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Mathew Jonson: The Maestro

He could have been a concert pianist, but instead Mathew Jonson turned to electronic music

  • Words: Kristan Caryl / Images: Jimmy Mould
  • 4 December 2015

He could have been a concert pianist, but instead Mathew Jonson turned to electronic music - and has created some of techno's most monumental tracks. With his first commercially available mix out now, we caught up with him on tour in Brazil.

Mathew Jonson plays classical piano and jazz drums. He is a notorious hardware lover, synth collector and makes grandly musical techno. But he is no geek. "I think the people that know me would say the opposite," he says with a broad smile on his friendly face. He is sitting on a hotel balcony in Itajaí, on Brazil's south coast with birds tweeting in the background. "They would say I'm a total freak who maybe likes to party a little too much!"

With bedraggled brown curls tumbling from his crown, and slightly greying stubble on his rosy cheeks, Jonson is academic yet affable. He also looks a little tired, occasionally rubbing his eyes over the course of the next hour. It adds weight to his claim that he is a party boy when in the club, even though the Canadian admits he has "calmed down" over the last decade. "But I still like to pick my battles. Me and my girlfriend lit it up pretty hard at Warung last week," he says with a mischievous smile.

In the midst of a three week tour of Brazil, and off the back of a trip to Japan (where he will be moving for three months come December) Jonson has now been traversing the globe for more than a decade. Unlike many of his peers, he enjoys the travelling, "eating local food and meeting local people," and mentions a recent incident that still visibly upsets him. "I felt like a bit of an asshole not having time to have a beer at the bar and say hi to the people and not be at all personal," Mathew explains of rushing off for a flight as soon as a recent set finished. «But that was the only way it could be done," he shrugs.

People will surely forgive him, because in the last decade, Jonson has built up a reputation as one of electronic music's most accomplished live performers. Preferring to play live over DJing because "you have 24 channels in front of you, not just two, and I like the possibilities," he has years of formal training behind him, something that comes through clearly on monumental tracks like 'Marionette' and 'Decompression,' with their elegant melodies, real chord progressions and trippy, soft techno grooves. When the Wagon Repair and Itiswhatitis label boss refers to himself as "a musician" it isn't too bold. Underlining his genuine musical nous, words like "timbre, phrasing, tonality, dissonance" litter his speech, and he also spends two weeks a year lecturing young producers at the Red Bull Music Academy.

"Music making is a therapy thing for me," he says as he sips on a glass of water and moves inside to avoid a rumbling storm that rolls in on the beach in front of him. As he does, he reveals a quick flash of what look very much look like robot print pyjama bottoms to go with his casual white t-shirt and navy hoodie. «It relaxes me, it gives me time to be on my own. Only 5% of the stuff I write is techno, the rest never gets released and is just for me." Suddenly Jonson gets coy and shifts in his seat. He's talking about his new girlfriend. Last night she encouraged him to break one of his own unwritten rules and set up his gear in the hotel room. "She was singing and we were doing lyrics," he giggles. "She is a musician so it made sense. Usually on the road I don't write at all," he says, before admitting that until this year he never even listened to music on the road. Instead he learns languages on his iPad. «I was terrible at school but now I'm obsessed.

 
 
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