Michael Mlikotic, better known as Kotek, puts out some amazing electronic dance music from his debut, Aurora. The young man has an ear for catchy riffs and solid beats and a mind that can put them all together in a cohesive track that is certainly EDM, but doesn’t feel completely automated.
Well, the Vancouver Island-native took the time to chat with us about his musical history, what made him choose EDM as his medium of choice and how jazz influences his songwriting process. So here is Kotek!
Kotek: Hey guys, Thank you for having me! There is about 20 years of history behind this question so I’ll try to condense it a bit. My first introduction to any musical instrument was a very strange, old electric organ that my grandma owned. It actually sits in my studio now, more as a nostalgic decoration, but also a gentle reminder that there was a time when I didn’t know anything.
When I was 7 years old I started taking classical piano lessons. Mostly learning basic theory and a couple of simple songs. It was fun but I decided to stop when I felt that it wasn’t taking me the direction I wanted to go. I took up guitar for a little while after that, but I was young and I didn’t have the patience to get past the beginning stages. The first pivotal moment in my career was the first time I had ever seen a drum set played live. I was captivated watching our 7th grade drummer play and it all made sense to me like clockwork.
The kick establishes the basic groove, while the snare locks it in place. I realized then that I wanted to play drums more than anything. Although after having just asked my parents for a guitar a year prior to this, it was going to be hard to convince them to splurge on a drum set with no guarantee that I wouldn’t give up. I spent all of my time trying to calculate how long it would take me to buy one making 10 dollars a week delivering papers. But playing music has been a part of my life since I can remember and my mom was willing to take the risk one more time.
I got my first set of drums for Christmas when I was 12. I played them every single day and couldn’t wait to get some people together and start making music. I joined the high school band but unfortunately to my dismay, we would not be playing metal. So I started looking for musicians to connect with. I formed a band with some of my friends and we tried hard to make something good, but I was always limited in my abilities to express myself fully. Being the drummer, it was hard to incorporate my own compositions. I would spend a lot of time writing songs on a program called Guitar Pro, but often times they were overly complicated, if not physically impossible to execute. We did what we could, but there was always compromise. In the end we only got to play one gig together, but we did manage to record one album that is still up on SoundCloud, so if anyone is interested in hearing 14-year old me try to sing and play drums at the same time, it’s out there (Actually, it is HERE!)
During this time, we were all still in the high school jazz program. So a lot of my time was spent learning how to play jazz. At first I hated it, but over time my ears started to develop more and I started to understand why jazz is so amazing. Jazz taught me how music functions. It taught me how music can be created from nothing and how you can tell a 10-minute story based off of a 30-second chord progression. I was starting to understand harmony and I was finally able to see what all that theory I learned back when I was 7 could actually do.
I had developed a love for jazz, but my true desire was to create music that was heavier, powerful and exciting. My ear for harmony had developed past more mainstream music, so I was searching deep for things that pushed boundaries. Any band that experimented with time signature changes, or crazy harmony, these were all the ones that caught my attention. I’ve taken all the pieces I love from every type of music I listen to and combined it all into the music I create today. The complex harmony of jazz, the invigorating power of metal, the melodic virtuosity of players like John Coltrane or the members of Dream Theater, the relentless poly-rhythmic groove that is Tool. Even the experimentation of incorporating electronic or industrial sounds into songs like Linkin Park. All of these pieces are like a puzzle that build a big picture of Kotek. I’m not sure the puzzle is quite finished as it seems I’m still finding new pieces to add all the time.
LM: Wow! What it was like growing up in the music scene on Vancouver Island?
Kotek: Vancouver Island is big, but very separated from the mainland. There is a huge scene in Vancouver and even Victoria, but living that far away makes it difficult to connect with people and actually engage in the scene. It was a bit of a struggle to get my name out there as there is almost no EDM scene where I’m from. The music scene that does exist here is mostly ska and soft rock/folk music. Although I knew that if I just kept working as hard as I can, I would eventually overcome this obstacle.
To say the least, it’s been a hurdle, but some of my best friends, and the most amazing musicians I’ve ever met are only part of my life because I was born here. So I wouldn’t change a thing.
LM: I totally understand. I’ve been to Vancouver Island quite a few times. Beautiful, but totally isolated. You started out on the piano, then went to drums and started studying jazz. What was the turning point that made you choose electronic music?
Kotek: I had gotten into recording during my time playing metal, as I had wanted the ability to showcase my music. But it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I was introduced to electronic music. A friend of mine told me that he was making some techno, which to me at the time was Eiffel 65. I had no idea what to expect but he showed me what he was working on and it blew my mind. He then showed me Zedd’s remix of “Weekend” by Skrillex and that would be the next pivotal moment in my career as a musician.
I couldn’t believe the complexity of which this track was constructed. I was hearing sounds I had never heard before in my life and I had no idea what was going on. I asked my friend to explain what I was hearing and he opened up Ableton. Up until that point I was using Cakewalk Sonar to do all my recording. But Ableton actually made sense to me. It was laid out in a way that promoted efficient work flow and allowed me to do everything I had ever dreamed of.
This was the solution to all of my problems. Now I could write anything I want without worrying about making someone else learn it. I had an orchestra of endless sound at the disposal of my fingertips, which is all I had ever wanted from the beginning. A way to write the music I want with no limitation. Everything after this is history. I went through a couple different aliases before I settled with Kotek and found a signature sound that I could stick with. I am still heavily influenced by jazz and metal, but everything I had learned up until now translates directly into my abilities to create the music I make today.
Kotek: Whenever I start an original composition, I am trying to replicate the same feeling I get when I hear something I like. I analyze everything I listen to down to its most intricate detail and try to figure out what makes it tick. I then apply similar concepts to my own ideas and see where it takes me. This is why Aurora goes through a multitude of genres and feelings. Every song on the album came from me experimenting with different feelings and trying to see what really resonates with me. I took all the things I like from each genre and tried to incorporate it into one cohesive body of work. The end result is everything I was capable of at the time.
LM: Well, it is outstanding. There is an amazing balance between digital and analog on your debut, Aurora. What inspires your unique ability to balance the two?
Kotek: I love EDM, but I feel as though a lot of it has strayed so far from its roots that it is hard for me to compare it to the things that really hit me as a kid. I was missing that feeling that I got from hearing an electric guitar or an amazing drum fill in a song. So I decided to carry that sound with me. All of these sounds that are influenced from organic music, they are who I am. I didn’t want to abandon the sound that made me love music in the first place, so I just kept incorporating the sounds I was familiar with and it filled that void for me.
LM: Now that Aurora is out, what are your plans for promoting the album?
Kotek: Aurora has had an overwhelmingly good response and has far exceeded my expectations. I never thought I would have an original track with over 50,000 plays on it, so it feels really good to know that people enjoy my music after working to this point for so many years.
Ideally, I’d like to start playing shows to showcase the album. I have a concept planned out. I want to keep things interesting and be doing more than just pressing play on stage. There might be some instruments involved, and maybe a little singing. As far as promoting the album goes, these interviews are a great help with that. So again, thank you for having me.
LM: Of course! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We love our Pacific Northwest artists!
So while we wait for Kotek to get his concept planned out and on the stage, take a listen to his album, Aurora below: