Dada Life: Welcome to Dada Land
Los Angeles—It’s a typically beautiful day on the Santa Monica coastline, and just 24 hours after Dada Life stormed the ramparts of Coachella, as part of a festival lineup dominated by EDM acts.
For the past three months, the Swedish DJ/production duo has been holed up here, waiting out a longer-than-usual Stockholm winter and jumping around from one fresh-faced crew of domestic EDM recruits to the next.
As we wait for his partner Olle Cornéer to come back from an errand, Dada Life’s second banana Stefan Engblom relates a gig they played recently in, of all places, Alabama. “That was actually a fun gig, just for the reactions. Half of them were like, ‘What? In Alabama?’” he says of the comments that poured in from the social media networks. “[As for the crowd], it was literally the first time they get to see and experience the whole rave thing.”
For even the jaded nightclub veteran, however, Dada Life brings a much-needed sense of play and self-effacing fun into an industry nowadays obsessed with its own glamour and magnitude. Armed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bananas, champagne and supercharged, bass-heavy electro-house anthems (from the group’s self-penned “Rules of Dada”: “No bananas on the rider? Then we do our two-hour deep/tech house set—everything under 118 BPM.”), Engblom and Cornéer have carved out a unique niche for themselves since first teaming up in 2006. Prior to that, both of them had worked for years within dance music—particularly Cornéer, whose work as Dibaba was nominated for a Swedish Manifest prize in ’07.
But as Cornéer and Engblom grew into their roles as Dada Life, they discovered a way to translate their innate goofiness into dancefloor gold with a stream of international hits. With basslines spiced up by a specially designed software plug-in entitled the Sausage Fattener—a product now used by Laidback Luke, Hardwell and fellow Swede Sebastian Ingrosso, among others—tracks like “Happy Violence,” “Kick Out The Epic Motherfucker” and “White Light/Red Meat” have been enshrined in DJ sets and Tumblr blogs the world over.
Having risen in international DJ polls, landed an hour-long mix show on Sirius XM (titled “Dada Land”) and scored remixes from Madonna, Lady Gaga and David Guetta, Dada Life plans to unleash an as-yet-untitled artist LP in the fall. Judging by the success of the outfit’s recent single, “Rolling Stones T-Shirt,” charting highly on Beatport’s Top 100 with a suitably grotesque Aphex Twin-referencing video at over 800,000 YouTube views, it will certainly promise to unleash even more fucking Dada over the heads of the unwashed masses. Before the cheesy punk-rock title puns and inflatable champagne bottles overtake us, we felt it best to ask for details on their production strategies and live performance tricks from the duo, not to mention a little mercy, for the love of God. As per the rules of Dada, we merely got what we damn-well deserved. See it for yourself:
DJ Times: So tell me about your entry into dance music. Olle, I know you play guitar, so I’m guessing you may have experience doing other forms of music before doing this.
Olle Cornéer: Yeah, we actually just met at the chili cook-off and we started talking about music. And then we said, “Why not try to make a track together?” We did one track together. That was the first release ever. We did it in like a few hours.
Stefan Engblom: Yeah.
Cornéer: In one afternoon, more or less.
DJ Times: So you were both producers independently?
Cornéer: Yeah, we don’t work alone anymore. We’re both producers. Some dudes, one is the DJ and one is the producer, or one is the instrumental guy and the other’s like, something else. We both do everything, which also means that we fight on everything. (laughs)
DJ Times: What were you two working on in those early productions, and how did you merge your production styles together?
Cornéer: I think we merged them from the beginning. That’s not what has changed in any way. What has changed is just the evolvement of our sound. I think we actually, from the first track we did, we felt like it worked, merging our styles together. The reason that everything is getting harder and harder is because that’s just how the sound has evolved. And it’s going to get even harder. It’s going to get hard until we crash into a wall and then we quit forever.
DJ Times: Do you have sound engineering backgrounds?
Engblom: We just picked it up over time.
DJ Times: I saw you have a lot of outboard gear. A lot of people getting into the game wouldn’t have that much.
Engblom: We have a lot of outboard gear, but we never use it. We just use it if we want like, for inspiration to play around with it. But in the end, we just do it in the laptop.
DJ Times: But you use a keyboard for a MIDI.
Engblom: Yeah, but I wouldn’t call that outboard gear. I would call that more like MIDI control. Outboard gear is more like synthesizers, compressors, the Avalon stuff. You play it once and then you have the melody in the program, and that’s it. You don’t touch it anymore.
DJ Times: What are you using alongside Ableton?
Cornéer: We don’t use that many synthesizers—not any specific that we can pinpoint. For a while we used [LennarDigital’s] Sylenth a lot, but then we changed them a little bit. I don’t think the key to the sound is in which plug-ins you use; it’s in the combinations that you use them in and how you use them. Our effects chain is…
Engblom: It’s so long.
Cornéer: Yeah, like 20 effects on them, but each and every effect is a normal, whatever, stock effect. The combination of everything is what makes it, which is exactly the same thing with the Sausage Fattener. We had a chain of effect that we always used and we felt like, “Yeah, why not bring this whole chain [into] like, one knob?”
DJ Times: How do those effects chains grow? Something like the Sausage Fattener, that was apparently an effect you want to go for quite often. Say you start off with a sawtooth wave…
Cornéer: Trial-and-error. (laughs)
Engblom: Since we’re two people, we do twice the amount of mistakes, just twice as fast.
Cornéer: When we’re fast, we work twice as fast. And opposite, we make twice as many mistakes, and everything takes twice as long.
DJ Times: Are there any acoustic/traditional instruments in the tracks?
Cornéer: There are none.
Engblom: It’s for inspiration, live.
Cornéer: It’s for inspiration. It’s like some kind of songs, you have to write on a guitar because they feel good on a guitar and then we just translate it into a synthesizer in that way. It’s more for inspiration, like some songs were written by singing into the mobile phone—singing the bassline. We actually did it the other day, but we didn’t succeed.
DJ Times: You tweeted about this.
Cornéer: All we heard was noise. I got a super-good idea during the show because I was screaming into the microphone. And I played it back the other day and I was like, [makes squelchy noise]. It’s impossible.
DJ Times: What are the most important skill sets for a new producer to acquire?
Cornéer: I would say being able to sleep on a plane is the most important skill ever. If you can do that, you’re halfway there. Because you are sleep-deprived all the time, so you…
Engblom: Sleep when you can. You eat when you can.
DJ Times: How long has it been like this for you guys? In ‘06-’07, it was just building up your name.
Cornéer: At that time, it was kind of just then, at that time, Dada Life was more like a side project. We didn’t have the time and then it gradually just changed into the main project. I can’t remember when it faded into the main project.
Engblom: It took more and more time. We didn’t have time to do our own stuff.
Cornéer: I personally think that the skill is to do something original, like hearing what you wanna do and take it that extra step, instead of just doing a copy of the current Beatport Top 10 right now.
DJ Times: What would you say about the rise of programs like Dubspot and the Red Bull Music Academy? Should people learn how to make the music on their own, rather than learn what works?
Cornéer: You still need to be able to copy the tracks out there to then break all the rules. Like, it’s a classic thing—you need to learn all the rules in order to be able to break them. I mean, you need to copy. You need to be able to copy the Beatport Top 10—and then, you don’t do it.
Engblom: For a beginning producer, it’s a good thing to try to make that track exactly the same [as the original], because then you can develop your skills.
Cornéer: But then don’t release it, please. I don’t wanna hear it. (laughs)
Engblom: Keep it out of Beatport! Don’t bloat us anymore. Our promo boat is way too full already.
DJ Times: You don’t do dubstep, but you are known for aggressive basslines, which are a touchstone for dubstep productions. Have you consciously integrated anything from dubstep into your productions?
Cornéer: Not dubstep specifically, but we listen to everything. We get ideas from any kind of music. We actually get ideas from ’50s rock-n-roll or from basically everything.
Engblom: It’s a feeling, like if you get a good feeling and high energy feeling on a track, you wanna create that feeling on your own, with our sound, with our bass. It’s not like, “Oh, this wobbly kind of thing, gonna copy it and do it.” It’s more the feeling we’re into.
DJ Times: What sorts of monitors are you using in your studio?
Engblom: Actually, we have good monitors. We have Barefoots—it’s Thomas Barefoot. We have Event Opals…
Cornéer: [Barefoots] look quite strange. It’s a speaker, but the subs are on the sides, so the sound is super-tight and perfect timing.
DJ Times: Tell me about how you work with vocals.
Engblom: We treat vocals as instruments.
Cornéer: We take the singer and we chop him up in pieces and try to make it sound good. We don’t think of vocals as vocal. I think that’s the key to our approach to vocals is treat it as an instrument.
DJ Times: Are you working with Autotune, and if not, with what?
Cornéer: Oh, it’s the same thing with all the instruments. It’s a combination of so many effects. It can be Autotune…
Engblom: Melodyne, anything.
Cornéer: It’s different with each track.
DJ Times: How did it work for, say, “Rolling Stone T-Shirt”?
Cornéer: It’s a lot of stuff. I can’t even remember what it is. And it’s not like I don’t wanna say, because it’s like if you would ask me the same thing about bass—it’s, like, 20 effects.
DJ Times: Tell me about how you work with your live sets. Are you working with Ableton again or…
Cornéer: No, we’re DJing with records or USB sticks. The thing we always thought about when we’re DJing is, like, it’s good because you’re trying new stuff out and it’s good because you get inspiration from your tracks. Like I was telling you, the other day, I was screaming the melody during the set in my cell phone and then when you get back to the studio, you just wanna have a show so you can try the stuff out. It’s like a feedback loop, playing out, being in the studio, playing out, being in the studio.
DJ Times: What’s the equipment you prefer to use on the road?
Engblom: The players for us are Pioneers. We know them so well—the CDJ-2000s.
Cornéer: They’re pretty much the standard everywhere.
Engblom: We can pretty much close our eyes and, because you know where every button is, it’s in the fingers. We had CDs, but I think we were the last DJs converting from CDs to USB. But the thing we noticed with the CDs, you just spill champagne on them, it’s kind of like acid. It burns a hole in it.
Cornéer: There were holes in our CD all the time.
Engblom: So before every gig, we spent two hours picking out every CD looking at it—is this OK? You’d have to burn a new one. That one track, I need a CD. So I had 200 CDs to go through before every gig.
Cornéer: It took too much time.
Engblom: And then when we switched to USB, that was a relief.
Cornéer: And then when we switched to USB sticks, Stefan actually went and made sure. He asked the computer store—“We need to get champagne-proof USB sticks.”