Mihalis Safras is an ‘old school guy’, known for promoting vinyl, and a prolific producer. He’s had tracks in the official compilations for Loveparade, Pacha, DJM and Space Ibiza and even had one licensed for use in an iPhone advertising campaign. His recent ‘Stranger EP’, released on Toolroom Records, soared straight into the beatport tech house chart. Understandably, Planet Notion jumped at the chance to chat with him. Read on as Mihalis Safras talks about his approach to creating tracks, how his sound has changed, and the pros and cons of the old school way vs new technologies. We also take a look at his latest and upcoming releases on Toolroom.
You’ve had tracks on a couple of Toolroom’s recent compilations, Ibiza Underground 2012 and Toolroom Knights Ibiza 2012 Mixed By Mark Knight. How did this come about?
I have a long term relationship with them because I run my own labels as well. From time to time, Toolroom used to license or use tracks that appear on my labels. So, that was step 1, the licensing part; then one step led to another and we got exclusive tracks for their compilations; then step 3 was the solo release, the Stranger EP. Step 4 is a mix session that I’m going to do for them in the next two or three weeks for the Toolroom Records Selector Series.
Did you make the Stranger EP specifically with Toolroom in mind?
I didn’t have any label in mind because it’s a bit different from my regular sound. The tracks were already produced, but I left them for two or three months until I found some space; I didn’t want to be over-packed with releases. Then I decided to send them to Toolroom because I thought it was sort of the new direction I’m going. They liked the tracks.
Where did you sample the vocals from and what processing did you do on them?
It’s from my friend called Lee Burton. It has three effects on it. You duplicate the voice and you pitch down only one of the two channels; so I have the normal voice playing and in the background the pitched down voice. I put an effect on the pitched down voice and the normal voice and this is the result.
Did you choose Wehbba to do the remix?
Yes, I chose Rodolfo because he is also a member of my label, Material, and he has released some tracks through it. He did a really nice remix of it; it’s already on the chart together with the original.
Let’s talk some more about your productions. We really like the soundscape you created in Here Comes The Rain from the Rainforest EP back in 2008. It’s so different from your sound now.
This specific track was released on Trapez. It’s one track that I can clearly remember because it was a bit emotional because of the synth and stuff like that. But, you know, styles change. Right now I want more tech-house groovers, so I decided to stop making too many melodic productions.
Tell us about your use of vocals in La Samba.
Each producer wants to make a hit; that’s why we produce. So, the only way to make a hit is either you use a vocal, like a female vocal or a sexy voice like in French Kiss by Lil’ Louis, or the other way is synths and melodies. With La Samba, I went the first way, the vocal way. The sample is from a Columbian track; it has been used as well in a techno track that was released in 2004, I think. I had already produced the bits and, when I dropped the vocal in, it fit perfectly.
How did you approach creating something as rhythmically complex as a samba house track?
Actually, it’s not that hard! It’s not that hard to make tribal beats and samba beats or beats that have congas and percussions and bongos and stuff like that. It’s a matter of samples, you know; you keep trying new samples until you find the correct ones that fit.
How do you ensure that your tracks don’t become over-saturated with samples?
Good producers have the good ears not to cross the line, to not over-saturated the track and have distorted samples. You have to listen to something and, if it doesn’t fit perfectly, you go another direction until you get the correct result.
Your more recent tracks, like Bankrupt, sound like they have fewer layers. How do you keep variety within the track?
Well, actually, that’s a big problem I have. I come from a totally different scene and I produce in a lot of different styles and this can get confusing. For example, I can produce from tracks with synthesisers and melodies like Rainforest to bangers and tribal like La Samba to more stripped down with fewer layers like Bankrupt. The more you are into production, the more happy you are with fewer channels. You want to decrease the layers and increase the quality of the sounds.
You DJ using vinyl. Do you use the digitally time coded systems like Stanton Final Scratch or Traktor Scratch?
How do you test out the tracks you’re making?
That’s the thing; I test them with CDs so time-to-time in my set I can test one or two tracks on CD. I’m a really old school guy and I’m still playing the good old vinyl.
What are your thoughts on the debates surrounding the release of Pioneer’s CDJ-2000 Nexus?
This discussion has started now because of Pioneer’s release, but Traktor has had the same thing since 2004. You can press the sync button when you play with Traktor or Serato and it automatically calculates the bpm and you don’t have to do the beat match. So, this situation has been going for over eight years now. I prefer the good old way, but, on the other hand, when you don’t spend time on doing the beat match, you can have more time to do more creative things. It’s a matter of style and taste.
How can we keep vinyl alive
It’s a tough one, since I have a vinyl label and I’m seeing the statements every single day, I can tell you that vinyl sales are not going well. If you decide to kill vinyl and not produce vinyl, then it’s like putting your small stone in the whole killing vinyl situation. But if you still produce vinyl, you may even lose money from the production, so again it’s a matter of what you decide. I think that vinyl is something really emotional; when you see it, it brings you memories and stuff like that. The only way to promote it is to produce vinyl for labels and DJ with vinyl.
Looking ahead, do you have any more plans to release on Toolroom?
I have an exclusive on the Rhythm Districkt 02 compilation [out Monday 17th September]. Then the Toolroom Records Selector Series is out soon. And I have a lot of tracks on a lot of labels coming out as well!
Mihalis Safras’ ‘Stranger EP’ is available now from beatport.
- Ann Bartholomew