BangOn!NYC‘s beloved Elements Music & Art Festival brand is returning to its Bronx home at Hunts Point this year for the event’s fifth installment, and this time, they’re gearing up for their biggest outing to date with newly reimagined programming for the summer shakedown. Returning with four elemental-themed stages and New York’s iconic skyline views as the festival backdrop, Elements has tapped Bassnectar with the day’s headlining duties, along with performances locked in from Emancipator, Snakehips, and a Dirtybird Players showcase of Claude VonStroke‘s west coast house heroes.
Taking place this year on August 11, the festival is incorporating a heavier emphasis on emerging technologies and interactive performances, and visual arts. The single day event is bringing over 20 performers to Hunts Point this summer, with some surprises still yet to be revealed. Now, with half a decade of Elements in the books, expect BangOn to pull out all the stops on the the 2018 edition.
Thugfucker were founded on the basis of uplifting peoples’ spirits with ethereal and mystical shades of house and tech. The outfit — now a singular act led by member Greg Oreck — rose through the ranks swiftly, making their mark on the underground world with their dynamic approach to sets and drive to create an ideal atmosphere at all their events. Thugfucker later paired with DJ Tennis to create their prolific Life & Death imprint, which helped break through the likes of Mind Against and Tale Of Us, among others.
Such an aesthetic has made Thugfucker a particularly highly-demanded entity within the transformational festival community. Oreck’s shamanic abilities with melodic manipulation have made him a staple at events like Burning Man and beyond. Come Memorial Day Weekend, he will make his return under his beloved moniker to Elements‘ second edition in Lakewood, Pennsylvannia.
Oreck stopped by the Dancing Astronaut offices ahead of his appearance at the festival to talk Thugfucker’s new beginnings, his sonic ethos, prized Elements memories, and more, in addition to providing us with an enticing mix to boost excitement in returning to Lakewood’s cozy confines.
How would you describe your musical ethos? How did you arrive there over time?
While it’s probably impossible to nail down something so big sounding as a musical ethos it is interesting (for me anyway!) to try and think about how I reached the point where I’m at musically. I was talking with Cosmo D from Nucleus a few years ago and I realized I could specifically draw a line from my friend playing “Jam On It” to me at age 12 to where I’m at now in my relationship to music (and dance music specifically) and it was an amazing moment to be able to talk with him about it directly. We’re all shaped by the various experiences we have throughout our life and I’ve been lucky to have a pretty wide variety of experiences that’s really exposed me to a lot. Too many musical movements and styles to try and make an exhaustive list but my whole life I’ve always found something to love in a wide variety of music and have been absolutely drawn to it so I guess that’s just who I am. One thing seems to always lead to the next but it only really makes sense while looking back at it. I remember calling into the radio DJ’s on the local alternative radio station so regularly when I was 12 years old that they got to know me by name. Who does that at 12? But I can’t imagine having been any other way so perhaps chalk that one up to nature versus nurture.
What draws you to the deeper, dreamier sounds of house and deep tech?
Hmmm, I’m not sure I’d be ready to subscribe to any specific genre labels as those are always moving targets that mean very different things for different people. However I wouldn’t deny that among the wide variety of music I find myself drawn to there is definitely a good sized space for some of the trippier sounds. More than anything I guess I love music that engages your mind and imagination while still making you move your body.. which cuts across a pretty wide swath of music overall and which, at the end of the day, is what dance music is really all about right?
It seems eclecticism is also a big motif of your sets and music. Is this correct? What are your tips for balancing the left field and a crowd who expects the hits?
It really depends on the situation. The crowd, the setting, the time of day, what’s happened before you’ve gotten there, what’s going on around you, what the crowd’s expectations are and what kind of relationship they have to you and each other can all have a big impact on how open people will be. Certain situations you can just walk in and they trust you and they’re really ready to follow you down the rabbit hole — so you can just jump right in and get playful. Other times you really have to work hard to earn that trust. The trust is what’s key.
When you’re throwing your own events you can have a lot of control over those factors and I really love to do that. In other cases I think as much as you can you just try and pick and choose the situations where you play to try to find the kind of environments where it’s possible to give people the best experience possible. Of course sometimes you just walk into a situation that’s a bit more challenging but in the end that’s the job of the DJ, to work with the crowd that’s there and the situation you find yourself in to create something special together. Just because you have an incredibly eclectic music collection put together over millennia or whatever doesn’t ever give you the right to bore people to tears. People come out after a hard week of work or whatever life has thrown at them and they come to dance for a release and an escape from all that. Something to lift them up and give them some proper dancefloor catharsis. They’re not just putting their hard earned money on the table, they’re giving you a big chunk of their time and that’s the most valuable thing any of us have. So you always have to honor that and remember that it’s not just about you, it’s about everyone in that space with you.
You two recently parted ways. What caused the part, and how does this affect the Thugfucker sound?
Really something pretty normal for artists working together so closely in a collaboration for so long. In a partnership there are always going to be certain restrictions because naturally you can only move forward on the things that you both agree on, and these restrictions bring both benefits and limitations. So it’s natural to reach a point where you have stories to tell and things to express outside the bounds of those limitations. Holmar reached that point and expressed his interest to go off and do his own thing and when you reach that point, that’s exactly what you need to do and I support him fully. I know this is going to be a great new adventure for him that’s going to bear some beautiful new fruit.
As far as how it will affect the Thugfucker sound, obviously it will continue to evolve which is something I’m proud to say it has been doing all these years. You always have to remain true to yourself but part of being a DJ comes from a relationship with music that’s always evolving. And I think that goes for all the DJ’s at a certain level, as far as I’ve experienced anyways.
Being out on the road these last few months has been incredibly inspiring and I feel like I’ve found a new flow and a new energy that comes from digging even deeper into music that I might not have had the chance to play before. It’s been super exciting to stretch myself in new ways and it feels like a really growing moment and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Similarly in the studio I’ve been feeling very excited to dig into new ways of working and have been back to working pretty exclusively with hardware lately just because that’s what’s really been inspiring me, not because I think there’s any one right way of doing things. I even started taking some music theory classes recently which I had always very consciously avoided as I felt it would take away some of the spontaneity and intuition from things. I remember hearing that Elvis Costello went back to learn music theory after 20 years on the road and despite some initial misgivings really loved it. For me it’s really been quite the same. I don’t think I could have done it before I already felt comfortable making my own productions as I appreciated having had to learn things my own way and on my own terms. But now it just feels like adding more tools to the toolkit which has been fun and motivating and a nice new challenge. It feels like the right time for it and I’m already very happy with the results!
This isn’t your first Elements festival. What are some fond memories from previous editions?
Last year was my first and it was absolutely stunning. The setting is beautiful and I ran into so many friends there from near and far which already says quite a bit about what they’ve accomplished in terms of the word getting out and people really talking about how special it is and traveling from far and wide to get there. Of course playing in the woods with DJ Three and Doc in the morning last year was amazing just because they’re both just such impeccable DJs and the setting was so beautiful as the sun was starting to shine on everyone through the trees. Talk about an environment where people are really ready and encouraging for you to give your all.. you just can’t help bring your A game in these kind of situations. I’m really looking forward to be back!
What else is coming up next for Thugfucker?
Right now I’m trying to walk the fine line between time on the road and time in the studio. I have some interesting long term plans (1 to 2 years out) which I’m very excited about but not really ready to talk about but in the short term I’ve been more energized to spend time in the studio then I have been in quite a few years so I’m trying to balance my time better so I can spend more time doing that. In addition to new Thugfucker material I’ve also been working on an ambient album with my old friend Eli Janney which has been super fun. Spaced out music for after the after-hours…
I’ve also started raising Alpacas which is a lot more work than I realized… Be sure to follow them on Instagram!
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
French Express conductor Jonas Rathsman is a wizard when it comes to house music of the melodic variety. His love for such sounds runs deep, beginning at a young when the Gothenburg native got introduced to underground electronic whilst organizing hip-hop parties. By 2011, he’d been fully broken into the international scene, having made his name over singles like “Tobaggo” and “Love Is My Middle Name.”
Rathsman’s organic, heartfelt approach to music is more than working for him. He was named “Future Star of 2013” by Pete Tong on Radio 1, and has since climbed to the upper echelons of the house and tech realm with consistently high quality releases on labels like Crosstown Rebels and Diynamic.
His future is only looking brighter as he continues to grow into himself not just as an artist, but almost a “jack of all trades” type of participant in the electronic music industry. Having created his ELEMENTS brand initially as a mix series, it’s now grown into a full-on label, as well as a name for one-off parties around the concept that have been met with success.
The Swedish icon graciously provided Dancing Astronaut some insight into his career explosion and ELEMENT’s growth ahead of the newest podcast episode’s release.
You’ve always had a tendency to enjoy music that is more on the melodic side; whether soulful, piano house or melodically-infused tech. What has drawn you to this type of music in particular, and would you agree that these sounds are beginning to come “back into fashion?”
I feel like right now it’s very much about banging techno, at least in Sweden it is. For me, I need something with some sort of melody – uplifting or dark, it doesn’t matter. I can’t really listen to rolling, generic tech-house for more than a few hours as it doesn’t really speak to me. I guess I’m an emotional person and I need to have emotional music to be satisfied.
Innervisions is one label that I think is doing everything right and have been doing so for a long time. Every track on the label has its place – they worked out a winning recipe which is the perfect balance between romantic techno and emotional house. They’ve released so many amazing classics like Frankey & Sandrino’s “Acamar” or the Âme remix of “Howling”, priceless!
Tell us about your ELEMENTS mix series – did you start that up as a way to almost force yourself to seek new music from unexpected places? Or have you always had aspirations to create a consistent mix show?
I’ve always enjoyed making mix tapes. It’s tough and challenging, but it’s a really good way to keep you updated on new music; it’s easy to be lazy and just keep playing the same tracks over and over (this has never worked for me).
I wanted to make an ongoing mix series for a long time, it just didn’t work while having really young kids and touring – any spare time I had I want to spend with my family. Now that the kids are a bit older, I have some more time on my hands. About 18 months ago it was a good time to launch the ELEMENTS series and I wanted to do something that was an extension of my personality in a way. We are surrounded by so much nature here in Sweden, and I’ve always felt a connection to the natural surroundings – I miss that when I am away in big cities! So this is where the name ELEMENTS came from.
It’s really gone above and beyond my expectations as I get so much new music sent to me now! I listen to everything that is sent, so much of it is really amazing – it’s a really nice way to come across new talent. A lot of the artists who have submitted their tracks I’ve ended up signing on the label and because of that they keep coming back and sending me more material. I really feel like these newcomers who understand my family vision for ELEMENTS.
One guy that I’m really excited about is Mario Bianco that I recently signed and another is Mimram. They both make incredible music and will be featured in the next mix – I’m really excited about their stuff.
Where are your favorite places to find the best new music?
A lot comes from demos and promos, but I also buy a lot of music. I use WhatPeoplePlay a lot. Their staff picks are usually really good and it just suits me better. I also often reach out to DJ friends to see if they have anything fresh they’d like to share and that usually works quite well.
Speaking of ELEMENTS, you also launched your own record label by the same name. What was the moment that made you realize it was time to venture into this territory? What are some of the obstacles that have come as a new label owner, and how have you overcome them thus far?
Since day 1 I’ve wanted to turn the mix series ELEMENTS into a label, but I wanted to build the brand organically. We decided to launch it as a mix series at first and let people get to know the sound so that the connection with the releases would feel more natural.
People started to send us music for the mix series that was unsigned, and there was just so much good music that I really felt a need to start the label. When Kincaid & Sinal sent me “Long-Haul Flight Bathroom Romance Scene”, I knew it was time, it just had to be the first release on the label that didn’t have my name on it! My management team also provide a promotional service so it’s very easy for me to work with them in-house as they do all of the promotion for the label on top of managing me. It is really exciting what we can do for artists through the label with that in place. I want to help make a difference to artists careers and I feel that we can do that through the label, mix series and events. It was great to see Kincaid & Sinal get to number one on Beatport with their release – it is a testament to the quality of the music.
Setting up a label does come with its challenges though, as I feel it takes a lot of releases to become that ‘established’ label that every artist wants to release on. It’s up to us to do our work on the records and build it organically. I am really excited about what is to come with ELEMENTS.
Aside from your own lovely label, what are some other up-and-coming labels we should keep our eyes on?
There are a few for sure. Kindisch, MoBlack and Rise to name a few. A label that keeps coming back in my mixes is Oleeva – there is probably one track from each series that comes from that label as they are doing amazing stuff at the moment.
What does a day in the life of Jonas Rathsman look like? How do you balance out your label, mix series, studio time, and all your increasing gigs?
It is tough at times, I have to be honest. I have two boys aged eight and ten, so first and foremost I am a father and I really try to spend as much time with them as possible. The oldest one likes to sing, and the younger one likes to play bongos on pretty much everything. My youngest also wants a banjo and I was like ‘what?!’ I will buy him a banjo one day, probably when he’s grown up and moved out! They are so much fun at this age though,we’re best friends!
As I said, number one priority is always my family, so the day revolves around them really. I get up at 6:30am to make breakfast and take the boys to school. I try to keep my working day in the studio to 9am-5pm – I can’t be in the studio 24/7 and stay up all night, it just doesn’t work! I like to be back at home in time to cook in the evening, and I help the boys with their homework or whatever needs to be done, so my working day is actually quite short.
Between the hours of 9-5, time flies by so fast so it can be hard to find time to finish music. During these hours I have to make time for management talks and label planning as we speak regularly on planning the releases and what’s happening with my career. Plus, for the last few months I have been building a new studio space, which is finally nearly finished! If you follow me on Instagram, then you might have already seen some pictures and videos, but I’ll share something properly once it is done. The day is just way too short for me, but I try to make the most of it. I make sure that I stick to deadlines and get the mixes, label tasks and my own music done within them.
I also don’t like to be on tour for too long, so I try to make sure I’m never away for more than ten days in a row because I miss my family and of course they want me back home. It might sound strange, as a large part of my career is touring, but I try not to take gigs every weekend as I like to also spend time with the kids on the weekends. I always feel a greater sense of balance when I am at home more, and that helps to drive everything else.
Moscow duo, VOLAC, are known for producing deep, textured cuts featuring samples of rhythmic, otherworldly undertones. From collaborating with Destructo, to releasing on major house labels like Tchami’s Confession and CUFF, the Russian pair have been garnering support for their place in the darker realm of house spectrum.
“We’re fknn excited to drop our banger ‘Wait A Minute’ on Night Bass, it’s been getting a ton of love out on the road in Australia and in the States,” VOLAC told Dancing Astronaut. “We’ve got tickets to giveaway for Elements Festival too, if you’re lucky enough to win them, you’ll def hear ‘Wait A Minute’ there too, fa sho!”
VOLAC has also announced that ticket giveaway winners will get to see the duo perform at Elements Festival, with a killer package including a 2-DAY VIP Pass for Saturday and Sunday that includes General Admission Entry to the Festival plus expedited VIP entry, main stage VIP lounge, and bar.
Full Tour Dates: 08.03 – EOS Lounge, Santa Barbara CA 08.04 – Maya Day & Nightclub, Scottsdale AZ 08.05 – Bang Bang, San Diego CA 08.06 – HARD Fest, Fontana CA 08.08 – TBA 08.09 – La Cave, Orange County LA 08.10 – Ethics Music Lounge, Austin TX 08.11 – The Mid, Chicago IL 08.12 – Flash, Washington DC 08.13 – Elements Festival, New York NY
Elements festival has become an integral part of New York City’s party landscape over its eight years of existence, building a reputation for putting together an enchanting festival experience populated by world-class musical and artistic talent. This year, Elements has big news to share: they’ll be moving to Northeast Pennsylvania and entering into the camping festival realm in the process.
Event producers BangOn! have revealed the first phase of artists for the 2017 iteration’s lineup, promising a weekend of enticing music to complement the festival’s other attractions, which include games and live art among “open fields, hidden forests, green valleys, and a sparkling lake.” Justin Jay, Claptone, and Claude VonStroke are among the affair’s headliners. Lee Burridge will also be contributing a live sunrise set complete with fireworks, according to Elements’ announcement.