Text: Nik Mercer
Photographers: Coey Kerr
One of the most exciting―and youngest!―electronic musicians to spring up over the past few years is, without a doubt, Montreal's very own CFCF, a.k.a. Mike Silver. His disco-infused, Balearic-leaning debut EP, Panesian Nights, knocked our socks off in all its sonically soothing, melodically mesmerizing glory; his remixes of musicians from Owen Pallett to Sally Shapiro proved to us that the man can work his production magic on pretty much any variety of music, making it into a dance floor-ready banger; and his first LP, Continent, showed us Silver is here to stay.
Anthem recently chatted with the guy while on one of several brief tours to the States, and got the lowdown on his full story, from where the name CFCF comes from to how he make the tunes we've grown to love, what he loves about DJ'ing to the problems one encounters when handing off their own material for remixing by another.
If you'd like to check out the man in the mix, head on over here for four hours of CFCF live alongside Jacques Renault and Lovefingers. The three fellas spun a Let's Play House party at Brooklyn's Cameo Gallery a few months back...
Let's start with the beginning. What got you involved in music production? You've been messing around with music since you were quite young.
I suppose it was really just listening to music that did it. When I was younger I would listen to stuff like DJ Shadow and want to be able to make music like that, the way he did. But I didn't have any equipment aside from the family computer, so I'd use that. And being a Shadow obsessive I would hunt down the originals he sampled from and just straight up steal them and re-use them. But I credit it with opening my horizons at an early age, because I was like 13 and listening to all this weird prog-jazz and funk and stuff.
When―and how―did you transition into making this more of a career? What stoked you into making music in a professional capacity?
I just kept it up long enough I guess that I started to develop a style I felt reflected what I looked for in music and then other people started to notice, thanks to the internet. I don't think I ever thought it would be something I would do professionally. It all happened pretty gradually and with quite a lot of luck and good people helping me out.
I have to ask, even though I've a hunch you won't answer this one: Where does CFCF come from and what does it mean?
It's taken from the local TV station in Montreal that I grew up watching, CFCF-12. I think the letters in that context mean "Canada's First, Canada's Finest", but in the context of my name they don't mean anything really. I adopted the name quite early and it stuck.
One of the compelling things about you is that you ride this line between dance music and indie-accessible pop music. How do you manage to straddle that? is it something you're conscious of?
It is probably because I always shy away from going to far into dance genres. I love house and techno a lot, but if I'm working on a track and I feel like it's "just" a house track or "just" a techno track, I need to step back and see how I can make it different, and usually that means injecting some pop influence. So I end up with house tracks that have influences like David Sylvian or Tangerine Dream or Peter Gabriel.
You've done quite a few remixes over the past two years. Everyone from HEALTH to Sally Shapiro, Owen Pallett to the Presets has requested you do a version of a song of theirs. What do you look for in the original track when considering whether or not to remix it? What do you like (and not like) about the process?
Well, usually it works best if I like and respect the original artist, which is almost always the case thankfully. I almost always try to work with a concept, however vague, that kind of reinterprets the original intention. And sometimes I'll listen to the song and just get a concept right off the bat, which is what happened with the Sally and Presets remixes. Other times I might strain for a sound until a day before the deadline, and quickly put something together that suddenly I'm very happy with. So it varies, but I always really enjoy remixing and love when it turns out to be something new and interesting.
By that same token, a number of artists have remixed you. Jacques Renault did a while back and now you've an EP, Drifts, that pulls together six others. How do you see these songs fitting into your discography? How do you feel about the remix culture that so much of today's music subscribes to?
It can be a bit exhausting as a listener, especially in the world of dance music because for every one release by one artist there are works by four or five other artists that go along with, and it becomes a big endless game of catching up. But when that great remix comes along that reinterprets the original in a great new way, it's an awesome feeling. I like the idea of putting the work being out there for reinterpretation by other artists who share a mutual respect and love of the same sort of things, and just seeing what they come back with. It's almost always surprising.
Your debut LP, Continent, is this disco-infused mess of dreamy yet somehow utterly epic and sprawling electronic jams. What's the common thread that ties the whole thing together aesthetically? What were some of the inspirations for the thing?
I'd say the inspirations on Continent are things like Michael Mann, Mr. Fingers, Arthur Russell, Tangerine Dream. DJ Shadow even, because there is an element of collage and layering all over the record. As far as a common thread, well, I guess I feel like all the songs reflect some element of this "world" the record ends up evoking. I'm not sure if I can put it any less vaguely... I think though the songs are all mostly different in tempo and style they all do have something that propels them from one to the next. It's something like a film.
What sort of studio setup do you have? Are you a gear nerd? How do you produce the bulk of your material?
Definitely not a gear nerd. I produce with my laptop exclusively, with a midi keyboard, and record guitar and vocals live. So basically it's just me, at my desk, with my computer, my guitar, and a bunch of software. I prefer it this way, especially when traveling often, I can work on it at anytime. Especially great since riding trains has been a huge inspiration for the style of my next couple releases.
Outside of being a producer, you also DJ quite often. How does this fit into your view of yourself as an artist? DJ's are normally seen as being specifically tied to dance music, but your output is decidedly Balearic and chilled out. How do you connect your own material with your DJ gigs?
I guess it depends what kind of set I'm playing, what kind of venue. I often play party sets that consist of a lot of 80s and 90s house, current house, etc. I might tie in a few originals, remixes or remixes of my tracks that fit the vibe, like the Nacho Lovers and Azari & III remixes of "Come Closer". In other settings, if I can play a bit of a slower, spacier set I have a bit more freedom to play my own stuff and can branch out into a bunch of different directions, and play a lot of my influences and that kind of thing.
Generally speaking, what is it that inspires you to make music? What does music do you for you? What encourages you to keep creating it?
I like the settings that music makes me picture. I think that's what drives me to open up the program and start working, wanting to emulate that feeling a song gives me. Not to get corny and cliche, but it does take you to another place. So I guess what encourages it is that desire to go somewhere that is otherworldly, that probably doesn't exist.
What are some projects you would love to pursue? Would you like to, say, produce another artist? Make a live CFCF act?
I definitely would like to translate the music into a live setting, but that is still to be worked on. I don't want to be another lonely guy on stage fiddling with software. I'd almost prefer to not be there onstage... just have some hired performers stage something that suits the music while it's being played live in the darkness. But I guess that's a bit ambitious.
Out of curiosity, where did the footage for the "Crystal Mines" video come from? It's awesome! Why did you select it as the identity for that film and the Panesian Nights EP?
The footage comes from a film/TV serial called Shadowman or Nuits Rouges that has something to do with a plot by this red-masked character to steal some ancient treasure or something. It's not the greatest thing in the world, but I thought the visual of that character was really arresting and liked the grainy quality the movie had. I thought it fit the kind of italo, horror, dark, fun element of that EP. But I don't think it has much to do with what I've been working on since Continent. I've retired the look now, sadly