It was a Mau5trap takeover with the closing end of Saturday’s premier Minus Zero Festival when we sat down to pick the brain of dance music’s newest sensation, ATTLAS
On March 30th of 2015 an unknown producer dropped an EP and people were just getting to hear “ATTLAS.” A moniker that’s became a stable on the Mau5trap label, his identity was a mystery ever since his first remixes in the last parts of 2014. Theories ran amuck as there was speculation it could’ve been an alias for the boss himself, Deadmau5. It wasn’t until Pete Tong announced on his Evolution Radio show that everyone got to know who this special guest producer was. ATTLAS aka Jeff Hartford, was thus born and since his public announcement he has been living up to the hype and then some.
Self-introducing himself in the most modest way you’d expect via Twitter. ATTLAS simply stated “hi, I’m Jeff Hartford” with the attached upload of his Evolution guest mix. With a year in the public eye ATTLAS has released a slew of fresh original material. He’s dropped two EPs since then, and notable singles such as “Aspen” and a collaboration with dance music pioneer Aphex Twin.
ATTLAS’ popularity has continued to rise since his first unveiling and he’s gone on to have one of the most explosive years. If his past few months is any indication of what ATTLAS’ future brings, you can be assured technically sound productions and creatively dark sets are in store for this upcoming producer. Although he’s been doing lots of “firsts” this year, you’d think by his recent performances he has been in the live music industry for years. Deadmau5 was right with this pick up, and it’s no surprise he’s taken such interest in fostering the growth of this future phenom.
THE NOCTURNAL TIMES: Growing up, was it clear from that you wanted to do dance music?
ATTLAS: Growing up it was all music all the time. I grew up in a house where we would listen to old New Orleans jazz pianist, we listened to Beethoven, we listened to hard rock. My mom was the first one to give me a hip-hop CD. My family moved to the states, when I was 7. We moved to Detroit. In the basement of that house there was this old 100 year old piano that the prior tenants didn’t want to move and they left it there. All these serendipitous interactions of storylines and character and cities intersected in the right way to bring a piano in my life and that started it. I haven’t stopped since then. To bring it quickly to dance I kind of fell in love with the composing side. My first full intro into electronic was with all the Warp Records guys. What took me to the dance side of electronic was two guys in particular, the two guys I played my very first show with. It was Deadmau5 and Matt Lange because of what they could achieve with the engineering , the way they processed sound, the way they built these dramatic archs. To go from these two guys being the reason I first opened up Ableton, to playing my very first set ahead of these guys it was something else. And that was less than a year ago, the very first show was June 6. It’s just been the most surreal ride, it could end today and it would be the most incredible experience. I’m very lucky to be with them.
It was about a year since you’ve become public as “ATTLAS,” how has it affected your production if in any way?
ATTLAS: Every single day I’m learning something new. I get to talk to the people who I think are at the very top of the scene. I get to ask Matt how should I do this, or Eekkoo or Joel and they’ve been so forth coming with advice. Both creatively, the technical side, and finding the confidence as a person to be an artist and put yourself out there. Kind of risk the criticism of strangers to say “This is my track.” On my first EP “Siren” I was a complete unknown. And Mau5trap had the belief in me to put out an EP with ambient tracks on it. That first gesture from them gave me a lot of creative freedom to explore sounds and ideas. I didn’t receive a single note on “Can you write us this kind of track?” You can have times where you think “Hey this song is really popular, can you write a couple more like this?” I don’t think I’ve put the same track out twice. If I were to get hit by a bus or people were to start hating Attlas I don’t want to have my last track be just like the one before it. Every single day I get a chance to skim my knees musically. If I fail I fail, but they’re going to let me, they’re going to let me learn that lesson.
How did ATTLAS come forth to the public?
ATTLAS: That’s a really interesting one. I’ve been in the studio system for a while, I’ve been writing, I had been producing, learning the engineering side. I did the whole unpaid intern route and assistant and kind of came up through the studio in Toronto and studio in Santa Monica. I had been “employed” in what I thought was the music world. I was in the studio everyday with composers and engineers and I could learn pretty quickly how my tracks would hold up against a professional studio master. So it was back when I was in Canada trying to reset my visa, when you get a new work contract, and Mau5trap was the only label who’d ever heard my music. They said we love this and we had a few tracks they were excited to put out and I didn’t have a name outside Jeff Hartford and an email address with some attachments on it. We started gathering material and putting it all together. They took a huge chance and I had nothing, we built an artist from scratch. Sadly there’s no great inspiration for the name. I still wanted to have a little bit of Jeff Hartford to keep to myself, and I figured an artist name gives me a bit of a suit-of-armor to protect myself. It’s much different if I’m emotionally comfortable enough to put my entire self out there, that’s a lot of transparency. At least with ATTLAS that’s its own little world. It was as simple as trying a bunch of different names sketching things out, looking around the room and there’s Attlas. And the whole idea, “Atlas” is a book of maps. It’s geographies, it’s histories, it’s distances, it’s cities full of people and stories. The whole idea kind of makes sense for the type of music I want to write. I want to have this all-encompassing, exploratory way of going through music.
What can you tell us about the Mau5hax Bu5 Tour? Are there any memorable moments that stand out to you from the recent tour?
ATTLAS: To finish it all off in Miami at the end was awesome. So I came on and played my hour and a half or two hours, Joel and I went B2B for almost a full hour and it was one of the longest we had done before. Joel plays a killer set, Rezz plays a killer set, it’s 4am and the place is still going off. We kind of wanted to close it down with a Mau5trap artist and Joel was gone by that point. And I thought “Well hey I got tracks for days.” That was the coolest thing to play a 124 BPM, really deep melodic set. Dig in to some of my favorite tracks. Really cool way to finish off my experience of touring with Deadmau5 and Rezz. I wish I could pinpoint it to one specific antidote. Montreal for instance, there was this venue that was more used to rock bands. So they didn’t have a big large monitor setup like Joel loves. So we had to kind of make up these monitors, we had to use their house PA system. We were kind of overloading what they were used to. About halfway through my set I hear a giant crash and one of the mocked up monitors crashed down. I was just having a fun time and going with it, it was so cool to play Montreal with these people and have people into the music you’re playing. The stage hands are freaking out and duct taping everything. By the time Joel comes in for the B2B every monitor is wrapped in almost a whole roll of duct tape. It was of the most fun nights I had on tour, the vibe was so loose. It felt like any second something could go wrong, or you could find this wonderful musical alchemy between yourself and the music you’re playing and what Joel’s going to play and the way the audience was reacting. It was a really special night.
You recently unveiled your Storyline mix series, what are your plans for this project?
ATTLAS: It started when I was doing these little mini-mixes to promote the EPs. I found a way of bridging the different tempos and styles and instruments together. It wasn’t all dance tracks at 128, so I wouldn’t mix them in a traditional way. I made up these five minute overtures, little film clips that kind of suggest the arch of the EP or story. I got to do a guest mix for Pete Tong’s Friday night show, and got to stretch that whole idea to 40 minutes. And people responded so positively and it was a great way to find new edits of music that you can’t play in a club setting. But this music goes so well together I was bridging it and building these characters and trying to find the balance between ambiguity and a cohesive narrative. And by that time I thought you know what? I’ve got a great idea, let’s just expand this and let’s just not wait for an outlet. It just speaks to the confidence or willingness to take risks that Mau5trap has extended to me from the very beginning. There have been bits and pieces of people trying ideas like that, it could’ve crashed and burned, people could’ve said I don’t want people talking in my dance music. But they didn’t mind and it was a cool way of drawing people into a new way of experiencing this music. A lot of people are listening to dance music now in their car, or just walking around, or in the kitchen while cooking, or on the computer while doing homework. It doesn’t have to be club specific all the time. It was so nice that people liked it. I’d love to continue this in the future. It’s just about finding the time now. As my dad said, “You gotta be good to be busy, but you gotta be busy to be good.” So I’m trying to internalize that and balance between saying yes to all the opportunities, but finding time to write the music that gets you the opportunities.
You and Deadmau5 collaborated on the newest release, “Bad at Titles,” how was that process doing an original production with him?
ATTLAS: I was getting really tired in March, flying here and back. After Miami I was home for a day, then I had this festival in Vancouver called the Seasons. Then I was home for another day and I had to fly to LA to do a lot of writing for a week. You know sit down with a piano or a guitar, open collaborations just doing LA work. On Saturday when I was still in LA before I was playing San Diego Joel calls and says, “Yo what are you doing?” I said “Working.” “Wanna come work here?” “I’m in LA.” “Oh, when you back?” I go “I’m back Monday,” so he says text me and all of that. I get home on Sunday night, I’m really really tired and I think should I try and sleep in? I think ahh F** it it’s too cool of an opportunity. I wake up I talk to Joel for a time to go over, I wasn’t sure if there was a big project we had to work on or just a hangout or a tech set up thing or what the aim of the day was. So I get there and we’re experimenting with this thing called Ableton link. What Ableton link let’s you do is basically share the same Ableton session between two computers. So we’re sharing clock data, if he changes to 144 my session on my screen will now be at 144. I was feeding the master channel from my computer and it was fed into a channel in his session so we could work side by side. All of a sudden we had this really cool opportunity to bounce ideas and share ideas really quickly. It was very very organic, and I don’t think any of us planned on putting a track together that day, but we realized how quickly and fluently we could work together. We do have similar approaches to music, and early on there stylistically there was a lot of comparison. He’d put a part on and said “Okay, I’m going to loop this part and see what you can come up with.” As he’s rifling through ideas and synth-downs and different percussion parts so am I. And we could all share it. One synth line starts to work, and it triggers in your head “Hey what’s going to work around this synth line.” We had this melody that happened then Joel says “Hey try opening up the filter.” Joel had an idea for a filter and I’ll play a little arpeggio or something or one shot-sample or I’ll bring in this percussion bit; put it at the end of the phrase. “That was a good idea; let’s put that in the middle of the phrase now we have a melodic opportunity right here.” It was about a half hour into it and Joel goes “Do you mind if we stream this?” I said no, and I think I’ve learned a lot of music just by watching his streams. And here I am writing a track, it was too much.
Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming year?
ATTLAS: I’d love to have a career as long and diverse as a guy like Deadmau5. But I also know it’s a very tough industry. There’s a lot of amazing musicians out there who I think deserve a bigger stage, and that means someone’s going to have to get bumped. So if this is my last year doing it or my last month doing it, I want to go out showing what I got inside. If it’s going to be another hard hitting techno track or if I have this ambient piano thing that I need to get out, I’ve been given such a long leash creatively I don’t really want to put myself in a box. Obviously it’ll be the balance of which tracks are singles, and which ones are EPs. I’m starting to really fall in love with building these arches, of not overtly telling you what the story is, but at least suggesting one. I need to do a Storyline Vol. 2, I have all these ideas ready and I need time to just sit down and finish them. I want to put out more EPs, I want to branch out, some really interesting collaborations. I just have to find the time to do them. I want to find out what my limit is creatively, I want to see what things I’m not good at, and get good at them.
Featured Image and Body Image by: James Coletta
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