In 2015, we are now fully immersed in the digital age of music. As a result of the changing tools and resources available to DJs and producers, there are a variety of paths to musical stardom. At Sunset Music Festival, which took place during Memorial Day weekend, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Australian trance artist, MaRLo. From his humble beginnings living on two-dollar noodles, MaRLo has become a world-renowned trance artist. Take a closer look at MaRLo’s musical beginnings, his inspiration, travel experiences, and more in our exclusive interview.
Dancebreak commentary is in italics, while MaRLo’s responses are in normal text.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us today and welcome back to Florida. How does it feel to be back?
Awesome man, it wasn’t that long since I was in Miami and the crowd in America has been so warm and friendly. I think I’m pretty new in the US. I’ve been playing all over the world, like in Europe, Asia, and Australia for quite some time, but I’ve only been playing in America for like a year or eighteen months, so it’s exciting for me.
Ya, you played at Ultra for the first time this year, right? Congratulations, that seems like a pretty big milestone.
It was big, ya, it was good.
That’s awesome. So far how does the Tampa atmosphere feel different from Miami?
I only just arrived. It’s a lot wetter here. A lot more rain.
I think it could just be the time of year. This is your first time at Sunset, is there anything in particular that you’re excited for that you think would be different from other festivals?
I’m not sure. I’ve only just arrived, I don’t know what to expect. Gigs like that are the best, where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t even looked at the crowd yet, so when I’m up on stage, I’ll just go with the flow.
That’s fun, sort of like opening a new present on Christmas day.
Ya, sort of like that, so we’ll see what happens.
Are there any sets that you’re excited to see as a fan here or do you not really have time to do that?
A lot of these guys that are playing at these festivals, we tour all the time and I see them constantly. So I’ve seen most of the DJs I’d like to see play lots of times already, but of course it’s great hanging out with all your friends.
You’ve already mentioned that your wife, Jano, is not here with you. Your collaborations are great, it’s so cool that you’re able to work together like that.
— MaRLo (@marlo_music) May 24, 2015
Ya we’re actually working on a track together called The Dreamers, which I’ve played an intro/teaser version of at ASOT [A State of Trance]. But I’m working on finishing that as a whole track, so that’s going to be cool.
I’ve seen that you’ve previously talked about how Armin van Buuren was one of your earlier influences and now you’ve done quite a number of remixes of his music. How does that feel to go from having someone who’s one of your big influences become one of your peers that you work with quite a bit?
I’ve played at a lot of his events and would definitely consider him a friend by now with the amount of times we’ve seen each other and hung out and stuff like that. But he’s amazing, you know what he’s managed to achieve in the industry first of all. Not only as a DJ, but also I think he’s a real ambassador for the sound and for dance music as a whole, but also especially for trance. I think he’s definitely the leader and he’s very supportive of new talent. I think without him, a lot of new talent would never get heard, because he has a radio show with so many listeners, like millions of listeners every week, so when he plays your track, even if you’re an unknown DJ, suddenly you can create your own little buzz from the momentum he can give you.
I kind of get the feeling like he makes a big effort to try and play the up-and-comers.
It’s really simple, he plays what he likes. So he doesn’t care if you’re a big name or not, he plays the tracks that he likes.
I also read that you don’t prepare for your sets and you go with the vibe of the crowd. That’s great, how do you do that and what do you think of DJs that don’t do that, for example some DJs that might have a whole pre-recorded set.
I think everyone’s different and everyone’s performance is different. I’ve been DJing for quite a long time and I’ve played to a lot of different types of crowds and I’ve learned to adapt on the spot. For me, that’s very important, because every crowd is different and if I prepare a certain style and it doesn’t work—well, I need to have the flexibility to be able to change it up every track. I don’t even know what I’m going to be starting with today yet. I’ll just go up there and as soon as I’m plugged in, I’ll look for the first track. It also depends on what the other DJ finishes with. That’s the other thing, what if he plays two or three tracks that I had planned to play? Then I’m screwed, right? I try to do it very spontaneously and go with the flow.
Some of these artists that have more pre-planned sets, I think they put more of an emphasis on interacting with the crowd visually and vocally, but not as much with the music. What do you think about that? How do you balance the visual and vocal part, while still DJing?
I think everyone’s performance is different. I don’t think one is better than the other, or more valuable than the other. The actual mixing part, the actual part of getting two tracks to play at the same speed is not the hard part anyway. The hard part is creating a good atmosphere and getting the crowd moving. If you can do that with your pre-planned set or you’re comfortable that the DJ before you is not going to play the same tracks as you, why not? I don’t see the problem with it. It just doesn’t work for me though.
I think the line between DJs and producers these days is getting a bit blurred. Can you comment at all on the distinction between the two and is it necessarily important that a producer DJs and a DJ produces?
Yes, I do. It’s very, very, very difficult to just be a producer. There’s hardly any money in sales. Everyone either illegally downloads the music, or even if they do buy the music, it’s only for $1.99 on iTunes. In the old days, when producers would make tracks, a vinyl record would sell for $22 and the wholesale price was $10, so there was $12 profit to make between the label, the artist, and the distributor. So there was a lot more money from the start to go around. And sales, everyone bought the vinyl, so you could sell 50,000 vinyls no problem. So there was real money to be made as a producer without DJing. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to make a career—as in, not have another job—out of just producing, unless you’re also ghost producing for other artists and they’re paying you fees to make their records. They’re never going to recoup the money they invest in the track, but they’ll make it back on their gigs. So you need gigs to make a career out of music, you need to DJ to make a career out of music and quit your day job. And on the other way around, you won’t get invited to DJ at a big festival unless you do have tracks to your name. It works both ways. How I see tracks is a lot like a business card or a flier, where you’re sending them out around the world and people are downloading your music, whether it’s illegally or legally, whatever, but that actually doesn’t matter. If people are consuming your music, then they’ll buy a ticket to see you at an event. People wouldn’t know who I was if I didn’t have tracks. They’d have no idea, even if I was a great DJ technically. You need one to be the other. You need to be both.
Dance music seems to go through trends pretty rapidly now. But it seems like trance music has been popular for quite some time. What do you think makes trance different? How do you keep it fresh and interesting and maintain the connection with your older trance fans, as well as developing new connections with up-and-coming fans?
I think trance is such a broad genre. To me, the meaning of trance is that quite often it has a pretty emotional response. It’s quite an emotional genre. I think everyone likes feeling something, especially when they’re out at an event and it’s about unity, experiencing the moment together. I think trance is very good at bringing people together like that.
Were you always a fan of dance music? What were you listening to when you were young, like 10-16 years old? What was your taste in music?
At first I liked rock. Then I liked hip-hop for a while. Then when I heard some of The Prodigy’s early stuff and Aphex Twin and some of those top acts, I was like, oh this is cool. Even some of Daft Punk’s very early stuff. When I was old enough to go out clubbing myself, then I got into trance.
Who or what have been some of your biggest influences unrelated to dance music?
Like unrelated to music?
Well, anything really.
Aphex Twin was a huge inspiration. His music was so experimental and weird that I had no idea how it was made first of all. He makes a lot of his own instruments and stuff. It’s really out there. And that experimentation attracted me to try it myself. That you didn’t have to follow rules that you didn’t have to be able to sing, you didn’t have to be able to play guitar. Because I can’t. I can’t sing or play guitar. Electronic music was something that anyone can actually do. You can express yourself musically without having to be able to read notes or play an instrument, and for me that was really exciting.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
No. Well, I mean I play the keyboard, I know my chords and things like that, but no.
In your course of music, did you ever have an “Aha!” moment where you realized that you could turn music into a career?
I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment where I could, I had an “Aha!” moment where I said, this is all I want to do with my life. So it wasn’t like “oh hey I can do this,” it was more like, “I want to do this,” no matter what. Even if I was completely broke, I would have done this. I was for a long time. I was struggling to pay my rent, I worked shitty day jobs that I hated. But then as soon as I got home, I’d stay up to four in the morning every night, just working on refining my craft and getting better and better and better and playing more and more and more gigs on the weekend as a DJ and getting to know more people. My mom once asked me, “Marlo, what are you going to do if all this doesn’t work out? Like what’s your plan B? Are you going to go to university, are you going to learn how to do something else?” I looked her dead in the eye and I said: “Mom, my plan B is to try plan A again.” It took a long time before I could quit my shitty day jobs that I hated. It took a long time.
That’s quite a bit of perseverance. I know some people wouldn’t have the drive to do that.
I was living on two-minute noodles and borrowing money off my mom and my friends just to survive, just to pay rent. I was really broke. But there was never a question of maybe I should do something else, because this was all I wanted to do with my life and if I was still working crappy day jobs, I’d still be producing at home every day, like this is what I love to do.
You have a lot of great singles, but no album.
What’s it like being an artist in the digital age that’s focused more on music streaming? Do you feel pressure to make more singles?
I don’t feel pressure, I just enjoy making singles. I would like to make an album one time, but I’ve got really good momentum happening. With singles you have to make a track that everyone is going to play and that’s going to get people jumping. I’m enjoying doing that for now, so maybe in a few years I’ll sit down and do an album, but I’m not even sure if the album would be only tracks that make people jump up and down, because what’s the point of an album if you could just do them as singles anyway? If I did an album, it would be more like an artist album where I express a different side of me I suppose.
I like seeing that. You see artists that are quite different live and then they’ll put out an album that’s a different style; it’s a different mode of expression.
Exactly, it’s more for listening at home and listening in the car or for putting on when you’re going to sleep, not necessarily just for jumping up and down. An album would be a different thing for me.
You’re quite the world traveler these days. What’s been one of your favorite traveling experiences you’ve had while on tour, that’s not related to music?
The times where my wife does get to come with me are awesome. Last time she came with me to Mexico, after EDC Mexico, and we went snorkeling; we saw a barracuda. We’ve got a big aquarium at home, so we love snorkeling together. Experiencing things like that all over the world is definitely one of the big perks, and a huge luxury. Not many people get to travel to the opposite end of the world and get to experience that. And if they do, it’s like you save for a long time and then you go on your big trip once a year or once every two years. Whereas, because it’s part of work, I go there anyway. To be able to take advantage of those situations, where I’m in amazing places and I have to be there anyway, and then to get to do that stuff, it’s really cool.
How do you beat the exhaustion of traveling, playing at shows, and making yourself feel at home when you’re not?
I try to just sleep when I’m tired. You can’t keep up with the jet lag. The jet lag will beat you every time. You can’t say “I’m going to stay awake until 10 or 11” and then get up at 7 or 8. You can’t do that when you’re traveling as much as I do. I just sleep when I can. Whether it’s two hours or six hours.
We have one more question before we wrap things up. For me, I’m really appreciative of music. When I got into electronic music, I thought that was huge. It really was a constant force of positivity and I think that most of the artists that experience long-term success, they have a similar outlook. They’re not doing it for fame or for anything else in particular, they think it’s a powerful thing. That brings me to the thought that there’s not a lot of women in the electronic music world, other than dancers, servers, and bartenders and whatnot. Is that something that you’d like to see change. Would you like to see more women involved? What advice would you give to them?
I would absolutely. What I don’t really understand is—there’s some women involved, but they don’t really produce music themselves, and I don’t really get that because there’s so many songwriters that are female—like a lot. I think women like the creative process as much as men. I don’t think it’s a sex issue. I don’t understand why they don’t learn how to use the software and produce music themselves. There’s really not many that are actually sitting down, spending eight hours a day in front of a computer, learning the technical side of how to produce. I think if there was someone like that, they’d have great success. There was a female DJ that was asked a similar question and she basically said the door opens a lot easier for a woman. It’s easier to get a show in the first place, but you’re scrutinized a lot harder once you’re on that stage. If you made your own tracks 100%, and they’re good tracks, and they’re getting played by all the DJs, that door will open for you in the first place, you’ve got the substance and content to back it up. If you’re just a DJ floozy that’s using sex appeal only to get shows, that’s not going to last. It’s a hype based thing, and the hype never lasts. It’s like “Oh this girl’s great!” and then it’s on to the next girl or the next guy or whatever. If you have content, if you have a back-catalogue of great music, I think females could have it easier, actually, than men, because you are an exception, and you’re special. People like to see things that are special and different than what they’ve seen before. The fact that you mentioned it, a lot of other people will think this way too. And so, if you have somebody that says “This girl is actually really special and she’s one of the only one’s doing it,” she’s going to sell out shows everywhere.
You look at the Nervo twins, a lot of people say that sort of stuff about them. They like them because they’re different.
They’re great songwriters as well. The Nervo girls write a lot of tracks for a lot of other artists.
They also have a lot going for them—two blonde, good-looking twins.
Ya, a lot of that stuff is the marketing side of things, but they also have the content to back it up. But there’s a lot more men. I don’t think there was a single woman playing on this stage today.
We saw Mija play earlier today on the Horizon Stage. She was pretty fun to watch. But you’re right, it’s definitely disproportionate.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because girls like singing more or writing songs more than they do the nerdy stuff. Producing music is very nerdy. It’s a lot of just staring at a screen and looping one kick drum for two hours, so maybe girls get impatient, I don’t know. I wouldn’t think so though.
You look at people like deadmau5, deadmau5 is a huge computer nerd. He started off as a nerd in IRC chats and moved to music production. He didn’t start as a musician in the traditional sense.
His music is amazing and his production is super tight. I think we are all actually nerds.
I love being a nerd. I embrace it. When people call me a nerd, I take it as a compliment.
It just means that something is really important to you. I think “nerd” gets misused in a negative way, but if you’re a nerd, you’re really interested in something. Like, you’re really into collecting comics, or you’re really into computer games, or you’re into producing music. It’s the same sort of thing, you get obsessive about it. And it’s all I want to do. I dunno, is that nerdy? Maybe. I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. A lot.
Thank you so much for your time, good luck tonight.