Meikee Magnetic: SF’s home grown synthwave champion
Interview and Photos by Derek Tobias at IG: Simmonstobias
To hear the audio version of this interview with Meikee & Derek visit AusformMag.com, where you will regularly find new interviews with some of the wonderful personalities that make the Bay Area such a unique and magical place.
Meikee Magnetic is a native San Franciscan who cut his teeth in music with various live bands in his 20’s but found his calling behind the decks while touring in Japan. He’s been an integral part of the Synthwave explosion in SF and has been a resident DJ at BootieSF and TurboDrive (DNA Lounge) for the better part of the last decade. To keep track of Meikee’s events add him on Facebook or Instagram
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Ausform: How long have you lived in San Francisco?
Meikee: I was born and raised here but I did a lot of traveling with my grandfather in Ecuador as a child. At around four he took me all over South America so you can say I got the travel bug at an early age. Tokyo was also my home for 3 years as well as Los Angeles in the 2000’s but San Francisco will always be where I rest my heart.
Ausform: In terms of your childhood aside from jet setting all over South America before you were five years old. What kind of arts and music were around your family, and are your parents musically inclined?
Meikee: No one in my family was musically inclined so my great grandmother suggested I be the 1st to learn an instrument. My family ended up getting a piano including years of music lessons. It’s a blessing to be able to read music and be classically trained, I still have the piano sitting in my studio office to this day. As far as the arts, my uncle and grandfather were both painters. Their inspiration gravitated me towards drawing Godzilla and comic book characters. With music in the seventies we had one of those big TVs that was more like furniture including a built in record player and radio. That’s when I discovered the old Elvis and Beatles records. I was a curious kid fascinated by the cover art, instantly intrigued playing the records every day. Somewhere between singing and dancing in my onesie pajamas I started playing with the radio stations, trying to find music I liked. Blondie “Call Me” came on and that was it, I gravitated to Alternative music soon after. There really wasn’t outside inspiration, I guess it was instilled in me at birth, my odd tastes.
Meikee: I was a professional musician in local bands from when I was 17, four bands total. A progressive rock band (100th Monkey), a live hip hop band (New Dealers), a live electronica band (Chilldren Ov Paradise) and finally a live electro band in Hollywood (Protection). Fischerspooner, Justice, MSTRKRFT, Lcd Soundsystem, Felix The House Cat and Blog House were a huge inspiration back then. As far as what got me into DJing happened when I was living in Tokyo. After having some success hosting MTV Japan and making appearances on Japanese television, club owners asked if I DJ’d. So I thought hmm, I can pay my rent and play music to, cool. Immediately I hit up record stores in Shibuya looking for Psy Trance and Progressive House vinyl. My first gig was in Roppongi with around 800 people, there was a lot of pressure. I found this little Trance bar to practice at for free inviting my professional DJ friends to train me for the next few weeks. I was so nervous at the 1st gig but after I beat matched for the very 1st time, the crowd cheered. From that point on I was totally hooked.
Ausform: So you had a little bit of a DJ apprenticeship.
Meikee: Yes indeed, my DJ career started in Tokyo learning under DJ friends out there. In the middle of the apprenticeship I also had the live electronica band so there were Keyboards, drum machines and a DJ bag filled with vinyl. Double booking as a live act plus DJ usually occurred trying to work as much as I could. A lot of learning/training came from performing at Japanese trance festivals. Mount Fuji was quite the experience seeing all the big trance DJs I admired.
Ausform: Who are some of your ideal DJs that you were looking up to in that period?
Meikee: DJ Tsuyoshi who’s still playing to this day. He’s a Japanese DJ who was also in London for a while, he was the rockstar I looked up to that DJ’d to thousands of people. He actually saw my first Tokyo live performance so the admiration eventually became mutual.
Ausform: So what brought you to Japan in the first place?
Meikee: At the time I wasn’t growing as a musician, luckily I met these other funky musicians “Beyond Race” that had a wild style. They had great vision, were more electronic and it was exactly what I wanted to do. We played at Burning Man (1999), and a promoter from Japan saw us. They invited us to perform at a Rave in Japan. I brought my Moog keyboard and a small bag thinking I was going out there for one week. The rave event lead to us getting booked at Harukaze in Yoyogi Park for the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Ausform: And then how long were you out in Japan?
Meikee: Three years and I didn’t ever want to leave. You know the opening scene of Blade Runner? That’s what it felt like to me, immediately I was in love. I was transformed and transfixed into this cyber punk world. It was so emotional, I knew I needed to be there.
Ausform: You brought up being in this cyber punk reality when you were in Japan. I think that ties in a lot to what you’re doing now with Turbo Drive.
Meikee: Exactly, I was already playing that kind of music similar to Synthwave in the mid 2000’s so I just slipped right in perfectly. It was the love that I had for that cyber punk world, it was already inside of me, and this was a way for me to go back into that world.
Ausform: So let’s talk a little bit about, Turbo Drive. How that started and how it’s grown over the years?
Meikee: Turbo Drive was a Synthwave event created by Devon Dossett, now the manager of the DNA Lounge. I saw him doing Turbo Drive years ago at BootieSF in the back room. I mentioned this is the music that I love and would it be possible to DJ. One of the first shows I played was with Dance With The Dead and Night Club. It was very fresh and very new. I’m attracted to be on the pulse of new music that I have passion for. It was also exciting to do what I could to help it grow.
Ausform: And then how would you say the growth over the years has changed the scene?
Meikee: At the time we were the only ones doing Synthwave events but always knew this thing just might start taking off. It started fairly small until we started booking larger acts in the main room at DNA Lounge as well as partnering with other SF Nightclubs. Once we booked FM-84 and The Midnight, that was it. Other killer parties started popping up like NightWav, who I immediately reached out to trying to tie those threads together, the global threads of Synthwave. Once it hit New York and LA I couldn’t be more excited to see things happening on a bigger scale.
Ausform: And then there’s obviously been an increase in the popularity and the awareness of that genre over the last few years with different creative properties like Stranger Things, and other things that are taking the synth wave sound profiles in and integrating them into their style. Do you think that the style is going to continue to build mainstream interest, or do you think that it’s at a good place right now?
Meikee: You know Tokyo Rose just announced that he wants to get out of Synthwave and just do more dubstep stuff. It’ll be easier for him to get on big festivals playing dubstep, I don’t blame the guy because he’s brilliant. As far as the popularity, look at House Music, it’s been around for years yet it still remains somewhat underground. I think the same for Synthwave, there’s room for everything as long as there’s a passion for it. As far as getting commercial, things get commercial and then people get bored and then music goes back underground.
Ausform: What’s the general feeling around live music returning to the Bay Area and how that’s going to change in terms of the experience?
Meikee: It’s really heartbreaking and devastating to watch what’s going on with all the fellow musicians and DJs globally. Seeing all the social media posts of people scared not knowing what to do. On the other hand, it’s very inspiring to see artist do live streams and just fight to keep their craft alive. This is my art, this is my craft, I’m going to find another creative way to keep playing, you got to admire that. Music will never die, the community will never die, and the passion will never die. We need human interaction, but we’re forced in our homes right now. I’m one of those artists who needs a human touch, to play in front of a crowd and talk to people. So to have this happen, it’s tough. 2020 may just be done as far as nightlife so we can start planning for 2021.
Ausform: I know a lot of venues started go fund me pages to help their staff and to try and pay their rent and stay a viable option for the future. being a freelance DJ I’m guessing you don’t get a piece of that. So how have you been managing through this lockdown financially and creatively?
Meikee: Basically my funds have been completely cut off due to Covid-19 but I’ll be ok. On the creative end I’m the music editor for Dark Beauty Magazine so I still have an outlet to keep my fingers in the music world. There’s nothing more rewarding then helping other artists get a spotlight and showcasing their work. Turbo Drive has been doing live webcasts (www.dnalounge.com/webcast) for the past few months (2nd & 4th Fridays) and I’m so grateful to be able to still DJ on a big stage. It’s great to see any type of financial help for the staff of nightlife venues and I encourage people to reach out and donate to San Francisco Nightclubs like DNA Lounge that need help. dnalounge.com/donate/
Ausform: I’ve seen some promoters ask their fans if they’d be willing to go to shows where everyone’s wearing masks. And I’ve seen some people saying that online festivals will continue even after everybody gets back to normal. Do you have any thoughts on the future of live music experiences?
Meikee: I want the economy to go back to normal as quick as possible, we all do but we don’t want people to die just to rush back into things. Your health is the most important thing you have and if you don’t have that, if you risk your life, then you can’t enjoy music. So I’d rather people stay healthy and enjoy the online festivals for now because music isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully we can just hold on long enough until things get going again. I don’t see it happening anytime soon, maybe 2021. One thing I do know is that face masks will be the hottest accessory in 2020-21.
Ausform: Let’s go ahead and do a few rapid-fire questions to finish this off. So, let’s name your top three taco places.
Ausform: Three artists that you would recommend that aren’t musicians.
Meikee: I’m going to go with Daniel Merlot, he’s my best friend and old music partner from the Tokyo days. He’s doing incredible things right now outside of music in Asia such as a short film in Thailand, it’s going to be amazing. Next would be Majesty Black a fashion accessory designer, he’s the biggest accessory designer in the world I would say. Finally Candice Cuoco, a fashion designer who hired me to do music for London Fashion Week. She’s really inspiring and amazing.
Ausform: And then list three things that you want to do first thing when this all gets better?
Meikee: I’d love to book the San Junipero retrowave party at the Rickshaw Stop, that’s the first thing. Just to start playing gigs again DJing out at the Emporium and Turbo Drive. Hanging out with my friends and dining at fine restaurants.
Ausform: Anything else you want to promote for yourself or other organizations?
Meikee: Well, I have big news, we just finished our very first Synthwave compilation called Turbo Drive SF Vol. 1 on Aztec Records in the UK. Featuring around 18 artists from Le Matos, Betamaxx, Das Mortal, FM-84, Arcade High, Waveshaper etc… I’ve been lucky enough to help organize it with the label.