Swedish house producer John Dahlbäck signed his first record deal at age fifteen comprised of tracks he made on his father’s Atari computer. Since then, he’s released six albums under his own name as well as over 100 singles and EPs. In 2010, Dahlbäck created Mutants Records to showcase the best in progressive house. His weekly mixes on Mutants Radio Show are broadcast on over 25 stations around the world.
I met up with John at Ink 48 in Midtown Manhattan before his three hour set at Space. He was happy to be back in the Big Apple, saying NYC would be his top choice if he couldn’t live in Sweden. He spoke fondly of 90s sitcom Frasier and America’s kandi kids, but said he prefers a simple Swiss cheese and butter sandwich to the overloaded sandwiches he’s encountered in the States. Then we got down to business.
When did you start producing music?
John Dahlback: I started at age twelve. I was making hip-hop, just as a fun thing, but it was really bad.
Were you rapping?
Can you give us a sample?
No. It was horrible. I used to write lyrics and then I’d put my mom’s tape recorder by the speaker and I’d lie down on the floor and rap.
What sort of things would you rap about?
School, girls, there are not very many problems when you’re that age so you have to make things up. I borrowed things from American gangster rap too.
And what got you into house music?
My cousin Jesper gave my dad his album ‘Stockholm’ and he played it to me. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t like it at all at first. It was very deep house. If you drive through a city at night, that’s what it sounded like.
But I kept listening to it and I started to really like it. Plus, I didn’t have to rap on it, so I started making house music. I was using my dad’s old Atari computer with a program called Cubase, which I still use. At that time, I didn’t understand the program, so I didn’t know how to duplicate. On a seven minute house track I had to play the kickdrum for seven minutes and then the high end for seven minutes. I couldn’t make a loop. But I figured that out!
And when did you start DJing?
John Dalhback: I started DJing when I was seventeen. Before, I wasn’t going to parties because I always had a girlfriend. I was just producing. The first couple shows were terrible. The very first in Sweden was at this huge club. I didn’t know what to do so I got a singer, Melo, two people playing live congas. I couldn’t actually DJ at the time, so I pretended to pick the songs. It was pretty over the top.
Then I went to Rotterdam. It was my first time going abroad without my parents and it felt like I was going to war. I was so emotional. Going through security, I was crying and my mom was just standing there waving. At the club, it was going pretty well. There was this girl in the back of the room in this white dress and she was looking at me. I was like, “Wow, does this happen every time?” Then when I was done, she came closer to me and I realized that she was really old. She must have been sixty years old. She opened her mouth and I could smell the vodka. I was just like, “This is awful.” So I went home, but I decided to continue for some reason.
Haha it gets better huh? Now you’ve played TomorrowWorld –
John Dahlback: Yes! TomorrowWorld was funny cuz I played with Laidback Luke and he had a costume party called Super Me and You. You had to dress like a superhero. So I went to the store in Sweden and bought a one-piece, one of those tighter ones. It was a Swedish flag. I looked absurd. But then Benny Bennasi went as Iron Man and his suit was very expensive. He looked like a real robot.
You’ve had a bunch of names…
John Dahlback: Its Hug, Huggotron, Caliber, Jetboy, it’s Johnny Future…This was during a time we were releasing on vinyls and when you’d send out promos it was sent by the distributor. You wouldn’t personally send them, so you could pick a random name and see if people would use it without knowing who it is.
I tried making minimal house as Kaliber and Sven Vath and Luciano and those guys picked it up without knowing who was behind it. They would never play my music because it was too “commercial and cheesy”, but they would play Kaliber’s music.
Nice move! I’ve been enjoying your radio show Mutants Radio. Where do you go to find new music for it?
John Dahlback: It’s a mess. I can’t do just the Top 100, because I need to give people something else. So I need to look through other people’s charts or search through Beatport and promos. It’s different because it starts off slow, more deep and tech-house and goes into more hysterical, regular stuff in the end. It takes about three hours to find the music and one hour to mix it. In that time I could make another track! Sometimes, I have other artists mix. There’s one guy named David Wong, he’s a close friend and he’s also on the label, then there’s the Lunde Bros.
I just watched the music video for Raven, how did that happen?
John Dahlback: I was watching old rave documentaries on Youtube and I thought it would be funny since it was called Raven, if the actual raven would turn people into ravers. It’s a ridiculous idea.
How is rave culture different in the States?
John Dahlback: Well, I think Americans get more excited about the music still. They dance like crazy and once..
Some kids at a show gave me a huge plastic pearler of my face! They just tossed it over the booth like a pizza!
Are you excited to play Space tonight?
John Dahlback: Yea! I prefer to play nightclubs. Festivals are just one hour to showcase yourself so everyone’s playing their biggest songs. Tonight will be different because I can play longer and not just bangers from beginning to end. I can start slower and have more time to develop the set. I’m going to mix in Sick Individuals, Tujamo, and Deniz Koyu. I think he’s very underrated.