Max Glazer moves dance floors from New York to Jamaica to China. As co-founder (along with Kenny Meez) of the ground breaking and taste making Federation Sound he has spent the last 15 years bringing dancehall and reggae to the masses. Max has worked with an almost never-ending string of artists on their rise to international fame. Sean Paul and Vybz Kartel both count Glazer as an early collaborator and supporter of their careers. Perhaps most importantly, he spent three years as musical Director/DJ for Rihanna at the start of her meteoric rise to international stardom. Grindin’ caught up with Max as he prepares for his first tour of Australia and New Zealand which includes support slot for Chronixx.
What are your earliest memories of music?
There was always music around when I was growing up. I grew up in Woodstock, NY which is a place with a rich musical history so there was always a lot of live music. Some of my earliest memories of music are going to see live bands in local bars with my father when I was very young.
How did you first get into Reggae?
Probably even before I got into hip-hop, my father always listened to reggae so that was what really got me tuned into it and then when I started DJing it was just a natural part of the spectrum of music I wanted to play.
Who were your influences coming up as a DJ?
My earliest influences were the New York radio DJs – Red Alert and Marley Marl on the hip hop side of things and Bobby Konders and Sting International when it came to reggae and dancehall. As I got more into things, Stretch Armstrong was a huge influence. The way he DJ’ed was so precise and smart – really well thought out. He also played a good amount of reggae. When I got further into dancehall, definitely King Addies with Tony Matterhorn and Babyface.
When did you realise you could make DJing a career?
I was working as a journalist (On The Go, Beat Down, The Source, Vibe) and in record stores (Fat Beats, Eightball) and DJing whenever I could get gigs but it was mostly a hobby. All my work revolved around music so I just saw things shifting more towards DJing which was a lot more exciting and pushed harder in that direction. It as a gradual growth that led to me being able to make a career out of DJing.
You first started getting noticed as a DJ in New York during the 90’s/early 2000’s working at Hip Hop and Reggae clubs what made you stand out from the rest?
I was really lucky to be in the right places and around the right people. There have always been a ton of great DJs in New York, so the crucial thing was just getting an opportunity to play where the right people could hear you and then it’s just a snowball effect from there. I was able to open up for a lot of the DJs I had been listening to (Doo Wop, S&S, Funkmaster Flex, Enuff, Grandmaster Flash, Clark Kent, etc.) and that really is what led to most of the opportunities I had in those times. I had a manager, Jessica Rosenblum, who threw tons of events, so I was automatically in.
What are some of your most memorable moments from that time and how much has New York nightlife changed from then?
There are so many memorable nights from those days. Just meeting and DJing with the people who made me want to DJ in the first place was always pretty amazing. Flying to Paris to DJ two parties in one night for Diddy was pretty amazing – 2 gigs in less than 24 hours in France. One of the greatest moments I can recall DJing is opening for a Gang Starr concert at Tramp’s (a legendary concert venue that is now gone). Without sounding old and grumpy, New York nightlife is so different from those days. To be fair, I think it’s way different everywhere. In those days, hip hop was alive in the streets of New York and you could feel it throughout the city.
How and when did Federation Sound first form who is the crew?
Federation Sound formed in 1999 with Kenny Meez, Cipha Sounds and myself. Originally, Federation was just the name that we used for our extended DJ crew, unrelated to reggae or sound systems. Cipha and I were using the name in New York and separately, Kenny and I began to work on reggae together and it came time to voice dubplates with Capleton and we needed a sound name so Kenny suggested Federation Sound, and here we are.
What are the pros and cons of being a Reggae DJ from New York?
In the days when I was getting into DJing and starting to make a career out of it, New York was a really vibrant musical place and the energy for dancehall and reggae was electric. New York has a huge Jamaican (and West Indian) community, so there was always a really strong connection between Jamaica and the city. In general, being a DJ from New York always held a certain level of stature and respect. It was always easier to get booked around the country, and the world, being from New York – at least in those days. These days, everything is a little more globalized so it doesn’t matter as much where you’re from. It’s not even really a con, but certainly in the 90’s / early 2000’s as a reggae DJ in New Yor, at some point you needed to make the pilgrimage to Kingston, Jamaica and see where the music comes from. No matter what you think you know about it, going to Jamaica for the first time is a mind blowing experience.
You spent some time being Rihanna’s DJ/musical director how did you land the job and what experiences did you take from that time?
I DJ’d for Rihanna for the first 3 years of her career. I got the job from my friend Mr. Morgan, who had helped work her first single “Pon De Replay”. He knew my combination of experience and knowledge of caribbean music would be a good fit. It started as a trial run with a show in Philly and another one in DC and turned into 3 years of almost non stop touring. The experience was invaluable. I got to travel the world several times over and work as a part of a team putting together various aspects of the show. We started out doing promo shows for radio stations to crowds of a couple hundred people and built to arenas in front of over 20,000 people. Even though you are surrounded by people, club DJing is a really singular activity. DJing for Rihanna was a fully collaborative experience, working with a singer, dancers, choreographers, musicians, etc.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Reggae music scene?
The Reggae music scene is in an interesting place. On the one hand, dancehall has been veering off into EDM territory, which has given it a much needed injection of energy and on the other hand there is a movement of young roots reggae artists that is taking the world by storm and bringing back a real conscious element to the music. Personally, I enjoy both ends of the spectrum and I think they are equal parts of the same whole. Sometimes one is more popular than the other but they are both always there.
Are there any upcoming artists we should be looking out for?
It goes without saying that Chronixx is the artist to watch. There’s a long list… Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Jesse Royal, to name just a few. If we’re talking more dancehall, then people like RDX, Demarco, Alkaline and Gappy Ranks.
What has been the your career highlight so far?
The fact that I’m able to have a career and make a living as a DJ is really the highlight. As far as a specific moment, DJing on stage at Madison Square Garden was an amazing moment.
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?
The best piece of advice I’ve been given was actually not really a piece of advice given directly to me but something that Clark Kent said while I was interviewing him for On The Go magazine. He basically said that 90% of DJing is thinking – using your head and being smart about what you are playing and when you are playing it. You have to read the crowd. I’ve never forgotten that.
What does the future hold for Max Glazer?
Well, I never really expected to be traveling the world playing the music I love for people so I don’t spend a lot of time looking into the future. I’ve just tried to do something that I love and it’s worked out pretty well. I hope the future holds more of the same.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
No sleep. All Work. But, when you love what you do it’s not really work.
Interview by Duggs.
Thursday December 11th – The Espy, Melbourne
Friday December 12th – The Factory, Sydney
Saturday December 13th – Raggamuffin Festival, Auckland
Sunday December 14th – Ponsonby Social Club, Auckland
Thursday December 18th – Malt Supper Club, Perth
Friday December 19th – World Bar, Sydney
Saturday December 20th – The Laundry, Melbourne