Interview with Greek EDM producer and DJ Mihalis Safras. Greek DJ/producer Mihalis Safras has a long history in the electronic music scene in Greece, becoming one of his home country's most celebrated DJs. Over the course of the last decade he has tirelessly established himself as one of the Mediterranean's most promising and hard-working up-and-comers; appearing on at least a dozen ‘12-inches’ last year alone. Through remixes, such as his reworking of Dubfire’s anthemic “Roadkill” Mihalis has developed a proud refined style, which is progressive and functional, and instantly led to widespread support from the likes of: Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin, Adam Beyer, Ricardo Villalobos and Dave Clarke.
Tech-House can seemingly be said to broadly fall into two categories; There's the type that is all too familiar, and while proving powerful on the dance floor, maintains all of the straight lines and heavy structure of traditional techno. There are also the more mature, experimental and creative productions, that curiously peer into the creative and exciting unknown. The calibre of Mihalis’s studio output uniquely fall’s in-between these two, and since his early studio outputs with Mark Broom, his elongated, aching yet versatile and percussive tech-house tracks, have made their way onto labels like Soma, Great Stuff, Mikrowave, Trapez and Nic Fanciulli’s ‘Saved’, with whom he has exercised room-filling soundscapes. Determined and driving techno, combined with the most moving of musical melodies.
As mastermind being the Material Series releases, his unrestricted and creative productions have appeared alongside an impressive list of artists, not to mention producing the massive release “La Samba”, which has burned Ibiza floors, and has since been licensed for an Apple iPhone campaign.
Early 2011, and imminent single releases include “Theatrical 2 Worlds” on Asileos Theatre, the much anticipated return to Cologne-based powerhouse Trapez with the “Jaws EP”, and “Goldtrix” for Get Physical - due out soon.
Both in the studio, and in the DJ booth, Mihalis demonstrates the natural absorbed characteristics of one of the leading underground techno talents.
It’s just the right time to meet Mihalis Safras, and find out how he started his career, where he is standing music wise at present, and to get a glimpse of his future plans.
Dimitri: Where and when you were born? Are you coming from a family that any of its members is involved with arts and particularly music?
Mihalis Safras: I was born in Athens on October 1979. Actually none of my relatives has any connection to music but they love music. But not techno music! Ha! My mam and dad loved the mainstream music of their age and had many records in my own playroom so that was nice!
Dimitri: Did you face any difficulties to persuade your family to allow you to become a DJ and producer, and did they encourage or discourage you to do it?
Mihalis Safras: Well to be honest not only didn’t they have any problems, but my dad bought me 2 turntables and a mixer when I was 12 years old. I recall that my family had some old records like ABBA and Tom Jones so I was into the vinyls from a very young age.
Dimitri: Did you learn to produce through a formal music production education course, or are you self taught? What is your opinion about the higher education music production courses, and do you think that someone that can not afford the fees? Is it possible for them to learn how to produce through manuals and YouTube videos?
Mihalis Safras: Tricky question and I can’t really answer if anyone can be taught through a course or what so ever. Some people can be helped, others may not. What I can say is that all it needs is true love for what you are doing. I started production in 2011, and I am really a self taught producer. Though the key to that is to talk as often as you can to other good producers, and talk about ideas, and so on.
Dimitri: It will be great to recall for us the moment that you decided that music composition and DJ'ing was your future, and if there is a particular track that was the inspiration to start producing, or maybe a mind-blowing DJ set that you have witnessed in a club?
Mihalis Safras: Actually, as said I always was into music stuff. I always liked the underground thingies, like the good old Techno gig that were happening back in the days. Then, after many many years of intense clubbing and listening to almost any of the legendaries DJ’s, like Joachem Paap and Derrick May, I decided in 1995 to start DJ'ing. By 2003 I had played among all big names, so that was my inspiration to start producing. I really don’t have any particular track that inspired me, but I recall that I danced like crazy to some good old Jeff Mills sets.
Dimitri: Please list for us the Top 5 most influential figures in your career. This list can include DJ’s, producers and composers that you believe have shaped your sound, and of course why?
Mihalis Safras: Top list of producers… There are too many, so I will mention just 3. Off course Mark Broom (the master from the UK) no need to mention why.:)
Also, Ben Sims was an inspiration for his DJ skills (I still believe he is the best DJ around today). And lately I realized that LTJ Bukem had also influenced me. Dimitri: It would be cool to make us a small tour in your home studio and let us know the kind of hardware and software that you are using, and if you have some favourite music composition software, or preferred plugins that help you produce your specific sound.
Mihalis Safras: I remember that I had an argument with 200&one about that when I started. I claimed that hardware was the top notch thing that a producer should have. His reply was that who needs all this stuff now that we are in the software era. Maybe he was right.. Still don’t know. I produced till 2008 with Propellerheads Reason, and now I am on Ableton Live. Some times using Akai MPC 200xl or a Minimoog could make the difference! It’s like potato or pottatto.
Dimitri: Your style is described as Tech-House/Techno with prog influences. It would be cool to give us your definition of the style or styles that you feel most attracted too.
Mihalis Safras: Hahaha.. Recently I put on my Twitter on the info section that I make music, but I don’t have a style! Really! I think I don’t have any style that can describe me. I made some tracks like Interafica on Trapez, which was pure Tech-House. Also the ‘Chicas Latinas’ on Great Stuff. But also some pure Techno stuff, like Stone EP on Material. Plus I have an album of really trip hop styled tracks. So what can I say..
Maybe in the future I make music from hitting stones who knows?
Dimitri: Is it possible from your back catalogue of your releases so far, to choose your favourite Top 3 productions and remixes, explain why you chose them. Also, can you tell us if you have a background story about the production of them, or the reactions from your crowd for them.
Mihalis Safras: Nice question..
Top1 was the remix I did for Dubfire.. and believe me there is a nice story behind it! I was talking to Ali for making the remix I was heavily sick, and when he sent me the parts, I liked it so much that I did the whole remix in the hospital wearing headphones! Laptops did their miracles!
Top2 would be the Chicas Latinas on Great Stuff, because it was, and still is my favourite summer tune! Thanks and credits shall go to Noidoi for sure!
Top3 I would select the remix Oxia did for my San Trope track on Material. This remix was licensed by all major labels mix CD's, including the Love Parade CD, the Pacha CD, and Space Ibiza and so on..
Dimitri: You were lucky, thanks to your great talent, to have released on some very respected labels all over the world. Do you believe that it is easy for a dance music producer from Greece to break out from the barriers of his country, and get an international career? For example how did you manage to get releases on the hot Great Stuff label in Munich?
Mihalis Safras: I think that nothing is hard, and to be honest there are many good Greek DJ producers here. Too many to mention. Yes Great Stuff is a nice label, but I really can’t say if it covers my new sound for now. I am going to build more into not too mainstream stuff currently. But Rainer Weichhold, the A&R for this label was gentle and kind, so we had a nice communications back then.
Dimitri: Your superb single ‘La Samba’ was used by Apple for its iPhone campaign. How did you feel about that news, and do you consider yourself a heavy Apple user? Are you gadget freak, and what is your opinion about the latest trend that is tablet PCs like iPad?
Mihalis Safras: My my my! If there was an award for the Top Gadget man in the world, I would have won it by far! User of Macbook, iMac, iPhone 4 and iPod ipad.. You name it! Safras has it all! I think its like drugs! Total addiction.. Credits for the iPhone thingies should go to Steffano (Riva Starr) who was the key to that! I was thrilled when I heard the news, but life continues, so we shall work more for bigger things now!
Dimitri: La Samba is back with brand new remixes from some large superstars on the scene. Is it possible to give us a short comment about each remix, and maybe choose your favourite?
Mihalis Safras: No favourite really.. All mixes were made by good pals like Pig&Dan, Riva Starr, my mate Mark Broom, and off course an exclusive new one for ya.. Me and Wally Lopez that remixed La Samba, will do an Album together in 2011. So loads of goodies to come!
Dimitri: Its time for some self reflection in this interview. Please try to mark yourself out of 10, the various elements of your DJ performances and why?
a) your mixing skills:
b) your ability to choose the right track for the right occasion:
c) your friendly attitude towards the fans that are coming to shake your hand when you perform and after that?
Mihalis Safras: Nice I love self reflection! My mixing skills are common.. I try to mix like an octopus! My influence from Ben Sims who mixes with 3 decks and 3 CD’s is huge! Try to do the same.. Of course, we are talking for pure DJ mixing and not the Traktor thingy, that DJ does almost nothing but using some effects!
Regarding selection of the tracks played, the thing is that clubbers do decide what a DJ will spin by their attitude on the floor.. So the better thing is to carry a really big DJ bag
I remember that once a guy came and asked me if I could sign on a bottle of water.. duh! I try to be polite to anyone because it’s a small world after all!
Dimitri: Can you choose for us your best gigs so far, and I wonder if there is a club or a country where you can go and play even without fees just for the experience of it?
Mihalis Safras: Again too many to mention.. for sure Spain is one of my favourite countries, but Italy has some nice clubbers (not in every city though) The best party I ever had was in Athens Greece, although I have never played in Greece since 2004. Club was ‘Umatic’, the legendary Techno club that was so famous back then.
Dimitri: Do you actively use social media like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace? Do you see your presence in them as vital, in order to be visible in the internet world?
Mihalis Safras: We are in the Internet Social era! If you aren’t connected people won’t know you. Those networks can be useful in a way that fans can learn news, future dates, and forthcoming releases and so on.. So I believe its essential to have such connection to the people that support you! The good thing is that as a user, new apps are out that you connect all of them by 1 click! I love it! Dimitri: Please let us know on what projects are you working on at the moment, and the kind of releases that we should expect from you? Are there any thoughts to produce a full album, and if yes, when will be released?
Mihalis Safras: I gave you a hint earlier that my second album will be out in 2001 with Wally Lopez. (My 1st personal album was double LP and CD on Trapez in 2009). But some serious releases coming up, like the material032, which is a double LP with 32 loops DE9 styled! Plus many many remixes I did for Butch, Pig&Dan, Mark Broom and so on.. Keep your eyes open some serious damage will be done on the dance floors with those!
Dimitri: Give us your message to the people who will read this interview.
Mihalis Safras: People - I lied earlier to every question! I am from Bangladesh and I hate techno! Haha joking off course! Just put a smile on ya face and support the vinyl industry, is all I have to say!
Many thanks to Mihalis for finding time to reply in this great interview in such an analytical and engaging way.
Many thanks to Neil Bainbridge at Kish Communication for his support in organising this interview.
Don’t forget its out now: MIHALIS SAFRAS - "LA SAMBA" (includes remixes by Riva Starr, Mark Broom and Wally Lopez) Label: Material Series, Format :12" Vinyl & Digital Download
Interview is written and conducted by Dimitri Kechagias “Flux House Anthems Only”