Berlin-based DJ Claptone is to the music world what Banksy is to the art world. Nobody really knows the true identity of the man beneath the Venetian gold beak, and not much is known about him besides his uncanny ability to transfix audiences across the globe with his charm on the turntables.
Claptone first emerged in 2011 with a series of digital tracks with recognisable samples, like ‘Light My Fire’ and Wu-Tang’s ‘C.R.E.A.M’ melody. 2015 saw the release of his debut album, Charmer, and he has a new album, Fantast, due for release next month. Between studio sessions, the mysterious producer has been wowing crowds around the world, and he’s back in Australia for Groovin The Moo, bringing with him a special treat for fans in the form of his Masquerade events in the capitals.
Music Feeds caught up with the man behind the golden mask as he warmed up for his first GTM appearance.
Music Feeds: Is there anything you’d particularly like to experience on this visit? I know you’ll be in Australia for quite a while.
Claptone: Well yeah, I mean the exciting thing about this tour that I play is that it takes me to places that I have not been before, which is great because whenever I’ve toured Australia it was Sydney and Melbourne. Then on some occasions Brisbane and Perth, and that’s about it basically, you know, so I’m happy to be able to see some other towns and cities on this tour. On top of that, I bring my very own event, The Masquerade, to these main cities that I’ve played before – Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney – so I’m super happy and super excited about being able to bring my own event to these cities.
MF: I’m sure it’s quite a different experience for yourself and the crowd compared to the festivals – how will it differ to your festival set?
Claptone: Well first of all the festival has me playing 40 minutes, which for a DJ is almost punishment (laughs) because you cannot build a good vibe within 40 minutes. So on my own events I play an extended set, and I have the chance to really play for over two hours – up to three – and to really build it up and to give the people a but of a journey. Which is just impossible at many festivals, I’m not just blaming this one, but at many of the festivals the slots for DJs are just not big enough to be able to take people on a real journey.
MF: Well you have played a stack of festivals around the world, including Coachella and Tomorrowland – and here you are now, playing a regional touring festival in Australia. Tell me how your audiences differ around the world?
Claptone: Hard to say how, but they do differ. Because I always just talk to them through music, so I can only perceive if they’re happy and you know, if they’re into it and going off or if they don’t. Much more talking I’m not able to do while I’m DJing for them, but I enjoy those moments when I feel connected to people through music, and when I see that they want to have a great time, and they appreciate me trying to give them a great time.
MF: What happens if you’re playing to a huge crowd and you feel like they’re not really getting into it? Isn’t that your worst nightmare as a DJ?
Claptone: Well I try to feel them out. As a good DJ you should kind of have an open eye on how exactly they react to each track and be flexible within your margins, I’d say. I mean there is a musical style to what I do, and I cannot change into hip hop suddenly, but I am flexible within my style of music, and that’s what a DJ should be.
MF: Now a lot of your interviews seem to start by asking about your identity and why you wear a mask professionally – was it a conscious decision to hide your identity before you began making music altogether, or was that just when you became Claptone?
Claptone: That was when I became Claptone. I mean, it’s not really about hiding my identity – I mean, that’s a side effect – but it’s more like creating a new identity. It’s more about being in charge of your identity and trying to not have people decide what you are but you decide what you are. And also just being able to exclude a gossipy private factor from everything that is your music and everything you want to be within your music.
MF: Did you take the inspiration from anyone? I mean I know that Sia, who’s originally from Adelaide, decided to stop showing her face in public when she took off in America so she wouldn’t get papped as much; but a number of people in the EDM world seem to do it for the hell of it?
Claptone: Yeah, she didn’t inspired me, though I love what she does. I think within the pop world she’s one of the few outstanding characters, and I really admire her talent. For the inspiration it would be probably more like inspiration within the pop music realm; everybody from Bowie who played with his character and decided who he is, who he’s going to be and who he will be for the next album; to Daft Punk, Devo… I’d say [I’m inspired by] people that have a more artistic approach to their music. Like a more holistic idea of a musical image that also includes art and vision and allows to tell a story and develop a character that makes the music, which is part of the creative process with these people. That’s what I admired and always liked.
Contrasting it with the Bruce Springsteen approach, I would call it – being as true and authentic as you are, be always yourself, the kind of traditional rock approach. Which for me is lying to the people, basically, because there’s also an image it’s just well hidden with the worker who is sweating on stage and giving it all to the people, you know. It performs a theatrical play, the Bruce Springsteen thing, yet it pretends to be authentic. I don’t think authenticity has anything to do with music, and people shouldn’t be lied to. There’s just no authenticity in the way they try to sell it, you know?
MF: Is there any particular reason you chose the Venetian gold beaked mask to represent your persona?
Claptone: Not particularly. It was given to me and I thought it fit well with the music, and that’s why I took it on – and never took it off (laughs).
MF: Haha well it suits you! So tell me a little bit about the album you have coming out soon.
Claptone: Yeah, well I mean it’s the second album that I’ve done, they first album was Charmer, and it kind of introduced my persona, you know – getting the people under my spell, in my personal charming way, as a kind of a mystic character that I was. I would say Fantast is more of a journey into nature. An escapist album to a certain degree, that, you know, turns its back on the harsh political and social reality and just goes out into nature and allows me to dream again but also allows the listener to dream again, and to be bewitched to a certain degree.
It’s very colourful, very inspiring, very dreamy and beautiful. The idea was basically just to make a step forward and make a step out of the urban area, basically, where it’s crowded and where you can’t escape the daily news – to dream your own world up, which is kind of fantastic to a certain degree.
MF: So would you say it’s more mystical than the first album?
Claptone: Well the first album was mystical too… it’s not so much about me as a mystical persona any more, it’s more about getting out into nature, into the forests, and being open to see things that might not be there. Like to lay on the grass and start dreaming. It’s more like that.
MF: You’ve got some pretty amazing collaborations. Were there any personal faves on there?
Claptone: I mean obviously two of the favourites are the people that I worked with on the last album already – that is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Nathan Nicholson from The Boxer Rebellion – because the collaborations for my first album worked out so well I wrote stuff with them again and I’m very happy about how things turned out. But also I was very happy to be able to work with people like Kele (Okereke) from Bloc Party. There’s just a lot of individual characters in music that I admire and I’m happy to be able to work with them on that album, because on the other hand there’s a lot of generic stuff, and there’s a lot of generic pop music out there, and what I’ve always been intrigued by is the individual charismatic characters that bring something different to house music or pop music or just indie music, you know, and there’s a lot of these people on my album.
MF: Well obviously as a producer you would work a lot with other people’s music doing remixes as well as creating your original work – what kind of creative release do you have when you’re remixing someone’s work? Can you just go anywhere with it?
Claptone: I can within the boundaries of my musical style and what I feel my musical path is. I can do anything, but of course with a remix my main goal is to make it more danceable so I can play it as a DJ in a club, whereas with my own album I extended my musical vision and took it a little bit away from the club and focused it more on vocals and also changed the tempo.
You know, for a remix I get hired to bring a song that is already great to the floor, I can change it up and take the chorus out if I want, but the label or the artist that wants me to remix it, they want to hear it in Ibiza, basically (laughs).
Claptone kicks off his Australian Masquerade Ball national tour in Sydney tonight. Also touring with Groovin The Moo.