John Dahlbäck Talks Swedish House, Toolroom Knights and the American EDM Scene
Thanks in no small part to a certain House Mafia, Sweden is becoming synonymous with electronic dance music to the mainstream masses of the world.
But if there's one artist who's truly repping his country, it's DJ-producer and label magnate John Dahlbäck. He's been pumping out his own brand of edgy, progressive big-room house since his mid teens. And his Pickadoll and Mutants labels have emerged as bastions of Sweden's EDM scene, championing local stars like Style of Eye, Ida Engberg, Dada Life, and Zoo Brazil.
And Dahlbäck is certainly not deprived of the commercial success enjoyed by his Swedish House Mafia compatriots. He's a regular on Beatport's Top 100 and his recent records have been reaching for that sort of epic vocal pop sensibility that can only increase his popularity with American club rats.
Crossfade: You released your first record at age 15. How young were you when you began producing music and how long did it take before you felt confident to release something? What were your first musical influences?
John Dahlbäck: My father had a bunch of recording equipment in the house which I started to play around with when I was around 12. When I fell in love with house music at 14, I started doing it more for real. I sent out so many demos every week and it took some time when I first even heard something. At 15, I had my first release out. I will always love music my parents played me, like jazz and soul. But in my genre, I guess my cousin Jesper [Dahlbäck] was the biggest influence.
What do you think it is about Sweden that has spawned such world-dominating EDM artists?
Well, I think overall the school pushes us in early ages to learn instruments, and music is a subject from first grade. Then I think the sun has some part of it -- Sweden is dark a lot of months so you kind of need to be creative. Then we had great connections in EDM here. We had a forum where we connected and talked about music and listened to each others ideas and stuff. I found it really helping to continue doing music.
What differentiates your Pickadoll and Mutants labels? Where do you plan to take the labels next?
No real difference -- I just needed to start completely fresh after doing Pickadoll so many years. I took a break from it, and when I wanted to continue, I thought I would change names a swell. Mutants has become a good imprint and I have many brilliant releases in the pipeline.
You've played at big festivals as well as intimate clubs. Which type of venue do you prefer and why?
I love intimate venues and big ones. I love the vibe in the intimate ones, but also the connection with a big crowd. Sound-wise I play a bit darker for an intimate crowd.
How did you first hook up with the Toolroom label and how did the idea for 2011's Toolroom Knights compilation arise? How did you go about selecting the material for this compilation?
I've been doing some stuff for Toolroom for many years, but this is the biggest commitment so far. I got really honored when they asked if I wanted to mix the next one. I kind of wanted to recreate my personal journey in EDM. I start off quite deep and techy, and end it with more electro vocal house that I'm doing now.
As a commercially successful artist, what are your thoughts on EDM's commercial explosion in the U.S. this year? Is it all positive, or is there a danger that the music's underground heritage is being misrepresented and undervalued?
There's good and bad things about it. A lot of people that shouldn't be involved in EDM are, and it's just for the money. It's not at all good for the scene. I like that it's grown so more people can hear it though. I do think the underground part of the scene will only become bigger because of this though. At some point, people that are into the commercial side will probably get tired of it and move on to the underground scene.
John Dahlbäck with Nadia Ali. Saturday, April 28. Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The party starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $30 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-531-5535 or visit mansionmiami.com
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