been digging?
We played a relatively early set at Detroit’s Movement festival and had the opportunity to walk around and figure out what that place is all about. We caught a set from Maetrik (who also produces as Maceo Plex), which was one of the coolest sets I’ve ever just sat and vibed out to.
I think we need to stop for a moment and realize there’s still a place where a shit-ton of people gather and listen to old-school techno music.
• What was it about that set that spoke to you?
Let’s say you gained most of your experience opening for guys like Skrillex and Porter Robinson and going on tour with Infected Mushroom, and that’s how you learned what people liked, and how old an electronic music audience is, and what they expect out of your show, right?
Then you step out of that scenario and go to somewhere like Detroit and remember that’s not the only way to do it. It’s a craft, using their subtlety and skills as DJs, it’s not like a “drop”, we’re talking about the position of a new bassline or sometimes just a new hi-hat.
For our own live show, I think we’ll always be a little more ADD and cater to a slightly more fist-pumpy crowd, but man it’s cool to watch somebody do what they do well, especially when it’s entirely different from your whole show.
• Any closing thoughts on upcoming projects or anything about the new site you wanted to share?
The cryptic codes will keep coming. Andy’s programming and we’re coming up with codes and ways for people to get exclusive content by basically playing a game. In terms of what’s coming up for The M Machine, we’ve got remixes that we really wish we could show you guys. We’ll be playing ‘em out, so come to the show. And then, we’re gonna go to Australia with Porter in October, which is exciting.
We also gotta say thanks to that core group of really awesomely loyal and intensely aware fans and we wanna make sure we have exclusive content for them specifically. So, big thanks to them and OWSLA.
The M Machine’s Metropolis Remixed EP is out now on itunes and Beatport through OWSLA. Stream the release in its entirety below and click here to preview their collaboration with Digitalism, featured on the upcoming Lift EP.