Interview: John Dahlback On "Musical" New Album: "It's Very Different"
When it comes to international DJ superstars, fans will first turn their gaze to those from Holland and Sweden, and rightly so. Those countries have produced a staggering number of world superstars ranging from your main stage kings like Avicii, Hardwell, Armin van Buuren and the former members of Swedish House Mafia, to the dons of the underground like Adam Beyer and Joris Voorn. In between, there's Swedish producer, DJ John Dahlbäck, who has found a happy medium in that big stage setting but with an edge that has constantly evolved over his career.
Dahlbäck has established himself as a well-respected DJ, producer and label owner with well over a hundred releases to his name dating back to the beginning of the millennium. That talent did not just appear from nowhere though. The Kaskade collaborator played drums in a band for six or seven years when he was younger and that has been instrumental to his productions now.
"I played drums for many years when I was a kid. It's important for me that the drums sound right in the regular song," a jetlagged Dahlbäck explains to us at his hotel before his set at Space New York later that night.
Despite that knowledge of a drum set, he has not included real drums on a track because "it sounds very different" from the programmed kits he uses.
Dahlbäck grew up in a household with a father and mother both professional musicians, as well as a cousin Jesper Dahlbäck who has been a successful techno DJ until his career was forced to be cut back several years ago due to significant hearing loss.
The Swede did not waste that resource, making sure to get feedback on his tracks from his family. That feedback was always different from what he would get by his fellow producers.
"It was mostly good, but maybe they lied? They listen to all kinds of music. They listen to different genres than what people in house music listen to. They listen more to the melodies, the structure and the chord progressions. So they thought that it was very important when you do a melody it needs to be good with the chord progression," Dahlbäck says.
For many DJs who have been working in the music industry for two decades, the logical outlet for them is to start a music label. Dahlbäck did just that in 2005 with Pickadoll Records, which put out records from the likes of Dada Life, Ida Engberg, Style Of Eye and others. It was rebranded into Mutants Records in 2010, which has the current home for his music as well as others by DJs such as Lunde Bros, Hard Rock Sofa and Henrik B.
The label has been successful showcasing some pretty well-established names, but now they are turning their gaze towards new producers for its next project.
"We've been focusing more and more at bringing up new talents. The next project is we have a compilation coming out and it's 95 percent completely new talents, people that, we asked people to send us their SoundCloud mix and we signed tracks from that. It's just nice to give people a chance to get out there," he says.
Mutants just had its first song hit one million plays on Spotify, which may seem like nothing for someone like Drake, who racks up those numbers as he sleeps, but for a niche dance label, those are numbers he is proud of. "It was nice to see that we could also do what bigger labels can," Dahlbäck reflects.
Life is not all million play tracks however, it is a grind to make sure you find good tracks and have a plan to make sure enough people find and buy them.
"Sometimes we don't have any tracks to sign because we haven't gotten in any good ones," he says. "So then either I do a track or someone else we know does a track. It's hard sometimes to schedule music."
The issue of creativity and originality that many DJs have raised concerns about is also echoed by Dahlbäck. "I get maybe 100 or 200 demos per week, and on a good week, I find one or two good tracks that I can play on my radio show. But, in a normal week none are good. It's because people want to sound like something else and then that's usually a very bad start."
The label has opened up doors for him and created new relationships, including with one of the fiercest mohawks in music, Albin Myers, which has netted their collaboration Myback.
"We come from two different backgrounds and we have two different styles and we combine them it turns into something really interesting. So we are going to start collaborating more when I'm done with the album," Dalbäck reveals.
Once Dahlbäck has finished his own album, which is "95 percent done," Myback will get started on one of their own.
That album will be quite different from what the Swede has done in the past. There are no collaborations, besides work with other vocalists, though it will still be "musical."
"It's very different, even in the album it's very different because it's there's a couple of club songs, but most of them I started with just piano," he explains showing us with some air piano. "I wrote something on the piano, I gave that to someone on the vocals and then I produced the track afterwards. It's just a very musical album and I'm very happy about it, very wide and broad."
The first single from album was "Raven," released at the end of July on Armada Music. It has an interesting mix of house, melodic and main room sensibilities, which made the ideal primer for the LP. The next single should be released at the end of September.
"We wanted to go ahead with a club single to start. Sometimes it can be a bit too overwhelming to start with the biggest song ever as the first single so we started a bit slower with "Raven" and I don't think anyone expected it to go as well as it's done so far," he explains.
In addition to the album, Dahlbäck has a few remixes in the pipeline, but life is not all music for him. There is time for fun and games as well - specifically Call Of Duty, which he is very good at. He a member of the GO8 clan, named J and is very good. According to Dahlbäck, if you come across him, you will die. "I practice a lot," he says with a wry smile.