Bäck to the Future

Swedish DJ and producer John Dahlbäck likes it catchy, weird and cool

There’s more to Swedish electronic music than just the House Mafia. DJ/producer John Dahlbäck has been in the game for about a decade, and now makes Las Vegas a regular tour stop, thanks to his landing on the roster of residents at Wynn—and to our city changing its tune. “I remember Vegas three, four years ago was shit,” says Dahlbäck of Las Vegas’ historical preference for Top 40 mash-ups. “Now it’s good.” Here’s more about the man who earned his first record contract at age 15; see him June 27 at Surrender.

Your family is very musical, so it seems only natural that you’d get into the business. How have they influenced you?

My dad is a drummer in an old progressive-rock band. And also jazz. My mom is a singer, and they always listened to great music, everything from John Coltrane—who I’m named after—to South American Elis Regina and disco. My dad’s progressive-rock band was how it sounded in the ’70s—there were no vocals, it was just like a progressive track for seven minutes, just one melody. It’s sort of the same now. So I had a lot of influence from that.

Does your mother still sing, and have you ever thought about having her do vocals on one of your tracks?

Yes, she does. But I don’t want to involve family. In case I don’t like it, I wouldn’t want to make it awkward!

What do they think about your involvement with electronic music?

They think it’s fun. They don’t get it. They can’t understand if I’m on a stage and there are 50,000 people. But they like the music. They think it’s very creative and the future.

Do you think it’s important for a producer to have a strong music background?

I can hear if a producer doesn’t have it. You can hear if they have the same sort of chord progressions or melodies, then they haven’t played piano for 10 years. I think it’s important because everyone wants to produce house music now. And the ones who really can play piano, they stand out to me.

You and your cousin, Jasper, have co-produced in the past. Do you have anything in the works, or is it rare that you’re able to work together?

It’s very rare. We don’t find time to sit together and do something.

You’ve got two record labels, Pickadoll and Mutants. What’s the difference?

I actually stopped with Pickadoll. I’m only doing Mutants now, which I’m really happy about. I’ve developed the brand, and we’ve got the podcasts running now. It’s doing great.

What do you keep an ear out for if you are going to put something on your label?

Pure, original music. I run it with my manager. We get so many demos all the time. Most of them sound like bad copies of Avicii and Swedish House Mafia. I’m looking for something that’s catchy, but still weird and cool.

Is there anything weird and cool about Las Vegas that fascinates you?

I’m not a fan [of country music], but I’m so interested in Garth [Brooks]. I don’t know what it is! He’s not famous at all in Sweden. If he was booked in Sweden, no one would go and see him. And here, he’s the biggest thing. It is really fascinating. It’s just: Garth. It’s not a last name, it’s just nothing, it’s just … Garth.

What are the pros and cons of EDM’s growing popularity?

Something I don’t like [that] it’s so popular now. I wish the biggest DJs would take the chance and try to educate the people a little bit—not just play what they’ve heard 20 times already that day. They have the chance to really go, “Listen to this!” And they don’t. It frustrates me. Now when it’s so popular, it feels like everyone is just getting involved to get money. I have musical artists asking me for remixes who really shouldn’t even be asking about that. Just because it’s popular, everyone shouldn’t be doing it.

How do you feel about how the culture is affected?

Crowd-wise in the U.S., I think is great. The kids have so much energy, and they like the music. What’s great about the U.S. is that I can play an unreleased track and people go nuts if it’s good. The difference is in Europe, people have had DJs come in every weekend for the past 20 years. So everyone is bored in Europe now. They always stand still.

Do you think that might eventually happen in the U.S.?

It just started here, I guess. It could take forever. Maybe it’s because it’s commercial now—the scene. More people go out and listen to it. But no one knows how it’s going to sound in a year or two. So I don’t know if the crowd will be as massive as it is right now.

At home in your studio, do you have any favorite random items?

I have a big Storm Trooper figure in my studio—which is very funny because I’ve never seen one Star Wars movie.

Me neither! And everyone nags on me about it!

Yeah, they get upset! So I’m, like “OK, let’s watch it.” Then they go, “Actually I don’t want you to see it because you would just think it’s so bad now.”

What are the key components to creating a John Dahlbäck track?

First, I need the beat to be as perfect as possible. It needs to be flawless. The kick drum needs to be the perfect shape. Good amount of bass on top. And then I always need something that’s a bit emotional. Something so I can go to myself and be like, “Actually I’m kind of musical. I can [make] beautiful music.” So I take a bit of that. It just needs to have that energy. I don’t like tracks that kind of have no funk. I love deep house, but it needs to have a certain funk.

You’re not a drinker. Is that difficult in a party industry?

No. To me if the music is there, I don’t need to get drunk. I can just enjoy.