It’s 2:47am. I stand there at the bar waiting anxiously for Max’s arrival. His manager, Grant Heinrich, a cool and collected man of Australian descent, wanders over to inform me that his client will be with me imminently. I pull out my laptop and prepare my questions. I’ve done many an interview in my time as a writer, but rarely have I ever been this nervous. Perhaps it was the numerous intoxicants running through my blood stream, but it was also Max’s well-documented introspective nature - a personality trait that does not lend itself particularly well to investigative journalism.
It’s 2:47am. I stand there at the bar waiting anxiously for Max's arrival. His manager, Grant Heinrich, a cool and collected man of Australian descent, wanders over to inform me that his client will be with me imminently. I pull out my laptop and prepare my questions. I’ve done many an interview in my time as a writer, but rarely have I ever been this nervous. Perhaps it was the numerous intoxicants running through my blood stream, but it was also Max’s well-documented introspective nature - a personality trait that does not lend itself particularly well to investigative journalism.
After a brief introduction and a little small-talk, the conversation began to flow with a sense of ease. What I found was a charming, softly-spoken, humble musician, completely invested in the conversation with a rare enthusiasm and desire to elaborate on any points requiring clarification. As we sat there discussing Max’s musical aspirations, it struck me that we were actually getting along; at times it felt that not even Max himself was aware of what he has achieved or just quite how much talent he possesses.
Raised in a town just outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, Cooper attended Steiner school before continuing his education at the University of Nottingham. He loves basketball, he plays computer games and enjoys hanging with his friends. He has a passion for snowboarding and enjoys the country - or the ‘living world,’ as he so aptly describes. He has short brown hair and, besides a cheeky grin, possesses no particularly defining feature to distinguish him from any other regular university graduate. By all accounts, Max is just an ordinary man - until you give him some decks, a stage and a crowd.
The public side of Max - his musical repertoire - has been very well documented and deservedly acclaimed. Cooper labels his work as ‘Detailed,’ ‘Contrasting,’ and ‘Emotive,’ which, for a man of with a preference for musical self-expression, is a very accurate description. Notorious today for his extended festival sets and his unparalleled ability to blend the most emotive of compositions with abrasive baselines, Cooper seamlessly combines equipment to create a powerful and flexible environment for his musical expression, producing free-flowing, captivating sets that transition through various styles, genres and BPM’s. He defies convention, constantly experimenting and pushing the boundaries of musical exploration, the result being a wondrous catalogue of beautifully thought-provoking records capable of evoking a range of emotions completely unique to the lucky listener.
My expectations for his set were high - extraordinarily so, perhaps. I was expecting a journey, a cerebral masterpiece capable of releasing the emotions that I too hold deep within - and Cooper did not disappoint. Standing at the decks, deeply enthralled and invested in his work, Cooper quickly gained complete control of each individual in that room with a range of eery, seductive techno beats and heavy, hip-hop orientated baselines. Working in music, and with a great love of such, my experiences of this fine art form in its ‘live’ format can match those of even the most passionate of followers. I have seen the best, and I have seen the worst - but watching Cooper ply his trade to a room full of loyal fans will forever hold a special place within my musical memoirs.
The private side of Max – the real Max Cooper, if you like – is hardly known at all. Max, as quickly becomes evident, is intensely private. Whilst always open and highly expressive when discussing his chosen art, behind this manufactured façade of an acclaimed musical talent remains a shy, humble man with a highly experimental nature. He is very careful with his words, perhaps nervous to say something that may be reflect poorly on him, and there is a small sense of unease when I do try venture into something a little too personal. Not entirely comfortable and ultimately shy in conversation, Max lets his work do the talking.
As I dig deeper, trying to gain an understanding of exactly who the real Max Cooper is, it quickly becomes apparent that music is more than just a job for Max: It is a means of communication, a valuable release for an intelligent, introspective individual with high levels of emotional awareness. Max does not hide behind his music: his music represents him.
Asked to describe himself in three words, Max pauses for thought. “Relaxed, tortured, and emotional,” he says. “Things get me, you know. Whatever I feel, it is always strong – whether it be good or bad.” And, as I soon realise, the raw, emotive, thought-provoking nature of his work is a vivid reflection of their creator, a more accurate portrayal of the real Max Cooper than he could ever wish to express through words alone.
“Music is my most important vehicle of self-expression,” he says. “You can express things musically that you can’t express in words or I can’t express in words at least.” He chooses to work late into the night ‘around 2 or 3am’ when it is peaceful because this allows him to engage more easily with his emotions. “Music is always about finding what fits you naturally. Every person is different. Music comes from underneath,” he says. “Music is always a reflection of my state of mind. Each track comes as a snapshot of my state of mind at that particular time.”
That is not to say, however, that this comes easily to Cooper and he is keen to stress that a high-work ethic and his science-orientated background have both played a great role in his early success. Asked to elaborate, Cooper discusses his almost obsessional nature, describing his early aspirations of becoming a professional basketball player: “I got really good at it [basketball], I was really obsessed” - and even to his love of computer games: “You can learn [to work hard] from computer games,” he says. “If you practice then you beat them,” he methodically adds.
But work ethic can only get you so far. Make no mistake: Cooper is a very special talent. He is a peerless innovator, a rule-breaker with an incredible attention to detail, and it is here that he must pay homage to his days as a research scientist at University College London. Cooper’s wonderful 2014 release Adrift is an impossibly beautiful product of these skills – experimental, more personal than his other records and highly detailed in the layered faint minimalist beats that rest deep behind Kathrin deBoer’s chilling vocals. “I had a simple piano chord progression and a randomised percussion idea to give to Kathrin [vocalist], who captured the feeling beautifully with her lyrics and jazz influenced vocal approach,” says Cooper in an interview with FACT magazine. “Every release I do is something different. I enjoy taking risks – it’s about musical exploration,” he says. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
What comes next for Cooper remains to be seen. The modern age is scattered with extraordinary talents all of whom get drawn away from nurturing their art by the glitz and glamour that come with international success. But Cooper is different: He is driven by beauty and emotion rather than money and fame. He is a modern DJ with purist elements at heart, updating his Facebook page with ‘I hope you like this!’ and opting for outdated and impracticable CD’s over more advanced technologies when mixing - “I enjoy CD’s. I enjoy drawing little shit on them,” he jokes. It is this unique balance of talent and focus that makes Cooper one of the hottest properties in world music.
Cooper, it must be noted, is still at the start of his musical odyssey. Despite pottering around the electronic music scene since the late 90’s, only now has he finally felt developed enough to release his first LP. “I just wasn’t ready [previously],” he says. The release is a beautiful collection of delicate, reflective electronica moving away from Cooper’s previous club-based floor-fillers and a portrayal of a different aspect of his character. “I did not want to release an album that was just club tracks.” For now, Cooper intends to pursue both avenues, pushing himself musically and allowing his production skills to develop. “I am still learning, still developing. I enjoy both sides,” he says.
As I wake up the following afternoon, my head heavy and mouth dry after a fun-filled night of exhaustive merry-making, I wrestle continuously as I attempt to accurately portray Max Cooper through words alone. I think, I ponder and then I check my text messages from the night prior. The last one, directed to Max’s Manager, reads, ‘What a special, special talent you have.’
Precise and to the point, I thought. And let’s leave it at that.