Last weekend I sat down with Australian DJ and Producer Hook N Sling, whose newest remix of Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence is blowing up in clubs across the country. After rescuing me in a golf cart after his Friday afternoon set, we had a few minutes to talk about why he loves people watching at concerts and why he feels like an Australian Shepard at music festivals.
Megan: So I’ve got Hook N Sling here with me, a DJ and Producer from Sydney, who’s blowing up and getting big here in the states.
Hook N Sling: Wait, is this an audio interview?
M: No, I don’t know why I introduced it like that. (Laughs) That was weird.
HnS: (Laughs) Yeah, from Sydney, and I’ve since moved to LA.
M: 2012, right?
HnS: Yeah, that’s right.
M: So what spurred your move?
HnS: You know, actually I did Electric Zoo and I played with Nervo, we did a little back to back near the end of their set in 2012, and that was when I had just moved here. So that was kind of around the time I did that. The move happened because I suppose I was getting itchy feet in Australia. Everything was great but I wanted to just see what I could do over here and start at a different level over here and see where that took me. And to be honest, I came over to the states and I struggled to get the same quality gigs I was getting in Australia. I had to work hard and establish a name for myself, but it was good.
M: When you first got to LA, what was your strategy for building a name? Were you trying to play small clubs or jump right into a festival circuit?
HnS: We didn’t really have a strategy. (Laughs) We wanted to release records on good labels. That happened with Reason in 2012. That came out on Spinnin. There was another one before that which came out on Spinnin too, where Jonathan Evermore did the vocals. We focused more on getting in the right circles. In Australia, I had a record deal, but it was very constrictive. I couldn’t release on other labels. So as soon as I came over here, I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do and pick my marks.
M: You’ve got some hot remixes right now. I know you have the Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence track that’s doing really well. How do you decide which artists you want to work with?
HnS: Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you kinda have to go for it. Sometimes you have to hunt for the mixes you want. What I mean by lucky is sometimes something might come into your inbox and you might be like, “Oh wow, I really like this record. Can I shoot a message to your manager, I’d like to remix it.” But sometimes it’s already been done.
M: It has to be pretty competitive too, because I’m sure you have artists that everyone wants to remix.
HnS: It’s really hard. So “lucky”, in the sense that you come across a great record that you think you can do something great with, and then a lot of records work the other way, where they send it to me or my manager, and to be honest, I listen to everything I get sent because it could be a great vocal or a great piece of music.
M: Have any of your remixes surprised you by hitting much harder than you would have expected?
HnS: Yeah, actually the Ultraviolence remix surprised me because the vocal is so somber, and it’s about violence essentially.
M: Well it’s always like that with Lana Del Rey, the Sunshine Queen.
HnS: (Laughs) I know. I know. It ain’t no “hands in the air!” moment, BUT that surprisingly transformed into a dance floor record really quite well. That was a mix that came together really quick. I wrote the music for it, and pretty much had the idea down in about a day and I knew that I captured something by writing the new music for it. Normally, when things take too long, it’s not a good idea to pursue them.
M: Yeah, I suppose it could be telling of something. So you’ve got some new tracks coming out this fall. Is this part of an EP or are these just singles?
HnS: So the next thing that’s coming out, which I can probably announce now, is a new single on Dawn which is part of Spinnin’ which is coming in November then I’ve got a new collaboration with Ned Shepard and Sultan which I played today and that went down really well.
M: That must have felt really good to see the crowd getting it!
HnS: Oh yeah, it was the first time I played it!
M: Oh wow! You saved it for EZoo. That’s awesome. Are you playing more clubs than festivals, and how do you vibe differently in those atmospheres?
HnS: Definitely more clubs. Club wise I suppose you play a little bit differently. you’re in a closed space and you have a bit more of a captive audience. In a festival setting, this is my perception from DJing, is that you’re kind of trying to get people in. I’m trying to work hard to make sure that what I’m doing is sounding really great.
M: You’re like an Australian Shepard.
HnS: (Laughs) Oh my god! I totally am. (Laughs) I have an Australian Shepard.
M: Oh my god, you do? I love them.
HnS: The irony is like, amazing, I know. We’re both Australian.
M: Get over it. WE GET IT!
HnS: (Laughs) Yeah, totally. I should have gotten an Irish Setter or something.
Playing outside is just much more intense. There’s a lot going on. It’s a very different vibe. Like coming off that stage I feel really buzzy, because it’s just a very intense experience.
M: And the crowd was really feeling it too!
HnS: Yeah, they were weren’t they?
M: It was a great crowd! We were in the back next to this weird dude with a lollipop wearing all leather. He was killin’ it. He looked like he was 48-years-old, and was just having the best time.
HnS: (Laughs) Really? I love that.
M: Do you get to meet a lot of your fans?
HnS: I do! Today was quite a mix. With clubbing, I like getting to meet the fans. A lot of DJs don’t, but I really like to get the feedback face to face. At festivals I don’t get to meet as many. I like making that connection.
M: I’ve asked a lot of promoters and artists lately about how they feel having their name attached to electronic music when the current media climate is focusing on negative stigmas. How do you feel about having your name attached to a genre that’s under fire right now?
HnS: I haven’t thought about it until you said it just then.
M: Oops. I’m sorry.
HnS: (Laughs) That’s cool. I guess I don’t see my name attached to it as much as I see the festival brands and club owners being under fire. I don’t think it has anything to do with the DJs or the producers themselves.
M: This isn’t you, but recently there was an Avicii concert in Boston where I think around 50 kids were hospitalized. This seems to happen a lot at his shows specifically, so I have to wonder if it affects him. Obviously, he’s just trying to play a good show.
HnS: Yeah. I put 100 percent of the responsibility on the promoters and venue because they know exactly what’s going on. They are the ones making the money, and that’s where the money should go, toward giving people a safe place to party.
M: How do the festival and club scenes differ in the States compared to Australia?
HnS: The festivals are quite similar, but when it comes to clubbing there’s a different sound happening for sure. You’ve heard of the Melbourne Bound sound? Guys like What So Not, Flume, Peking Duck – they’re pushing a new sound that’s really amazing. It’s steppy, bass music with broken beats. The production is quite pitchy, and you sometimes have the warped vocals. What So Not just did the Mothership Tour with Skrillex, so that sound is starting to cross over here as well.
M: So what’s next for you? Are you hitting more festivals, or just keeping it in the studio?
HnS: (Laughs) I can’t even think of my schedule for later in the year. I’m going to Tokyo next week! I’m doing a festival in China with Afrojack and Axwell ^ Ingrosso, and doing Osaka with Avicii. I’m doing a bunch of shows in Asia.
M: Is that new territory for you?
HnS: Yeah, I’ve never played Japan before.
M: That’s gotta be wild. I’ve heard the nightlife in Tokyo is out of control. And I’ve heard Hong Kong is supposed to be INSANE.
HnS: Yeah it’s gonna be great! I’ve heard that about Tokyo too. I’m also playing Macau which is like the Vegas of Hong Kong.
M: I want to go but I’m afraid I’ll never make it back. I’ll just scream, “I’M LIVING HERE FOREVER!”
HnS: I tell people that half the fun of DJing is crowd watching. I’m in the perfect position to watch the crazy stuff that’s going on down there. And in Macau to 5,000 Asian Holiday goers just having a great time on an island off the coast, like, damn! I love to be a fly on the wall for that kind of thing! DJing is just a bonus. (Laughs)
M: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in a crowd?
HnS: I’ve seen a bit of nudity.
M: (Laughs) Just a bit? I think it’s a contest for people to see how little they can wear to these things.
HnS: (Laughs) Oh god, yeah. What else have I seen? You’re putting me on the spot, making me think of crazy shit. I’ve seen people climb the craziest structures. The audience can’t see what I can see. I swear I saw a guy climbing scaffolding 40 meters up in the air, and I’m like, does anyone else know what this guy is doing? I’m DJing so I can see it all. Crazy stuff like that.
M: At these things, people immediately turn into 4-year-olds. It’s really just been the last few years since I’ve gotten into EDM, and I feel like I went from being a responsible adult into (unintelligible alien noise).
HnS: (Laughs) You go climb that tree.
M: I’m not climbing shit. That’s a death wish for me. I’m the clumsiest person in the world.
Anything you want to say to the audience of Electric Zoo, or any other closing thoughts?
HnS: I want to say thank you! That was my first EZoo show really, because last time was just back-to-back with Nervo for 15-minutes, and I have to say I love New York too. This is awesome to play here and be just five minutes from Manhattan!
M: Thank you so much for sitting with me, and I guess I’ve just got to let you get back to your cool DJ life now.