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Pilots on Their Airplane Shtick, Harry Potter Obsession, and Busting Into the Local DJ Scene

Mark Krause (left) and Brandon Thai of Pilots.
Mark Krause (left) and Brandon Thai of Pilots.
Shutterbug Photography

As anyone who's seen the Leo DiCaprio flick Catch Me If You Can is likely to attest, being a commercial pilot is a certainly a pimp experience. Sky captains certainly command plenty of respect (unless they're unlucky enough to get caught on tape spewing vulgarities ), which is one of the things that inspired local DJs Mark Krause and Brandon Thai to call dub their particular duo Pilots .

As such, the pair typically wear captain's hats and aviator shades during their performances at such venues as Madison Event Center and Club Red. According to Krause, they also aim to take the audience on a jet-setting journey with their EDM soundscapes, including dubbing portions of their mixes as "takeoff" and "landing."

We interviewed the members of Pilots, who are relatively new to the DJ game, about their airplane shtick, as well as their experiences of trying to break into the local scene.

Names: Mark Krause and Brandon Thai

AKA: Pilots

Genres: Dutch, house, and electro-house. We sometimes throw in a trance track here and there if the mood is right.

How did you both get into the DJ game? When I met Brandon about two years ago, we kinda talked about what we were into and how we both wanted to start something up [with] music. A week or so later we both got into a car accident [and] Brandon actually got a good amount of money back. And we bought some of our gear and it just happened. We take it as a blessing in disguise.

What sort of gear did you ? A friend of mine actually had a set of turntables with a Serato box and laptop, so he showed me some techniques and it developed from there. Brandon started on a set of his own turntables he had when he lived in El Paso. We showed each other our different styles and just combined them to create what we have today. But after the car accident, we bought a Traktor S4 controller, laptop, and set of studio speakers for the house.

Where have you performed? We have performed numerous shows, all over the Valley, actually: Spanish Fly, Cream Lounge (now Flight Lounge), Marquee Theatre, District 8, Madison Event Center, Casablanca Lounge, Club Red, El Patron in El Paso, and a few other spots.

In your opinion, what's the best rave venue in town? Well Madison is a great venue. Downtown, so [an] equal drive for everyone, [an] outside alley for a stage, and indoors it is pretty decent. But I wish they could have another event at Firebird Raceway, that was where The Big Event was held and that venue was amazing! Reminded us of the Cali massives we go to.

What's the craziest shit you've witnessed at one of your gigs? That would probably be our set at Imaginationland. As soon as we went on, the crowd started to just jump on [the] speakers and get wild. A girl was dancing so crazy that she almost tipped back and fell on us. Thank goodness our friends were there to catch her before anyone got really hurt. But that was an intense set for sure.

Why are you called Pilots? Ever since we were young we always wanted to become Pilots, we have talked about going that route and how cool it would be to fly and just be up in the air. Then we got to thinking, a DJ booth is like a cockpit of an airplane, and a dj is like the pilot. He decides how the flight will be and what kind of journey you are going to take. We liked that a lot, so much that right then and there we decided to be called, "Pilots".

Do y'all try to make your sets like a flight? That's exactly what we do, with a little bit of turbulence along the way. We like to start it of a bit slower and have a nice intro to it, get the people ready for takeoff. Then we build up to the climax of our set which is just wild bangers and stuff to get you dancing. We like to end it with a uplifting feeling and taking you back down for landing. Just positive vibes the whole time. But we also feed off what the crowd wants as well, [which] is always a factor.

Are either of you actually pilots? Unfortunately no. But [that] doesn't mean that dream still can't be accomplished. There is always time for anything.

Any ambitions to pull off a set at 30,000 feet? Actually after we saw the Tomorrowland [video], we found out that it could be possible. Dmitri Vegas and Like Mike actually did a surprise set on a plane for all the passengers going to Tomorrowland. We thought that that was the coolest thing ever. High up in the air, music bumping, and just having a good time. What more could you ask for?

 

What's your favorite track of the moment? Krause: I really don't have favorites because of just different styles and genres. But if I had to choose, it would be Calvin Harris' "We'll Be Coming Back" (Michael Woods remix). The song is just so big and euphoric and has a great build-up and drop. Plus Example's voice is just amazing.

So Mark is a die-hard Harry Potter fanatic, right? Krause: That is putting it lightly. Can't explain it in full, but the books just brought me to a better place, taught life lessons, and how cool would it be to live in a world like that. I'm a pretty big nerd and kid at heart when it comes to a lot of stuff like that.

Has that factored into your music at all? Like dropping Harry Potter sound bites or performing in a cloak? Krause: I wish! I have been to all the book and movie releases [while] dressed up, but never thought of doing a gig in an outfit. Other than that we just like to match and wear our Pilot hats. But listening to soundtracks to the movies, like Lord of the Rings, Tron Legacy, and even Harry Potter, it does give us a little more ideas on how to start our sets and even just the way they are mapped out.

Is Mark a muggle or mudblood by chance? Krause: Muggle. Once I hit 18 and realized my letter was never going to come, that was when I knew. That was a sad day.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to being a duo? Krause: With playing together, we go off each other's energy. We have our differences but that is what makes it so much better. Sometimes he will see things that I don't and bring a nice touch to our sets, and sometimes I might have something I want to toss in that will add some flavor to it. We work well together and with the way our mixes are set up, more hands to transition is always helpful.

We're you pissed that your duo didn't make the cut for ID Fesitval during the Hometown Heroes battle? To be honest, we were happy that we just made it that far. It was a great achievement and we are proud of what we put out there. We had over 30 of our closest family and friends there to see us perform, and that means more to us than any competition.

 

Ready for Takeoff: Brandon Thai (left) and Mark Krause of Pilots.
Ready for Takeoff: Brandon Thai (left) and Mark Krause of Pilots.

Being relatively new to the DJ scene, is it hard to land gigs sometimes? Yeah, It is difficult to land some of the clubs and raves when they already have closer people they know. But we are getting there, and we understand that it is a business as well. Sometimes we aren't always what people are looking for. It doesn't get us down, there are more shows and opportunities out there to go for. We are just happy for all the promoters and people who believe in us to give us that chance...that means everything.

How does one carve out an identity in a scene already glutted with talent? That is a good question. It really all comes down to how you market yourself, networking, and just practice, practice, practice. We hustle and work our butts off to get where we have gotten today and it is worth all that hard effort. Brandon and I work 50-hour jobs and still manage to pump out sets, produce music, and promote as much as we can. We work hard and don't take any shortcuts, and it all pays off in the end.

Most important lesson you've learned thus far? That would have to be just ignore the people who try to bring you down and push forward. Haters will always be there, it comes with the territory. And if we didn't have any haters, then we aren't doing something right. A quote I have made and live by is this, "Music means more to me than all the silly drama & problems that go on. With the billions of people in this world, I'm not trying to worry about the few people who have a problem with us and what we are trying to do with our lives. We choose to fly above all of that."

Pilots are scheduled to perform on Monday, September 17, at Vintage Lounge in Tempe. Admission is free. More details can be found on the event's Facebook page.

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