Nomadic DJ and producer Air Max ‘97 occupies a particular place in the current creative landscape. The artist, also known as Oliver van der Lugt, has previously worked across art, design, technology, fashion, curation, movement and writing, in addition to making music. “I’m still doing occasional design projects on a freelance basis to help pay the bills, and would love to pursue textile design again in the future,” he explains over email, “[but] music is my number one practice now.” His skewed productions are also composed of a fabric woven with characteristic energy and emotional intensities.
Nonetheless, there’s still an important visual component to van der Lugt’s music; he was recently asked to soundtrack a part of Jonathan Zawada’s work that will be projected onto the Sydney Opera House, and is developing a live set that incorporates a visual element realised in collaboration with a video artist. There’s also some cross-over in his musical and wider artistic approaches. “I think there’s a similar obsession with readymade materials, the boundary between representation and abstraction, surface and depth, improbability, affect,” he writes, “but then music, especially loud in a club, functions very differently to other media, and I love that.”
Air Max ‘97’s debut album, Nacre, will be released on June 1 via his own label, DECISIONS (now co-organised by artists Jikuroux and SCAM). Inspired by a certain organic-inorganic composite material of the same name, the album took about six months of writing and six months of mixing to complete, and, according to the artist, “covers a wider spectrum of sounds than my previous releases.”
Before the release of Nacre, Air Max ‘97 will play Progress Bar in Amsterdam on April 28, alongside artists including Dis Fig, Lafawndah and N-Prolenta, as well as a talk by the creators of collaborative cross-platform project NXS. Ahead of the event, AQNB spoke to van der Lugt about his DECISIONS label, community, and the production of his first full-length LP.
**What spurred you to start DECISIONS?
Oliver van der Lugt: I decided to start the label to be able to have full control over releasing my own music, and to build a platform to also showcase my friends and people whose music I think the world needs to hear.
**There has been a crop of Australian artists grabbing our attention for a while – artists like waterhouse, Jikuroux and DJ Plead, who have all featured on your label. Having also been based in Melbourne for some time yourself, would you say there’s a strong community of Australian artists?
OvdL: Absolutely. The people you’ve mentioned are some of my favourite DJs and producers in the world. There are a few barriers for people building careers here though: Australia is a long and expensive flight from other parts of the world, there are relatively small audiences here and Sydney has the ‘lockout’ laws that have really choked nightlife. So perhaps more experimental Australian artists don’t always get the international recognition they deserve.
**How do you perceive your own place in relation to this community, as well as your increasingly global life and network?
OvdL: Hmm, that is a good question. The amount of Australian artists on DECISIONS speaks to how much of my musical family is here. But I feel like a bit of a rogue sibling spending so much time overseas, where I have other opportunities. I hope I can be some kind of conduit between regions and audiences.
**I heard you recently spent time in Mexico City. How have different cities treated you as an artist and what brought about your time in Mexico?
OvdL: I was in Mexico City for the second half of 2017. My partner went on university exchange and I decided to go along. Mexico City is super vibrant, energetic and diverse. I met some people doing amazing things there and played a few shows around Mexico, but I could also afford to take some time off and mix my album. The earthquake was a massive disruption. Everyone we knew spent days and weeks afterwards contributing to relief efforts, the most effective of which were civilian-driven. But generally I felt very welcomed and lucky to spend time and travel there.
**What are your visions for the future of DECISIONS? Are there any upcoming artists or releases we should know about, or any artists you’d love to feature on the label?
OvdL: This year Jikuroux and SCAM have joined me as co-organisers of DECISIONS, so it’s going to expand somewhat with their input and direction. The next release is my album, Nacre. Following that will be EPs from an Italian producer called Oroboro and a debut EP from SCAM. We have a few other things in the works too, including a release to celebrate our third birthday. Artists I’d love to feature on the label include Corin and Emily Glass.
**What were the ideas that inspired Nacre, was it driven by any particular research?
OvdL: Well, I really went in on nacre, which is what pearls are made of, and how they are a byproduct of the autoimmune responses of certain molluscs. Nacre is an organic/inorganic compound material with structural properties and surface lustre that have not yet been successfully synthesised by humans. I love baroque pearls especially, where the molluscs make these wildly deviating forms that are so much more beautiful to me than a perfect sphere. The layered structure of pearls also offered a nice analogy for the structure of the album, which started with the oldest track, ‘Nacre,’ in the middle of the track listing and roughly went out to the newest tracks at the beginning and end of the album. However, illuminating and processing deep and liminal emotional intensities remains the backbone of the album, and this diving and twisting isn’t easy to translate into words. Anything else orbits around that core.**