Mackenzie Johnson, better known as MAKJ, is one of the fastest rising EDM stars of the year. MAKJ’s originals, edits, bootlegs, and remixes have received immense support from renowned artists such as Hardwell, Tiesto, Afrojack, Porter Robinson, Chuckie, Avicii, Laidback Luke, Nicky Romero, Michael Woods, Nervo, Bingo Players, Sander Van Doorn, W&W, Showtek, David Guetta, and many others. MAKJ is currently on his first cross-country bus tour with Bingo Players and Bassjackers. That’s where we caught up with him for a chat about bus tour madness, working with Lil Jon, and being homies with Hardwell.
You are on this enormous Rattle & Roll bus tour at the moment. How is the tour going so far?
The tour is going awesome! When we first got all the dates we were very skeptical of where we were playing cause we had never heard of these venues before. Some are concert halls which is cool because you can fill it with more people and different types of fans. But, this definitely has been the best decision I have ever made in my career of music. You get to experience so many different cities, cultures, people, everything you know? Going with a crew on a bus, making new friends and family, it’s been the best experience! I’m with these guys every day 24 hours a day. I see how they work, I see how they manage with other people, other promoters, it’s amazing. I’m 23 and not a lot of 23 year-olds can say they have already been on a full blown North American bus tour. Going to each city and meeting new people, it’s been the best experience I could ask for, it’s awesome. It’s been really fun!
What have been the highlights so far? What have been the craziest things that have happened that you could tell me about?
The first couple nights in Florida and Gainesville were really crazy! I wasn’t really expecting it. These f*cking college kids were like raging on a Tuesday! Philly was really sick. It was at this super old school concert hall place in Chinatown with rats running around. I’ve never seen people go that hard on a Monday night before!
Sounds like they’ve got lots of energy! So how did you get started?
I was living in China. I used to race cars in China when I was younger. One night, when I was 16 we went out to a club, some ranty ass club. I just walked in and was blown away! There were speakers in the ground, plexiglass everywhere, LEDs. I didn’t know who the DJ was at the time but it was DJ Qbert. He’s a legendary DMC guy so after seeing him spin for the first time I had really high expectations of DJs in clubs. I went home, looked him up, did my research, and a few days later I bought some Technics 1200s. When I came back to the states I started doing college parties and here I am.
You have this track with Lil Jon called “Loco” coming out soon on Protocol?
No, not anymore. It’s not coming out on Protocol. And the track is called “Let’s Get F*cked Up,” not “Loco.” Jon and I are still figuring out the release details, but we are really excited about this track! I’ve been selling LGFU shirts on this bus tour and the fans have been loving them!
How did the track come about? How did you hook up with Lil Jon?
We met this year in Miami during WMC. We were standing on stage together watching Bingo Players when they dropped my track “Springen” which hadn’t been released yet. He was trying to Shazam it and I leaned over and told him it was my song. He kind of flipped out and said he loved it, we exchanged numbers, and from there a collab just sort of happened naturally.
For sure. It worked out really well. Lil Jon’s vocals fit in perfectly.
He adds in that perfect touch where something was missing. He definitely gives it more energy .
I love how the second drop is so different.
Completely different! I started making bootlegs so I make my productions so that they are uneditable and unbootlegable. It has vocals, it has 3 different drops, what else do you need? It’s very DJ friendly. That’s how I make my stuff to be.
How did you hookup with Hardwell for “Countdown”?
We made “Countdown” a year ago, though it actually all started when I made an edit of the PeaceTreaty remix of “Heard of Us” with “Empire on the Sun” and Hardwell played it on his radio show. After that I hit him up on Twitter, he direct messaged me immediately and asked me to send him my stuff. He gave me his email and Skype and since then we’ve become good friends. We text almost every day. We’re just homies. We talk about girls and just random sh*t. I think that’s what this industry needs. You need guys that don’t treat it like a business but like a friendship or family. That’s how your going to gain recognition from other guys.
Is there anyone you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I’ve got a lot of collabs in the making but I want to do something different. I want to work with a rock band. I’ve actually got a good connection with Bloc Party. We’re trying to work something out. The same thing with the group The Bravery. So something with an EDM twist that we can play in a club but still has a rock influence.
Can you tell me about some collabs you have coming up.
I have so many collabs to finish! I have a big chunk of two weeks in between January and February where I can just sit in the studio. I’m gonna try writing an EP. But yeah I have so many collabs to finish it’s crazy. I have, no joke, six collabs just sitting there. I just don’t have time to do them. You wanna knock them out but sometimes it’s not possible. You need to rest and let the ideas come naturally.
What about collabs with Diplo and Deorro?
I still need to finish them. The Deorro collab is about 75 % done. There’s also a Nicky Romero collab, another one with Hardwell, and one with Bassjackers. Me and Marlon are always bouncing ideas off each other on the bus.
Once you get to the top there’s a lot of pressure to keep making hits. Do you feel there is more pressure now since all of your releases have been so successful?
I’ve had two Top 10 tracks this year, it’s crazy! Like you said the pressure is there. Everyone has a big microscope on you. If you don’t come up with something that’s better than your last release people are going to be like “Oh it’s just something average.” Even if it’s a Top 10, you are going to have people looking at you. That’s where I have to give Rob (Hardwell) so much credit, because he knows exactly what is going to be big at the time. Having “Countdown” come out and having Revealed push it like they did was great. It’s like the best I’ve ever seen a label work. Everything was time-lined perfectly. We had a spreadsheet to post this and to post this then and it just rolled out perfectly. It was #1 for almost two weeks on Beatport.
It went to number one like the second day.
Yeah, it was awesome and seeing that, we now have a better understanding of how professional labels run. That’s why I’m really confident of me and Jon releasing “Let’s Get Fucked Up.” We took what Revealed is doing, what Hysteria is doing, and what Doorn is doing so we know exactly how labels are supposed to work. So now we’ll see how well we can work.
What are your next releases?
“Let’s Get F*cked Up” is coming out in November. “Encore” with Henry Fong will be out December 2nd on Hysteria, and my NERVO remix is coming out December 6th on Spinnin’.
Awesome many thanks!