Coachella’s magical booking elves have done some true wonders this year.
The trifecta of J. Balvin, Rosalía, and Bad Bunny was one such example, as the three each shared tracks on their respective stages during the first weekend, producing collaborative highlights that only such an event could bring. But other booking parallels are not so obvious. And one electronic pair at this year’s festival, which continues this weekend, made for a particularly brilliant alignment: DJ Seinfeld and Ross From Friends.
“I’m definitely freaking out,” says Felix Clary Weatherall (a.k.a. Ross From Friends) in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “I did have this daydream that I’d look out into the crowd and everyone’s faces were Aphex Twin but hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
The two Coachella first-timers joined an array of remarkable producers in this year’s attendance, including Four Tet, SOPHIE, Kaytranada, and Jon Hopkins. But given their respective trajectories, the two seem well up to the task to playing their biggest American festival dates yet.
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“This is the first American festival that I’ve played,” Weatherall says. “My first impressions are that things are so much cleaner than British or European festivals. There would normally be a pile of cans in every corner in Europe, but it’s totally different at Coachella, it seems. The production values are so much higher here, too. Each artist knows that Coachella is a landmark show, so they put so much effort into the production which is really special. You really get everyone performing at their best which is great to see.”
The festival setting also allows producers to exercise their craft in different ways. Having played his fair share of both American and European clubs and festivals, Armand Jakobsson (a.k.a. DJ Seinfeld) has a methodical approach to both.
“For festivals that have a bit of a mixed bag of music styles, it’s always a bit harder to predict,” Jakobsson says. “I tend to approach it more like an exhibition if I know I’m on a big stage and I’m before or after someone who doesn’t commit to a 4/4 kick drum. Stylistically, I’ll still play what I would do in a club, but choose music that I feel better represent my ideas. ... I find both settings very enjoyable, but I don’t feel like a natural stage persona so sometimes I’ll be happier hidden behind a booth in a dungeon club. But other times, it’s so amazing seeing smiling faces in the sun, it makes for some great memories.”
Both DJ Seinfeld and Ross From Friends came up in the heat of a lo-fi house renaissance, mostly centralized online rather than in a specific geographical scene. Hallmark tracks like Ross From Friends’ “Talk To Me You’ll Understand” and DJ Boring’s “Winona” brought attention to a new scene of producers who balanced minimal dance music with emotive and deeply introspective melodies and textures. DJ Seinfeld’s debut EP came soon thereafter in late 2016.
“I’m increasingly reluctant to call it a scene,” Jakobsson says. “It was more an internet hype that definitely was exciting for me personally, but I didn’t really experience it as more than an online community. I’ve met some amazing people from there for sure, but as with other music hypes in the past, it blows over and people leave their box to develop their style in different directions. What happened was definitely surprising, it was probably the best thing that happened to my career. Because it was so young and DIY, lot of young people latched on to it.”
At the same time, Jakobsson takes a far from pretentious approach to distribution. “I don’t care who hears my music nor where they find it,” Jakobsson says. “I don’t personally find it exciting to press a boutique 100-copy vinyl-only. It can be charming, but it’s not really helping anyone.”
A year later, Weatherall and Jakobsson were both DJing Boiler Room sets. Jakobsson released his full-length Time Spent Away From U on Lobster Theramin, then was asked to curate the 64th DJ-Kicks release. In doing so, he joins a great line of electronic artists including Four Tet, DJ Koze, John Talabot, and Actress.
“It was a fun but stressful experience,” Jakobsson says. “You only get to do one. Also, it’s one of the very few ‘official’ accolades in that industry that one may receive so it meant a great deal to be asked to do it. I wanted to include people close to me, or who I’d have admired for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Weatherall signed with Flying Lotus-run label Brainfeeder for his 2018 releases Aphelion and Family Portrait. Moving beyond his lo-fi house roots, Weatherall made his debut LP an expansive retrospective look at the dance music he grew up with and felt inspired by.
“I didn’t want it to be a simple pastiche of [an] era,” Weatherall says, “but at the same time I did want a lot of that to be able to come through. There definitely is a personal, emotional presence that I wanted to put into Family Portrait; I’m not thinking about one specific theme, i.e. my parents, the entire time. I think I’m probably quite an upset person at the core of it, so when I’m making music that feels emotional to me then I’m more attached. I end up in the studio for such a longer time when I’m making that kind of music, I just get sucked into some mad zone and don’t ever want to leave.”
And now, we have the Coachella debut for both artists. On a crowded polo field of a hundred thousand onlookers, the two have this opportunity to a sizable splash on the American West Coast, albeit competing against celebrities sponsorships, corporate co-brands, and simply a lot going on all at once. It’s an interesting, complicated way to gain exposure, to say the least.
“It’s a bit strange but not surprising,” Jakobsson says. “A pillar of any profit-seeking industry is development ... It’s not new at all. When that happens, it probably changes a lot of the conditions that need to be met for an underground artist to ‘make it’. Part of it is probably to loosen up one’s idea of what the underground really is these days; it’s a credibility appeal, a reference to DIY-past that I fear has often been forgotten in terms of its socio-political dynamics. Perhaps, however, that’s what the scene needs to grow in other areas though.”
Weatherall says he sees "a lot of people complaining that their music isn’t being recognized, or that their cat photo is getting more attention than their music announcement. I think, as an artist, you have to understand that the nature of social media is incredibly superficial. You do need something that is exciting or original to grab people’s attention to steer them towards your music.
"I think an artist like Four Tet does this incredibly well," he continues. "He uses social media in a really interesting way to keep people hooked. I’m always thinking, ‘How is Four Tet going to announce his next album?’ It gets me almost as excited as the thought of the music itself.”
So, in a crowded atmosphere, where conditions are changing and attention is more precious than ever, are the '90s reference monikers an attempt at cutting through the noise? Not really.
“When I came up with the name Ross From Friends, I didn’t envisage it as a marketing thing,” Weatherall says. “I was just a stoner kid wanting to have some fun.”
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Adds Jakobsson: “My moniker brings as expected both fun and upsetting reactions. Usually though, the only negative reactions come from old farts who think everything around techno should be super serious, or people who try and be edgy in whatever way they can. It’s fun though, I take it with a pinch of salt. I’d rather embrace the majority of reactions that are warm and loving.”
Beyond playing the festival, both artist are also excited about getting to attend. “Blood Orange has been my highlight so far, the production was so wonderful,” says Weatherall. “I was super into his Lightspeed Champion stuff as a boy, so I feel an odd sense of pride that he’s doing so well.”
Jakobsson’s anticipation is quite simple: “I want to see Aphex Twin and thank him.”