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SPIN SETS Presents: Maddy O’Neal

Denver's Queen of Soulful Bass Music Blasts from the RiNo Arts District Rooftops

With roots in funk and soul, self-taught producer/DJ Maddy O’Neal fuses future bass with synth design to create a truly signature sound. Each track is a distinct journey across the bass music spectrum, incorporating textured bass stabs and lines, glitched-out hip hop grooves, otherworldly vocals, lush pads, the occasional scratch, and much more. Thanks to more than a decade spent in the Denver scene, a cohesive electro soul feel glues it all together.

On stage, Maddy adds dynamic to her original mixes through the use of live drum and sample pads. She’s been touring the country heavily for the last 5 years, clocking over 90 shows per year, having taken the stage at Lollapalooza, Electric Forest, Camp Bisco, Summer Camp, North Coast, Summer Meltdown, Red Rocks (x3) and more, while supporting the likes of Clozee, Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, The Floozies, Opiuo, Wreckno, Cherub, SunSquabi, and Manic Focus, to name a few. Her track “Zest Please”, a Clozee collaboration, amassed over 2 million Spotify plays in the first year. With her second full length album Ricochet just released, Maddy is on the move.

We connected with Maddy to talk about what her project stands for, how she’s honed her sound, her roots in the Denver music scene, what’s on the horizon, and more. Stream Ricochet here and check out Maddy O’Neal’s rooftop SET from the Rino Arts District below. Want more SETS? Head over to SPIN TV to keep up with all the latest and greatest DJ’s/producers pushing the boundaries of electronic music.

All photos: Stephanie Parsley
Video: Butter Creations – Frankie Lee + Tomas Morgan

“The Rino Arts District is my favorite part of town. It has exploded over the last 10 years with all types of restaurants, galleries, shops and venues. It’s truly a creative hub.”
-Maddy O’Neal

1. Who is Maddy O’Neal and what do you stand for?

The Maddy O’Neal project at its core is rooted in soul. The ultimate goal is to project the most authentic version of myself through a genre blending melting pot of funk, soul, hip hop rhythm and sampling, as well as the grime that comes from the synth and bass tones to glue it all together. Maddy stands for empowerment and exploration. It feels really amazing growing up with a super feminist mother and feel like my music project is also connected to the bigger movement of female inclusion in the music industry and beyond. If I can be an authentic example in that space, that is the highest honor.

2. Tell us about your sound – where does your style originate from and what have been your biggest visual, social, and sonic influences?

My style is a combination of many influences from over the years. From growing up in a Rock n Roll Blues household, which had a music den with records always playing, all the way to discovering electronic music for the first time through groups like Animal Collective, Daft Punk, RJD2, DJ Shadow, Jamie xx, etc. The real driver for me was figuring out how to combine all of my inspirations into one. I initially figured out how to reverse engineer hip-hop beats – I fell in love with the process of going to record stores, digging for vinyl, and bringing it home to chop up and make into beats. I am super inspired by communities that are formed from different sectors of the music world – fashion is a big one for me, but also lifestyle. I got into producing when I was in college when snowboarding was a big part of my life. Driving up the mountains with my crew, popping headphones in, and just cruising down the mountain. I met a lot of other producers/DJs that were also big snowboarders, so that definitely had a big impact on my perspective of sound and the environments/lifestyles I really saw electronic music seeping into.

3. Was there a definitive turning point to your success?

I started this solo project about 6 years ago from a previous duo. It took me a few years to rebrand and figure out what the vision of this new direction was. I was touring and grinding and making new music, but touring life mostly trumped the time I spent exploring sonics. When the pandemic happened (although it really sucked most of the time), it gave me a real opportunity to pause and dive deeper into what I was trying to say. The last two years I’ve really changed up my overall lifestyle in support of giving this project my all, in addition to taking care of my mental and physical health. I’ve made a routine for myself, including yoga time, touring, regular studio sessions, producing, exploring, learning, mixing, etc. When I really took the time I needed for myself over social situations and other things, the work I was putting in really started to click. Setting your standards high and meeting yourself there is what it’s all about.

4. When did you realize the magnitude of your impact within the industry/community?

It really is hard to try to grasp those types of things.. I think when I receive messages from fans and fellow producers alike saying how much I have made an impact on their lives or inspired and touched their lives, those are the moments that show me the impact of what I have been doing the last 10 years. I really try to keep up with and read messages from fans on social media as much as I can because those connected and kind notes really hit home and humble you sometimes.

5. What was it like coming up in the Denver electronic music scene and why do you think Denver has bred such a unique, vibrant electronic music community?

Denver is a place that people move to daily for the lifestyle that comes with the city. It’s a city that is progressive and active – you can get to the mountains in 45 minutes to go hike, ski, snowboard, fish, explore etc. I think that the shared love for nature and a general laid back lifestyle molds a breeding ground for creatives. The music scene here is a big product of that, in my opinion. The community here is very hands-on and collaborative. Everyone works together and seems to be wanting to push the scene forward in a way that remains exciting all the time. I definitely credit the people and community in Denver for a lot of my success.

6. Has it ever been difficult navigating such a male-dominated music space?

Yes. I definitely feel like I have had to prove myself over and over again. I think that is the main difficulty. Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by a gang of brothers in this industry, men who have had my back and supported me and lifted me up. Aside from day to day stuff on the road, I’ve mostly encountered scenarios where people underestimate me and I’ve had to prove them wrong. It always feels good when they come back and apologize after that fact though, lol. Also, not having a ton of female mentors when I first got started was a big factor for me. When I finally met and connected with other female producers later in my career, it was so refreshing to find like-minded people who have dealt with similar things.

7. Your new LP, Ricochet, has tons of collaborators. How do you choose who to work with?

I am always finding collaborators that inspire me or who I feel are pushing boundaries in one way or another. I also love collaborating with people in a slightly different sector or style than me because those always make for the most challenging and unique songs. I am constantly trying to get out of my comfort zone and grow, and working with other people is the best way to do that. We most definitely have to connect on a personal level though to collaborate. We have to see eye to eye and be able to communicate and understand each other’s work styles too.

8. The album is also very genre-melding. Who are some of your biggest influences, and why is it important for you to stitch different sounds and genres together?

I never want to feel like I am inside a box. The coolest music I hear is always something that makes me double take…If I am able to love all different styles of music and fuse them together into my own sound in a way that is hard for people to really put their finger on, that’s kinda the goal. I don’t want to be able to put a title on my music like, oh its “Trap,” or its “Dubstep,” etc. My favorite music lives somewhere in the in-between zones of broader genre categorization. Artists who have done this well are RJD2, DJ Shadow, Pretty Lights, Madlib, Flying Lotus, etc.

9. Your live performances incorporate live drum pad playing into DJ sets. Why is it important to add a live playing element into your show?

I usually play about 80% or more of my own material in my live sets. Although I LOVE to DJ, when I am playing mostly original material it is so much fun to have the option to be more interactive with it. I love cutting out drum or vocal samples into drum pads and playing them live. I can choose the performance to be more like the record, or more improvisational.

10. You’re all over the country this fall – what has been your favorite recent place to play, or which place are you most looking forward to on tour?

I love to play on the east coast or PNW in the fall – the drives and scenery are just unmatched. Chicago was also a recent highlight for me. The people and crowds there continue to make it one of my favorite places to play.

11. Where do you want to go next with your music and what can your fans expect from future releases?

We are actually working on a remix album for Ricochet right now, which I’m super excited about. I love hearing the different things other people do with the same pieces of a song. I also and super hyped to just tame all the tools and lessons I learned making this last album and implement them into the new music I’m working on. I really honed in on this atmospheric/textural layer of my music that I am pumped to continue into future productions, as well as a lot of sound design work I’ve been honing.

12. Where have you not performed yet that you want to perform at?

Europe. Always been a goal…I feel like I am missing out on such a world and a culture there…I can’t wait to be able to tour there one day.

13. In what ways have you pushed yourself beyond existing self-imposed limitations?

It is easier to get imposter syndrome or to get down on yourself about not being where you’d like to be. I’ve found the hardest part about creating sometimes is just sitting down to start…I have been making the time to open up the shop and just go for it more so than ever, without feeling the session has to be successful. I’ve also lived my entire career saying yes to things I may not have been ready for at the moment and meeting myself at the challenge. Highly recommend living that way!

14. What do you wish for the future of electronic music? In what ways would you like to see it evolve?

I would like it to feel more inclusive and less clicky. I feel like even the fans sometimes get locked into a “genre” or secor of the industry and become closed minded. It’s ok to like all types of music or put together bills with an eclectic lineup. I also think we have made big strides in lifting up women and people of color and LGBTQ artists but we still have a long way to go…

15. Any last words for the SPIN universe?

Really just want to say thanks to my fans who have been around and supporting me year after year… I wouldn’t be here without ya. And, if you are new here and just finding me I appreciate you taking the time to open your mind to something new. Go check the new record Ricochet, buy the vinyl, or come see what my live show has in store this fall. We’ll be hitting stops all over the country and I’m really excited to play all this new music for you all!

Upcoming Maddy O’Neal Tour Dates

10/22/22: Salvage Station – Asheville, NC
10/27/22: : Hulaween – Live Oak, FL
10/29/22: Freaky Deaky – Baytown, TX
11/3/22: Telegram Ballroom – Los Angeles, CA*
11/4/22: Music Box – San Diego, CA*
11/5/22: Black Box – Charlotte, NC^
11/11/22: The Big Dirty – Eugene, OR
11/12/22: The Get Down – Portland, OR
11/18/22: The Cornerstone – Berkeley, CA*
11/25/22: Terminal West – Atlanta, GA^
12/03/22: Cervantes – Denver, CO
1/20/23: The Jamaica Incident 2023 – Runaway Bay, Jamaica

*w/ Dirtwire
^w/ SoDown