D33J on Making Emotional Dance Music and His Upcoming Tour with Baths
Twenty-two-year-old Djavan Santos, aka D33J, has established himself as one of the more notable purveyors of a new, ethereal brand of R&B, which has been attracting fans internationally thanks to fellow Wedidit Collective members like Shlohmo and Ryan Hemsworth. His attention-grabbing 2011 debut EP Tide Songs was full of emotionally-charged late night melodies, and led to his eventual signing to Anticon Records, home to artists such as Baths and Jel. We recently spoke with D33J about his influences, his upcoming tour with Baths, and his favorite burrito in S.F. He plays Friday at 1015 Folsom with Shlohmo, Jeremih, Nite Jewel, Sister Crayon, and more. D33J then returns to the Bay Area June 29 for a show with Baths and Houses at Great American Music Hall.
Shlohmo was your former roommate up here in S.F. What was it like living together musically?
Yeah, we used to live together on 15th and Mission, pretty hectic stuff. It was cool because at first we were just good friends who both made music. It was fun to have that back-to-back influence in the house. We collaborated sometimes, but it was just more for fun. We didn't take it too seriously. If one of us came home drunk, we would just hop in each other's room and record a little bit. It was more lighthearted than full-fledged collaborating. It was good to have two Wedidit cast members in the same place, and that's how I spawned my involvement; living with Henry.
How do you categorize or describe the music you to make?
I like to describe it as emotional 808, or EDM as in Emotional Dance Music. I kind of like those terms. It's sort of just really laid-back sleepy club music. I want it to be something where the songs will serve two purposes: either some emotional dancing at the club or stay-at-home-smoke-weed-music.
It's also been coined that you guys make baby-making music.
Yeah, it's like the baby boom part two. Me and Henry listen to a lot of R&B and pop R&B and slower stuff, so that's always in the background. There's definitely that influence to make slower sexually-paced beats. That's where the emotional stuff comes in, too; I try to make stuff that's more feeling-based and that guides the tune. And a lot of the times those are the feelings I'm engaged in.
So when you're making a track, do you have to be currently experiencing those feelings or recalling something from the past?
It's a combination of both. Sometimes I have memories I'm trying to recall, but usually the better songs come out from a direct response from something where I have a strong feeling.
What's the creative difference when you approach remixes?
Remixes for me are more a fun process, so I like to keep it lighthearted. Usually my remixes tend to be club-oriented and stuff I can play out and not some downer shit at the club. I like it to keep it playful and beat-driven. With, like, the Drake remix, the emotional chords are already there, so it's hard to play with these already established modes of feeling and take it to a different place. That song was already a club banger, but I made it into a type of club banger for me.
The Wedidit group is known as a sort of cult. Are you guys really the weirdo cult the internet claims you to be?
I back that description (laughs). We like to keep a lot of mystery, and when an artist gets signed in we have a secret hazing process and stuff. When people aren't looking we're all wearing chains and sitting and smoking weed by candlelight. Our fans are really involved in our lingo, so it's nice to see a following that's deep-rooted. We kind of like the cult-appeal. There's all these generic ways of approaching making music with your friends, but we're so laid-back we don't really give a shit about that. We banded together and now we're being foolish about that.
You used to do visuals up here in S.F. at 1015 and Public Works. Are you ever going to try to do your own visuals to accompany your sets?
Yeah, absolutely. The goal I'm working toward right now is a hybrid set where it's a blend of visuals and audio being produced live. It's an audio/visual experience, and I'm trying to work an element where the crowd plays a certain role in the show. It's not just me playing my music the entire time, but an exchange. It doesn't typically happen in a club atmosphere. I did do visuals a lot and went to art school where I mostly did video work, so it's always super on my mind. I've kept some separate categories, but now I'm trying to combine my music and visuals.
Are you going to be coming out with anything in the near future?
My first official EP comes out in the next few months on Anticon. I'm super excited about that and we are doing a re-release of my first self-release EP Tide Songs. I'm also working toward a couple collaborations trying to produce for vocalists. The Baths tour is coming up in June, so I'm super excited about that.
You went to high school with Baths. What's the best/worst part of touring with your friends?
Baths and Houses are really relaxed. The worst part will be, well, myself on that tour (laughs). Those guys are really relaxed and I like to party a little bit, so the worst part will probably be me. It's always a good experience to tour with your friends, though, and I've known Will for a long time. When we're on tour I feel like it's a good experience since we haven't really hung out like that. It's a weird full-circle since we played indie shows together when we were 15. But I'd rather tour with my friends than people I don't know. It's all good to me.
Since you used to live in S.F., where do/did you go for burritos?
I know there are a lot of haters, but I like the Cancun downtown. People always vouch for the one in the Mission more, but why can't they fuck with the one downtown? Also Pancho Villa. I miss the food up there so much, I think about it all the time. Prior to seeing to my friends, I eat my favorite food.
Maybe people will bring a burrito the club for you.
Yeah, that would be awesome (laughs).