Derek Plaslaiko and Mike Servito have a lot in common. The two close friends both started DJing in their native Detroit about 20 years ago, and today both are considered hidden gems in the DJ world. Both became affiliated with record label Ghostly International before eventually moving to New York City, where they established themselves as resident DJs for the long-running party series the Bunker, positions they hold to this day. They will also both visit Minneapolis to headline long-running dance night Communion in back-to-back weeks.
Despite the similarities, their career trajectories have differed. In 2000, Servito decided to take a break from DJing while Plaslaiko received a personal invite from Carl Craig to play at the inaugural Detroit Electronic Music Festival, (which still runs every Memorial Day weekend in Detroit, now under the name Movement). Plaslaiko eventually relocated to techno’s other capital, Berlin. Prodded by his friends, Servito returned to his trade, but has only recently started to receive the kind of recognition that Plaslaiko has enjoyed for years.
Nowhere was this more evident than at Movement this year. Servito played immediately after Plaslaiko at the festival, and then went on to play at three different after parties in the space of about 35 hours, concluding with a four-hour, back-to-back set with Plaslaiko (which was a highlight of the weekend for me). Plaslaiko was no slouch himself, playing at two of the after parties with Servito, as well as another earlier in the weekend. He provided a very touching highlight to the weekend when he brought his one-year-old son, Elliott, onstage with him.
In anticipation of their back-to-back appearances at Communion, I connected with both DJs to ask about their friendship and their experience at Movement.
Where and when did you meet each other?
Derek Plaslaiko: I met Mike probably sometime in 1995 at either Record Time, or at Alvin's on a Wednesday for Family Function.
Mike Servito: I really don't know the specifics of that. It had to be somewhere between going to Record Time all the time where Derek worked, and going to parties in the early-'90s. He was always a big personality and insanely happy, and something about him and his energy was infectious.
Was there an instant bond, or did that come later?
DP: Ha! Naw, that came later. Mike seemed super introverted back then. And I was quite the opposite. So, whenever I would talk to him, I was acting like I was talking to someone I had known for years. He was probably like, "Who the fuck IS this kid?!" Over time, we just became closer. We would go out to eat at Maria's Front Room in Ferndale, go through records at my apartment in Detroit, make him chili at my house, go to non-dance music shows — stuff like that. We just kinda became friends.
MS: I was a bit introverted and shy and Derek was quite the opposite. I think our friendship just grew over time. It wasn't like a "Boooom! Derek is my best friend!" sort of thing. I think our connection was that we like a lot of things musically and our upbringing seemed similar. There was no distinction. We would geek-out and get excited about so much music. It wasn't just techno. It was everything from Aphex Twin to Mobb Deep to My Bloody Valentine. I just felt like he was into a lot of the same things as me. It was a slower process and we kind of grew together as friends and as DJ's. It's still evolving. We have grown up so much.
I have a really fond memory of the both of us quite bored because there was not one single party in Detroit that particular weekend. So we decided to go to Chicago super last minute. We got to one of the tolls and there was a Transmat (Derrick May’s record label) sticker posted on one of the poles. We kind of just looked at each other and were like ... it's a sign! Derrick Carter and Derrick May were on the bill. I remember at one point discussing who was from Detroit and who was from Chicago based on dance moves alone. I'll never forget that! I feel like that was a turning point in our friendship.
Walk me through your incredible 35-hour journey during Movement weekend this year.
DP: Well, since Heidi (my fiancé) and Elliott were with me, and we knew it was gonna be a rough batch of hours, we took it easy on Saturday night. After I played at the festival, we sent Elliott home with his grandmother and then hung out at the festival for a while and got some dinner. Got to No Way Back around 1 a.m. to hear Mike absolutely wreck shop. The dancing began, and didn't stop till I was playing. After that, I realized how out of practice I am these days. I was already exhausted. The old me wouldn't have had a problem! But, alas, Heidi and I went back to the hotel and got some much needed sleep. After all of that and some nice dinner, I went down to the Works to hear Bryan [Kasenic, founder of The Bunker]. Mike and I started at 2 a.m. and played till 6. Unfortunately, there were a ton of technical issues, so our set didn't really go as well as we had hoped, which was pretty stressful.
MS: It's always nerve-wracking. It's a lot of analyzing in my head and mentally getting to a place where I feel comfortable and super aware of the records in my bag and thinking about which ones I'll play at which party and which ones to repeat or not play again etc., but also trying to keep sane and have a good time.
It was about pacing myself and about timing and making smart decisions. Sometimes, ones you don't necessarily want to make like choosing sleep or leaving a party early, or just completely making the decision not to go to three parties in one night. You have to be cautious and make the right moves as an artist. We are being judged and written about and analyzed. You wanna leave very little room for error.
Movement is insane and it's a test of endurance and sanity and the willpower to keep the fun going. I'm sure people think I'm crazy or greedy or whatever, but I don't turn down a good thing. This year was definitely the craziest in terms of stacking gigs in a short period of time. I would do it all over again. No regrets!
In terms of achievements in your DJ career, where does that stretch of time rank?
DP: I wouldn't say it was an achievement, really. But I wouldn't say it was business as usual, either. In the early days of the festival, it wasn't uncommon for me to play up to six or seven times that weekend, and probably get a combined total of like eight hours sleep from Friday to Tuesday. It was nice to kinda relive again, though. I played four times that weekend, and all were very special and musically quite different. So, that alone makes it memorable for me.
MS: I think I am finally assessing that right now. As far as rank? I think it currently stands at No. 1. It was a big year for me at Movement and I felt like I had a lot to live up to from last year. I knew subconsciously that I was on a mission and knew it was going to be difficult, but I knew every gig was going to be unique. Two of those gigs were also tag sets: one with Carlos Souffront and the other with Derek. It took a little bit of pressure off me and made it more fun. You have to turn into this sort of machine and put yourself out there and really go for it. Movement has become about making impressions and making people never forget. I don't have EP's to fall back on. I don't have the column inches as some of these artists. I don't know if I ever will. But that's not what I'm about. I just wanna play my best and play amongst the best, and make my contribution.
Derek, did you plan on bringing your son out to the front of the stage with you or was that a spur of the moment decision?
DP: It kinda crossed my mind, but I didn't want to do it if it didn't feel right. Like five seconds before I did it, it kinda popped in my head to do it. I just wanted him to see what I was seeing. I had been getting emotional, as I do, from looking at everyone in the crowd, seeing old friends, family ... playing Movement does that to me. I kept looking at him and Heidi and I was just really happy. So, I brought him up.
Do you have any favorite memories of playing in Minneapolis?
DP: Many! The two times at Foundation stand out. I played a warehouse party with Bruno Pronsato a grip of years back which was pretty crazy! The very first time I played there was at First Avenue, and that was a cool yet surreal experience. Actually, I recall texting Mike quotes from Purple Rain because I was in the green room. It was also the first time I ever had a green room! Jon Hester and I were just talking about the Dinkytowner a couple months back, those were definitely some fun nights! I've always had good times playing Minneapolis. I have heard nothing but amazing things about Communion, so I'm glad we finally got it booked. Plus, even just hanging with Steve [Centrific, Communion promoter] is always a great time. He's always been like a brother to me.
MS: I have never played Minneapolis, actually. But, I remember Derek being so beyond excited that he was going to play First Avenue and me being insanely jealous and excited. I'm sure I asked him if he went to Lake Minnetonka. Prince nerds, obviously!
Communion at Pourhouse
Featuring Mike Servito on Sunday, June 28 and Derek Plaslaiko on Sunday, July 5
More info here