INTERVIEW: Mihalis Safras

What are you earliest memories of music?

The one thing I can clearly remember is that at the age of 8 I asked my dad to get me 2 turntables and a mixer, a really old Delta one. My brother had all the toys and stuff and I was like a vinyl nerd trying to mix.

Not much have changed till now, besides my huge collection of vinyl and my belly!

Why do you think it captivated you so much?

Music in a scientific approach is one of the few things that have impact directly to your brain. So I can ask how can anyone not be captivated by music? Whether that is DJing or producing, it gives a feeling of pure energy and creativity that is unbeatable.

Of course, when you listen to young artists like Mathew Herbert, Kraftwerk, etc, then you are 99% doomed to be stuck with electronic music in general.

How did you get into DJing?

This goes back to 1995, when I had my first gig in a small club in Athens. After this gig, another gig came up, then another and that lead to me being a resident in a few clubs back then. I think it is normal progress when, for more than 8 years, you are a vinyl collector and heavy clubber.

Imagine that, back in the 90s, the scene was not that huge in Greece and possibilities in reaching the decks were better. So mainly the love for electronic music and the dream that I could get involved in a scene was the number one motivation for me when I was a teenager. Hopefully, the same ideas motivate young people nowadays to get involved, and that’s a great thing!

What type of music did you used to mix with back then? Does any of it still creep into your sets these days?

I used to be a 3 x decks vinyl jockey, meaning that I loved to have 3 turntables in my booth. This stands till now as well. I started mixing breakbeat tunes like NRG, Altern8, to name a few, so after I swapped into the techno/house scene the mixing was like a game to me. If you learn to mix Amen beats then mixing 4/4 at 120bpm is like playing with a toy. What happens now is that the classic records I have in my crate, like M. Jackson, Lil Louis, Donna Summer, are still the hotspots in my sets.

What do you look for on the dance floor to know you’ve made that connection with the crowd?

That is pretty simple… If the crowd is smiling, looking towards you (not towards the exit door) and dancing, then you know there is a party going on. Sometimes DJs do everything perfectly, but still the crowd is bit ‘in slow motion’ and other times, despite difficulties, the crowd can be so energetic and powerful. So that’s a bond between DJs and crowd that is building up through the years. Hopefully we have done a good job up till now.

What tracks are rocking your sets of late?

1. Redondo & Ferreck Dawn – Love Too Deep
2. Booka Shade – Crossing Borders (Mihalis Safras remix)
3. Dale Howard – Trouble

Don’t you still play vinyl? Can you tell us why you’ve stuck with the format?

Oh yes I do! Wax is the king boys! The feeling of touching the real thing and the sound that vinyl master has is just pure perfection. Of course, when I DJ I like to really DJ and not have any sync button, etc. I know that there is a debate on how you can be more creative without spending time to beatmatch, but I belong on the other side where I prefer to have 3 turntables and do my thang!

As well as DJing, you produce your own music. How did you get into that?

In my case, being a resident DJ from 2000-2004 in some of the notorious clubs of Athens led to me spinning alongside legendary DJs and Producers such as Carl Cox, Sven Vath, Chris Liebing and Jeff Mills, amongst others. When you have such affiliation, the next thing you want to see is other DJs playing your own tunes. So, after years in my childhood home-studio I released my first vinyl in 2006 and, year after year, I saw some of my tracks being nailed in clubs and festivals. That feeling is what keeps me going…

You’re debut album, ‘Out Of The Box’ came out a couple of years ago on Toolroom Records. Your approach on the record is quite varied; you can’t pin it down to one genre. Was this something you’d always intended to do? Do you feel this best represents you musically?

‘Out Of The Box’ LP was released in 2012, but most of the tunes were produced between 2008 and 2012. As a person, I do not like labelling my style, so that had a clear effect on the album. It contained techno, house, electronic, so that was the best way to show what I wanted to represent back then. As I said, music evolves really fast, so something can be two or three years old and it might even sound out-dated now. Thankfully, some of the tracks on that album still sound fresh. Of course, the Toolroom guys made a great selection from the many tracks I sent, so that’s a plus for them too!

You have a few guests on the album. Can you tell us some more about them and what they brought to the project?

Indeed, some good friends of mine joined in the album, starting with legend that is Mark Broom. We had several releases in the past together, so the idea of having him on the album was great. Then the Spanish dons, Chus and Ceballos, and Italian Siwell, to name a few. It was also good that, after the album came out, containing 13 tracks, we also released the remix album, with some nasty remixes from a variety of artists.

Didn’t you also release a mixed version, as constructed by yourself? Why did you decide to do this? Was it always the way you heard the completed album in your head: as one continuous flow of music?

The idea belongs completely to Toolroom HQ and I can say that it worked out really well.
They selected some of the tunes off the album, so I mixed them into a continuous, solid track; that idea is still working now. Cheers guys!

You’ve got the ‘Papa / Jaga’ EP out now on Skint Records, can you tell us more?

My latest solo EP (Jaga/Papa) was released in March on Fatboy Slim’s label, Skint Records. This belongs to a long-term series of releases I am putting out with this legendary UK label. Actually, it’s my fifth release with them and I can reveal that, in May, the new Skint EP is coming! Regarding Jaga/Papa, it’s just a not-to-be-missed, belter of an EP.

Who are the major influences on both you as a DJ and a producer?

I do not have any specific influences, since as a person I am influenced in many different ways. Music wise, I have been touched by the whole UK Breakbeat scene in the 90s and after that by the proper way of mixing/production from the Detroit crew. #ripfrankie

Amongst other things, you’re the mastermind behind the Material Series. What led you to setting up your own label?

That’s my baby! The labels started the same year I released my first vinyl, in 2006. So we are now 8 years old already. It started when Mark Broom and me decided we’d like a label on which we could release our own productions. Then we started adding some remixers like Slam, Bart Skils, Samuel L Session and many others.

After the first two years the label was already established and it was time for the next step. We have now released more than 100 vinyl and Material has 3 sub-labels. Feels really good to see the selection you make for your label reaching the top, so Material is something I feel proud of.

Was it something you’d always wanted to do?

Well music is like a big cake; you can’t have only one piece if you are given the whole cake.

Starting as a DJ leads to producing, and that leads to having dreams of your own label.
Luckily, in my situation, it has all worked out well and that dream has been accomplished through the hard work of my partners, Lena, Kostas and Mark.

How difficult was it at first?

The most difficult part is finding the right music to release. There are a lot of good producers out there, known and unknown, but it’s hard to stick to a style in a period where everything changes so fast. Besides that, everything is really joyful, especially when the vinyl distributor sends the promo copies and you can play them out loud!

Any advice for the fledgling labels out there?

In such cases there is only one piece of advice: Stick to what you love and work for it!

What do you look for in the music you choose to release?

I think the best way to have a successful company is to try to be a pioneer. So releasing what has already been released is not the best thing to do. What we aim for is to have a balance between fashionable tracks and new ideas. We can’t be outside the flow of what is being played now, but we always love to throw new artists and ideas into the market.

But what is most important is that what we release has to sound well produced, no matter who the artist is.

Up until last year you were living in Berlin. How did you find that? Do you feel the experience influenced your own musical output, both in the studio and on the decks? Is it something you’d recommend to people?

Berlin; London; Athens… That was the route for the last few years for me. In 2013 I decided to return to my beloved city of Athens. Any experiences people live have a direct impact on their lives. So, in my case, living in Berlin taught me how I should work and what goals I should make. I strongly recommend to artists and DJs that you spend some time in cities where the electronic scene is really hot, like London, Barcelona and Berlin.

Why did you decide to move back to Greece?

Ring on my hand. ‘Nuff said.

What’s the scene like in Greece for you?

You know, Greece has an amazing dance scene and always used to have one. Of course, I am still out of my league, since only a few months have passed since I moved. Sometimes I am being strict to my opinion and some times not. I like to judge situations, because without judgement no change can happen; no evolution exists.

What I know for sure is that there is a part of the Greek clubbers/promoters/artists that have a deep love for what they do and they belong to the worldwide elite. I feel happy to work with one of them, CJ Jeff, since my return to Greece.

What else is upcoming on your horizons?

On my personal horizons, getting a degree in Theology would rock. On my music horizons, stay tuned for releases on Nurvous, Get Physical, Skint and many more.