Whether it's a tropical paradise or a lunar escape, the feeling of drifting far away from everyday life is at the core of Psychemagik's style. The UK duo—Danny Mclewin and Tom Coveney—self-released their very first record together only three years ago and have since become first-choice remixers that crisscross genres and scene affiliations. From Balearic pop and 12" disco edits to late night house burners and radio pop remixes, Psychemagik have kept the blogs talking and the parties packed. Over the last couple years, Tom and Danny have laid down cinematic remixes for the likes of Azari & III, Metronomy, and Crystal Fighters, plus blissful vinyl-only edits of classics like Talking Heads and Fleetwood Mac, which have since achieved anthem status among DJs.
It was only until now, after several laps around the world and a pile of remixes completed, that I was able to pick the minds of the duo during a very rare free minute of theirs. They've also given us their new remix of "Blame Game" by synthy three-piece Favored Nations to premiere on THUMP. So take a listen and read on as we move from the boys' humble beginnings cutting tracks on an old PC up to where they are now, mastering the art of the remix and touring the world.
THUMP: Hey guys, how's it going? What have you been up to over the last few days?
Danny Mclewin: Digging for records in Toronto. Recovering from Sunset Campout festival.
You guys met at a music festival right? When was this? And do you remember any of the shows you caught that day?
Danny: It was seven years ago this summer. I remember Tom DJing and he was fucking dope!
Both of you had already been involved in making music and collecting records prior to meeting, but what spawned the idea of working together? What would you say are your biggest mutual passions or tastes in terms of music?
Danny: We had a mutual friend that always wanted to introduce us and he finally got that chance at this festival. We were both working on other projects that were both coming to a natural end. We are both heavily into medieval folk!
Your love of live instrumentation is very present in all things Psychemagik. Are you guys self-taught musicians, or were you raised learning music? Did either of you spend any time in bands?
Danny: I'm self-taught. I used to play percussion in one of Morcheeba's early incarnations and Tom has always played keys, bass and guitar.
What kind of records were you into in your teens? Do you both come from families where music was always being played at home?
Danny: I was hugely into Bowie & Prince. I bought The Black Album for £30 in the '80s, which seemed like a huge amount of money at the time. I went to see him live with Sheila E and Cat on his "Lovesexy" tour, which blew my mind. The combination of showmanship and musicality was a major inspiration.
Tom Coveney: I grew up heavily into the rave scene. I started DJing in 1991 and although my parents weren't a direct influence, they did buy my first turntables at 11-years-old. UK hardcore and jungle amazed me; the sound was out of this world to me—so raw and powerful! At this young age it took me a while to discover the concept of sampled, sped-up drums.
Would you credit the record collections of your parents as a direct influence? What are some of the coolest records you've discovered from your families?
Danny: Yeah definitely, my mum and dad both had killer records—Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Brian Eno, Ornette Coleman, and Roland Kirk.
Tell me about your introductions to dance music in general and the parties you grew up attending. Were you both into nightlife early on? Can you name any DJs or bands that you found truly inspiring when you were younger?
Danny: I grew up on hip hop, funk, and disco, and gradually got more into the latter. I wasn't bothered about dance music at all back then. I used to do graffiti and breakin'. Hip hop gave me everything I needed. Sadly that golden era was short-lived so I moved on like many of my friends.
Tom: At 11, I was unfortunately too young to go to raves. Ha! I managed to hit up a few as I got older. My favorite DJs were probably DJ Randall and Jumping Jack Frost. My taste evolved into tech house as a teenager and I started going to a lot of outdoor parties. There were loads in Kent in the '90s.
When you guys began Psychemagik, did you have a particular vibe or goal in mind from the start, or is all this music a natural result of collaboration?
Danny: We just wanted to make music we loved and we still do. We both have so many influences and we're constantly trying out new ideas. We vibe really well together in the studio and that seems to be a constant thing. If it ain't broke…
What was the very first record released as Psychemagik? Was it the Fleetwood Mac 12''?
The first record I ever got from you guys was the one with the Talking Heads rework. I've always wondered how you made that one, with the choir section and all. Tell me about that bit.
Danny: When we set out to do an edit we try to explore all the possibilities. If it's a popular track like that, then there will be loads of cover versions, so we spend time going through those for any extra fodder. The chopped vocal is a country version and the choir sample is from a kid's choir at Public School 22 in Staten Island, NY. You can find them on Youtube—they're great!
When working on edits, what is the most important thing to remember? Do you feel that people sometimes mess with songs that don't necessarily need another version?
Tom: It's all a matter of opinion, and there are so many out there on this. I just think it needs to be done tastefully. I don't think it matters whether you chop the shit out of something or just add a subtle drum beat—it needs to be done with class and finesse. We like to shake them up a bit, but keep the true essence of the original. Usually it's pretty much about putting a donk on them and making them club-friendly.
Were those early edits the very first things you guys did together, or were you also working on original material from the start? Do you guys have separate roles in the studio or do you both bounce around on everything?
Danny: The first track we made was an edit of Cozy Powell's "And Then There Was Skin," and we added a Herman's Rocket vocal sample to it along with a Mantronix siren. I have always been the main guy for samples and Tom is the hands-on producer, although we both get involved in everything.
So what's an average day in the studio like for Psychemagik? Let's say you don't have any remixes due and have the whole day free to do whatever you like. How does it begin?
Danny: We always have remixes to deliver! If not, we have artwork, websites, edits, our own music, digging, archiving etc. There's always something to do and we are never bored.
Picking a genre for yourselves is silly and would be difficult to do anyway, but I do feel like you've defined a Psychemagik sound over the years, especially with the original tracks of the Lunar Escape EP. From disco edits to bass-heavy house tracks, I feel like there are a few things that tie it all together. How would you describe your sound this far?
Tom: People often ask this and they also say exactly that—that something ties it altogether. I guess its just our sound, I wouldn't like to think too hard to answer this. Let's just let the music do the talking!
But do you ever find it tough deciding if something you make is Psychemagik material or not? Or is that never a question? Anything goes?
Danny: Anything goes!
In terms of production, who are some of your heroes and why?
Danny: J.P. Massiera, because he used anything that inspired him—farmyard animal sounds or women orgasming. It's that kind of "fuck it, we can do anything" attitude that I love.
What's your usual approach when beginning a remix?
Tom: Get rid of the shit, add drums, bass, melodies, groove, and effects, then look at it all again and polish it.
You've been working on a full album over the last while, but I read that your plans for it may have changed. Is this true? Would you still like to do a full LP?
Danny: One day, but for now it will just be singles and EPs.
You've also done a large amount of touring over the last couple years. What are some of the standout parties that you had the pleasure of playing so far in 2013?
Tom: SmartBar in Chicago was fucking awesome! The crowd was incredible and their lighting engineer is a hero. He knew how to flow seamlessly with the music drops.
If you could create the perfect gig, how would you describe the setting?
Danny: By a river in Belden Town! Or else, the moon would be pretty dope.
Besides playing out, what else is in the works for Psychemagik right now? What should we be on the look out for?
Danny: An all-star weirdo disco edits LP curated by us with killer contributions from ourselves, Mike Simonetti, Eric Duncan, Cherrystones, Felix Dickenson, Albion, Jacques Renault, and many more. It's called Disc-Orgy and will be out late summer on limited-edition vinyl.
How about some words of wisdom to aspiring producers?
Tom: Don't just listen to the music. Hear it!