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Just makes you want to dance

Myles MacInnes was a philosophy grad student when a year in L.A. attuned him to music and remade him into electronica's Mylo.

May 27, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

Scottish DJ-producer Mylo wasn't a musician in the years before he holed up in his parents' cottage on Scotland's mountainous Isle of Skye to craft exquisitely hook-laden big beat electronica on a Macintosh G4 computer using free sampling software. That is, before the music press anointed him no less than the "savior" of dance music.

In 2001, half a decade before his debut album "Destroy Rock & Roll" would sell nearly 300,000 copies worldwide and land four top 10 singles in the U.K., making him one of electronica's most in-demand remixers, he wasn't even Mylo.

Back then he was Myles MacInnes, an earnest Oxford University graduate student working through the first year of his PhD in philosophy at UCLA.

"A lot of that year was an inspiration to me in terms of getting into L.A. music -- Warren Zevon, the Eagles, Steely Dan," MacInnes, 27, recalled backstage at the recent Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where he performed a DJ set. "There was an awesome radio station I used to tune into, Arrow FM, that played a lot of yacht rock."

Los Angeles and yacht rock would prove the undoing of his scholastic zeal.

"Brains, robots, consciousness -- I was studying all that whacked-out stuff. I really enjoyed it," he continued, "but at the same time, I was conscious I wanted to make pop music. I dropped out. Being here was a pivotal experience. Spending a lot of time driving and exploring -- that propelled me back to Scotland, home to do what I really wanted to do."

Nevermind his complete lack of musical training or that he hadn't so much as a synthesizer to his name. MacInnes abandoned academia and took a news researcher job at the BBC and recorded "Destroy" in his bedroom studio with sampling software he downloaded from the Internet.

The album wears its influences on its sleeve, encompassing almost every electro genre from ambient, Moby-esque trip-hop to pummeling big beat a la Daft Punk. To wit: Mylo's single "In My Arms" owes its slinky synthesizer backbone to Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes."

"I've always played all the instruments badly and have no virtuoso skill," he said. "I love the idea that technology is changing so fast. Some little punk with a $300 computer can buy records and chop them up and put together something that's new and interesting."

Just two years after releasing the CD on his Breastfed Records imprint ("I never expected the album to sell more than 5,000 or 10,000 copies worldwide," MacInnes said), he exploded into the electronica firmament. (The album came out in Europe in 2004 but was only released stateside earlier this year. It has sold 9,100 copies in the U.S. to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.)

"Dance music is very simplistic," said Jason Bentley, DJ-host of KCRW-FM's (89.9) taste-making electronica radio show, Metropolis. "You have to know it almost intuitively to work the sonic range.

"There's certainly a science there and Mylo knows how to work it," Bentley says. "When you overproduce something, when you add too much, you lose that magic. Mylo's found a nice balance. It's fresh, timely and fun."

A better-groomed, soft-spoken doppelganger for Coldplay's Chris Martin, MacInnes has a newly exalted status -- he's now getting lumped in with name-brand electronica acts such as Royksopp, Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers -- that probably had something to do with his spot on the Coachella marquee following Madonna in the festival's dance tent.

"It's a good supporting act," MacInnes joked. "When I asked her, I never thought she'd do it."

A mainstay on the European music festival circuit in recent years, the producer also has lucrative sideline gigs and famous fans that may provide a more precise barometer of his popularity. He has taken on remix duties for acts such as the Killers, the Scissor Sisters and Australian pop sensation Kylie Minogue while winning the affection of Elton John, who breathlessly proclaimed "Destroy" one of his two favorite albums of 2004.

"Dance music's savior -- that's a term that's been hanging around him," said Joshua Glazer, managing editor of Urb magazine. "In terms of record sales and top 10 hits, he's the biggest deal out there."

"Mylo brought dance music back to being song-based," Glazer said of "Drop the Pressure," the DJ-producer's biggest hit. "It's enough of a song that it works with a traditional rock audience, but it's enough of a dance song that it can absolutely kill a club."

"Pressure," however, has received only limited airplay in the U.S. for its repeated phrasing of a certain curse word.

"He kinda shot himself in the foot with that," said Bentley, who says he's gotten rapturous audience reaction whenever he has spun "Pressure" at his popular weekly club event, bossa:nova in Santa Monica. "The biggest hit on the album is a song you can't play on the radio."

In a musical career so far absent notable missteps, MacInnes, a self-proclaimed rock aficionado, says one of his few regrets is his choice for the album's title. It's taken from a Southern evangelist's tirade against modern music -- you hear him urging, "Destroy rock 'n' roll!" -- that is sampled on the title track.

"It's probably one of those things I should have thought through better," said MacInnes, cracking a wide grin. "Since the record came out in the States, I've had angry e-mails from people in Kansas and Oklahoma. They say, 'If I was in Scotland, I'd come over and kick your ass!' "

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