Interview: Michelle Sparks

Following a swathe of critically acclaimed releases on the likes of Octopus Recordings, Press Play, Weekend Weapons and DNCTRX over the course of her illustrious musical career, prolific US techno maven Michelle Sparks has got the production credentials to rival some of the best in the business. Now, and as she looks to continue her inexhaustible run of first-rate studio output, Michelle adds to her already stellar career discography with an exquisite official remix for Dusty Kid & Marascia’s iconic 2009 cut, WIWY. We caught up with Michelle from her home in Phoenix, Arizona to talk new music, plans for 2021 and her opinion on the state of the electronic music scene. Here’s how it went…

Hello Michelle! Thanks very much for your time to talk to us. Please introduce yourself to our Only Techno readers.

Hi everyone! My name is Michelle Sparks, I’m a techno producer & DJ based in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.

Where are you answering this interview from?

Currently I’m sitting in my studio at home in Phoenix!

How would you describe your particular brand of techno?

I would say it’s a trippy, groovy, minimal influenced sound. I like to play records with a lot of twisted, dystopian-esque ethereal sounds that transport you to another dimension but with a heavy energy underneath guiding the dancefloor.

How does your creative process start when making a record?

Usually I start off doing some sound design on an evolving synth or arp sound that I use throughout my track, and then kinda build it from there with the kick/bass next and then finally adding percussion and ambience elements and builds / breakdowns. I always like to spend some time crafting the synth lines throughout the track because those are what really tells the story. The kick and bass is important and drives the track along, but the evolution of the synths and arps in the track really define it so I give those a good amount of focus from the beginning, I find everything else kinda falls into place after that.

We recently posted about your huge official remix for Dusty Kid & Marascia – WIWY on Octopus Recordings. Can you talk us through the remix and how it came about?

Well Dusty Kid remixed my track ‘Melt’ last year, which came out on Octopus Recordings, then in December the team approached me about doing a remix for WIWY and of course I was beyond stoked. What a classic tune WIWY was, right? So after that I delved into giving it fresh flavor and giving it my sound. It was a huge honor to remix this, so I really wanted to do it a proper justice. I tried to keep the main lead sound that really catches everyone, and then kinda built a trippy, late-night dancefloor jam around that.

How would you describe current situation on global electronic scene?

The global electronic scene this past year has been so crazy to watch. Seeing everyone adapt to the weird times was so inspiring at times, but also so sad sometimes to not be able to share a dancefloor with people and connect through music socially. But overall I think that the global techno scene is so resilient and has so many artists willing to think outside the box, that we’ve been able to shape how the scene begins to look after this past year. It’s exciting to see many artists innovating on new was to deliver music to fans, and create communities via platforms like Twitch. We all were so focused on playing real events prior to this, that I think something like this forced us all to focus on the music again and sharing that love with our fans. I’m happy to see events beginning to return this year and I feel like the scene is going to come back with a fury once more and more places begin to safely open up. People love connecting through music, and there’s nothing like sharing that experience with friends in a nightclub/festival setting. As artists there’s no substitute for playing for a live crowd and feeling their energy come back to you, so I think after a long year + of being cooped up, people are ready to get back to that again (safely of course). I also think this time allowed people to really explore a lot of different artists and music styles that they weren’t exposed to before, so I definitely think the global techno scene is still thriving and growing!

What’s the scene like where you currently live in Phoenix, AZ?

We’ve got a huge electronic music scene here, but it’s quite dominated by the more commercial dance music & bass music genres. However, I’ve been running a techno event brand out here with my Octopus Recordings label mate, Juheun, called ‘Circuit’ or about 10 years now, bringing a solid underground sound to the area. I feel the more commercial dance music scene out here helps keep the underground & techno scenes thriving also, as there’s always those listeners that want to dig deeper into electronic music and discover the underground. It’s an exciting time out in the USA with dance music overall becoming more popular, and it’s inspiring to see people getting hyped for underground music out here.

What’s your opinion on the current livestreaming trend among DJs?

I think live-streaming has been an amazing way to connect with fans during this time, like I mentioned above, being stuck at home, not playing shows forced us all to figure out new ways to reach fans and build communities of like minded people. It’s been great to be able to reach people globally with these streams, and a new way to share our music online outside of social media. I personally have enjoyed connecting with fans while playing live-stream sets during the past year, and creating a space/community where like minded fans can get excited and share their passion for techno. I began doing some live-stream sets last summer, and then this year Octopus Recordings started a Twitch community which I have a weekly live-stream residency at each Wednesday from 5pm PST.

I think as in person events begin to resume, virtual events and live-streams will definitely shift a bit but I think they’ll remain an important way to reach fans and share our music.

What is ‘underground’ to you?

Underground music to me is a group of people who share a passion for finding unique music that isn’t necessarily something you’d hear on a TV commercial or blasting in a restaurant. Underground is more than just music though, it’s a mentality and culture that comes together to listen to dope music and create a vibe. It’s more than just about going to a place to drink alcohol or party with your friends, you’re going to an underground nightclub (or listening to an underground DJ live-stream set) to hear music that resonates with you and to hear something that you’ve likely never heard before. Underground is like minded people vibing to a collective sound.

Are you planning some other new music and projects soon?

Yes! I’d say the only benefit of this last year of not traveling and having a lot of distractions, is that I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio! I’ve got a couple EP’s of new original music coming later this year on Octopus Recordings, and also finishing up loads of new music for 2022 already. I’ve also got some upcoming real-life event announcements coming soon throughout the states, so stay tuned for those too!

What are your top 3 techno tracks at the moment?

Simina Grigoriu – Contraband

Indira Paganotto – Yellow Lambo

Aardy – Touch

Any final words for our Only Techno readers?

Thanks so much for hanging out with me for this interview! Hope to see you all soon at one of my live-stream sets or at an in person event sometime later this year!

Dusty Kid & Marascia – WIWY (Michelle Sparks Remix) is out now via Octopus Recording.