[Interview] um... Weirds Out Aisle 5 with Holly
Popping up from the underground of Los Angeles, bass duo um… (Ben and Dylan) have continually surprised and refreshed listeners with their unorthodox and somewhat irreverent approach to musical production, mixing, and branding. I was excited to see them for their first show in Atlanta and didn’t really know what to expect. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, as this show sold out completely; the first time that’s happened for them. When I walked in, local bass star Juju Beats was laying down a smooth but heavy set of bass music, warming the room up for the crowd that was starting to gather. Shaky Beats had let out a few hours earlier, so with nowhere else to go, Aisle 5 was packed full early and the bar was busy.
Holly, who is actually the artist on tour, has been on my radar for a minute for his impressive solo productions and an extensive list of collaborations, but I was surprised and impressed in new ways by his live performance. It felt a lot more trap-based and in the vein of a mainstream EDM DJ than I had expected, but his skill was undeniable, and his track selections had me hyped for his whole set. I would absolutely prefer to see a set like that pouring out of the mainstage than most of the big EDM DJs out there who lose focus and take too many breaks to yell at the crowd on the mic. During Holly's set, I snuck away with um… for a few questions about LA, their music, and plans for the future.
When I found out about you guys, I was really excited to see a project as weird as yours getting attention. What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in music?
Dylan: I feel like it’s really easy to notice how saturated everything is right now, but outside of that, there are a lot of people doing really cool stuff. It has been pushed to that point of maximum saturation where I know what a song’s going to do right away, like, I can just tell. But, that has made a lot of people, like Holly, do crazy shit, and things you wouldn’t expect, and stuff that’s “wrong.” There’s a lot of really creative music going on right now, and there’s a lot of blends of music that are really cool too. We really like Tennyson. It’s not electronic music, but it kind of is. It’s like jazz.
Ben: Yeah, I was gonna say Tennyson. They’re next level, but I don’t know a lot of people like them. For me, it’s really technical. I went to Berklee and I have a lot of jazz roots in my background, so it’s cool to hear that in such an accessible way that’s catching on with other people.
You two met at Icon Collective in LA At what point did you know you wanted to do an electronic project together?
Dylan: [Ben’s] been doing music for longer than me. I went to Icon, just trying to make dubstep. I wanted to make dubstep and it was all I knew. I didn’t really know much about music or producing. I was making dubstep the whole time, but then we moved in together and started making different kinds of stuff.
Ben: Yeah, we were classmates at Icon, and then we graduated. At that point, I wasn’t making dance music. I was making different stuff that doesn’t really have a place, but at a certain point, it was like, ok I’m trying to make this my career, so I’ve got to help people have fun because that’s what people want to go out and do. They want to go pay money to have a good time, so that was kind of my vision, was just to make people have fun.
Are you both from LA?
Dylan: I’m from LA.
Ben: Yeah, I grew up in the Bay Area in California.
Whenever I see your logo, I always think about e.e. cummings. Your music is not simple, but it is somewhat stripped down in the aesthetics. It’s refreshingly straightforward.
Ben: I think it’s all kind of a result of just not knowing what we’re doing and not having a goal in mind. We kind of developed our own strategy and ways of going about things, but I know what you mean. Our sound is different. Beyond the sound itself, it has a different aesthetic, sort of. But that happened naturally, it wasn’t a deliberate thing.
Dylan: The whole project is very candid. We just started, and neither of us made this kind of music before. We came together and started doing it, so we were figuring it out together but on opposite sides of the spectrum. Like, writing, and sound design, and mixing, I definitely didn’t really know what was going on in the beginning.
Ben: It’s been a big learning experience.
Dylan: Yeah, just learning as we go. Definitely, early on, it was learning quickly and being aware that we were not knowing what we were doing, just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, but it has gotten more pro form to it at this point. We’ve kind of broken off that formula, and it’s getting to another level now.
Ben: Like, right now… I guess we can say this… we’re focusing on a bunch of collaborations with other artists, which for me so far is really cool. I feel like I’ve gotten in kind of a rut, creatively, at least with this project. But we’ve been working with other artists, and it’s really cool to see other people’s workflow and get inspired. Little things they do with Ableton. Beyond knowing how it works, everyone does it their own way, so yeah, it’s really awesome to see how other people work and it’s kind of refueling the fire.
With some of your early work like “skrillex 2," I got this feeling that you were poking fun at the industry in some way, which is hilarious because Owsla (Nest) sort of put you on the scene. I never felt like it was mean, just poking fun.
Dylan: Yeah, 100%.
Ben: If I’m being honest, Skrillex was a huge inspiration for both of us, because he changed everything. Personally, I feel like he lost some of his drive and lost some of his innovativeness.
Dylan: It’s like when a fighter becomes champion, they don’t have that same fire.
Ben: We didn’t really agree with… he started working with Diplo, who has kind of questionable intentions if you ask me. So, even our logo was kind of poking fun at it. It’s not like “fuck Skrillex” or anything, but he’s big so people would recognize it.
Do you feel like he’s a big enough name that he’s fair game? Like, even if Skrillex is a nice guy, it’s fair to go after him because of where he is in the industry?
Ben: Oh. Yeah, I mean it’s all in good fun. I hope that he would know that if he knows who we are.
So, how big do you guys have to get before someone makes fun of you?
Dylan: If they want to make fun of us, we’re totally asking for it, so that’s totally fair.
Ben: I feel like we’re already making fun of ourselves. The mission statement for um… I think is that we thought people were too serious about music. Just the way people were branding, it was so dialed in and serious. It’s like, you’re making party music, it’s not about being serious. It’s about letting go of that and having fun. So, it’s kind of playing off those ideas. We started off kind of pretentious, but that was just because we were like, EDM sucks, but now we’ve kind of found our little hole in the scene and found our homies and we’re getting more serious about it.
Does LA feel like a little microcosm of electronic music culture?
Ben: Yeah, especially because we are in the Icon [Collective] circle. That place is really, really awesome. I’ll definitely support them for the rest of my career. We met there, first of all, but beyond that, they’re great people and it’s a great environment. It’s all about creativity, and it’s really awesome. Definitely, anyone who can afford to go there that’s serious about producing should check out Icon.
I’ve interviewed Jauz and NGHTMRE, and they both speak very highly of Icon.
Ben: Yeah, Jauz was the kid who told me to go to Icon, before he was Jauz. And then, I got there, and he started Jauz, and now he’s Jauz. So, that was pretty interesting to watch.
Dylan: Yeah, Icon is super rare, it’s a very cool place. I knew about Icon and Dubspot before going to Icon, and I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I’d gone to the other one. It turned out to be a big scam. Everybody just lost a bunch of money. We’ve talked to kids that have gone there, and they’re like yeah, it’s not the same. This place kind of sucks, it’s not a community, but Icon… we graduated two or three years ago and we’re there multiple times a week.
Ben: Yeah, Icon’s actually like family. They have a graduate studio that we can book blocks in, and that’s where we get 90% of our work done. It’s a blessing, it’s a great thing.
You get to meet current students, is there anyone out there who you want to shout out?
Ben: Yeah, ESQ is pretty tight. He’s one of my favorite producers out of Icon. But, I don’t really like the LA scene. It’s kind of just an amorphous blob of everything and a bunch of people who don’t really care.
Dylan: Yeah, we’re really fortunate to be in LA for some reasons, and for other reasons, we might not like it so much.
What’s next for you?
Dylan: We have a lot of music that we’ve made and haven’t put out, so we’re going to put out some singles. Then we have that collaboration EP, which we want to put out after that, which will be the more recent music. It’ll be a lot different because we haven’t collaborated with anyone before.
Ben: Yeah, right now, the collabs don’t really sound like um… or the other person. It’s a new thing, which I think is cool. I think that’s how a collab should be.
Dylan: There’s a lot of people in LA who we like, that we would work with, and we have been. So, that’s an opportunity that a lot of people don’t have. Like, if you live in some random town in the Midwest, you might not get to work with a lot of your favorite artists in person. There’s a lot of people in LA so we have a lot of opportunities to do that.
After our conversation, I caught the last moments of Holly and we all got ready for um... to take the stage. True to form, their set was esoteric, fun, and full of smashing bass. It’s great to see a couple artists putting out quality product, even while they don’t take themselves too seriously. If you get a chance to see Holly or um… in a city near you, I encourage you to go. The scene needs more quality EDM, and it also needs people to keep poking fun at it.