Photos by Martin Adolfsson (martinadolfsson.com)
We are Dada Life. Destroy dance music and have fun. Don’t look back in the past. Always go forward. Don’t think too much. Always follow the money. Do the Dada. The result? Big tunes, no frills.
To me, Dada Life is a bit of an anomaly in music, especially in EDM. It seems like these days there are a few top trendsetters and a whole bunch of people trying to copy them. Dada Life has never taken this approach. They know themselves, they know what they like, and they are going to put it out how and when they want, without regard to what anyone else says or does. After speaking with them and seeing a couple of their shows, I am calling their method the “Doin’ It The Motherfucking Dada Way.” S-hying away from collaborations, bringing the fun back into going out to a club, releasing whatever type of music they want, whenever they want, etc.
When I met them in their temporary Santa Monica, CA studio earlier this month I started off by apologizing for drinking too much of their champagne at the last show they invited me to. Stefan said, “Are you kidding, we love it!” and then he gave me an open invitation to go to one of their Dada Land Vegas residency shows any time to drink as much of their champagne as I want. This is the attitude that personifies these guys. They are huge, but their egos are not. They have fun doing what they do and they want you to have fun, too. In an industry that has a lot of uptight pricks who take themselves and the scene to seriously, this seems to be a rarity these days. The bio on their site pretty much sums them up. What you see is what you get with these guys: “We are Dada Life. Destroy dance music and have fun. Don’t look back in the past. Always go forward. Don’t think too much. Always follow the money. Do the Dada. The result? Big tunes, no frills.”
Olle Corneer and Stefan Engblom have seen a relatively quick rise to the top. The duo met at a chili cook-off in Stockholm, Sweden in 2006 and immediately released a tune to great fanfare. Since, they have followed with a steady stream of tracks and a host of remixes for artists big and small, as well as completing non-stop worldwide tours of their own and supporting EDM giant Tiesto, as well. The guys have carved out their own niche and are making it a way of life, and, as previously mentioned, what’s refreshing is that they are doing it in a non-pretentious way. It’s all about fun, and not about looking cool. While they are serious about their careers and making their music, their attitude with respect to the scene is that they don’t give a fuck what you think, that they are going to play music loud, dance and have fun, no matter what happens; something that resonates with their audience and makes for some of the best club and festival show appearances happening worldwide right now.
The pair has been stationed in Los Angeles for the past two months, escaping the nearly 24 hours a day of darkness and sub-zero temperatures of their native Sweden to work on tunes in sunny southern California—a move that seems quite common with Europeans these days with guys like Swedish House Mafia, Jesse Rose, Switch, Ruska, Caspa, Jamtech and more all setting up home bases in LA for at least part of the year. Their studio is less of a studio than it is of a room where they can freely play loud music. One or two small midi keyboards and a laptop with Ableton and their Sausage Fattener plugin is all they need, surprisingly, to crank out their dirty, greasy epic sounds. Trashcans are stacked high, overflowing with spent coffees and Red Bull, as they play me their progress on a new remix of a high profile singer which is soon to be released. After a few minutes of head banging, we sit down for a long conversation about their career, their future, and the current state of dance music. This is the Dada Life interview.
I think America is the reason for that. When it reached America again, dance music almost had a chance to start over again.
Where did you meet? How did your musical relationship begin?
We actually met at a chili cook-off in Sweden. We both love cooking, as you realize if you read our tweets. That’s where it all started. It was just before the first release. We did a track and it was released like a month after. Both Stefan and I had our own side projects for the first two years, but then we realized we couldn’t do it after things started to take off. We wanted to concentrate on Dada Life and it’s so much more fun being a duo, too. DJing shows alone sucks, and the studio work is more fun and efficient together… especially in the studio back in Sweden where we have two studios next to each other. It’s like a little factory. We work on separate stuff and then run back and forth listening to each other. It’s twice as effective. We try and have regular studio hours in Sweden, from 9 am to 6 pm, but that’s the actual studio work, we’re always thinking of new stuff.
What do you get more enjoyment out of, making the records or playing them out?
If you play a lot, you want to make tracks. If you make a lot of tracks, you want to play out. It’s always back and forth, that’s the good thing! Some people just go out and play, play, play, I don’t know how they have time to make tracks... or find inspiration. It takes some time when you get back in the studio to get back on track.
Well, then that’s again why it’s good that there’s two of you then, right?
Yeah, we definitely get inspiration from one another.
When did you realize it was all about Dada Life and not your other projects? After what release?
I don’t think it happened over night. Gradually we started getting more and more gigs and it got harder to make tracks on our own. When you work hard by yourself you sometimes get stuck and have to put it down for a couple of days. Now when we get stuck, we just switch projects… continuous work always.
Do you know any other DJs that work like that?
Not really. We’ve spoken to some other duos and it’s more like one person is the DJ and the other the engineer/producer or one person plays all the instruments and the other produces and so on.
Did that come to you right away?
Pretty much. That’s why everything happened so fast at first. It was like after the first project that we learned it worked. We made it in a couple of hours and then we knew it was a good formula.
We rate EDC higher. Vegas EDC is the best festival in the world, in terms of vibe.
There always seems to be an aspect of comedy in what you do. You’re obviously serious about producing and DJing, you keep strict work hours, you’re playing out all the time, but it seems from the outside that maybe you don’t take things too seriously. Where does that come from?
Well, I feel like now maybe it’s a bit different than when it started. But when we started it seemed like everyone in the electronic business was stuck up. If you came from the house background, you just wanted to be the coolest DJ. If you came from the techno side like I did (Olle) then everything was about being intelligent and minimalist. I don’t want to talk shit, but there was like all this theory talk, especially in the German techno scene. The German minimal scene was so stuck up. At that point we felt we wanted to do something else. Now it seems like people are less stuck up. There’s less attitude in the business, people are talking more to each other, it’s more fun. I think America is the reason for that. When it reached America again, dance music almost had a chance to start over again.
Who are some of the influential people in America that are making that happen?
I actually didn’t mean American DJs or producers; I just meant the scene and people going out. Everybody in America seemed to be like “I don’t want to be that stuck up person.” The whole business and scene reinvented itself…which is a really good thing. More people are hanging out with each other, even if they like different types of music.
We have a twitter theory, too. Twitter is a part of it. Before, nobody talked to each other. Then twitter started and everyone was connected. Everyone was tweeting, “Let’s hang out, lets link up.” Nobody had each other’s phone numbers, but we’d all meet up at festivals after tweeting each other. We’d start talking and meeting up and then all these crazy collaborations started popping up. People who made different types of music or played at different types of clubs started linking up and making new stuff.
So, in terms of scenes: America vs. Europe, is it a different type of party, is it a different type of thing?
Well, it’s definitely different, but it’s even different in each part of America and in each part of Europe, so it’s hard to really define. We definitely love playing America right now.
I feel like it’s just the moral panic that happens when a scene is born. It’s happened over the years…when people can’t understand a new style, it’s like ‘what is this, it’s dangerous’… but it will pass.
Yeah, what’s the craziest place in America? What was the most fun for you?
Well, probably some place in California, but sometimes you find a little college town in the middle of nowhere and they go INSANE. There could be 20 dressed up bananas and girls stage diving the whole show. It’s so much fun for us. You have to see it. That said though, it’s also fun to play the hugest festivals.
You guys play Tomorrowland in Belgium? That shit looks crazy!
Yeah we played 3 years in a row, but we rate EDC higher. Vegas EDC is the best festival in the world, in terms of vibe.
How do you feel about them moving it from LA because of the O.D. death of the 15 year-old old girl?
Well, you don’t see that that much around the world honestly. I feel like it’s just the moral panic that happens when a scene is born. It’s happened over the years with like jazz, or punk or every style when they are developing… when people can’t understand a new style, it’s like “what is this, it’s dangerous”… but it will pass.
It also happened in core Heavy Metal in the Eighties.
Being from Northern Europe, did you guys ever listen to any Black Metal or Norwegian Metal?
Punk, yes, but not Metal. I still think that Metal still sounds too polished (laugh).
What got you guys into making the audio plug-ins? Are you guys going to make any more? How did the first one come about?
We’re definitely going to do more. People were always asking us so much about our sound, about how we get our sound so fat and greasy. We saw that there were no other artist plug-ins out there, so we wanted to be the first. It got us thinking about it and we connected with the guys at Tailored Noise and made it happen. We came up with the idea and they handled the programming.
Are you guys planning #2?
Yes, we have a second one planned. It still takes us a long time to develop the concept. We put a lot of thought into the idea before giving it to the developers. It should be out late spring for sure though.
So where does your noise come from? What do you use to produce on?
Abelton. Now we use our Sausage Fattener, too. It’s built off of all of our huge Ableton chains. Tailored Noise analyzed the shit out of it and put it into three nobs. (Laugh) Now, like all the dance music producers around the world use it. It’s so weird, we’re actually shocked. We’re still the only artists in the world to have their own plug in, too.
Do you make $ off of it?
Not really. The first week we released it, it was the top most downloaded illegal plug-in on the Internet. We don’t count on it for money.
So, what is your take on piracy then? Sweden has long had a history of being a haven for online pirates.
We don’t care. It’s the world as it is, you have to deal with it and do your best with it. You can’t ban it, but you can’t love it either.
Anyways, our plug-in is cheap, so it’s no big deal. We will say that it has also sold well, too.
So do you make most of your money now, off music or off gigs?
Gigs. I think it’s the same for everyone now. If you make a video for a track now, you’re happy not to lose money on that release. Now that we have our own label, we realize how much stuff costs.
Are you guys releasing other people’s stuff too now, then?
Well, we haven’t come across anything fantastic yet. We’re thinking of doing it, but just haven’t come up anything yet.
So, what’s your plans for your label. You mentioned you are releasing 5 singles soon, right?
Yes, we have 5 singles coming out. The first is the vocal version of “Kick Out the Epic” (released on March 12). We licensed it to Universal so it will be out on major labels worldwide. Then we have “Rolling Stones T-Shirt” coming out. We don’t know exactly when, but pretty quickly after “Kick Out The Epic.”
So, a lot of major labels calling now?
Yeah, a lot more than before. But, it’s not like we’re going to run with the first major label offer that comes our way. They have to be interested and understand it, too. If they don’t understand what we’re doing, we don’t gain anything from them. Not in our world, at least. We have our own Twitter account, our own Facebook followers. A good example is the “Rolling Stones T-Shirt” track. We don’t have anyone pushing it apart from ourselves. No DJs have it, so they can’t push it... it’s only us and it has like 90,000 plays in a few days. It’s all us, the power of us, no label, nothing…
So it’s just you two, no assistants or anything?
Well, our management (Complete Control) helps us a lot. If a label puts up a preview, they don’t get that amount. It’s just us, that’s why it’s important for us not to run with the first label coming with an offer.
If you were going to give advice to younger producers doing their thing, the kids jumping off the stage at your college shows, what advice would you give them?
Actually, our advice would be the exact opposite. Listen to labels, listen to what people are telling you. Don’t start your own thing right away. You need other people to confirm you’re doing your thing so you can break away from the background noise. Once you have, then start your own thing. We didn’t start our label right away; we just started it about a year ago. Before that we wanted to be on labels like Dim Mak, etc.
People think we have a huge marketing master plan. We definitely have a master plan, but it has nothing to do with marketing.
What track do you think really set it off for you guys?
No track specifically. Every track just built us up a little more, and more, and more, slowly working us up.
For me, it was “Happy Violence.” I heard that shit everywhere in the world.
Well, I guess then it was “Kick Out The Epic.” It was our first Beatport #1. It hit #1 in 2 days and stayed there for like 2 weeks.
How much does that matter to you guys- being #1?
We watch it, it’s fun, but it’s not like it’s everything. It’s fun and it feels good. It gives us some validation that we can do our own stuff without having to copy anyone else. We can still get to #1 doing what we want.
So you guys basically do what you want, then?
Yeah, definitely. We have always done what we want. I mean, we’ve discussed what other people at #1 are doing, but we’ve always just gone with what we think is right. Hitting #1 like that feels good and lets us know that we can even wait until people understand it, to do what we want, when we want. A good example of this is the next single, “Rolling Stones T-shirt”—it’s been ready for over two years. We’ve been tweaking it, doing different things to it, but mainly, we’ve just been waiting. It needed to age… or, rather, the scene needed to age until its perfect. Right now, we feel it’s the perfect time.
Tell us about Dada Land.
It’s the name and theme of our Vegas residency. We did a trial run of it once already. Now it’s going to be monthly. You can tell from our name “Dada Life” that it should be something more than just music. So this is the full experience of what we are. We want to expand to other festivals, on-stage, etc. The club is going to look different. It’s going to be like stepping into a different world. We’ll have crazy custom Dada Life visuals that we’ve designed, huge blow up bananas and decorations. Often now, people go out clubbing and think so much, “What are you going to wear” or whatever. Here we want to make a “happy place” where people can go in and forget about everything. You know, the Rules of Dada say, “There should be no rules.” [“Dada” was an absurdist/anarchist originating in Zurich during the early 20th century art movement focusing primarily on visual art, but bifurcating into various disciplines such as poetry and theater. –ED] We have some pics of Dada Land on our Facebook.
Now, it’s like you can fart in a microphone and add a kick drum and everyone is happy.
So, where do the Rules of Dada come from?
They just pop up out of nowhere. When one comes to us, we just post it and hashtag them, so we can find them later and add to our manuscript.
Has anyone ever shot a rule to you and you added it in?
No, they tweet a lot, but we haven’t added one in yet. They’re too obvious. We’re ahead of them.
The overall thing is that we want Dada Life to be a family—but that’s too happy, so we’re more like a dysfunctional family. We don’t really think of our fans as fans, we’re just one big sect. That goes for everything: Dada Land, Rules of Dada, the label. So Much Dada.
Some people say “Hey you guys are really good at marketing.” We don’t even know what that word means! We’re just trying to create a sect here. We just make sure everything is consistent and it ties together. We try shit out and see if it works. People think we have a huge marketing master plan. We definitely have a master plan, but it has nothing to do with marketing.
It’s crazy how fast electronic music is catching on. Do you guys think it’s going to flop?
We go both ways. On a pessimistic day, we think it will be over next year. On an optimistic day, we think it will be the new mainstream music for 5 to 10 years. Now, it’s like you can fart in a microphone and add a kick drum and everyone is happy. But soon it will probably die down a bit and normalize.
So, is that why you guys are stockpiling your tracks? Making them and holding onto them for like 3 years?
Yeah. We also try and reinvent our sound all the time. We have a couple singles coming out this summer, then we will put out an album with everything around then. 4 or 5 singles between now and then, and then drop the album. We have one track that we think is so strange and so immediate that we don’t dare to play it for anyone. We don’t want them to either steal it, but we also don’t want anyone to tell us it’s bad so that we go back and tweak it. We’re just holding on and will release it. We don’t want to change our mind. You have to surprise yourself sometimes. If you can’t surprise yourself, you can’t surprise anyone else.
Some of the THERULESOFDADA:
THERULESOFDADA are part of the Dada Life philosophy. These appear in their Facebook posts and in their tweets in the format: "rule #THERULESOFDADA". THERULESOFDADA are:
Never bring your brain to a rave.
Doing the “airpiano” on stage while looking up in the air? Never. The “heart sign” with both your hands? F**K NO.
Tickle-punch-tickle-combo. Happy Violence!
Cheating is winning.
If you're stuck, there's only one solution: go harder.
If you only need one word to describe a song in the studio...then it's done!
No bananas on the rider? Then we do our two hour deep/tech house set. Everything under 118 BPM.
PLUR = Potassium Lust Unity Rage
Arriving beautiful - leaving ugly.
Beautiful music = boring music. At least today.
Never BBQ before a gig.
If you don't want to get wet, you don't want to have fun.
Bass don't cry.
Changing underwear at the club is cheating. Even for the members of Dada Life.
Never bring your brain into the club.
Art should be loud as fuck.
Always kick out the epic motherfucker. Always.
Buy Dada Life's Musical Freedom via iTunes.
Buy "Kick Out The Epic Motherfucker" via Beatport.
The Dada Life podcast.