Manic Focus @ Bottom Lounge by Vladmir Zaytsev

In order to fully grasp the rate at which Manic Focus, aka John “JmaC” McCarten, is tearing up the EDM scene in Chicago, I’ll have to start from the very day I discovered who this laidback Minneapolis producer even was. About 5 months ago, I was looming through the list of openers for a show I was attending, when I stumbled upon the unfamiliar name of Manic Focus. After only listening to one remix, I was hooked. As if love at first listen wasn’t enough, the fact that his first album “Definition of the Rhythm” was available for free download was enough for me to fall musically head over heels. By week’s end, I was more excited to see his set, than the headliners. I’ll admit, I definitely could not enjoy his set to the fullest of my abilities, seeing as that I may have had a drink (or seven) too many before the show even started. As disappointed in myself as I was, the Bass Gods must have been smiling down upon me. I found out a few days later that Manic Focus would be playing another show just a few weeks away, and you can bet your ass that I was going to redeem myself. Since then, Manic Focus has played more shows in Chicago than any other local DJ or Producer that I know of, and as a result, his audience is getting bigger, and his music is getting better. JmaC’s set list will have you swaying and grooving one minute, to full-on WHOMPING the next. As far as variety and originality is concerned, I don’t think it gets much better than this. As a devoted Manic Focus fan, you better believe I haven’t missed a single show of his in Chicago since the day I made a drunken fool of myself back in February. Other recent achievements include sponsorship from multiple music blogs, Grassroots Co., and a very successful release party for his latest album “Expanding Mind.” I see nothing but potential and big things for Manic Focus, and I’m so glad I had the chance to sit and talk with him. Enjoy the interview, and as JmaC would say…”stay focused.”

TD: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background, where are you from, and how did you end up in Chicago?

MF: I grew up in St. Paul, MN. I started playing the piano when I was 5 and had classical training until I was 14, but I can’t read a lick of music. I started making beats when I was 12 using fruity loops and my dad’s work computer at the time. My dad bought me my first keyboard (yamaha S80) when I was 13 and I made beats using that and Logic all throughout high school for my friends and me to rap on. I graduated from high school and moved to Chicago to go to DePaul University. I dropped out of DePaul after 2 years and moved back to Minnesota to go to the University of Minnesota. I was a part time student at the UMN and worked a lot of random, low paying jobs, making beats all the while. I dropped out of school after the Spring semester in 2011 and moved to Chicago in September 2011 to live with my brother/manager and pursue music full time. Most of the Manic Focus team is in Chicago, and the electronic music scene here is significantly larger than the Twin Cities. It feels like I made the right decision, and my family and friends have all been very supportive. The fans have been awesome too, especially considering less than a year ago I didn’t have any fans except for friends and family. It’s been a surreal experience so far, and its only getting crazier and more exciting.

TDWho are some of your greatest influences when it comes to the style/sound of your music?

MF: I’d say my first big influence was definitely Moby. I was 13 when Play came out and that album definitely changed my life. The vibe and structure of the tracks in that album are simple yet amazing. That album is what really inspired me to start making beats. The Crystal Method and the Prodigy were some other early influences. I switched from electronic music to hip-hop in high school, and the whole Rhymesayers label was a big influence on me. Then 4 years ago I heard Pretty Lights, and that has probably been the most prominent influence in my music today.

TD: What is something special that sets your music apart from the other DJ’s or producers?

MF: I only play tracks that I produce. A Manic Focus set is 100% original material (with samples), from remixes to sample free tracks. I honestly feel like I know very little about actual DJing. I have a sexy violinist too now, and I’m going to add a keytar to the set eventually, so the performance should feel more like a band than a DJ set.

TDHow has your latest album “Expanding Mind” been doing since its recent release? Are there any significant differences between “Expanding Mind” and “Definition of the Rhythm?”

MF:  People seem to really like it. I’m not selling it, and I haven’t been able to track the exact number of downloads, but I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it. The biggest difference between the two is my knowledge of the software. I’ve learned so much since I made the first album, so I’d say my sound is a lot more refined in EM than DOTR. There’s also more bass in EM.

TD: You’ve only been in Chicago for 9 months, what have been some of your favorite highlights since you moved out here?

MF: The last Bottom Lounge show I played was really special. I had a blast playing with Emjay (the violinist) for the first time, and there was a point when I said, “Throw your hands up” and there were at least 600 hands in the air. It felt amazing. I consider it my 8 Mile moment. The Smartbar shows have been awesome too. It’s a really intimate venue with one of the best sound systems in the country.

TDDo you have a favorite venue to play at? Why?

MF: Bottom Lounge is my favorite, but Smartbar is a close second. I like Bottom Lounge because the stage is the perfect size and height from the ground, the sound guys are excellent, and overall I get treated the best there from fans and staff.

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TD: Pop question…If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you bring? 

MF: Tough question! If I could bring ANYTHING, I’d bring a helicopter, a helicopter pilot, and more than enough fuel to get back to the main land so I can make more beats.

TD: Other than making beats, what are some of your favorite past times?

MF:  Magic Tricks, Video Games, watching the Daily Show, smoking hookah and drinking beer.

TD: You have an eventful looking summer ahead of you. What are you looking forward to the most?

MF: Spring Awakening is going to be a blast, and there are some events I’ve been booked for that are yet to be announced that I’m really looking forward too. It’s going to be an awesome summer.

TD: That’s all the questions we have for you and thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Any last words or shout outs?

MFMy friends, family, and fans!

About Amelia Waters