I’ve got to be honest with you guys. I don’t like EDM. I don’t even really remember what EDM stands for. I feel like EDM pretty much only has its place in clubs and music festivals, both of which I hate. I hate crowds, I hate being hot, I hate people bumping into me, and God help you all if I’m forced to deal with all three at the same time. Even if you like festivals, you have to admit they are the dirtiest. I also primarily listen to old rock music, and if it’s from the ’90s, I consider that “newer”. Soooo I’m not particularly attached to David Guetta, nor do I really know who he is, aside from hearing his name here and there. According to his Wikipedia page, he’s an EDM DJ and that is currently all I know about him. In general, I’m opposed to DJs, mostly because every guy I knew in college also thought he was a DJ, and most of them are total sh*tshows. But David Guetta seems to be a pretty big name and have his sh*t together.
So I know that, and I know that he’s in great shape according to his latest Instagram post.
And apparently he’s 52?! Good for him! He’s in better shape than the twentysomething guys I know (you know, the pretend DJs). Except, unfortunately, this photo is full of lies and deceit. Not because David Photoshopped on his abs (which I don’t think he did, although it is very easy to do), but instead of changing up his diet to look more trim, David decided to use a little app we know and despise called Facetune. How do I know this, you ask?
Well. It’s f*cking obvious, that’s how.
It’s either that, or he owns some very strange furniture that all seems to bend around his body? Maybe he gets it at the same place the Kardashians do? He is actually missing full chunks of arm and stomach on the left side (since it’s a mirror selfie)! Also on on the left, is that a piece of equipment, wall, or part of the mirror? Whatever it is, it was straight until it got near his shoulder, and then it bent. Also, what is going on with those equipment wires near his missing stomach chunk? They’re all broken up? And what’s with that poster behind him? It looks like only the letters near his shoulder are italicized (or just bent) and then it goes back to normal by the “E”.
But the worst is, of course, the right side with those shelves. They start off straight until they get near his body, and then the entire thing curves horribly. And at the SAME angles as his stomach, weirdly enough! He really does have his own Kardashian vortex.
What is the point of being completely ripped at 52 and taking a gym selfie if you’re going to Facetune yourself anyway? C’mon man, it’s more impressive when it’s your actual body! David, if you’re going to take a gym selfie, don’t insult our intelligence by editing your bod. I’m not saying this is EDM’s fault, but I am saying that I haven’t seen any rockstars do this. This just reestablishes what I already learned in college: you should not trust DJs! Or maybe just men?
Are you surprised to see that men use Facetune the same way women do? Did you notice that VERY few comments on David’s picture even noticed the mistake? Why do you think someone who’s clearly in awesome shape would even bother with something like this? Do you know any men who Facetune?
Images: davidguetta / Instagram
You know that friend you have? The one who has super interesting style you could never pull off, great energy, and is super cool? Yeah, so that’s basically TOKiMONSTA, née Jennifer Lee, except in addition to being known for her fashion sense, she’s also a DJ. And not just like, a hot girl who takes a few Instagrams behind a booth and presses play on a playlist every so often kind of DJ, either (if that were the case, I would not be here writing this right now). She’s worked with the likes of Anderson.Paak, ZHU, and was nominated for a 2018 Grammy. She’s played all types of venues, from Coachella stages to intimate rooftops in Brooklyn, always bringing the same enthusiastic energy, and her sets are always upbeat and fun—there’s never a slow moment and the time flies.
But that’s not to say she hasn’t endured her fair share of obstacles. As a woman in music, it’s never easy. She does say she doesn’t think she’s encountered “extreme difficulty” but offers that could be due to her resilient nature. And boy, speak of resilient. In 2015, she was diagnosed with Moyamoya, a rare brain disease that left her temporarily unable to speak or produce music. After undergoing brain surgery, TOKi went on to release Lune Rouge in 2017, which earned her a Grammy nomination for best dance/electronic album. The nomination makes her the first Asian-American producer and the first woman to earn a nomination in that category, plus it was named one of Billboard’s Top 40 Greatest Dance Albums of the Decade. Talk about a comeback.
Some people might feel the pressure to follow up an album of such acclaim, and Lee does admit, “I’m terrified and excited,” to release her third album, Oasis Nocturno, out March 20. Despite any trepidation, Lee says she didn’t go into the album with the express purpose of topping the last. When asked what her goals were when creating Oasis Nocturno, TOKiMONSTA said, “I didn’t really have any goals. I try to create based on how I feel.”
While her music is, to use the professional term, f*cking awesome, mixing different genres and subgenres like hip-hop, dubstep, and house, TOKi says the hardest part of making Oasis Nocturno was not anything like finding inspiration, or figuring out how to best blend her different beats, but actually the opposite: “Narrowing down which songs end up on the album (so I don’t go overboard with a 50 song album)” was a top challenge, as was the more technical aspect of mixing it. Although many people in the industry tend to get engineers to mix their tracks, she says, “I like the ownership of knowing I’m doing it myself. I always feel like I’m turning into Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.” The result is a melodic and cohesive project that infuses complex vocals into Lee’s smooth psychedelic production.
Ahead of the album release, on January 14 TOKiMONSTA dropped “Fried For The Night” feat. EARTHGANG, the second single off the new album, which is kind of like the song that describes when you go out on a Friday night after a full work week—or as she puts it, “everyone has a moment where they feel fried and burnt, but what about those moments you feel fried and turnt?” So she linked up with Atlanta-based hip-hop duo EARTHGANG to produce a song that’s “dedicated to those psychedelic moments where our reality opens up a new point of view.” Can’t relate, but I can relate to the trippy house party visuals.
On the heels of Oasis Nocturno come Coachella performances, a set at Holy Ship! Wrecked on January 24 in Punta Cana, and a headlining spring tour with 16 North American stops. Whether it’s playing for huge crowds at festivals or cozier venues, TOKi loves connecting with her fans. “Festivals feel like the entire crowd is one entity and venues feel like you can connect to each person there,” she says, but she loves the energy at both. It may seem like she’s done it all, and she basically has, but one goal she does have is to work with Bjorn and Missy Elliott, who she says would be her dream collab.
Simply put, if you’re not already #woke, TOKiMONSTA is one to watch. It’s been a hell of a ride for her so far, and 2020 is going to be a hell of a year for her.
Images: Bethany Vargas
Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based DJ Cray is a one-woman show, or so she told me when I interviewed her at a music festival in Atlanta—just us, no publicist, no manager. That’s very rare in the music world from what I’ve encountered, but it fits right in with Cray’s laid-back, completely unpretentious vibe. “I’m kind of get in, get out,” she explains. “I’m pretty independent. I’m a one-woman show!”
Speaking of, being a woman in show business was a huge topic of conversation. I didn’t mince any words; I just jumped straight into it and asked how she dealt with working in a historically sexist industry. “I think there’s a ton of judgment against women,” she admits. When they see a woman in music, people question, “if she’s doing what she is doing for real, if she’s too pretty,” and on and on. (Not that it matters, but Cray is gorgeous and looks like an e-girl-meets-Instagram model.) I express incredulity that people would actually count attractiveness against a woman (because who among us has not been called an ugly bitch who isn’t talented by our haters). Then again, how could I ever underestimate the hypocrisy of men? Cray assures me that, yes, it happens. “I get a lot of like, you’re too pretty to make music,” she confesses. But she questions, “Like, if I was ugly, would it be chill?”
She continues, “You would never tell a man, ‘oh you’re too hot to be doing what you’re doing’… but I’m being told those comments.” And while it seems like a no-brainer to say, it’s apparently not: she asserts, “I’d rather you look at my talent and not my face.” But think about it: has anybody ever said Justin Bieber was too attractive to sing? Or, if you think that’s a more objective skill than being able to produce music and DJ: have you ever taken a look at Calvin Harris, or Martin Garrix, and thought they were unqualified? I’ll wait. “If someone’s making art, and giving art to you, it’s a pretty vulnerable thing,” she asserts. “So just respect their art. If you don’t like it, don’t listen—you don’t need to make mean comments or judgmental things like that.”
But the music industry isn’t the only space where Cray is on the receiving end of sexist comments and doubt. She’s also a big gamer with over 40,000 followers and 500,000 streams on Twitch. Anyone who paid attention to #gamergate in 2014 knows the gaming world as a whole is not exactly welcoming to women (understatement of the decade). I pose this question to Cray, and she seems like she’s thought about this a lot. “So I’m basically in the middle of two industries that have issues with equality of women,” she says without missing a beat. While she admits, “music and gaming are very different,” she finds, “the issues they have are the same.” She again cites the skepticism she has encountered that women are gaming “for the right reasons” (right, because women only pursue hobbies for the approval of men) and, again, the doubts about her sincerity and skill because of her looks. And yet I hate to think of the types of vitriol Cray might get if she weren’t conventionally beautiful. It’s a lose-lose.
It wasn’t always this way—getting metaphorically beaten down for being too pretty. “In high school I was so insecure, and thought I was so ugly all the time,” she admits. You’d never know it by looking at her Instagram, where practically every photo she posts is envy-inducing. It looks effortless, but the reality? Far from it. After being frustrated and insecure in high school, she says, “I took a selfie, every frickin’ day for literally ever.” At some point, she recalls, you just start figuring out your angles. “So now,” when she poses, she says, “it’s like clockwork.”
But taking good pictures on Instagram can blur the line of reality, and even though Cray plays into this to an extent, she also acknowledges the danger. “What happens when you see someone in real life?” she asks rhetorically. “The more we edit and the more we try to post those unrealistic expectations, the sh*ttier we feel inside.” She admits, “I see some photos and I’m like, ‘oh my god why can’t I have that body?’ And I go to the gym and I’m like, can I have this body? And like, ‘that’s not f*cking real’. So it’s unrealistic and makes you feel like sh*t.”
And she insists that the camera-ready version you see of her on Instagram is not her reality. “I have so many days like that where I’m like, I can’t even fake it,” she confesses. On those days, it can be hard to show your face to over 190,000 followers, but she does it even if it’s uncomfortable. “I make sure to show people me with no makeup, no editing,” she assures me. “I want to make sure that young women who follow me don’t see it as an unrealistic beauty expectation. I want people to realize we all have insecurities. I want people to understand that even the most beautiful people have insecurities, it’s just something we live with as people.”
So even though she’s still being discredited because of her looks, and even though the music industry is far from equal, Cray admits there are “strides being taken.” She recalls, “I started in this industry 5 years ago when I couldn’t even tell you how many women were on the lineup—maybe two or three—so now the fact that we have more is great, but still have a long way to go.” On the one hand, she acknowledges that “women treated equally is hard in a male-dominated industry, and it’s hard to change something that’s always been the same, it’s kind of hard to go against the grain.” But she does give props to a number of women in the industry who are uplifting each other, like Anna Lunoe, Whipped Cream, and Kitten. “All these women are just fucking killing it, and we all respect each other, and I wish that respect was everywhere,” she says wistfully.
Obviously, the problems facing women in the music industry were not created by women, though, and it’s not solely on their shoulders to fix it. It’s on everybody. When I ask what we can all do to make the music industry better for female artists, she rattles off a laundry list of solutions: “Just honestly more men becoming allies, more fans understanding equality on how to treat women in the industry, more agents and managers picking up female clients, more people just honestly researching too.” To that last point, she elaborates, “there are so many women out there making such amazing music, and if you just take the time to check it out, it’s out there.”
Being modest, she doesn’t explicitly include herself in that list, but she should not be counted out. This October, she dropped her newest EP, seasons change and so do i, via Ultra Records. “The debut single, “idontwannatalkaboutlove,” has a total dark-pop vibe and exudes themes of female empowerment and authenticity. “This EP is my heart on my sleeve,” she admits. “It’s honest and real and I just want to connect with people.” And even though she admits that the EP is very vulnerable and there’s apprehension in that, she says ultimately, “I’m excited to show that side of me to the world, and finally put it live for everyone to see.” Because with her music, as with her Instagram, interviews, etc., she wants to get across to people that, “we all go through changes and heartbreaks. You aren’t alone.”
Images: Ashley Osborn
Looking at her Instagram, you might think Alison Wonderland is a Gen-Z influencer and not a veteran DJ who’s played festivals like Coachella (where she is the highest-billed female DJ in the festival’s history) and Electric Zoo, where she’s headlining Sunday night. With her ever-changing hair (that seems to be hovering around lavender right now), signature oversize T-shirts, and blasé expression, she seems to have that cool girl DGAF vibe. And with a Facebook bio that simply reads “I spin at places you want to hang out at, making you shake your ass like Beyoncé on crack” and a link to her new single “Church”; a pretty bare-bones website that simply lists tour dates, Instagram photos, and reads “F*ck me up on a spiritual level”; it’s easy to surmise that she doesn’t actually give a f*ck.
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That assumption could not be further from the truth, though. The classical cellist-turned-celebrated DJ won the 2018 Billboard Dance Breakout Artist Award, and her sophomore album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic charts. Wonderland has sold out two dates at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater—she’s one of just two Australian artists to accomplish that—and recently released a new club track, “TIME”, with New Zealand electronic/trap artist, Quix. That comes on the heels of her acoustic remix of “Peace”, which features her vocals. And her album, Awake, has racked up over 150 million Spotify streams since its April 2018 release. In short, none of these accomplishments are those of someone who does not care.
In fact, for someone who just appears to be so effortlessly cool, she gives a lot of f*cks. Back in June, she posted on her Instagram a declaration that she’ll be playing 90% of her own music at festivals from now on. That should be a no-brainer, but in today’s festival scene, where people just go to hear remixes of the same five songs, such an assertion was nerve-wracking for Alison.
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“I was really nervous to post that, but I didn’t want to let fear get in the way again,” she told Betches. The gamble ended up paying off in the end, though, because as she says, “It was one of the best things I have done. I feel it has been so positively received and I have gotten so much support for it. It has genuinely taken me to a new level as an artist.”
In addition to being well-known for her music, Alison often shares her struggles with mental health with her fans and speaks about the importance of mental health awareness. In fact, just last week she made the difficult decision to cancel some of her European tour dates due to “mental and physical exhaustion.”
im sorry to anyone coming to my shows this weekend in Europe. Please read pic.twitter.com/brcCc9vZMf
— ALISON WONDERLAND (@awonderland) August 21, 2019
But Alison is poised for a triumphant return to the festival scene, telling Betches, “I’m excited for that New York energy!” at Electric Zoo this Labor Day weekend on Randall’s Island. She has a lot of upcoming projects in the works, but tells us coyly, “I don’t want to ruin the surprise but there is a lot.”
While we’ll have to wait to find out what else she’s up to, for now you can listen to Awake and check out this Labor Day playlist Alison made just for Betches readers.
Images: Gilbert Sanchez; alisonwonderland / Instagram (2); awonderland / Twitter
Planning for festivals is a lot of work, and nobody likes work. Sure, you could read through 16 different Reddit threads to figure out what to wear, how to get there, if it’s worth it to splurge for VIP, and whatever else you need to know, or you could just check out the Betches festival guide.
At this point, I figured I would do something useful with my knowledge of music festivals, so I decided to start a series of guides. You are welcome. I’m starting off our festival guide series with one of my favorite festivals, and one that I go to yearly even though I am, as they say, pushing 30: Electric Zoo, Ezoo for the
lazy initiated. Taking place during Labor Day weekend on Randall’s Island, this electronic festival is a fun send-off to the summer that’s easy to get to and even easier to navigate. *Looks to the camera* *Waves to the viewers* Let’s go.
How To Get There
If you don’t live in New York and haven’t figured out how you’re getting to Ezoo yet, god help you. Assuming you’re not within driving distance, which will take care of things, you’ll want to fly to LaGuardia because
I’m biased it’s probably easier to get to the areas you’ll want to be staying. But if you cop a deal out of JFK or Newark, then do you. As far as actually getting to the festival, you are likely going to be walking there over the RFK bridge. You can also Uber/Lyft to the festival (highly recommend so you can save your engery/feet), but you can’t Uber out. Ubers literally will not pick up from Randall’s Island (or at least, they didn’t last year), so you’re going to be either walking back or taking one of the shuttles Ezoo has. Plan accordingly!
Where To Stay
Ezoo is not a camping festival and does not offer the option, so you’ll need to reserve some sort of accommodations in advance. Remember all your friends in Harlem and/or Queens who you made fun of for being broke? Yep, it will be time to hit those people up for a couch or half their full-size mattress! That’s becaues Ezoo is on Randall’s Island, an Island between Queens, and uptown Manhattan/Harlem that is within walking distance from both those locations. (As long as you are a little loose on your definition of “walking distance.”) If you don’t have friends with a free place to stay, you could try to Airbnb in one of those areas I mentioned, or just stay literally anywhere in any hotel you find. The subway system is extensive and you’ll be able to get uptown from wherever you are, but sticking to the east side will be easier because getting crosstown, especially on weekends, is a huge bitch.
What To Wear
Ezoo is electronic music, which means this is the weekend to bust out your full raver girl attire. The great thing about this is that you can wear literally anything in the world you want and nobody is going to look at you sideways and you won’t feel out of place. You could wear a bra, a thong, and fishnets. You could just wear pasties. It truly does not matter, just bring some glitter and throw on some fun makeup. Unlike other festivals, nobody cares what you’re wearing.
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See? Pretty normal summer attire.
Above all, though, wear something COMFORTABLE. You’re likely going to be walking 20-30 minutes across a bridge to get to the festival, so this is not the time to wear your giant platform boots with the heel (not like any festival would be the time for that, but this one especially). Also, New York weather circa Labor Day is a fickle bitch, so plan appropriately. It could be 90 degrees and sunny af. It could pour on you. Both things happened to me last year alone. Whatever your outfit is, make sure it incorporates good walking shoes, and bring a poncho just in case.
What Ticket To Buy
At this point, a 3-day GA ticket costs $300, and a VIP ticket costs literally double that. According to the website, VIP gets you admission (duh), plus a faster-moving VIP line at check-in. You’ll also get “Premium views, private VIP flush toilets, shaded chill out area with seating, full VIP cash liquor bars, complimentary cell phone recharge stations, and complimentary passed hors d’oeuvres.” Now, is it worth it? Maybe. I’ve personally never had a huge issue with the non-VIP port-a-potties, however, seating is a real issue. There’s basically one small hill where you can park your butt without getting stepped on, and that’s it. There are other areas where you can charge your phone for free, like the T-mobile activation. Also, it’s 2019, buy a mobile charger.
There’s also a “Platinum VIP” option, which gets you more of the same, plus “Exclusive Platinum Only Premium views,” whatever that means. That option costs $949, and there’s no mention of any cash bar. If I’m dropping close to a grand on a festival, you better give me as much free Casamigos as I can legally drink, and you better make that known in advance.
Personally? Unless you are very picky regarding crowds and bathrooms, I would just rock with GA. You’re literally spending double the price for basically some passed hors d’oeuvres that they are probably going to run out of in the first hour after the festival doors open.
“Ew, Ezoo? Isn’t that for 16-year-olds?” everyone says to me when I tell them I’m going there. I’ve been 3 times so far, and frankly, no. The crowd is actually older than you’d expect. I have never once looked around at my fellow festivalgoers and said, either aloud or to myself, “Ugh. The children.” You know where I have said that? Gov Ball, Coachella, The Meadows (RIP). Also? The vibe is way more chill than that of other festivals. Think less pushing and overall dickishness. People tend to respect other people and their space. Sure, if you’re trying to get to the front at Bassnectar 10 minutes after he already started, you are going to get some pushback. But as far as festivals go, the people here are generally pretty nice and chill.
Regarding the crowds… yeah. Friday is typically a dream and you can walk around freely. Saturday, you’ll see a noticeable increase in festivalgoers. By Sunday, it will be nearly impossible to move from stage to stage. Enjoy Friday as much as you can, and be sure to budget enough time in between sets to navigate through the crowds. And get there early because there WILL be a line to get in.
It honestly varies from year to year. The year the theme of the festival was The 6th Boro, everything was animal themed (why? don’t ask…) and the main stage was a giant elephant. That was really f*cking cool. The year before that, it was a cobra. Last year, for the 10th anniversary, it was just… a big sound wave, sort of. That was a bit of a letdown tbh. Truthfully, the theme of Ezoo every year should be animals, and I’m hoping they bring back the animal stages. Last year, Sunday School Grove also sponsored a jungle themed stage, which I never made it to but it looked awesome.
Okay, literally as I was writing this, Ezoo released a photo of this year’s main stage, which looks sick.
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Sneak peek for next week ? This is our tallest & widest mainstage ever — an evolved, futuristic, 3-D, fire-shooting New York City skyline stage set to tower over Randall’s Island ? If you still weren’t sure about coming next weekend, checkmate. ? → electriczoo.com/tickets
Who To See
The 2019 lineup boasts big names like Eric Prydz, Diplo, Kaskade, Above & Beyond, Zedd, Armin Van Buuren, Alison Wonderland, Skrillex & Boys Noize, and a f*ckton more. Here are a few of my other personal recommendations:
Excision: If you’re into some harder sh*t with more music/noises than words
NGHTMRE B2B Slander; 4B; Getter: If you want to hear your favorite music on the radio right now, but like, trappy.
Boogie T b2b Squnto: If you want some fun groovy music that will make you want to dance
Flux Pavilion: If you want dubstep
Seven Lions: If you want trance/melodic dubstep/if you don’t know what that means, it’s a little more chill than most of the other stuff I’ve listed above.
GTA: If you want house/trap/hip-hop
Don’t want to listen to me? That’s fine, Ezoo made a Spotify playlist with songs from the 2019 artists.
Other Things To Do
While there are a few art installations and activations, there’s not a whole lot to do other than see acts. Space on Randall’s Island is kind of limited, so there’s room for the stages and tents, plus food and drinks, and a few pieces of art. Last year they had a fun makeup/glitter station, and apparently giant Jenga. Like, there’s stuff to do if you’re looking for it, but people are mostly there for the music and not the Instagrams.
That being said, they have afterparties and, while I’ve never been to one because I’ve been too tired, the lineups are sick. Acts include Borgore and Shaq (among others, and YES, that Shaq), Eric Prydz, R3HAB, and a lot more. It’s worth staying up for.
Overall, Ezoo is the best/only? electronic festival in New York, and it’s one of the more manageable festivals that exist. If electronic music is your sh*t, you should consider going. If you hate that stuff, don’t go. You won’t like it.
Images: electriczoo / Instagram; aLIVE Coverage (4)
Galantis is probably one of those names you’re seeing everywhere nowadays. Between 150 live shows a year, numerous festival appearances, and two new hits, to say they have a lot going on is an understatement. Thankfully, they made the time to sit down with us at Shaky Beats festival in Atlanta over the weekend to talk about what it’s like touring together, how the duo Galantis formed, and a few of their new songs. Check out the interview below.
What did you guys do yesterday?
Show, at Syracuse.
What did you think?
It was a good show! Really good energy.
How are college crowds versus music festival crowds?
I didn’t know it was going to be such a great crowd. We actually talked about that, we should do it more. 100% of the crowd went haywire. They were happy we were there.
So you guys tour together a lot.
150 shows a year.
How do you keep up the energy to do that many shows?
It’s like, you press a button, you know, you’ve got to reset. And then you have to be as off as you can between the shows, but once you go onstage it’s like a switch in your head, and it just goes.
What was the moment that you were like, ‘I’m going to link up with this guy and we’re going to make music, and we’re going to do this?’
I actually know where I was in Stockholm when I called you that time. It was Old Town. Just so you know… I remember I was walking from a lunch or something and I had the idea. I started to think of names for the band before I actually joined.
What were some of the other names?
Well, we had some of the worst names ever. I’m not gonna say them, but it took a very long time to find the right name, actually. And when we found it, someone else gave it to us.
What is the significance of it to you?
The name now? I don’t know. Then it was the perfect mirror for the music we did, but now it’s life, you know? And now we figure it’s too late to change it.
You recently came out with “Emoji”. What was the idea behind the song?
I think a lot of people didn’t realize that there are a lot of deep, serious thoughts behind it, and thought it was kind of lightweight but it’s not. It’s kind of like, sad in one way, that you do start to only communicate through emojis, but also something beautiful with it, depends on what it is. Like, we’re away from family all the time, and you don’t even have words anymore sometimes, you just send a heart, you know, and that’s useful. I think we all know those words, but you sending that emoji means something either way.
And that kind of started the thought, how something simple like an emoji can change how people have a conversation. Because putting an emoji, words, it’s not the same thing. It actually added to the way you can communicate. So that’s where it came from, the idea.
Do you guys have a favorite emoji?
I like the crying laughing one.
That’s very good actually! You can’t put that into words either!
How did your new song “Bones” with One Republic happen?
It’s kind of a long and wacky story. There was like a seed of this original that came across us, and then we wanted to work on it, and then it was already taken by OneRepublic. And I kinda knew Ryan Tedder from the past, so I found out where he lives and I went to his place. And said, “you don’t have the correct idea, I have it.” No, I didn’t say that, but I did say I think we can do an amazing version together, how about that. And I think he liked the way we came really strong, and said that we could take this song somewhere great for both. And I think, yeah, it was such an easy quick thing after that. We were thinking the same thing about the song, and they already started a lot of cool stuff on it, so we took it from there and made it what it is today. But I think they’re great, I think Ryan Tedder is one of the best songwriters, I think his vocals are amazing, unbelievable.
So, what do you guys have in the works music-wise? You just released a new song, are we getting a new album?
We got a lot of music really close to coming out. It’s kind of a race which one will come out first.
Images: Jimmy Fontaine
I’ve conducted a few artist interviews in my day. Most of them are formal—you set up a time to meet in the designated press area at a festival, or (if you’re lucky) you’ll get escorted back to the artist’s trailer or tour bus. You get anywhere from five to 15 minutes, and you’re on the clock while a publicist times you like a hawk. You’re ushered in, you do the interview, maybe snap a few pictures if you have time, and then you’re whisked away just as quickly as you came.
My interview with DJ and producer Ookay (real name Abe Laguna) was not like most interviews. When I caught up with him during weekend one of Coachella, I met him and his almost exclusively female entourage (“my biggest inspirations right now are all women,” he says) inside the rose garden, where we sat down on the grass and sipped rosé and chatted casually. While most interviews are intimidating, with Ookay, I honestly felt like I was talking to a friend. We laughed and joked; I even called him a troll at one point. Despite the 350,000-plus Instagram followers and the fact that his songs have personally put me deep in my feelings (due to one memorable Ezoo experience when I was cracked out and listening to his song “Thief” on repeat until 5am), I felt completely at ease. I didn’t feel like I needed to impress him with well-thought-out questions, and in fact, I learned more about him from the ones that popped up off the cuff. Ookay’s publicist told me in advance that he’s “super light hearted and full of personality,” but even still, I was taken aback by how much that characterization rang true.
It was not most interviews, in part because Ookay is not most artists. The San Diego-born DJ and producer plays drums, trombone, piano, bass, guitar, harmonica, as well as some instruments I’ve never heard of. “The melodica, keytar, SPD, which is like a drumming apparatus,” he ticks off his fingers. I ask how many instruments he can play. “I think 6 now?” he responds, not even completely sure. He credits his musical prowess to his father, a bassist who introduced him to “very complex jazz early on, like, 13 or 12 years old.” He says, “It’s all thanks to my father, I wouldn’t even be here right now if it wasn’t for him.”
And in an age where being a DJ can mean anything from “getting paid to hit play on a premade playlist” to “arranges all their own music,” Ookay sets himself apart from the pack, especially with his live shows. He’s been performing live on the festival circuit for a few years, but revamped the format for Coachella, where he plays multiple instruments and sings. He’s also upped the visuals. “It’s funny,” Ookay remarks, “it’s called dance music but there’s no dancers.” So he added dancers onstage. “Problem number one, fixed.”
It was important to switch up his live set for Coachella because it is a special place for him. (He will also be playing weekend 2 at the Sahara Tent at 2:45pm.) “I had a lot of realizations here, in good ways. The first time I came here , I figured out I want to be an artist that gets to this kind of level to play this kind of festival.”
It feels oddly poetic, then, five years later, he’s taking the stage with this original set format, performing as not simply a DJ, but a bonafide artist. “It’s kind of full circle,” he admits, “very wholesome.” He reflects that every year at Coachella he’s learned something different. This year? “I think it was more of a reflection of how far I’ve come to get to this point,” he decies. “My blood, sweat, and tears, the traveling, being exhausted, working my ass off, being in a warehouse for two months straight… it’s worth it, everything we’ve been going through led to something special.”
He gushes, “And for everyone that I’m involved with—as far as like, my team, and crew, and all of my fans even—it’s awesome to see it just progress and keep going. And a lot of new fans, even just walking around people have been like straight-up, ‘yo, never heard of you before but checked out your set because we walked in and we heard people just like jumping around and it’s awesome to see you doing all this stuff on stage—’”
I shit you not, on cue, our interview is interrupted.
“Are you Ookay?” asks a girl who came up to us with a male friend in tow. I look to Ookay to see how he’s going to handle this.
“I am,” he answers calmly. She visibly starts freaking out.
“I love your songs so much,” she tells him.
“Can I give you a hug? Is that okay?”
He stands up, gives her a hug, takes a picture. The whole interaction is too perfect, and timed too well, to make up. But I can tell this isn’t out of the ordinary for him—not the getting recognized part, but the “being genuinely grateful someone likes his music enough to tell him personally and engaging that person even though he’s clearly busy” part. After making this fan’s day, we sit back down and resume the interview, picking up at what makes Coachella so special to him. Yes, there’s the fact that Ookay credits it as “one of the first festivals I paid for,” but it’s also where he got the inspiration for his breakout hit “Thief,” which boasts over 56 million Spotify streams to date and has been remixed by the likes of Slushii and Flux Pavilion.
He wrote it after that first visit to Indio, where he was inspired to, as he puts it, “make a song that matters in two seconds… something so spectacular that you get excited.”
So that’s how the musical aspect of his smash hit came to be, but the lyrics?
“Oh, it’s definitely about my ex-girlfriend. That’s what most of the big songs are written about.” That’s not a bad claim to fame. “Yeah, well, I’m forever thankful,” he says without a hint of irony. Given just how big the song has gotten, there is plenty to be thankful for.
He credits the success of “Thief” in part to its snappy and immediately recognizable intro, plus the memorable sax riff, but what I suspect most of all, the vulnerable lyrics, which are a breath of fresh air in the realm of dance music. “ the first time I ever put my voice out there like that, one of the first songs I sang/wrote, period.” His approach to writing that song, more or less, went as follows: “I’m going to take what you would consider a journal or a diary and throw it out there.”
As far as other muses, he credits a lot of women. Piggybacking off his comments about his female-led entourage, he says, “I’m a huge fan of what Rezz and Alison Wonderland and what all these women are doing.”
Women run the world foreal.
— OOKAY (@Ookay) April 11, 2019
He adds, “it’s really cool to see women set the bar on so much shit. On top of that, the black hole thing that happened was discovered by a woman. It’s amazing. I think most things have been women-driven. We got 10 more years before—”
“Before we figure out how to get rid of you guys?” I chime in (I’m sorry, I can’t help it).
“Oh my god, please get rid of us, we suck,” he agrees.
Ladies, he’s single.
When, naturally, I ask Ookay where his dating life stands now, he seems surprised by the question.
“It’s nonexistent,” he answers plainly. “I think I’m at the point where if you were like, ‘text a girl right now’, I couldn’t do it.” I clarify: because he has no girls to text? “Pretty much,” he replies with a shrug. Seems surprising for a young musician who’s playing stages like Coachella and Electric Zoo.
“When it happens, it happens,” he answers nonchalantly. “I’m not looking, I’ve been finally single for a year. And I’ve been working hard, so music has been my girlfriend.” He expresses that when he’s ready, he’ll go out there and find someone—or perhaps someone will come to him. He jokes about maybe even finding the love of his life at Coachella. Then he and I in turn joke about doing an interview a few years from now about that. “Who knows,” he guesses. “When I’m married! Or dead—just kidding, hopefully not.”
I inquire if he sees himself ever getting married. He quickly answers no. When I press him on why, he says, “I don’t know. A ring costs a lot of money.” After a pause, he elaborates, “Marriage is interesting, it’s like the weirdest tradition. It’s traditional, you know what I mean? It’s conventional. No one’s like yes, marriage is going to be beneficial”—except for maybe the tax benefits, which launches us into another side tangent about people who get married for healthcare benefits. He sees it often, being from San Diego where there’s a huge military base, where people often rush to get married.
And just like that, I find myself falling into a predictable pattern of jest that I would with my close friends, making a wisecrack about rolling up to a military base to find a boyfriend. Ookay doesn’t think I’m being desperate or weird (or, to put it plainly, that I’m being serious); he gets it, as if we’ve known each other for more than the 15 minutes or so we’ve been sitting on the grass.
All joking aside, he asserts, “I’m focused on my work right now, I’m very happy. I just wrote a song about that actually; it’s called ‘Better Off’,” as in, better off alone.
He doesn’t mean it in an antisocial way, either, but rather, more on the side of self contentment. “I’ve gotten used to dinner with my phone,” he cites as an example.”I really don’t mind being alone. And that’s fine! And I think that’s where I’m at right now, I think right now I’m just like focusing on being the best version of me for someone who comes along, whenever that happens I’m cool with it.”
For now, Ookay is working on his relationship with his music, with an album in sights—his first comically accurately named album, Wow! Cool Album!, came out a little over a year ago. He pledges to return to his roots and make more EDM, because, he explains, “those are the people who gave me the platform to do this ”. After a few shows in Vegas, he’ll take a break from performing, return to the studio, and come back with another new live show. He’d like to do shows in cities that don’t often have electronic artists come through, perform overseas, but above all, stay creative and keep pushing.
He puts it simply: “I’m just going to keep making good music for good people and try to reach an audience.”
Known for pushing the boundaries of EDM, Dutch guitarist, DJ, and producer, San Holo has taken his taken his musical talents internationally. Live instruments combined with his electric sound have made him one to watch. His debut album, album1, is set to release on September 21, but we caught up with him at Electric Zoo 2018 to learn about his musical background, how his stage name came to be, and more. We started off the interview asking him about Dutch people and how he thinks they differ from Americans.
San Holo: I do feel like we are very much with two feet in the ground, like very sober… Americans are more like “OH MY GOD” and Dutch people are more like “Okay, cool.”
Betches: So you don’t think Americans are straightforward?
Well, I do, to a certain degree. Americans would also be like, “Oh my God I loved your set” and just not love it at all. And if Dutch people don’t like something they’ll be like “eh, it was okay, not really my thing”.
I really did like your set though, I loved how you came out and played the guitar.
Yeah, I’m bringing more live instruments into my electronic music, to kind of make it more organic, lively and colorful.
And you are a really talented musician, do you feel like people underestimate your talent because you’re a DJ?
I don’t think that people are underestimating me, but I think there’s like a prejudice about DJ’s like that they’re just pressing buttons and not making anything. Which is very common, which I understand because there’s obviously a lot of stuff out there, I don’t know if I should talk about it, but there are plenty of DJ’s who don’t make there own stuff you know? There are plenty of DJ’s that are just their brand, and they just press play. But I think there’s this new wave of producers that are very invested in making their own music and making their own sounds and making their own style, that I think is very respectable.
Is there someone that you’re particularly influenced by?
Most of the time I don’t listen to electronic music at all, I don’t listen to EDM in my spare time, I listen to bands like Bon Iver, Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, very like indie bands that inspire me. I take those sounds and put them in my electronic productions. But, I think there are some great musicians out there in the EDM world like Porter Robinson, Jai Wolf—to me they bring musicality and cords and melodies back into the music, you know? There’s so much EDM out there, there’s like very dark, dark… how do I say that without sounding like a d*ck?
It’s okay if you sound like a d*ck, it’s kind of our personal brand.
There’s so much trap sh*t out there that just sounds like one note all the time, like dark. And there’s this new era coming out with people who have musical skills doing that sound with cords and melodies. I think melodies will win in the end. Melodies and songs will stay, will last.
I feel like you can kind of tell also when someone has a music education behind them.
Well the thing is… I know some uneducated people that make the most beautiful, colorful music I’ve ever heard, but I think in the end the songs and the songwriting, a vision, will last longer than just releasing bangers with crazy sounds.
I feel like your music, every time I listen to it, I feel uplifted.
That’s great, that’s great, yeah! I wouldn’t want to make music that would make you feel very dark and depressed. I want to make music that makes you feel alive and hopeful, and you know, motivated.
And I do feel like I got that also in your new song that came out today.
“brighter days,” yeah. That’s one of my more uplifting songs I think. It’s a very danceable hopeful song.
And how did you get linked up with Bipolar Sunshine?
We met at Coachella, he was, I think he was doing a guest performance with Petit Biscuit and he just came to my trailer and we talked. Then next week I was in LA in an Airbnb that I wrote the entire album in. I rented this Airbnb for half a year and just locked myself up in the Airbnb. He came by and we wrote the song in like two days. And we recorded it in the kitchen and we literally just had a laptop, two speakers and a microphone and made the entire album with that. No expensive stuff, no super hi-fi studio. Just a room with a laptop and a microphone.
We recorded that song, and ever since I heard his voice on the song I felt like it was something special. I think his voice is so unique; it’s so imperfect that it’s perfect to me. He’s not the best singer I’ve ever heard, but that’s the beauty of it. His voice has so much character.
That’s really cool. And Coachella, you were there this past year?
Yes, I played Coachella, both weekends and it was life changing to play there. Crazy to see my name on that flyer with like Beyoncé. I was like wow, is this like a thing? I’m playing these shows right now… Coachella was definitely one of the highlights of my career or life right now.
I feel like I’ve seen you on the bill at a lot of festivals, I went to like Shaky Beats in Atlanta and saw you there.
Oh my God, Shaky Beats is one of my favorites, to be honest, I didn’t know you’d know that.
I was there, it was like my first time and I loved it.
Yeah, I didn’t mention that because it’s kind of a smaller thing, not as big as Coachella, but like Shaky Beats was sick right? Where was it again?
Oh Atlanta, ATL Hoe. First time I played in Atlanta and people started saying “ATL Hoe” I stopped the music and was listening like, what are they saying? Like, I’m from Holland, what the f*ck? But Atlanta was sick. I loved it.
Yeah, I feel like you had a pretty fast rise to fame. It seems like you blew up really quick.
I think so yeah. I was a guitar teacher for seven years before this started. I taught guitar to everyone, like kids and adults for like four days a week, and whenever I got back home I’d work on my own music. I just think, I spent a lot of time working, whether it was guitar lessons or my own music. Maybe to you it felt like a fast come-up, but for me, I put a lot of work into this already, before you ever heard of me.
So speaking of your guitar, I read on Twitter that your guitar keeps getting lost on airplanes? What’s that about?
Yeah! I don’t know, especially in Europe for some reason. I have to check them in at the bulky luggage, the bigger luggage. For some reason they always mess it up, then I’m there without a guitar and I have to rent another guitar. But in America, it’s been great—actually in most places I can take my guitar, I put it in the lockers or the closet and they’re like okay, it’s fine. So that’s what I really appreciate about America, you respect artists on planes more than Europe does.
I also read that you really enjoy birds.
Birds? Oh my God, birds. I told people two years ago birds are the new cats. Birds are the new everything. Now you have to follow some birds on Instagram, Alex the Honking Bird is beautiful. I love birds, also because of my label, bitbird. There’s no animals that are cuter than birds.
Is there a specific type of bird you like the most?
Yes, I love Cockatiels with the little like, I don’t know what it’s called, the feathers. Also I like Gouldain Finches, they’re beautiful.
That’s awesome. Also, I wanted to talk about your name and the inspo. Was it meant to be a Han Solo pun?
So, five years ago I was making beats with my friends, I was doing Dutch hip-hop, and they were like Sander van Dijck, you need a cooler artist name. What about San Holo, and everyone started laughing and I was like okay, San Holo, it kind of has a ring to it let’s go with that. It just blew up, all of this blew up and I was like, I’m stuck with San Holo. At first I was scared people wouldn’t take my music seriously, but I think they do. I think it grew past the funny meme thing like now it’s a real thing. We actually own the name in America, San Holo.
So are you a big Star Wars fan or not really?
Well, I think every kid my age kind of had something to do with Star Wars, I think everyone owned Star Wars Lego or like you know, everyone has action figures. It’s not like I’m the biggest Star Wars fan, like not like I’m watching the movies every week but yeah, I think it’s a big part of my childhood definitely.
My final question is: what’s your favorite meme right now? Cause you put this picture on Twitter and you’re like “caption this” and I saw all these crazy Photoshops, so I was like okay, this guy likes memes.
It’s just very inspiring to see what the internet can do with a plain picture. You can literally just upload any picture and ask people to caption or meme it, and what comes out of it can be so funny. Like sometimes I try to think of something funny and I can’t think of anything funny and I post a picture, like “make this funny” and people will turn it into something hilarious that I never thought about. I think that’s the beauty of the internet. There’s just so much creativity out there.
People that are able to make a plain picture into something funny are very talented I think because, in the end, I think humor is one of the biggest things. Like humor and funny things is what drives people the most, things that make people smile and happy is what for some reason people love. I notice on my Instagram whenever I post a serious thing people are like oh, cool, but whenever I post something stupid and funny, people go all over the place. I think it’s maybe because life is so hard sometimes; people just want to see things that make them happy.
Experience San Holo for yourself as he starts his 35 show North American tour on October 31!