26 Jan 2017

Talking beats, politics and Elon Musk with Mr Carmack

9:11 am on 26 January 2017

Going deep with a pioneering producer.


Mr Carmack at work.

Mr Carmack at work. Photo: Supplied

If the name Mr Carmack rings absolutely no bells, you can be forgiven.

A true embodiment of what people seek out from Laneway Festival, Carmack sits on the precipice of the mainstream - a superstar producer among those who know of him, and a pending discovery for those who don’t.

He’s spent his life making music, and has come to be known for the way in which he combines heavy bass with hip-hop, layering in just enough of a Cali groove to keep it fresh, and distinctly his own.

First posting to SoundCloud in 2011, Carmack was a true pioneer of a movement that attracted producers and fans to the site. At a time when most others were still trying fight pirating, he was among the first wave of artists to figure out the advantages of self-releasing online.

“SoundCloud when it first started out was a nice community where people like me could post something they’d worked on. What’s to stop you from posting on a free website, making a little moniker and logo for yourself, and expressing yourself in that way? You don’t have to sign contracts, you don’t have to pay entry fees or get radio play, you just signup and start posting.”

But as has happened with most corners of the internet over the past 20 years, Carmack has watched the site transition from a small community to a crowded “shoutbox,” everyone trying to be louder than the person next to them, in the hope of one day being signed to a major label.

It’s the current state of the shoutbox that has Carmack acutely aware of how lucky he was to break onto the scene when he did.

“Yes, I’ve got 250,000 fans on there, but I also have longevity.”

“In the beginning, there were a lot of remixes, a lot of things that used cuts from paid music, and reinventions of older songs and genres. It was fun and had a nice collective, creative atmosphere about it. Of course, major labels had to come and fucking trash the whole scene,” he says with an air of frustration.

With 14 releases on his discography, Carmack is a poster boy for the self-releasing movement that’s been born out of the internet. It’s something that could never be done exclusively under a major label, especially for someone occupying such a niche.

Mr Carmack

Mr Carmack: “If you’re just floating, getting by and doing the bare minimum, you’re not really doing anything." Photo: Supplied

He’s the guy the hopefuls looks up to, more than Diplo, more than Skrillex, because everything he’s done over the past six years feels achievable.

SoundCloud isn’t the only alternative platform Carmack uses to his advantage, choosing to sell his music not only in the iTunes Store, but on Bandcamp, a site that allows artists to upload music independently and name their own price.

Bandcamp is where I first stumbled across the DJ and producer. It was November 25, Thanksgiving. He’d released a new EP titled Rekindling, and announced that all proceeds would be donated to support Standing Rock efforts.

Such charity is nothing new in the music world, but what did catch me out was the sincerity and heart put into the words that accompanied the album. It’s all hopes and dreams, encouraging people to do good and be good.

I ask him “why?”

He pauses.

“The interesting thing about people focusing on what I have to say is it gives me a lot of ropes. I can be more outspoken about prisons, gay rights, weed, the government, or I could only talk about my music. It allows me to use my freedom to say what I want to.”

“I’d always wanted to put something out to help a certain cause. Once I knew it was going to be Standing Rock, I channeled the movement into finishing the project as soon as I could. The following week I released it. It took a week,” he says, casually, as if it’s not wildly impressive that he put together a nine track release in just seven days.

So where does a guy who’s been making music his entire life seek inspiration from? The co-founder of electric car company Tesla, naturally.

“I’m heavily inspired by Elon Musk. He took an idea he had and made $100 million dollars. It was a massive risk for him, but he wanted to start the company to change and make the world a better place. If there’s anything I can do on a bigger scale, through music, art, or whatever profession I choose further down the road, I want to do it.”

At this point in the interview, I get way too into the aspirational talk - let’s blame his emotive words attached to the EP - and clumsily blurt out, “so what’s your end goal?”

He pauses for a moment and it dawns on me that I’ve asked a complete stranger to share their hopes and dreams with me over the phone.

Thirty long seconds later, by which point I’ve sweat through at least two layers of clothing, he responds.

“I’d love to strive to work for making a bigger impact and be at the forefront of said industry.”

He pauses again, only this time I know it’s because there’s more coming.

“If you’re just floating, getting by and doing the bare minimum, you’re not really doing anything. You’re just stagnant. I want to achieve something more.”

And then we’re done. He went full Tony Robbins on me and I believed it. Believed him.

That’s his X-factor.

Technically, his music is highly skilled, brilliant in fact, but the heavy bass and absence of words can leave it void of much emotion for those of us out of our depth in such a genre. But revisit it with the knowledge of his work ethic, his passion, his genuine care for humanity, that’s when it really clicks.

Making the music he does, Mr Carmack will probably never be crack the mainstream, but he’s the king of what he does, and you couldn’t want for more than that.

*Mr Carmack will play Laneway Festival’s Thunderdome stage at 9:10pm on January 30.