We all know that life is a journey, yet we can never predict what might happen along the way or how long it will last. Some people prefer to roll over and let life happen to them. There are others, however, that want something more. They want to engage with life, interact with it – perhaps even change it, at least, in the way it impacts upon them. Portuguese musician, songwriter and DJ Mike Van Rose is fully aware of this.
His life – as well as his path along it - changed at the age of 13 when his uncle played him Daft Punk’s debut album, Homework. More than an epiphany, more than an education, the music spoke to Mike in a way that no other had done. “It blew my mind,” he says. “When I heard it for the first time I knew it was important.”
More music flowed – the work of pioneering electronic musicians such as Kraftwerk and Jean-Michel Jarre became a natural part of Mike’s cultural background, but so did music acts much closer to home: Rui da Silva, The Ozone, DJ Vibe (aka António Pereira), Urban Dreams, and Underground Sound of Lisbon (a collaboration between da Silva and Pereira) entered his frame of reference. “I listened to everything else, of course, and once it resonated with me I’d stay with it".
Duly influenced and inspired, it was around this time that Mike took his first steps towards making his own music. It helped that the same uncle who introduced him to Daft Punk also worked in as an audio/visual engineer.
“I started asking him questions as to how could I make music on these pieces of equipment, and he began to show me things like samplers, and so on. I then got a software program by the name of Impulse Tracker - a multi-track music sequencer - and from there I started sampling. I began to make little tunes and music tracks from that point onwards. I still have them, and I listen to them now and again for nostalgic reasons! They never got me a record deal, but doing them was a learning process. I was only trying to find out what I liked.”
Slowly but surely, the journey continued. Mike went off to Evora to study Multimedia, subsequently securing an internship at a Lisbon-based music academy where he began to create work that he could really call his own. A pivotal moment arrived in 2011 through a good friend, Christian F, one of Portugal’s most high profile DJs. Approached by Christian to produce Bring It On Now (a commissioned song to soundtrack an ad campaign for a university student card), it was Mike’s first commercial work to be released. “That song is what started the whole thing,” says Mike. “This is when I started to do things properly.”
Doing things properly, however, isn’t as easy as it might sound, especially when you feel you don’t have enough experience or expertise. Factor in working for a living while creating an album’s worth of music in your spare time (“by trial and error, trying to work out how to do it”) isn’t ideal. The biggest struggle, admits Mike, was not giving himself a deadline.
In the midst of such turmoil, in 2014 he moved from Portugal to Ireland. Before he moved, however, Mike embarked on what many people would describe as a Great Adventure: he hitchhiked all the way from Portugal to Norway. In winter. Between couch surfing, being left at the side of the road, and tapping away on his laptop every day to make sure he had accommodation for the night, Mike had little time to do anything else but think about moving forward – day by day by day.
It takes time to process creativity, but the residual experiences of Mike’s expedition in the winter of 2013 can be heard on his debut solo album, Hitchhiker. Produced by Mike, mixed and mastered by James Darkin (at Herbert Place Studios, Dublin), the mostly instrumental album wears its influences proudly. Across a dozen tracks, from Jvlia (the Roman name of his Portuguese hometown, Beja) to Portobello (the area in Dublin where Mike has lived for some years), the journey, as well as the mindset, is explored in what amounts to a route of discovery.
Across shimmering techno, trance and house, through gliding swathes of electronica and hip-hop (and two electro-soul songs, I Never Knew, featuring Aisling Browne; Let The Music Play, featuring Daniel Murphy), many psycho-geographic dots are joined. Five years after his extraordinary European trek, Mike has learned things not just about himself but also of the way life can flip you around.
“When you are true to yourself, and when you just keep moving forward, things happen,” he says. “People are willing to help you, to carry you to the next step on the journey. The most crucial thing I learned is that if you actually do things, instead of just thinking about doing things, then you will accomplish your goals. When I arrived home, and then when I moved to Ireland, I knew that I could, ultimately, do whatever I wanted.”
Being able to move forward, and in the doing of that not being on your own. We are all, states Mike, hitchhikers of one form or another.
“Music is the same thing. I have been hitchhiking from one genre of music to another, and all of the influences I have heard make sense. It’s all the same story, too - music, travel. I’ve been travelling with music all of my life. And music has been hitchhiking through me to other people.”
The journey hasn't ended yet, either. “No, it has not,” affirms Mike. “I feel even more inspired to work on more things. I was able to accomplish the album, which was inspired by a life-changing experience. Let’s see what I can do next.”