Manic Focus comes home for third fest

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: August 14, 2014 - 1:11 PM

The St. Paul-reared, Chicago-based producer has two Summer Set slots.

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Manic Focus doesn’t call himself EDM. “You don’t got to be dancing all the time,” he said.

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Minnesota will always be home, but three years ago future bass producer Manic Focus skipped to Chicago. It was a career move as he was lured by the Windy City’s stronger electronic scene and his brother/manager who lives there.

“Chicago is way oversaturated with DJs,” said Manic Focus, who attended DePaul University in Chicago for two years. “There’s tons and tons of DJs, but there aren’t a lot of producers. So when something gets popular, every DJ will play it.”

The burgeoning bass artist was back in St. Paul ahead of this weekend’s Summer Set festival, where he plays a solo daytime set Friday, plus the onsite after-party as Manic Science — a first-time collaboration between him and Brooklyn duo Break Science.

Aside from perennial headliner Big Gigantic, Manic Focus will be the only other artist to have performed at the Somerset, Wis., bash all three years. In 2012, he clawed his way onto the bill through a DJ contest (although he doesn’t consider himself a DJ). He tied for first place and scored an early slot on Sunday, and he credits that gig with winning him fans.

In 2013, he was booked outright, and his parents (who know him as John McCarten) made the trek to watch their son perform.

“They were dancing in the crowd and some girl went up to my mom and gave her a bunch of candy bracelets,” he recalled fondly. “My mom comes backstage and she’s like, [mom voice] ‘Hey, look what I got!’ … My parents were loving it. That’s always special to be able to show my parents what I’m doing and play in front of a crowd.”

With three albums and festival dates from Electric Forest to Spring Awakening in the bag, the 27-year-old Cretin-Derham Hall alum’s profile is rising in the electronic world. Manic Focus’ brand of sample-heavy future bass evokes Colorado star Pretty Lights — clean, melodic and heady — and his hip-hop roots permeate last year’s “Distant Perspective” LP. “Instead of playing tons of video games, I’d make beats in my basement,” he said.

This year Manic Focus signed to wunderkind producer/sax-tooter Griz’s fledgling Liberated Music. His fourth album is expected to drop this month or next. The lead single “On the Horizon” is a sultry, slow-burning electro-soul track.

“I don’t really think of myself as EDM,” he said, adding that he’s not compelled to simply churn out tent-ready bangers. “Sometimes I just want to sit and smoke, drink and chill. You don’t got to be dancing all the time.”

Even so, don’t expect too much standing still this weekend.

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