Manic Focus Breaks Down the Mastery of His Musical Productions with Turntable Talks

Updated: May 16, 2020

Manic Focus recently released his sixth full-length album, Lost in a Digital World, easily noted as one of his most versatile albums to date. The musical mastermind behind Manic Focus is John McCarten, who intricately layers his personal influences of soul, funk, and drum-n-bass throughout this perfectly portrayed production consisting of a multitude of blended subgenres of dance music.

After performing over 50 shows throughout the course of 2019, having achieved a multitude of festival performances under his belt, McCarten is finishing up the year with the “Lost in a Digital World Tour” in support of his latest album. Throughout our featured interview with the Twin Cities native and music mogul, Manic Focus breaks down his calling as a creative artist climbing the charts in the music industry.

Congratulations on the recent release of your latest album, Lost in a Digital World! What was your overall creative process like while putting together your latest piece of work compared to the other albums you've released in the past?

I recorded and produced most of this album in New Orleans at Neutral Sound Studios. I had a blast working with some incredible musicians in New Orleans. This album certainly has more live instrumentation than any of my other albums in the past.

After releasing music for almost a decade now as Manic Focus, how does it feel to have an outstanding collection of albums under your belt?

It feels amazing to have so much music out. I'm really excited about the progress I've made over the years as a producer. I've learned a ton about songwriting, music composition, and music production from a wide variety of incredibly talented musicians, and I think its really cool to hear the evolution of my skill set from my early works to today.

When did you first discover you wanted to pave a career path in the music industry as a performing artist?

I was working for the Minnesota Gophers in the IT department in 2009-2011. It was a great job, but I was really passionate about producing music. I attended my first festival, North Coast Music Festival in Chicago, in 2010. After attending that amazing event, I knew I wanted to be a part of the scene. I downloaded Ableton and started producing as much music as I could until I had a little over an hour of material, and then I started performing in the Twin Cities, playing opening gigs at TCDubstep events. In 2011, I left my job and moved to Chicago to pursue my music career full time.

How were you introduced into the electronic dance music scene for the very first time? What was this overall experience like for you?

My dad took my brother and me to see Moby in 2000. He was performing his "Play" album with a live band. The whole band was phenomenal. That show changed my life and I started really diving into music production almost immediately after that.

Since 2013 you have been touring constantly, what exactly draws you to the road?

The fans are my biggest draw to touring. Their energy and enthusiasm about my music is very inspiring. I love testing new, unreleased material for my live shows, and the fans' reactions really help me to produce better music. The fans have helped me grow tremendously as a person and an artist, and I'm forever grateful for their support.

In our interview with Wick-it the Instigator, when we asked him what his most memorable tour experience was, he replied by expressing his most favored tour experience being a tour on the road with you! Can you tell us what it was like to spend time on the road touring with Wick-it?

I love Wick-it! His energy and attitude on the road is incredibly positive and fun. He's hilarious and always keeps our spirits and moods in a great, positive place. His sets are really amazing, and I've learned a lot from him about not only touring and performing, but life in general. I would love to tour with him again!

You're currently on tour showcasing your latest album, Lost in a Digital World. How has your experience on this tour different from other tours in the past?

My style as a producer/DJ has grown a lot over the last year, and I've grown a lot in terms of how I structure sets and transition between songs. I used to play longer versions of my songs, but now my mixing style is a lot faster now. I'm able to play quite a few more songs in my set than I used to in the past. I also have quite a bit of unreleased material and edits that I've been playing in my sets, and the reception has been amazing.

Recently, your live performances have incorporated more guest performers to the roster of artists you share a stage with on tour. How has shifting from DJing solo into incorporating other acts during your shows contributed to the overall live show experience you showcase on tour for your fans?

I love sharing the stage with other talented musicians, and the live instrumentation on top of my music brings additional excitement and energy to the performances. The musicians I play with are all incredibly good at improvising and jamming on top of my music, so the sets with them always feel fresh and new.

What can fans and ticket-holders anticipate for your show coming up here at First Avenue in the Mainroom, this upcoming November?

As the last show of the tour, we've gone all out with production. Colby Buckler (from Emancipator Ensemble) will be playing drums with me, and we'll have an awesome laser show. We also have some incredible opening acts (Daily Bread, Guggenz, and Hawx).

How did coming up in the Twin Cities affect your overall musical style and production?

The local hip-hop scene played a big role as an early influence on my music production style. I've been a big fan of the Rhymesayers label since the early 2000s, and their music really inspired me to produce hip-hop instrumentals.

With growing influence and appreciation of Midwest music, did you ever consider being a hip-hop producer based on the specific region and locations you have lived?

I absolutely wanted to be a hip-hop producer prior to being an electronic music producer. I made beats in my parent's basement for years, and my friends would come over and write raps all night. We recorded a lot of really cool songs that were just for us. We didn't have any connections to the music industry at the time, so we really just did it for the love of the craft.

What was it like to work with GRiZ in the studio for your album that was released under his label, All Good Records? What will you always remember about those studio sessions?

GRiZ is a BEAST when it comes to music composition and production. His ability to unleash his ideas on a computer so quickly was really inspiring. He knew exactly how to get what he was hearing in his head into the computer. Our taste, production-wise, was very similar, so collaborating with him was a real treat. His ability to focus on an idea and execute with precision and grace is what makes him a truly phenomenal artist.

Over the course of your career, you have released music both independently as well with other labels. What advice do you have for those determining whether to work with a label or release their music independently?

In today's music industry, labels are great if you're looking to collaborate and/or be associated with other artists who inspire you and help you grow. Much of the journey, however, will be independent. While you'll receive guidance and gigs from bigger artists, most of your success as an artist is completely up to you and your work ethic. At the end of the day, your success and longevity will be determined by a fanbase you cultivated out of love and appreciation for music, art, and people.

Upon completion of your Lost in a Digital World Tour, do you have any plans up your sleeve you can share with us relating to what's next for Manic Focus?

I've been working on a lot of heavy bass music that I hope to release on one of my favorite electronic labels. I'm also working on a lot of hip-hop beats, which I might compile into a hip-hop instrumental mixtape of some sort.

How do you determine who you would like to work with when choosing to collaborate with another artist?

When it comes to collaborations, I'm a fan of the artists I collaborate with prior to meeting or working with them. If its a production collaboration, I look for producers who have unique production styles or sounds that I feel I can compliment well.

The presence of hip-hop is evident within your music, what hip-hop and/or rap artists have influenced you?

In no particular order: Eyedea and Abilities, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Dr. Dre, Eminem, OutKast, Biggie Smalls, KRS-One, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Method Man, The Roots, Psalm One, Missy Elliot, MC Lyte, Eve, Aesop Rock, Mac Miller, Jay-Z, Run the Jewels, Spark Master many! I love all kinds of hip-hop music.

Who would you love to collaborate with next?

I've always dreamed of collaborating with Atmosphere. I'd love to produce a beat with Ant and record Slug's vocals.

As you continue to incorporate more and more sub-genres of music into your sound, which direction will you be shifting to next?

I try to keep my style open and unique with each song I produce so I don't get stuck in one particular sound.

Who was your favorite artist to collaborate without of all your material, and why?

I don't have a favorite. Every artist I collaborate with is very special and unique, and the experience is always different. I love learning from different artists and approaching music composition in different ways with different people.

Who are your top three musical inspirations?

Moby, Atmosphere, and Pretty Lights.

Where do you see the future of electronic dance music as EDM continues to progress and how do you think this will continue to affect the mainstream music culture?

I see electronic music as an incredible form of bridging together all styles of music. The possibilities are endless in the world of electronic music production, and I hope to hear artists from across all genres collaborate with one another more frequently, creating entirely new styles and sounds that will unite people across the globe and push the evolution of music as a whole.

If you could leave one piece of advice for aspiring performing artists and industry professionals pursuing a career in the music business, what would that be?

Be true to yourself and pursue your passion. Don't limit yourself. As an artist, be a student of your craft and push yourself to create something that you're truly excited about. On the business side, be positive and optimistic, and don't let the natural fluctuations of the industry discourage you from your commitment to providing people with amazing ways to experience music and art.

Compliments go to our featured photographers, Tyler Allix and Sarah Rochis. Click any of the featured images To view more of their work! 📸🔥

SIM Shows will be presenting Manic Focus: Lost in a Digital World Tour tomorrow night, Friday, November 15th! Be sure not to miss out on the musical madness Manic Focus is about to exhibit with the support of Daily Bread, Guggenz and Hawx, live at First Avenue & 7th St Entry! 🔊🎶

Still in need of tickets to the show? Click here to purchase your tickets today! 🎟🎶✔️

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