(Photo by Michael Morrow Hammack)
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(Pictured above: Ravenscoon Performing at 40oz Wonderland, Photo by @ramonsview)
Before electronic dance music took the world by storm in the 2010s, it was generally considered a niche genre in the US, far removed from the radio and generally associated with social outcasts. But as artists like Skrillex, Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Swedish House Mafia gained in popularity, electronic music pushed further into the mainstream to the point where pop music became almost synonymous with a certain variety of electronic dance music. Its influence is unmistakably everywhere: on the radio, in movie trailers, consumer product ads, the X Games, and even at this year’s Indy 500 Snake Pit. Ten years ago, the idea that bedroom DJs and producers would dominate and reshape the world of music was unthinkable. While that commercial brand of electronic music, typically labeled as EDM, is unavoidable in the pop world, an entire subcommunity of producers, DJs, artists, and fans exists deep in the realm of the internet, dripping in talent and possibility.
While it’s typically considered a necessity for artists to distribute their music through as many online platforms as possible, like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, that’s not where you’ll discover this group of independent artists. Instead, you’re more likely to discover these underground artists on Reddit, Soundcloud, and in Facebook Groups, largely untethered from the mainstream and removed from traditional label influence, where a different set of rules exist. Prowling through these avenues is where you’re likely to find Paul Conversano, better known by his stage name Ravenscoon.
Conversano, currently a San Francisco resident, had little formal training, having only played the trumpet for two years in his elementary and middle school years. Instead, he learned about music in the bustling scene of Atlanta, where he is originally from: “I was born and raised in Atlanta. I guess that’s where a lot of my inspiration and music tastes originally come from. I grew up listening to everything from Sound Tribe Sector 9 to Gucci Mane—completely opposite sides of the spectrum.” Although he was not a traditional instrumentalist, Conversano’s depth in music knowledge is impressive, which he attributes to his interest in the music and arts scene from a young age:
“I’ve been messing around with music since I was a kid. I collected CDs and even when I was like two or three years old, my Mom said when I was at weddings I would run up to the DJ and request songs. So I’ve always been into art and music and I just would share things that I like.”
In addition to his affinity for STS9 and Gucci Mane, Conversano lists off a range of other styles and artists that influence him:
“Since I was a kid I’ve had a morbid fascination. I was into death metal, grind core, emo, and punk music as soon as I first heard it. I really loved the HEAVY stuff. Job for a Cowboy, Suicide Silence, As I Lay Dying, and Old Bring Me The Horizon.
I made my Mom take me to the mall so I could go to Hot Topic so I could buy all the black shirts that said shit like ‘I hate you’ and stuff. She hated it. I was raised Roman Catholic, so it was a bit much for my Mom.”
He mentions that his first concert was Green Day on the American Idiot Tour in 2004, which his Dad accompanied him to. “I always loved anti-establishment music and music that got in your face.”
His preferences don’t just skew towards dark and heavy music, however, explaining that while his peers in Georgia were listening to country music, he was perusing Grooveshark.com and listening to trance artists like Armin van Buuren. 2007 seems to be the year that really had a big impact on him, as that’s when a friend’s sister introduced him to Bassnectar. He was instantly hooked. Around that same time, he was discovering artists like Rusko, Zeds Dead, and Pretty Lights, while exploring genres like early dubstep and breaks. In 2010 he witnessed his first Bassnectar show at the Tabernacle in Atlanta for New Year’s Eve, where face value tickets were selling for only $15-20. Reminiscing on the show, he explains his excitement:
“I was super hooked. I had never seen anybody mix music like that and I was like ‘fuck, I want to do that’ you know? I had never heard anybody blending hip-hop, vocals, and bass music. I thought it was so cool.”
Attending his first Bassnectar show may have been the catalyst for his music ambitions:
“Over time I started making my own mashups and stuff. I think the mixing style is something that inspires me. There’s a couple of other artists that I was also inspired by—like Nero, Minnesota, a lot of those guys that were creating super rush bass music at the time. I want to say that they’re my biggest inspirations and Bassnectar being one of them, but I don’t want that to overshadow my music and what my sound is like. I think that’s something that is difficult in the music scene—being inspired by something, but not being a copy of it and making your own twist. Because everything is just a twist on something else. Everything has been done before.”
As he started making his own mashups and remixes, he would share his creations with friends, where he found encouragement to continue down the music path:
“I eventually got more serious. I chose a name: Ravenscoon [an anagram of his last name]. I started uploading everything on the same Soundcloud. From there, it’s just really taken off. It really does help, especially being well connected in the bass music community and knowing a lot of people. I’ve been doing it for 10 years—going to shows and concerts. I guess I’m unashamed about showing people my music. I was never afraid to put myself out there. Tell me it’s bad. Tell me it’s good. I want to know what people think.”
A driving force of his popularity has been his mixes that he curates, performs, records, and releases on Soundcloud, one of the more popular ones being his Wrapped in a Dream Mix. The mixes serve as an opportunity to display his versatility, releasing mixes that focus on a theme, like Halloween, downtempo, dreamtempo, heavy bass, and everything in between. They all feature a plethora of song styles, acapellas, and mashups.
When it comes to creating mixes, he mentions that he typically targets a specific energy: “Most of the time, I base the whole mix around the first song and how the first song made me feel.” Once he gets the first song in place, he says: “I look at it like putting a puzzle together. I have that first piece and then I fill in the rest of the mix around it.”
He takes pride in his ability to mix things up:
“I’ve definitely been trying to showcase that I can do different genres and that it doesn’t matter if it’s dubstep, trap, hybrid, or weird bass or whatever they call it, or downtempo. I can do it and I can do it well and I want to show people that. I also don’t want people to expect the same thing from me all the time. … I want to do everything.”
When asked if he ever ran into legal issues due to his use of acapellas, remixes, and mashups on Soundcloud, he explained that his first Soundcloud account was just for fun: he was buying songs, downloading them, mashing them up and uploading them to share with the world, with no ill intent or profit motive. He uploaded a few mashed-up songs of a particular artist and explains the issues that came as a result:
“At my fault, I didn’t properly credit him or ask permission. He reported my songs and my Soundcloud ended up getting deleted. He had messaged me first and asked me politely to take everything down. I hadn’t logged into my Soundcloud and seen the message, so I think he thought I was ignoring him. I was totally in the wrong. It was my fault. It was a learning lesson. I lost my Soundcloud. I had a couple of thousand followers. It was a wakeup call to do things the right way and be more original. That’s really when I got serious about what I was making and the project that I’m doing and making my own music. It was a good thing.”
Since then, he’s rebuilt his Soundcloud account, having just surpassed 3,000 followers. On top of that, he’s performed a number of live shows in 2018, including his debut performance in a national park on a beach in San Francisco, accessible via a mile and a half hike through the woods, culminating in a large staircase that winds down to a secluded beachfront. His friends help organize renegade parties; this one featured sound equipment, DJ tables, bonfires, and a crowd of about 50 people. They upped the ante a few weeks later when Bassnectar came to town for his September 2018 Be Interactive Charity event. Conversano and friends returned to the same secluded beach, where he was able to perform in front of a crowd of about 200 people. This gave him the confidence to play more live shows. With the help of his girlfriend, he created an email alias and started reaching out to promoters, eventually getting booked for a show in Denver at Your Mom’s House. He explains his experience in Denver and how things capitulated from there:
“Actually I was the headliner and ended up selling it out, which was really cool to sellout my first headlining show and my first show at a venue. After that, I started getting a bunch of offers to play shows. I played 40oz Wonderland in Orlando, which was a music festival. Super cool. There were a lot of really awesome artists on the lineup, so being a part of that was great. I played the pre-party with Mr. Bill for Bassnectar New Year’s Eve in Greensboro and then a week later, turned around and flew back to Greensboro and played a show [Create 2 Year Anniversary] with TVBOO for the same promoter.”
He recently signed with A 40oz Collective, an independent label and collective based out of Orlando and has a mini tour scheduled for later in the spring with dates and locations yet to be announced. Prior to the tour, he will make an appearance at Bassnectar’s inaugural Deja Voom in Riveria Maya, Mexico, February 27-March 2, where he will have showcase his talents as one of twelve artists selected for the opportunity to perform an Open Decks slot. He will also be joining SoDown’s Motive Tour stop at Aisle 5 in Atlanta on April 6, 2019, alongside Dofex Bos and Homemade Spaceship.
He balances all his tour activity and producing in addition to his primary career (for now), where he works in digital advertising and marketing. When asked how he balances his professional career with his artistic ambitions, he responds:
“I just make time for myself. My girlfriend and I live together. She works a lot at a restaurant, so when she’s not home, I’m working on music. She works every Sunday so I work on my music for 8 hours. I get home from work at 6PM and sometimes I’ll just work the rest of the night on music. I just really have to fit it in where I can and when I can. … Sometimes I feel inspired at work, so I’ll write little notes down about things I’m thinking or songs that pop into my head. It’s definitely difficult but it’s necessary, because San Francisco is so expensive and I’m not to a point where I can afford to pay my bills off of music. But also it’s beneficial because I’m learning so much about digital advertising and marketing that I can use that to help market my art project Ravenscoon that I’m working on.”
After studying at college in South Carolina for his bachelor’s degree in marketing, his work with CBS Media Company resulted in a move to San Francisco, a change that he relished. He comments on how his experience in South Carolina was a difficult time for him and that he had always wanted to live in California, so when the opportunity to move there for work presented itself, he was onboard; the move “was definitely for work, but also like a spiritual thing.”
He describes the San Francisco arts scene as a great place to stay motivated and inspired, having met a number of like-minded people who balance professional careers while also sharing his affinity for the arts: everyone from graphic designers to event producers, painters, and fulltime artists.
“It’s just really inspiring and nice to be around people that are artistic and talented. And seeing the city—there’s so much art, there are murals all over the buildings everywhere, there are people playing music in the streets. Bands that tour all come through San Francisco because it’s a must-stop for everybody big and small. I’ve seen everybody from Korn to Mindset at Wormhole which is this small weekly bass music underground scene that’s in Oakland every Wednesday. … It pushes me to want to express everything that I’ve been feeling and drawing inspiration from.”
Conversano’s personal, professional, and artistic journey has brought him to a point of critical mass, where he’s ready to release his first EP of all original music: Beautiful Chaos. The EP consists of six songs, including two that have already been released as singles: Moon Theory, Accelerated Mortality, Broken Flowers, Beautiful Chaos, Slime Time, and Déjà Rêvé. He makes note of some of the tempos and styles of his songs: Slime Time is a slow 120 BPM “weird trappy bass” song, Accelerated Mortality is 175 BPM “halftime drum & bass with nasty growls,” Déjà Rêvé was inspired by his experience with dreams and night terrors as a child, and some of the other songs are slow and melodic 140 BPM dubstep tunes. With an opportunity to get an advance peek at his track “Moon Theory,” Conversano’s trance influence is clear: the track “starts off at 130 BPM with some arpeggios,” which give way to trance beats, eventually kicking up the tempo to 136 BPM and culminating in a melodic dubstep drop, with the remainder of the song weaving between trance and dubstep styles. The track feels like a nod to an earlier era of music, where juxtaposition of heavy and beautiful sonic exploration took precedence over the pressure of fan influence to create the loudest and heaviest noises possible.
Conversano works closely with his friend Ariel, a professional mixing and mastering engineer who is based out of Miami and goes by the name of Andrumeda Music. Conversano comments on his importance:
“He’s pretty much taught me everything I know about production. We’ve been going through the songs after I create them and the original idea is done. We break it down. He gives me feedback on the different sounds. Then he does the mastering work. … The mastering and mixing work that Ariel does is instrumental to me. I think everybody should have a great engineer that they work with.”
The EP is mostly finished, aside from some mastering work that still needs to be done. In addition to the music, each song has companion cover artwork that was created by Conversano’s friend Joe Hickey at DRIP Graphics. He originally planned to have separate artists create cover art for each track, but after Conversano got a look at some of DRIP’s designs, he liked them so much that he commissioned him to create cover art for each song, plus the album cover. In addition to the album cover, DRIP recently finished up the official Ravenscoon logo, which sports a pentagram overlaid with Baphomet—The Goat of Mendes, a nod to Conversano’s previously mentioned “morbid fascination.”
The official release date of the album is to be determined, but expected at the end of February. The Ravenscoon platform of choice is Soundcloud, however the album will be available on all major music platforms: Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, and approximately 50 other online music stores.
As the conversation with the mastermind behind Ravenscoon came to an end, he had these words to share: “If you like what I’m doing, tell your friends. I really appreciate everybody’s support so far. It’s just getting started. There’s so much more to come.”
Hidden away in the northern cap of Finland is a place called Levi—home to the largest ski resorts in the country and known for being one of the few places on earth to spot natural phenomena like the Northern Lights and the midnight sun. During the off-season, Levi is home to fewer than 1,000 people, but during the holidays, the many restaurants and hotels (and one top-of-the-line dance club) open up to nearly 20,000 tourists hoping for a winter wonderland getaway.
When my boyfriend and his family invited me to spend the holidays in the Arctic Circle, I did not expect to find myself on the back of a speeding dog-sled or eating copious amounts of reindeer meat in a dimly-lit elvish cavern, but above all else, I certainly did not expect to run into one of Europe’s most famous producers of all time. Ville Virtanen, better known by his stage name Darude, was thrust to international stardom in 1999 with his hit song, Sandstorm. Although Virtanen hails from Finland, Sandstorm gained worldwide popularity, especially in the US, as it exposed many people to the world of dance music for the first time ever. While Sandstorm is one of the most widely recognized songs in dance music, Darude is still regularly producing new music and performing around the world. I had the opportunity to see one of his performances in Levi, while I also got some time to ask him a few questions. For clarity, my questions are formatted in italics, while Virtanen’s responses are standard styling.
Carlie: Coming from Finland, what’s it like getting to perform in a place like Levi?
Virtanen: I’ve actually played here numerous times. It’s an interesting place because there’s always a mixed crowd, but obviously it’s ski season, and it’s almost New Year’s Eve so the area is very festive. With this area you never know what you’re going to get. Not going to lie, I’ve had weird gigs here, like mid-week or Easter time where I’ll play for a small handful of people, but I’m always excited to come here because I love the snow, myself, and I think tomorrow I’ll probably go do some snowboarding, as well. The Hullu Poro Areena is a really nice venue. There’s great sound both on the stage and on the dance floor, so I’m very much looking forward to being back there.
One thing that makes interviewing you interesting is that you actually started making music the year I was born—1995—what are some noticeable changes you’ve seen in the contemporary dance music scene?
Well, I guess the big, main difference is that back then it wasn’t a big industry and it wasn’t mainstream like it is now. A lot of things contribute to that, but I’d say the internet and the development of technology—all the possible ways to create music and how it’s available to everybody— have not only contributed to people being able to share music, but also people being able to create music. Somebody like me, who back then and even now, I’m not that great of a live player. Unfortunately, I never took piano lessons or anything. I played ice hockey as a kid. But even people without live music playing skills have access to computers to make music. Now almost everybody who wants it or is interested in it has access. With all that, I think the awareness and the accessibility to dance music has become so easy and so wide that nowadays, we’re not talking about the underground dance music scene. It’s mainstream, it’s pop, and any big artist—the Armin van Buurens, the Calvin Harrises— they’re all basically pop. The dance records that end up on the radio or on the top of Spotify, those artists can still make harder or darker or more underground dance music, but what becomes their biggest hits are just clear-cut pop songs with an electronic beat.
Yeah, we have kind of started to see electronic music sprinkle its way into every other genre. There’s even electronic country music now.
Oh of course, exactly.
Who are some modern artists that you listen to— some of the younger artists that are coming up that have impressed you as an artist?
I don’t really know about younger. I don’t really know anyone’s ages and I don’t want to bring anybody down by bringing him up, but Avicii, to me, was kind of a younger kid who came after me and his rise to stardom was obviously one of the reasons why electronic music became big. He was one of the huge contributors. Like how you mentioned electronic country, he was one of the guys who fused, quite freely, different aspects of different genres and probably contributed to that melting pot. Martin Garrix has been around for a good while and has obviously established that he’s pretty much the biggest DJ in the world, according to DJMag Top 100. He’s done slow, ballad types of tracks, he’s done a little bit of trappy stuff, and a little of this and that, in addition to his sort of normal, festival-style bangers. Which, again, is one of the things that makes people more and more used to the idea of not having such separate boxes for what an artist can do. I like the idea of there being more freedom and people not shunning you for not always doing what people expect you to do. I made a track with Ashley Wallbridge this year called “Surrender,” and we had a singer called Foux on it. Ashley has sort of also been bubbling under for the longest time, but I think sometime soon he’s probably going to be a mainstream name. Definitely someone to look out for.
Who are some of the artists that first inspired you to get your start in electronic music?
Oh wow. I was actually listening to a lot of 80’s hair metal [laughs], like Bon Jovi and Twisted Sister. Around the same time a lot of German-style dance music like Bad Boys Blue and Modern Talking, that kind of stuff. None of it was really trance, but it was more of my generic background in melodic, sort of easy, mainstream music. That’s kind of what I’m about and really where I come from. In Finland, we never really got all the new stuff or all the big stuff, but we had a pretty decent dance music culture, even when I was getting into it. We even had some mainstream dance music on the radio, like Rhythm of the Night or Dr. Alban. After I started touring internationally, I realized that a lot of Europe had similar music to Finland, but America didn’t and that was weird to me. The US is a big country and when I was getting booked, it was always to these huge cities—LA, New York, Seattle, Miami—the cities are so big that even though dance music wasn’t even close to mainstream, the club scene was very good. To me, those club scenes seemed very similar to Finland, or Europe. What I didn’t understand was why dance music wasn’t on the radio at all.
Yes exactly. Even now, the music that my friends and I listen to— experimental bass music, future bass, even the big-name house artists, the ones on Dirtybird Records— you’re not really going to get any of that on the radio. We mostly listen to our music on Soundcloud. It’s just a great platform for less mainstream artists to share their work. Who are you listening to right now?
Hmm…[laughing] I sometimes feel guilty. I don’t really actively listen to music in my free-time. We might have some techno on Spotify on in the background, or just the other day I searched “uplifting house” and got a mix of like, techno and 120-125 BPM house. I enjoy it, but it’s not like I need to be listening to my bangers when I’m off. Some house or deep house, softly playing in the background is what I like. Rufus Du Sol, Fisher, stuff like that. When I first got into music, I was actively listening to it all the time. Exchanging CDs, recording on the radio. It was everything I did. Now I sit in front of a computer making music and playing in front of crowds, so when I’m off, I’ve just sort of hit my limit of actively listening.
What was the experience of having Sandstorm become such a hit like? Did you expect that to happen?
It’s funny, I wasn’t even really considering myself to be a musician at that point. I had one synthesizer, one computer, and one sequencer, and I was just using any and every little sound or gadget or software I could to put stuff together. I was really just having fun. I wasn’t trying to put myself down, but I was always thinking “professionals are up here, and I’m somewhere down there” and the gap was just so huge. I didn’t have any education in music. I didn’t have the right gear. I never dreamt about this life, not because I didn’t believe in myself, but I just never even saw this as a possibility.
Is it crazy now being one of the huge names and playing on lineups with artists that you once looked up to?
Oh, so let me tell you one of the things that blew my mind just a couple months ago… Pet Shop Boys played in Helsinki and I got to open for them. I did a soundcheck and had a chat with Neil Tennant (Chris Lowe wasn’t there at that point) and it blew my mind. I still have some of their tapes that I’ve recorded. We had a good chat and he was just such a nice guy. A lot of times people tell me that they started making music or that they got into dance music because of my tracks or something and that’s the biggest compliment ever to me. That’s the cool thing, if you end up getting to meet that person that you look up to, most of the time they’re normal people. It’s a nice thing to be able to sit down with someone who has a skill similar to your own, or just have a quick high-five and kind of recognize that they might be older or have more career experience, but that mutual respect is still there. Most of the time it’s the press or other people that put artists against each other, but most of the people actually in the industry are totally fine with each other, even embracing each other.
I actually notice that a lot, especially in the electronic music community. Instead of competition, there tends to be a lot of collaboration. With technology nowadays, you could sit here and have a collaboration with an American artist and never even meet the guy or girl that you’re working with. There really are limitless opportunities for artists to work together.
Oh, I know! My track “Surrender” with Foux… I’ve never met her.
Really? So you just went back in forth online, or?
The connection came through Ashley, who’s the other writer/producer on the track. He had a connection with her so he asked her to sing. They didn’t even sit in the same room while she recorded the vocals— he’s from England and she was all the way in America. It’s the same with my track “Timeless” that was released a couple months ago. Jamie Lee Wilson (JVMIE), who’s an Australian artist living in LA, we’ve never met face-to-face. I’ve chatted on the phone with her, but those vocals came from me sending her the instrumental and her saying “cool!” A couple of days later I had the vocals.
What are you looking forward to in 2019 with music?
Well, all going well, I should have six tracks come out next year, last year I only released two, I’ve been holding back for a big project that’s coming soon.
A new album?
Hmm… Not an album. But a project. When you see it… you’ll know! [Laughing] But I’m excited! I think there will be some guaranteed exposure. It’s a big thing… A good thing! Some people will definitely be surprised or weirded out by what’s coming, but what I like about the last ten years or so is that there has been a lot of collaboration and mixing of genres. I find that cool! After being around for a while, I feel that it’s necessary and healthy to venture out and be outside your comfort zone. That’s what I’m doing now… no country music for me though!
Some dialog has been edited for clarity.
This past December 30-31, 2017, thousands of music enthusiasts took over the Rawhide Western Town & Event Center in Chandler, AZ, for Arizona’s biggest New Year’s Eve celebration, Decadence. Festival producers Relentless Beats and Global Dance pulled in 12,000 attendants per day, with a lineup that featured a cast of national acts including Armin van Buuren, Big Wild, Borgore, Boys Noize, Duke Dumont, Galantis, Justice, Louis the Child, Madeon, Oliver Heldens, What So Not, Zedd, Zeds Dead, Zhu, and many more. The two-day event featured two main indoor stages: The Diamond Atrium and Sapphire Ballroom, along with the outdoor Ruby Courtyard and carnival rides.
With a number of destructive natural disasters and unusual political phenomena in the US, many would consider 2017 a wild and tumultuous year. Perhaps that’s why 2017 also seemed to be a big year for music and festivals, as people search for a means of community, especially in the festival realm: a place to escape the distractions of the world and find love and peace. On that note, we reached out to several artists and people in the industry to ask them:
“Can you recall a particular moment that stands out, which happened in 2017 that you think exemplifies the unifying power of music?” Here’s what they had to say:
“The power of music is crazy. People can just forget everything and be with their friends and just have fun. That’s what it’s all about. A very special moment for me this year was pressing play at my Sluggtopia Red Rocks show in front of 10k people and everyone coming together for the moment and forgetting about everything else. Can’t wait for 2018!”
“For me that moment was EDC Las Vegas. This year has been an extremely difficult for many around the world. To have the opportunity to play on that size of a stage and watch every single person out there forget about all their problems and issues is truly empowering. It was a moment I’ll never forget and a moment that the music really brought everyone together as a whole. It’s really a beautiful thing that I feel like only music can do for such an audience.”
Thomas Turner of Relentless Beats
“When we announced Goldrush many were concerned overlapping fan bases might lead to an environment different than the one we have built in our electronic music scene. To witness it in fact be a cohesive event with many musical tastes coming together was such an amazing feeling. Arizona is really special place.”
Black Tiger Sex Machine
“It’s tough to single out a specific moment, so we are just going to choose our entire Midnight Terror Tour in 2017. We had the chance to play across all of North America in the span of a few weeks and it was our biggest tour yet. We always expect the smaller intimate shows to have a real unifying vibe, but we were so amazed to see these larger crowds coming together and enjoying themselves in such a positive way. And it wasn’t just one specific area. People all over are in tune with this idea of community and spreading positivity. It makes us really hopeful about the future, in spite of all the craziness that can happen in the world.
Music won’t hate. Music won’t judge. Music is here to stay. Music is our religion.”
While artists had the chance to reflect on the previous year, we spoke to festival attendants to ask the oft repeated New Year’s question: “what is your new years resolution?” While the festival’s name might betray a sense of extravagance, luxury, or self-indulgence, a fitting theme for an atmosphere of celebration, the reality is the responses were far humbler. In fact, festival owner Thomas Turner commented that Decadence was really about giving “our fans the most elaborate and immersive experience yet. Think of it as a ’Thank You’ for a great 2017 and a toast to an even bigger new year.” In other words, Decadence is less focused on self-indulgence and more of an unrestrained thank-you to the music community.
When festivalgoers were asked about their New Year’s resolutions, the responses resoundingly revolved around several key themes: self-improvement, self-love, helping those less fortunate, being more accepting, and being more environmentally conscious. When questioned, one festival attendant responded: “After 2017, I think we could all use a little more love.”
As thousands of people at Decadence danced, laughed, and celebrated the beginning of 2018 together, with a raucous celebration to end 2017, positivity was in the air; music enthusiasts radiated with a bright outlook entering the new year. Decadence Arizona 2017 was a magical weekend; take that magic that brings people together, share it with the world, and live and love relentlessly in 2018. Welcome to the future!
Editor’s Note: This was a collaborative article by Phil MacDonald and Victor Tranfield, with a special thank you to Caren West PR for assisting with artist relations.
It’s 4PM on Day 1 of Sunset Music Festival 2017 and local DJ/producer Christian Alexander has just wrapped up his first set of the weekend: a short set that serves as a precursor to his main performance on the Sunset Stage of Day 2. The 22-year-old artist and resident DJ at The Amphitheatre/The Ritz moved from New Jersey to Florida at the age of 12, where he started playing the piano. His interest in dance music stretches back even further, to about the age of 6, thanks to his two aunts from Miami. He recounts a particular experience when he was at their house in Miami: “They were playing Ultra 2004 the DVD. I was so little at the time, I was like ‘What is this? This is amazing!’ ‘This is Ultra, it happens every March in Miami.’” That was enough to capture Christian’s interest. When he turned 13, his two aunts took him to his first music festival experience. “I loved it. You know, Ultra was all-ages back then, so anybody could go. I guess 13 was an ok age.” He’s careful to point out that the setting was a little bit different back then. “It wasn’t as crazy as it is now. The biggest stage was the main stage, and that is where the live stage is now,” referring to the Bayfront Park Amphitheatre.
Although Christian took an early interest in dance music, he’s quick to point out that punk rock has a big influence on his creative style: “I went to Warped Tour in high school. I loved it,” noting that one of his favorite effects to add to his tracks is a guitar pluck, which he says helps maintain the flow of the track and keep it unique. Some of his biggest influences are Fall Out Boy and Blink 182, with Take Off Your Pants and Jacket being one of his favorite albums. If you catch one of his sets, there’s a good chance you’ll hear a little punk rock thrown in the mix.
While punk rock and the guitar play important roles in his tracks and DJ sets, he’s confident that the piano is the most critical element of his songwriting process. “The first thing I do is write chords for every track on the piano. I write chords, record them into Ableton, and then I’ll build the song out from there. I would say the piano is definitely the biggest part of my creative process.” In addition to Ableton, Christian also mentions how he enjoys working with Sylenth, a virtual analog synthesizer, and Serum, a wavetable synthesizer. However, Christian also notes that he’s been fortunate to work with a local mastering engineer, KC Gilmore. As a result, he’s come to appreciate “that analog sound is very important.” Although digital tools like Ableton, Sylenth, and Serum have had a big impact in shaping his creative process, he adds: “there’s still nothing better than a nice analog studio.”
Christian has been spending time both in his personal studio at his apartment and KC’s home studio in preparation for some new releases, including “Do Not Disturb” ft. Athrs and “I’m Free,” two songs that he debuted at Sunset Music Festival and that will be available on his Soundcloud and Spotify accounts in the near future. He mentions that he’s been hard at work producing new tracks to showcase his production skills, admitting that “one thing I’ve been lacking over the last couple of years has been posting original music on my Soundcloud, which is why I’ve been working so hard in the studio the last couple of months, trying to get music out there for people to realize I’m not just a DJ, I’m a pretty good producer as well. I want to show that.”
On top of his new music releases, you can also hear him live at upcoming shows, including an opening set for ATLiens on July 7 at Myth Nightclub in Jacksonville, FL. This will be Christian’s first Jacksonville show. “I’ve never partied with the Jacksonville people, so I’m excited. I heard they go in.” In addition to his upcoming set at Myth Nightclub, Christian Alexander regularly performs on Saturday nights at The Amphitheatre/The Ritz, while also venturing to Orlando to play at Gilt Nightclub and Miami for Miami Music Week. He’s previously opened for artists like Slander, Shaun Frank, Kygo, Galantis, Tritonal, Jauz, and more.
When asked what draws him to Tampa, he emphatically says: “The people. There’s nothing like Tampa people. They go in. It can be the slowest house show ever—there will still be 1000 people there jamming no matter what.” That connection to the people is the same aspect that he enjoys about playing at a club like The Amp or Gilt. Compared to playing the main stage at a major festival like Sunset Music Festival, he says: “I really like the intimacy of the club vibe, you’re right there, you kind of hear them yelling sometimes, but you know, nothing beats a good festival crowd.” The intimacy is particularly evident in Orlando: “At Gilt, I’m 4 feet away at the most, right behind the subwoofers. So the crowd is right there. They’re a very educated scene. Every time I play in Orlando, I prepare a lot for that set, making sure that I’m opening correctly for the artist.”
Just like the proximity and connection to the crowd holds Christian accountable while he’s performing, the modern age of social media reinforces an artist’s connection to listeners, presenting benefits and challenges to succeeding. “I think one of the biggest challenges is being a musician and a marketing specialist, because you have to use social media 24/7.” It’s an added challenge for an artist like Christian, who already has his hands full as he works towards completing his undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida Tampa in Biomedical Sciences. He would have already completed his degree, but decided to pursue an additional minor in Biomedial Physics, which he will complete in December 2017.
He balances his workload with a strict time management regimen using his calendar on his phone. “Everything by day is broken down by time.” He breaks down his days between studio time, homework assignments, live performances, class, and everything else that comes his way. “That list is my life. I stick to it, I don’t deviate from it, and if it wasn’t for that, or just having time management skills, I would get lost in everything. I would have flunked out of school, maybe would have been lazy with my music.” With his schooling almost complete, Christian will have more time to focus on his music, where he hopes to expand his reach. Some festivals on his radar that he would like to perform at include Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta, GA and Okeechobee Music Festival in Okeechobee, FL, two independent music festivals that put a heavy emphasis on visual and performance art, and supporting local talent.
The sun has set on another successful Sunset Music Festival, which boasted increased stage production, a world-class lineup, and upcoming local talent like Christian Alexander. If you missed Christian at Sunset Music Festival, you can catch him playing regularly in the South Florida area and beyond as he expands his reach.
Dancebreak recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Dubstep legend p0gman. Hailing from Wolverhampton, UK, p0gman brought the bass to Electronic Tuesday at the Cervante Ballroom in Denver, CO.
Dancebreak commentary is in italics, while commentary from p0gman is in normal text.
Where did you just come from?
What I’ve been doing is spending all of my downtime in LA. I just did Boston, Detroit, here now, back to LA tomorrow, Friday I go to Bloomington, Saturday I go to New York, then I go to Toronto for a week, stay with some friends, then I play Toronto, Chicago, then I go home. It should have been a much longer tour, but we had some visa problems, I had to cancel seven shows, it was fucked, but at least it got sorted in the end.
How did you get into dubstep?
I used to be into death metal, I used to be in a death metal band for three years but the whole time my brothers and cousins were listening to garage music, drum and bass, stuff that I hated at first but the one thing that I really liked was bass lines. Then a couple years later, one of my friends came down, who was also in a death metal band, who was into dubstep, and he showed me “Diary of an Afro Warrior” which was Benga’s first album (2008)… and then I was like, “what the fuck is this?” ‘Cause it was just all bass lines, so I really, really liked it. So I started to get into it more, then the band split up and I just wanted to carry on in music and I thought I could do something solo instead of carrying on in a band. I challenged dubstep and it flourished from there.
Did you teach yourself?
No, I went to uni for five years. I started to self teach myself, but then, it was kinda like, I was doing things that kinda sounded good and I was so wrong, so I went to uni to get the technical side of everything, I studied Music Tech at uni. I came out of uni and got signed to a label, the last four years has been up and up!
How long have you been producing?
I started in late 2010. Made an EP in 2011, that’s when I found my sound. So six years, time is flying!
When you found your sound was it [an ah-ha moment?]
I was really into the deeper side from listening to Benga and stuff like that, and then Skream, Mala, Horsepower, all the originals. That was all the heavy stuff that I was really about. Then Caspa and Rusko released Fabriclive.37 (2008), then I was like “Shit, this is the sort of music I want to make!” But I still wanted to [meet] kind of in the middle. So that was where that wobbly sound kind of came. Then just kept pushing it from there. My sound has evolved a lot now, it’s a lot heavier than it used to be, but I still got that P0gman sound. No matter how heavy I go, people still know it’s P0gman. I am still trying to evolve with the sound because I want to keep relevant to trends and stuff like that, so I try to keep it as fresh as I can.
Do you find it difficult to keep up with the trends?
New styles are coming out all the time, there are certain things that hit me, and I’m like, “that’s sick! That’s where I want to take my sound but keep my element.” The sound that’s the rage at the moment is that Never Say Die sort of sound, so I am reeaaally about that. Disciple are really pushing it as well, and I have had relations with both of those guys, so they are supporting what we’re doing as well. Trying to take it to that next level. So, yea, Never Say Die is a big influence at the moment. All those guys are just fucking killing it.
How did you come up with your name?
After I made my first song, I was sitting around with one of my oldest friends, and if I was going to start producing I needed a name. I wanted to have something that was not so serious but not so stupid at the same time. Do you remember pogs (aka milk caps game)? I just loved pogs, as a kid, so I said fuck, I’ll be called “p0gman,” the character was called pogman, and so I’ll probably get sued one day, until then it’s ok… I put a number in it for some reason, because it was cool.
We recently just rebranded everything, that went really good [sic]. (The number 0 has been modified with a large “X” overlaid on top). I got myself a new manager about eight months back, and that guy’s killing it as well, so it’s really good. The zero thing ended up paying off.
Is there a particular track that makes your set or do you feel that there is a particular influence in your set?
Well, the thing I have tried to do on this tour, is because obviously I am really enjoying that new sort of sound, the Never Say Die stuff. A few years ago I wouldn’t have really played that stuff because it was too heavy for my style. But now, on this tour what I’ve tried to do on this tracklist is from straight down to the old school riddimy sound that I use to make straight through Skrillex [and new released] tracks, just trying to cover the whole board. I am really enjoying it ’cause I think as dubstep has come along, it’s become much more energetic. So you need to keep that energy in longer sets and that’s where that new sort of style helps because it’s energetic as fuck.
There’s really not one sort of track, maybe the one I enjoy playing the most is “Wooboost” by Rusko, I fuckin love playing that track ’cause you can play it anywhere in the world and people just know it straight away, it’s nice to just put a little bit of that old school back in there… especially somewhere in Denver where I know, for a fact, every single person in the crowd is going to know that track.
What is your favorite venue or festival you have played at so far?
I played at Rampage in Belgium last year and that was fucking unbelievable, that was crazy. But I am also into the small intimate sort of venue, that’s why I really like Webster in New York, it’s got a nice crowd, Denver’s exactly the same. The reason I like these sort of crowds is that you guys are here to listen to the music and that’s what good about it, they really appreciate it. Sometimes it’s better to play to 200 people opposed to 2,000 people because I would rather play to 200 people where every single person is enjoying it, than 2,000 where you have people [completely immersed in the music] up front and the rest of the crowd is dormant. One of my favorites in the whole world is Perth, in Australia. I played a show at a place called Bassment, that was actually where I met my manager. It’s fucking unbelievable. There’s like 1,500-2,000 people there, but they are all about the music, so it’s like an intimate show on a bigger level. It’s fucking amazing, so sick. There are lots of places, the first time I played in LA, in Hollywood, it was my biggest show and it blew me away. As long as people are enjoying the show, I don’t care where I am playing to be honest.
Do you have a piece of advice you would give producers?
When I was telling guys at the clinic earlier, a big thing that changed my outlook on everything was I would work on a tune and get to a point where I fucking hated it ’cause I would listen to it so much. Then something clicked in my head, I was like, “well, I’ve listen to it for days, but nobody else in the whole world has heard this song.” So I started getting to the point where I was putting it on my Soundcloud to see what the reaction was like. Some of the songs that I didn’t necessarily think would do that well, ended up doing really fucking really, really well, so I think you really need to believe in what you’re doing. The beauty of music is that it is not wrong or right, just do what the fuck you want to do, and believe in what you want to put out. Don’t be worried to put something out if it’s a bit different because it could open a whole new fanbase that never liked you before. If you’ve got true fans as well, they will stick by you with whatever you do. Just keep pushing, keep fucking exploring the sound and everything, don’t worry about not putting something out because only a few people might like it, because yes, 10 people might think this is a bit different, but 100 people might think “this is fuckin sick!”
Sub.mission’s mission statement is to “move people through music not hype,” what is your mission?
My ultimate standard for everything is, if you believe [in yourself], you can get it no matter what. That’s what I did all the way through. I always said from day one, I am going to be on the big stage one day and I am going to be pushing my own records and it’s gonna happen. But I think if you’ve got enough passion and enough belief in yourself, you’ll fuckin do it, no matter what anybody tells you. If somebody tells you, you’re shitty, don’t even listen to that. That’s in any walk of life.
I tell myself every year, I set myself goals on what I want to achieve that year, sometimes it doesn’t happen, sometimes it does and you just gotta keep pursuing, to not be scared; just take a leap into something that you may not be that comfortable with. If you think it is going to progress you in the right way, then do it, definitely, fuck yea.
In the days leading up to Okeechobee Music Festival, Dancebreak put together a list of artists that we were most excited to see, which included Jackson Stell, also known as Big Wild. Big Wild performed Thursday night at Aquachobee Beach, the night before the majority of campers arrived at the campgrounds. In spite of this, Big Wild still drew a large and enthusiastic crowd and put on a performance that got patrons ready for an unforgettable weekend. When he took the stage, he addressed the crowd with a tone that was giddy with excitement. As he jumped between instruments during his performance, it became clear that Big Wild is someone who is appreciative of the opportunity to share his talents with the world. After his show, we had the opportunity to sit down with Jackson and discuss his upcoming spring tour, his inspiration, his background, and what we can expect from Big Wild in the future.
Dancebreak commentary is in italics, while commentary from Big Wild is in normal text.
Welcome back to Florida. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. It seems like you’re in a really exciting point in your career. To start, the name Big Wild, where did that come from?
It kind of originated during my first trip to California. It was maybe three years ago now. I went to Big Sur and camped there for a couple of nights and I was just really surprised by the landscape and the natural beauty of the whole area and it kind of, for whatever reason, gave me insight as to where I wanted to take my electronic sound from there. Because up to that point, I had kind of been shooting in the dark with what I wanted my sound to be. I decided from there that I wanted to be adventurous and blend electronic and acoustic elements. That name just came about naturally.
You said that you’re originally from Lancaster, MA, right? And you’ve since moved out to Venice Beach. When did that happen?
Well I lived in San Francisco for five months. I moved out there in April 2014, and after that I moved to LA. I’ve been there ever since.
Was that primarily because you wanted to focus on music?
Well I got kicked out of my apartment, because they were jacking up the rent. There was a lot of drama. But also because of the music scene, and my girlfriend was going to UCLA, so there were all these things telling me to move there.
You’ve previously supported Gramatik, Odesza, GRiZ, and others on tour. This month you’re embarking on your own headlining tour, two of the shows are already sold out. Congratulations on that. What’s different about your headlining Spring Tour? How does your preparation for headlining shows differ from supporting acts?
It’s tough for me to say, because I’ve never really headlined. Actually I’ve headlined one show so far. It was just a random charity show I did in Austin. But I think what’s going to be really cool now is I feel like I have more freedom to carry out my full vision of what I see myself doing on stage and performing. I’m going to be using more new music that I’ve been producing lately and this is kind of going to be an exposé for all of that. I’m going to be able to control the visuals and everything. It’s awesome to fully use your vision. Whereas when you’re support or direct support for an opener, you kind of have to fit in the mold of whoever is the headliner. Because it’s their show. But now I have that privilege of being the headliner. That’s the best part of it.
It sounds pretty exciting. Are there any specific locations that you’re excited to play at, or are you going into this kind of blind?
I’m definitely going into it blind. I’m really excited to do the San Francisco show. It was the first one to sell out and it’s at a venue called The Independent, which I really like. I’m really excited to perform there because I have a really solid fan base there. Whenever I play in San Francisco, they really vibe with my music. That being said, I’m really excited to perform pretty much everywhere. I’m just excited to tour the country and play my music.
Before you started producing music, were you ever a patron at The Independent?
I did play there once. I opened up for this group called Digitalism and then I also saw a show there, Slow Magic, which was really fun.
I asked you a little bit about your preparation, what kind of equipment do you typically use for live shows? What instruments are you normally playing?
I have my drum pad, my piano, a Cajón, which is kind of a wooden box, percussion instrument. Then I have a MIDI interface where I trigger things off my computer. I have a mic for whistling. And that’s pretty much it. It’s kind of like a small one-man band.
What kind of software are you using?
I use Ableton. And I use Kontakt to trigger my drum sounds off the drum pad.
What about in the studio? I previously read that you started out making hip-hop beats using FL Studio. Are you still using that?
I used that for a while. I switched over to Ableton about three years ago. That’s what I’ve been using ever since.
Has that affected your creative process at all?
I think a little bit. I think for me, warping samples and sampling in general is a little easier in Ableton. So it’s gotten me a little more into that world compared to when I was using FL Studio. Overall, it hasn’t changed my perception of music. My work flow is a little different, but not crazy different. I think at the end of the day a lot of it is very similar.
What were you doing before you started producing? What’s your background? Did you play traditional instruments growing up?
I played piano for about two years, then I played trumpet for six years. But it really wasn’t until I started to produce music, when I was in 8th grade, when I really started to get in to music. Before, I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t really all about it. It wasn’t until I started to song-write and produce where I was like “this is what I want to do.”
You seem to occupy this really cool place in music where there’s a fusion of modern electronics and technology with traditional instruments. It seems like these days the definition of a musician is a lot more fluid as a result of that. Would you say it’s an accurate assessment to call you an instrumentalist, a producer, and a DJ?
I think at the end of the day, the most accurate thing to call me would be a songwriter, because, while I am producing, I’m making music in a program, I’m writing the melodies and writing the drumlines. I’m basically crafting a song. For me, that’s my greatest skill. That’s what first got me into music. Then once I started to play more live, that’s when I was like “ok let’s start to work on my instrument performance ability.” That’s when I started to go back and re-learn all these instruments again. I would say that the labels you gave me are fair, but like you said, there’s a lot of gray area in terms of what qualifies as being a DJ and what qualifies as being a producer. I think a songwriter and a musician is the most barebones definition of what I am. Then you can kind of expand it to more modern names like DJ and producer.
Similar to how you have sub-genres of music?
How do these different skillsets affect your music persona? It sounded like you started out doing songwriting and then moved more into live shows. Did that retroactively effect how you were crafting music?
Definitely. You definitely get a different perception of how people listen and understand your music when you play it out live. Especially—you have to do a lot of different scenarios. You have to be able to play at festivals, small gigs, big gigs, and tours, to really understand how people understand your music. When I’m behind the computer, making music, sharing it on the internet, I can never really get that perspective. Ever since I started to tour a lot more, I’ve really been able to basically understand how people—when I make something, I have a better idea of how people are going to understand it and how they’re going to hear it, as opposed to before, I feel like I was just kind of guessing.
I previously read that you used to focus on music that just sounded good, but now you want to make music that inspires people. Is there a track of yours that you find particularly inspiring?
I think that’s been one of my goals for almost every song I’ve made under the name “Big Wild.” I produced a lot of beats before that, but I think just by trying to make something different that people can still relate to, it’s kind of a key to making someone inspired. It’s easy to bite a trend or get involved with what’s current and I think that’s fine, but I think it’s really important to do it with your own style. That’s kind of what I wanted to inspire with other people—to have your own perspective, have your own individual style, and to bring them another world and show people.
What other non-music related people, places, or ideas influence your music?
I’m really big into—I used to hike all the time growing up and I reflect on those times when I was hiking in the mountains a lot. There are these very peaceful memories that I have. For the songs that are more serene that I make, that are less dancey, that’s where I try to go to. I base it off of feeling, usually I reference how certain moments in the past made me feel and represent that in the song I’m making and channel that. I do that all the time. It usually comes down to times when I was outside and important conversations that I have with people that made me feel a certain way, like really big events in my life. If you can distill that moment to a specific feeling and then if you can capture that feeling in a song, everybody that you play that to can feel something off of that. That’s what I’m trying to do.
I can relate to that. There have certainly been songs of yours that kind of felt outdoorsy to me. I know that’s a weird label to use for music, but the whole persona of it would bring up memories of going out hiking and exploring nature. I’d say you’ve been successful in that regard. That’s all I had for questions for you. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m working on a lot of original music right now. I plan on releasing it all throughout the year. There’s a lot of big things to come. I think people are really going to like it because I’m taking a slightly different approach than what I’ve done in the past. I’m working with more vocalists. I’m trying to create a really good mold of my production, with a vocalist, like a more well-rounded song I would say. I’ve been working a lot on that recently, because I haven’t put out too much recently. I’ve spent more time working in the studio, working on music. I would like people to know that I’m working on a lot of music to be released throughout the year.
So you’re bringing in external people to do vocals?
Ya, it’s kind of like expanding this project of Big Wild beyond just me. I don’t want it to just be about me. I just want to make great music. I think I’m finding the right people to make that happen.
When you look around and see the artists that are really successful, it’s usually the ones that have cultivated a certain culture around what they’re doing, as opposed to just making it about themselves.
Right, and that’s what I’m trying to build right now
Thanks so much for your time. Good luck with the rest of your tour.
Recently at Imagine Music Festival, Dancebreak had a chance to sit down with bass slangin South African goofball, MARTyPARTy. Fresh after his killer after-party set the night before and right before his daytime set, we had a chance to ask the man himself a few questions about himself and his music.
DB: We saw you at Electric Forest and you fucking crushed it. Was that your first time playing at Electric Forest and how was your experience?
MP: I arrived and my manager had rolled me a joint. We got stoned and rolled up to the [Jubilee] tent, and I had no idea where I was. I just got off the plane and was like ‘I dunno where I am’. I didn’t know what gig I was playing or what to expect. My manager was like ok let’s go and I was just like “fine okay let’s go play for this little hippie camp or whatever’ and when I walked out it was a GIANT purple fucking tent! And I’m a purple guy! So I was like is this a joke? So I went in and it was the most giant sound system I ever saw. There were like five people there. I started it up and it was the weirdest empty sound but then everyone started coming down that hill. By like the 5th song, that place was fucking packed. That place was packed for an hour. The production was insane.
DB: You said you’re a ‘purple guy’. What’s the origin of that?
MP: I mean, I dunno. I don’t know if it’s purple anymore. Everything’s just a movement for me. Now its red.
DB: Now it’s red?
MP: Yeah it’s my color.
DB: What type of mentality are you usually in when you write music?
MP: I like having fun with my music. I don’t like my music to get serious and all deep. I’ll listen to other people’s deep music. If I make deep music it takes me to sad times in my life, it brings it there, to my house. I’d rather make it lively and happy because I’m more that kind of guy when I’m hangin in my house or whatever. I make a song cause I’m like ‘WOO!! I just washed my car! I feel good! Let’s go make some music! Smoke weed’ ya know.
DB: So how would you describe the MartyParty experience?
MP: I think, you know there’s nobody else really doing what I do. I’m a really big fan of myself and I never really know what to expect when I get on stage. If anything, I’m dancing. I don’t really see a lot of people dancing these days just a lot of swaying back and forth. But yeah so I try to bring a lot of unique sounds, add a lot of interesting noise, and then the drops. Crazy dubstep. Weird crazy shit. So yeah, that’s the vibe.
DB: Hell yeah man. And you crush it at making that vibe.
MP: I’ve never heard anyone say it so well. I crush it at making that vibe, I like that.
DB: Does living in Florida influence the kind of music you make?
MP: Yeah man Florida’s all about their tropical music vibe, together with bass. I’m trying to get back to that. You’ll just be jamming out on the beach and some guy in the white supremacy and a four-wheel drive barrels past and you’re just like ‘whoa! You got to chill!’ It’s just so weird.
DB: So can you walk me through your live setup? When you’re performing live what do you have going on up there?
MP: I make all my tracks in Ableton. When I’m writing the tune I have maybe 20 to 30 tracks that I need to mix together. Then I edit the tune and render it. Then I load the full song into Ableton, all my tracks, hip hop acapellas, some one shot samples, some lazers, then I load it all onto a Trigger Finger so I can trigger them as I go. I keep just loading my new shit into the template and go. When I’m djing I use filters a lot. Throw in some acappellas. Give it a hip hop vibe. When I’m mixing songs I always just rely on my ears. I always test my songs on a bunch of different systems, like my Bluetooth speaker when I’m at the beach. I always ask myself “what does it REALLY sound like”. If it sounds good on my little Bluetooth speaker I know it’s done. I really aim for a full sound. It’s always full. When I’m writing music sometimes I feel like I’m getting really weird in a lab. Full experimentation.
DB: Occasionally you’ll link up with Ooah of The Glitch Mob and play as PantyRaid, how’s that going?
MP: Good man. He was here yesterday, we hung out on his bus, he came to my show.
DB: I was half expecting him to come out during the after-party for a surprise PantyRaid set.
MP: Yeah he was there and I was like “stand up!” and he was like nah cause he’s with the Glitch Mob you know? He doesn’t want to confuse people. He’s on the Glitch Mob tour right now. We’re like ‘whatever’ cause were just dudes you know? We don’t really care but you got to please the crowd dynamic. This music scene is like a giant ship. Even when you pump the brakes it takes twenty years for change to happen. So you can’t really influence it that much you just got to go along with the biggest swell. With yourself, with your own character, but it’s gonna take a long time. We want to do PantyRaid next year, but we want it to be a special thing. When you buy a ticket we want you to be stoked. We don’t people to be like ‘should we go? I dunno.’ We want people to be like ‘DAMMN LETS GO!’.
DB: So what’s in the future for MartyParty?
MP: I think I want to open a club in Miami sometime next year. I’m probably going to play every week, with guests. I’m going to have everyone play with me. It’s gonna be some real shit.
Until next time MARTyPARTy!
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.