Sep 10, 2021
7 min read
Music is Michael Frazier’s whole life. It’s who he is. Frazier, who DJs and produces under the name Monsieur Frazier, has the ear of a musicologist; reveling in the deepest intentions and history behind genres across the full sonic spectrum.
For over ten years Frazier has displayed this level of knowledge in his DJ sets, hitting the stage at celebrated institutions like Coachella, Splash House, and a residency at Hollywood’s top-rated nightclub, Sound.
He also recently made his first official entry as a producer with his self-titled debut EP, Monsieur Frazier, on Understated Recordings, the label arm of the event series and artist collective, Understated, which he co-founded.
Michael’s interest in music came long before he first started DJing, and he owes much of his influence to Los Angeles, the city where he was born, raised, and currently resides.
“LA is my musical identity. One of my first memories of music and life in general is being two or three years old and hearing ‘Nothing But A G Thang.’ I think the sounds that I gravitate towards now have a lot to do with the sound of west coast hip hop and west coast music in general,” Michael says. “I remember very often hearing ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine,’ as a kid. Roy Ayers is from LA. The chords, the colors, that song sounds like how LA looks.”
Any song that retains the jazz-funk aesthetic championed in the City of Angels brings him to a place of home. So many LA groups, from classic artists like The Doors moving through time to more modern stalwarts like Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers, all have that power and widely influence his taste and output.
While N.W.A. and Roy Ayers have made frequent appearances in Michael’s sets over the years, his career as a DJ and producer is largely supported by house and techno. Similar to the sounds of Los Angeles, his ear doesn’t get caught up in the granular sub genres of dance music, rather he hears the intention and history behind it due to his family’s east coast roots.
“My family is from the east coast, and house is a very distinctly east coast/ midwest genre. Because of that, it’s always been a part of me,” Michael says. “The same way that west coast vibe is in me, that east coast vibe is in me too ‘cause that’s my roots. So I think I have a natural inclination to it as well.”
Michael’s natural inclination towards dance music started to take off around 2007-2008 as a myriad of sounds entered his awareness. Daft Punk was on the road for their legendary Alive tour at the time. Justice, Crookers, and the rest of the Bloghouse movement was on the cusp.
Michael also went to his first EDC Los Angeles in 2008. As soon as he walked into the festival, he heard both drum and bass and dubstep for the first time. It opened up a whole new realm and added to his already widespread appreciation of dance music.
With an appreciation and growing reverence for those different styles feeding into Michael’s existing affinity for hip hop, rock, soul, and funk, DJing was the most natural conclusion to express his eclectic taste in a tangible way.
“[As a DJ] I can bend music genres to my will and also present them in ways that I can show that they’re linked together,” Michael says. “I love all these different types of music. I’m such a music head in general and I want to express that. I want to show that this is who I am.”
When the conversation hinges towards DJing, a passion lights up in Michael’s eyes. Anyone could talk to him about it and know that he belongs on the decks without ever seeing him play
He discusses the pure DJs who don’t produce and the derision he feels because people who champion the art form aren’t celebrated the way producers are.
In his opinion, DJing requires a different talent, and different kind of musical knowledge; a knowledge based on the connectivity between all genres of music. DJing unlocks the creative freedom to demonstrate that connection in the moment. This idea is his guiding light on the decks, which is why when people ask what genre he plays, he doesn’t know the answer.
Michael then launches into a quickfire history lesson on the evolution of American popular music. From blues to jazz to rock to funk to disco to techno and beyond.
“When I got into DJing and dance music and house music I just did my research,” Michael says. “I studied. I did my homework. I watched videos and documentaries. Read Wikipedia pages. I read books. I did so many different things and I really learned the history of it. I learned where it came from. I learned the roots of it, and that to me is what unlocked that creative freedom.”
That archival knowledge of the craft gave Michael complete confidence in his skills behind the decks.
“I know once I play, I’m going to shut it down because I really unlocked that creative freedom in my brain,” he says.
From there all it took was the grind to make things happen for himself and the LA community. He played all over town and landed a coveted residency at Sound Nightclub as a pure DJ, also spinning at other notable venues and parties like Exchange, Minimal Effort, Day Trip, and his own parties through Understated.
Michael co-founded Understated with friends and fellow members of the LA community back in 2016. Upon asking about how it came to be, he finds himself a bit lost for words because of the organic nature.
“We just followed our instinct, our intuition,” Michael says. Their first party was a hit. The second one was bigger. The third one was bigger than that. Eventually, notable artists like Mija, Mat Zo, and Amtrac started playing their events.
Understated is a means of giving back to the LA scene; the scene that gave him and his crew good times and so much more. As the circle got wider, Michael and the team wanted to give back in another way, so they started a record label, Understated Recordings.
After serving as A&R for the label since it launched in 2017, Michael put out his debut EP, Monsieur Frazier, this year. It was made with the same confidence he has in his DJing.
“During lockdown I needed to do something so that’s when I started working on music again. I had the time, the energy. I had a fearlessness. It’s now or never. I might as well go all the way in on this,” Michael says.
The result was three tracks that are only similar in essence. Rhythms, melodies, basslines, samples, they all harken back to different eras of music history. There are elements of garage, tech house, breaks, soul, funk, jazz, hip hop. The single connection between them is Michael Frazier because music isn’t what he does. It’s who he is.