ITM’s Honour Roll #7: Mike Callander
After a few months off, the inthemix Honour Roll is making its righteous return with one of Australia’s finest DJs. After we launched the series with Sydney legend Simon Caldwell, now comes the time for an in-depth one-on-one with his Melbourne equivalent.
It’s with good reason that the name Mike Callander is on several parties’ posters on any given weekend. He’s a DJ with, as he’d put it, a wealth of “match practice”. The depth of his collection and innate feel for the dancefloor has made Callander the go-to guy for warm-up sets, back-rooms, club residencies and festival techno tents. As he says in this interview, “Almost anyone can rock a full dancefloor if it’s already full, but it’s the people who fill it up that are doing the best job.”
With only a couple of paid DJ gigs to his name at the time, Callander started the Fokus club night in 2001 alongside his friend Luke Rivett. Pushing an inclusive take on techno, Fokus amassed a dedicated following and propelled Callander into a host of new situations, including a residency at the infamous Honkytonks. His ability to read a room has only become more precise over the years, with technical nous matched by a still-firing passion for the music.
In 2011, Callander’s time is also consumed by the studio and the label he runs with Christian Vance and Craig McWhinney, Haul Music. For this Honour Roll, we went right back to the start and worked up to the current state of Melbourne’s club scene.
How did you first begin to discover music?
You read so many stories about DJs whose parents were musicians, or they grew up in a household full of instruments. Mine was almost the opposite. I had no musical training, my school had a really crap music program so I didn’t participate.
I was just a real avid punter, an enthused collector of music starting with cassette tapes and mixtapes as well. My brother was a big influence on me as well. He’s ten years older than me, and had been travelling quite a bit throughout my teens and bringing back music.
I remember the first time he came back from London it would’ve been maybe 1995, and he had the first Ministry of Sound mix-CD done by Tony Humphries. It was fucking awesome, actually. I suppose it’d be cheesy now, but it had lots of saxophones and big pianos and all that kind of thing. That was probably my first exposure to nightclub music.
There’s got to be a long history of influential older brothers in dance music.
Yeah, I think so. My brother certainly was, not only in exposing me to sounds but taking me to my first parties and encouraging me to pursue DJing as well. Especially when you decide to do it as a career and your parents are going, “Hey, when are you going to get a real job?”, my brother was a great buffer. He’d be the one to say “he’s really good at this” or “he makes people happy doing this”. I have to thank my bro for a lot of good vibes in the beginning.
What was it about the energy of those early parties that was different from listening to mixtapes?
For me, it was the people. The whole cassette experience was a personal one, and it was a little bit introverted. The party thing was an explosion of smiling faces and I think at the time I didn’t even realise why everyone was so happy [laughs]. But I was really infected by this sensation of, “Gees, everyone is so happy here”.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know there were drugs around, I just couldn’t believe the effects that they had on people; that people would be so engaged in the moment and on the same journey.
I also think my first conscious idea about the energy within the music was at a party called Where The Wild Things Are, where I know Jeff Mills played in the techno room, but there was a second room of jungle and broken beat music. I didn’t know what that was then, but I remember thinking I had a way better time there than the techno room. Things have definitely changed for me, but that’s the first inkling I got of dancefloor energy. It was rad.
DJ Funk – Run (UK extended mix). “It sounds so fast when I listen to it now, but at the time it felt kinda deep. I guess I’m getting old! I love the progression of sounds in this track, and the absolutely stompin’ kick and bass combination.”
Did you ever consider becoming a jungle DJ?
No, there was a bit of time that passed between starting to go to parties and collecting records and deciding to play them. That was courtesy of a couple of Melbourne DJs. One guy Damian Laird ended up being a mentor for me. I used to work for him in record distribution, and he influenced me to look for records that other people didn’t have as a method of approaching DJing.