Joe Miller

A Sense of Place: Joe Miller Makes US Debut

Lauren Krieger

Music from the heart enables us to discover the underlying connections we have with each other, and inspires us to go deeper into our own worlds. Transformative and transporting, music can evoke a memory of a place that you have never been to before, or a moment that you will never forget. For Joe Miller, these important values of music have been the driving forces which inspired him to continue following the path that started at 12 years old and are now taking him across the globe. The origin of his electronic music story may have begun with the fantastical feelings of trance in its golden era, but it has taken root through the development of his own unique sound which blends influences of Sasha & Digweed’s Northern Exposure with folk musicians and English pastoral composers to create a “whimsical and left-field” experience that connects to his listeners and transports them to another space and time.

Inspired by both “heaving clubs and the earthy melancholy of forests”, Joe Miller’s music bridges the organic and electronic worlds with the desire to create a distinctive emotional experience, whether that be nostalgia, mischief, or cosmic déjà vu. It’s this emotional focus which has had this English / Australian artist making waves through releases on labels like Dream Culture, All Day I Dream (with Jamie Stevens), L’enfant terrible, Traum Schallplatten and Manual Music, and receiving support from DJs such as Guy J, Robert Babicz, Lane 8, Nora en Pure, Anthony Pappa, Gab Rhome, Pablo Bolivar, YokoO, Danny Tenaglia, Tone Depth, Chris Fortier and Love Over Entropy.

Translating this essence to his mixes, Joe’s eclectic influences are combined to fulfill his goal as a DJ: “To play music that reminds people of their continuity with nature and with each other.” You can feel this through the emotional waves and underlying storylines on his Bespoke Musik guest mix, and is what audiences can expect when he comes to Miami and NYC this Summer. Playing at Behrouz’ underground haven Do Not Sit on the Furniture on May 31st, he will be hosted by Bespoke Musik in Brooklyn on June 1st.

Event Links

5/31 Miami : Do Not Sit on The Furniture
Event Page

6/1 NYC : Bespoke Musik Pres. Doppelgänger
Event Page

It was a pleasure to connect with Joe Miller before he takes the journey from Australia to America, and to discover what has brought him to the place he is today.

Who were some of the artists or DJs who first drew you into electronic music?

My older brother used to play me his cassette recordings from the local dance music station, Fresh FM. We tended to like all the guilty trance pleasures from the late nineties – Chicane, Tomski and Des Mitchell, interspersed with the Fugees and Cypress Hill. Then when I was twelve, I went back to England to visit grandparents, and our friend Samir lent us a minidisc full of Solar Stone and BT. Because this was before the time of ID3 tags, Sam had taken guesses on half the track names. And like all good older brothers, Pete invented elaborate backstories about the artists on there.

So a lot of what I knew about dance music was fantasy – all the real beauty of rave culture filtered through a twelve-year-old’s naivety. Agnelli and Nelson were a husband-and-wife duo (with Agnelli providing many of the classic vocal lines from late-nineties trance hits), BT’s most famous anthem was called ‘Shimmering Pipes’, and Ibiza was a pristine, harmonious sunset-world without a trace of British dipsomania – a bit like Narnia, but with better music.

A few years later, Pete and I worked out that the minidisc had been a rip from one of the Euphoria compilations, with CD 2 mixed by Agnelli and Nelson. We got them to sign it when they played in Adelaide, although it was slightly disappointing that they weren’t married.

Was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to pursue taking the music further in your life?

By the time I was fifteen, Pete had put me onto Northern Exposure vol. 3 and James Holden’s Balance 005. He bought some Numark CD turntables that year, but was studying for exams, so I babysat his decks and learned to beatmatch… it was the best fun – I couldn’t think of many things more satisfying than layering tracks over each other like that.

What were some of your early experiences performing like?

I started gigging when I lived in Adelaide, and there were only three or four underground venues, to be shared between dozens of producers and DJs who were far more talented and experienced than I was – people like HMC, the Carter Brothers and Phildo. So I played bars and pubs and birthday parties, and the main impression I remember from those gigs was one of compromise – trying to play underground music to crowds requesting Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry. I think that’s how it is for most beginning DJs in small cities, and in some ways those are the hardest gigs. The best gigs were usually the unpaid ones – parties of friends who loved electronic music.

Today your sound is obviously much mellower, deeper and more intricate… when did you feel like you started to develop your “own sound”?

After all that trance, I gradually discovered musicians like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Nick Drake, then I had a Kings of Convenience phase and went on to hear Bibio and Sandy Denny. These artists were doing a lot of different things, but in all of them I thought I could hear a particular attitude towards nature, a sort of fondness and reverence that I found familiar. I’d also listened to some of the English pastoral composers like Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi, and I loved the idea of ‘evoking place’ through music. Maybe that’s why Northern Exposure had been so exciting a few years earlier, because apart from being danceable, it conjured up landscapes. And although the folk musicians I was discovering weren’t using any electronic technology, they seemed to be having the same effect on me as Sasha and Digweed did.

So that was the niche I wanted to explore, music with an electronic base but also a melodic character that was sensitive and acoustic, and which people could listen to and immediately feel as if they were starwatching or walking on a particular clifftop overlooking the sea. I don’t think I’ve actually managed to achieve this yet, but it was the aim when I was writing ‘Owl-Blind’ and ‘Borrowdale’, and it’s the aim with the new music I’m writing this year.

What do you most gravitate towards when it comes to the music you play? Are there certain qualities that you look / listen for?

A certain timbre and texture, and music that sounds like it was played by a person. I don’t like to collect too much ‘functional’ music or bridging tracks – I’m more looking for songs with a distinct emotional stamp. And those emotions tend to be things like nostalgia, gratitude, resignation, a sense of mischief, cosmic déjà vu, wistfulness, and so on…

Where do you find yourself gaining the most inspiration lately? Has that source changed over time?

Musically, I’ve been feeling inspired when I listen to Powel, Jean Caillou, AL-90 and Simeon ten Holt (all relatively recent discoveries). More generally, I’m still inspired by moody nature times and the brooding atmosphere of Tove Jansson’s books.

Do you ever find that you struggle with creativity when it comes to your music? If so, what do you do to get yourself back into it again?

I come up against blocks very often, and I think this is something that’s happened more as I’ve started to realise how much expertise went into the really great tracks I grew up listening to. There’s no single solution to the blocks, but one of the following usually works:

  1. Go for a walk, preferably with some birds singing/squawking nearby. 
  2. Dig up unfinished projects, bounce the melodic and harmonic elements to audio, then remix them. 
  3. Go to the occasional gig.
  4. Listen to audiobooks, watch old documentaries from the NFB, and look at visual art.
  5. Get some inspiration from listening to older artists’ life-stories – I like the Electronic Beats interviews and Rap Radar Podcast for this purpose.
  6. Push through the feelings of paralysis until they turn into something else.

What do you think is your most important role as a musician & DJ?

To play music that reminds people of their continuity with nature and with each other.

Could you share a favorite or proudest moment in your career so far? 

I was very happy about Lee Burridge signing ‘Wanderjahr’, the track that Jamie Stevens and I wrote together. And I get a slightly bigger buzz from the fact that Dad’s been enjoying my music lately, especially a Jayden Klight remix that’s coming out on Nie Wieder Schlafen soonish.

Joe Miller DJ

Is there something that you most wish your listeners audience during one of your shows? Is there something in particular that makes you feel that your performance has been a “success”?

I spent a big part of my twenties at a tiny club called Cuckoo in Adelaide, and there was a feeling of togetherness and fellow humanity there – it was the sort of environment that encourages happy spontaneity. So I’d like to provide a soundtrack that makes people feel like that. The performance has been a success if people are smiling with their friends and going off on sneaky adventures.

How did you first get connected with Bespoke Musik?

After the release on All Day I Dream, I thought I’d like to play in the states, because it seems like a place where people really enjoy measured, melody-driven dance music. I emailed a few booking agencies without luck, then Rocky from Bespoke contacted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to play at a Bespoke party in Brooklyn.

What are you most looking forward to about your NYC & Miami shows?

I think it’s going to be a nice long set, which is fun – I’m generally happy to play until the last person is dancing. Rocky’s got an artist friend from Chicago who’s also called Joe Miller, and he’s going to live-paint a mural while I play the music, so the night will be called ‘Doppelganger’. Like a Dostoevsky novel, but without American Joe stealing my job and family (or vice versa). 

And I’m very much looking forward to playing at Do Not Sit on the Furniture, a legendary Miami-based club which is also hosting Hoj and Gab Rhome this month.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Just to thank Jamie Stevens and Dani from Vision Hound for giving me music career advice… people like that really help to improve the ecology of the whole scene.

Listen to Joe Miller’s Bespoke Musik guest mix now: