Industry Insiders: Talking to DJ Diego Harispe

For our Oct./Nov. issue’s Industry Insider section, we interviewed professional house music DJ Diego Harispe. In the business for over 10 years, Harispe approaches his craft old-school, mixing CDs and vinyls, and weaving the sound into a story. Currently based in Miami where he’s found DJing at such spots as Nikki Beach and Mynt, Harispe has DJd across South America (Crobar in Buenos Aires) and Europe, where he honors the local cultures’ music. Here, Diego shares what he thinks a DJ should never do, the one song everyone loves, and what he reminds himself in the midst of success.

You’ve DJd all around the globe. What place do you look forward to spinning in the most?
That’s a hard question. I think every city and every country has something special. My favorite place is always the next one to visit, so this week it’s Ibiza. In Ibiza, every dancefloor is filled with different nationalities and cultures, but what is amazing about this magic island is that everybody speaks the same language: MUSIC. 

What’s a DJing-don’t? Something a DJ should NEVER do?
A DJ should never become a DJ for other reasons than the love for music itself. Unhappily, we have lots of supposed “DJs” in the industry  that are there just for exposure, a certain lifestyle, or other vein reasons than the music.

What is one song that people always love?
Gotye’s “Somebody That I Use To Know.” There are so many good remixes of it.

You’ve been a pro for years. What have you learned about success?
It’s not something that you finally reach. Success is being able to do what you love. It’s a forever path, and the key is to have faith in you. No matter how hard things get, with faith and consistency you will always achieve what you want.  

Gotye’s Confusing, Challenging, Scary World

We all know the story by now: Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, aka Wally de Backer, works for years at home. His international presence is pretty quiet. Suddenly, his song “Somebody That I Used To Know” explodes, giving oddball pop a place on the charts again. Now, he’s performing at Radio City Music Hall, riding comfortably on the back of his 2011 LP Making Mirrors. He’s the guy with the unlikely hit on club-obsessed radio playlists, and he’s holding his own.

I caught up with de Backer on the phone to talk touring, writing, and itching to get back in the studio.

Where are you right now?
I’m in Las Vegas right now, at the House of Blues.

Is this your first time in Vegas?
Second time, first time playing a show there.

It’s kind of overwhelming, isn’t it?
Yeah, when I was first here a few years ago, I didn’t really enjoy it much. But we’re playing a show, and it looks good, we’re playing upstairs. Got a bunch of friends in the band and crew, so maybe we’ll head out and see something later. I wish I could see a Cirque du Soleil show while I was here, but no such luck.

At least you can fit in some gambling at the airport.
It’s amazing what kind of poker machines they have there.

You recently took Chairlift on tour. How was that?
It was great, I love that band. They were really fantastic to play with.

How did that come about? Did you invite them?
Yeah, all the guys in the band were really big fans of their second record. We played in Hamburg in Germany on our last tour and they were really lovely and played a great show. So I just asked, and they said yes.

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you on this tour?
I’m not really sure, not very much. Nothing really comes to mind. Been pretty even-keeled. I met Akon last night, that was interesting.

Oh, at the VMAs?
Yeah, I was at the VMAs. It’s pretty likely that you’ll bump into somebody at one of the parties. He was very enthusiastic about my music, which was cool and unexpected.

You know by now that you’re ubiquitous. Being from Australia, was being successful in America a goal for you when you were starting out?
I don’t know if it was a goal. I guess my goal with this record, as far as America was concerned, was just to get the record released. I tried to find an American label for my last album, Like Drawing Blood, and didn’t succeed after trying. I didn’t have a manager or an agent or any connection to give me a platform, so I ended up putting it out myself on iTunes and a few other services. My hope was for it to be coming out and be available on vinyl and CD and just broadly release something. The fact that it’s gone so well has been great.

Growing up and making music over the last ten to twelve years, I’ve never really dreamed about the scale of doing big tours or being onstage in front of thousands of people, as exciting as that can be. I don’t know; I like disappearing into the world of music itself and staying home and experiencing the connections that happen between people when you’re making music, recording records, or playing with my band. I like the audience as well, but I guess I just haven’t dreamed about it, like it’s some kind of goal or that it will satisfy me to get to that point to be able to do that. It’s been incredibly fun, and I’m enjoying it more and more, especially touring America over the past year. It’s almost like I’ve discovered it rather than it having been a thing I’d dreamed of for ages and now it’s coming true.

Would you say that in Australia, the music scene is more insular?
Well, because Australia is so far away from so many places, it’s very expensive for a band to get out. Not even out of Australia, just out of their city.

What’s coming up for you next?
Lots of shows, really. That’s what we’ve done for four months so far, here in the States. I’m going to Europe and playing some places I haven’t been to before, going to Poland and Portugal for the first time. Then we finish with shows back in Australia, which is going to fun. I’ve got some friends who’ve played in the live line-up for the band who are going to be back in the band, I’ve got horns and more backing vocals. I’m just taking it a day at a time on the tour, trying to enjoy different aspects. We spent a few days in LA and I’m really getting to like LA because there are so many interesting people and I’ve met a lot of people I’d like to work with in the future. I’m excited to travel next year and start writing new stuff and see some different places around the world.

Do you write on the road?
I’ve tried in the past, but it’s never been very successful.

Are you one of those people who needs to have a cabin in the woods, a total seclusion kind of thing?
I think it does help. I think it’s also because when you’re on tour and you’re meeting so many people and playing shows, there’s so much input. Especially when you’re enjoying it, it’s great. It’s not even necessarily that it’s overwhelming, just that you need a certain amount of withdrawal or a little bit of boredom, just that space to push myself to create and process a bunch of stuff. There’s just not much space or physical time to do that on the road.

Do you still try to take note of smaller ideas to expand on when you get to settle down?
Here and there. I try to recollect things we might jam with in sound check. I’ll make notes on potential song titles or sketches of lyrics, but it’s pretty infrequent. They’re only little placeholders at best.

What would you say that your writing process is like?
It is, for me, confusing, challenging, scary, and self-defeating. But good, usually, in the end. Going through that process and ending up with anything I find half-decent has always been kind of cathartic.

You can’t be too self-defeating, or you wouldn’t be here.
Yeah. I get asked a lot about being a perfectionist and stuff like that. It doesn’t matter if it hasn’t been tinkered or labored with too studiously. Usually I go in with one idea about what a song is about or what I want the production of a certain recording to evoke sonically for me. If I have that in my mind, [I make it happen], whether it happens quickly or whether it takes months of tinkering with samples and remixing or redoing vocals so that I can realize that feeling that I want from it. That’s kind of my process.

Which also makes it so compelling that you have become popular in America, because we’ve become used to everything being optimized for low-quality mp3s, and then you show up with something much more rich and subtle.
Thank you. Other aspects of my record, they’re still quite lo-fi, that’s because of the sources, the sampling, and I’m really not a great engineer. Francois Tetaz, who mixes my records, sometimes has to do it. I think sometimes the challenge with my stuff is trying to hold true to the vibe of what I record in my own way, which can be quite idiosyncratic and very lo-fi in certain ways. The challenge can be to make that translate when it’s put alongside something like what you described, very highly synthesized, heavily compressed pop music that has a lot of transience and tries to jump out of your speakers and smash you in the face. A lot of contemporary music is produced that way. It’s not like you want to be competitive with that stuff, but sometimes the challenge is making something sound like it’s not completely from a different world and still staying true to the aura of what I produced originally.

There’s also so much diversity to Making Mirrors. Do you try to mix things up live and present different versions of songs?
There are a few arrangements we’ve done on this tour that are new, songs we haven’t played before and really tried to come up with arrangements that suited the live environment. We take the album version as a starting point. I should do more of it with other songs in the future with the live show.

Is there anything specific that you hope people take away from your show?
I guess I hope that they feel like it was an immersive experience, between the visuals and sound, and one that has some twists and turns and surprises and is a moving thing, one that makes you feel like you’ve gone to a lot of different places, maybe somewhere you didn’t expect to go to. Maybe it’s a lot to ask, but I guess that’s what I hope.

Who are some new artists you’re excited about right now?
I really love tUnE-yArDs. I recently downloaded the Divine Fits record, and I really like a few tracks off of that. It’s great, I’m a big fan of Spoon and it’s interesting to hear a different take. Nick Launay, who produced the record, tipped me off to that album, so that’s a good one.

Would you say that you try to keep up with new artists, or stick with older stuff?
I’m always looking out for new stuff. I discover older music [as well]; my drummer Michael’s always good because he’s got a very encyclopedic music collection. You go record shopping with him and he’ll be like, "Yeah dude, have you heard of this record? You’ve got to check it out. 1974, these guys were doing this stuff, that guy was playing in this band and produced this thing and it all connects." He’s very good at contextualizing and giving tips for records I might otherwise pass by. My friends give me a bunch of new music and I’m always looking for new things that I find interesting. There’s a really incredible amount of new music that’s being recorded and released that’s very inspiring.

You mentioned you’re going to Poland and Portugal soon. Where’s the most unusual place you’ve ever played?
We played at this pool party for the KROQ radio station at Coachella Festival earlier this year. It was about 110 degrees and some of the computers from the house desk had a meltdown during the set, and there were girls in bikinis at this pool party and I’m trying to sing these peculiar songs about my home organs, and that felt quite incongruous.

Is there anywhere you haven’t played yet that you would like to go to?
We haven’t been able to go to Scandinavia yet. I have friends in Norway, and I would love to go and play in Oslo. I hope we get to Scandinavia, and I would love to play more broadly in Asia and see more of those countries. Maybe next year, we might go to Singapore and visit China, so that’s really exciting.

It’s interesting that you mention Scandinavia, because some of what you do also has that clean, well-measured quality to it that a lot of music from there has.
Is there any Scandinavian stuff you’re really into?

I just saw this group called Icona Pop, but that’s more straight dance-pop, following in the whole Robyn or Annie kind of thing. Would you say that a lot of Scandinavian artists inspire you?
I’ve liked a bunch of stuff that Robyn and Annie have put out. Others from Scandinavia, I’m trying to think. I really like the Jónsi record, but that’s not technically Scandinavian. Kings of Convenience, from Norway, are one of my favorite bands. Really beautiful band, one of the best live shows I’ve ever been to.

Where do you think you can go from here?
I don’t know, Siberia? Maybe I’ll just go home for a while, that’ll be welcome.

Anything else you’re into right now that you want to shout out, bands or anything else you think is cool?
Jumping into my mind…you mentioned Chairlift before, the other guy supporting us on this tour is a young guy called Jonti, who put out a couple records on Stones Throw, and he is really fantastic, I think. Beautiful producer and sonic experimentalist. I think people might really enjoy listening to his records and what he does with sound and the melting pot of things he brings together. He’s doing some really clever things with his live show, and his records are sterling, so check them out.

Gotye (Hopefully) Puts An End to “Somebody” Videos With His Own Megamix

When it comes to ubiquitous YouTube covers and remakes, only one song could possibly beat “Call Me Maybe,” and that is Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.” The song escalated to fame primarily from all the viral covers found on the Internet, from the work of other established, talented singers (Ingrid Michaelson) to beloved web sensations (The P.S. 22 Choir, Tay Zonday) to a Dutch choir to, ugh, ukuleles, six of them, and of course, the obligatory cynical political version, “Obama That I Used To Know.” At this rate, we half expected the U.S. Water Polo Team to do a half-naked, body-painted lipdub of it in the style of the Swimmers’ take on Carly Rae Jepsen.  

Yesterday, Gotye responded to the overflow of recreations of his hit song by releasing “Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra,” a remix featuring dozens of these covers and spoofs, including some of the most notable entries mentioned above. And, for what it’s worth, it’s actually pretty neat. And, more importantly, will hopefully put a stopper on the output of “Somebody That I Used to Know” covers.

“Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ seemingly taking over their own area of the Internet, I couldn’t resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered,” he writes in the notes accompanying the video. He adds that he did not include any already existing remixes or covers from TV talent shows, and that although he tried to include as many as possible, there are a few notable omissions, including Tay Zonday’s, and “no Internet mashup should be without him.

Here’s That ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ Ukelele Cover That You Wanted

Somebody That I Used To Know covers are still a thing, everyone. So here’s one with six men all playing a ukelele at once. We needed that, right?

 

The six fellas are a band called The Waffle Stompers and for reasons unknown, they are all playing one ukelele at the same time. (Yeah, I don’t get it either.) The cover is kinda "whatever" until you realize The Waffle Stompers are a ska band, so this a cappella stuff is interesting for them. But please, no one tell them about Call Me Maybe, okay?

The ‘Star Wars’/Gotye Spoof You Don’t Have To Be A Nerd To Love

Spoofs of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know reached peak spoof-ability, oh, two months ago. That shouldn’t prevent you from watching the music video for The Star Wars That I Used To Know, a parody of the diminishing quality of George Lucas’ films that even non-nerds will love.

The Kimbra part is played by an adorable white-bearded George Lucas lookalike and goddamn, he is just funny to look at. Nordic-looking hottie Tyson Apostol from Survivor plays Gotye. And with lyrics like "But you didn’t have to change it all / make ’em like they never happened and the fans are nothing" and "Jar Jar was an all-time low / what happened to the Star Wars that I used to know?," you’ll giggle even if you’re not quite sure why Star Wars fans are pissed. (Something about over-reliance on special effects and sub-par actors, I think?)

 

Linkage: Lindsay Signed On To Play Liz, Gotye Upset By ‘Dinky’ Cover

It’s official: Lindsay Lohan has, after months and months of talking about it, signed on the dotted line to play Elizabeth Taylor in Lifetime’s Liz and Dick. "I have always admired and had enormous respect for Elizabeth Taylor," says Lohan. "I am very honored to have been asked to play this role." [LAT]

After spending the weekend with him and her family, Kim Kardashian was spotted out and about with a subtle set of gold and diamond studded earrings that spelled out Kanye West’s initials. [NYDN]

Australian body-paint fanatic Gotye thought that Glee‘s take on his chart-topping "Somebody That I Used To Know" sounded "dinky and wrong." [D+T]

In a title-card at the end of last night’s rerun, The Simpsons‘ producers congratulated their hosts at Fox Network for 25 years on the air. "We love you still," read the shout out, which also included a rather pointed amendment: "This doesn’t include Fox News." Shots, they were fired. [ArtsBeat]

Have you ever wondered how those quippy little news stories end up in your office elevator? Turns out, those "content snacks" are the work of actual humans, writing from suburban Massachusetts with their so-called "metropolitan hats" on. [NYM]

Mod maven Lisa Perry is following-up her Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein projects with a Jeff Koons collection that is inspired by his work in both aesthetic (cupcakes and robot bunnies and shiny materials) and price (very, very expensive). [ArtInfo]

Gotye a.k.a. Wally De Backer Climbing the Charts, Beginning Down Under

"It’s always hard when there’s daylight," says Wally De Backer, referring to an afternoon gig he performed at the sleek Thompson LES hotel in New York for the CMJ Music Marathon. "I couldn’t do any projections, or get the vibe I’m used to playing with." He needn’t worry. The Australian singer and musician, who performs under the name Gotye, is riding high on good vibrations from his single "Somebody That I Used To Know," which also features the New Zealand artist Kimbra. The heartfelt, melodic song about a relationship gone wrong spent eight weeks atop the charts in Australia, and its strangely engaging video – involving plenty of sultry looks and body paint – has clocked more than 31 million views on YouTube as of this writing. It’s the second single off his third studio album, Making Mirrors, which will be released in the U.S. on January 31, and, he hopes, the catalyst for a long and successful career. 

"My hope is that it doesn’t make me a one-hit wonder," he says. "Making Mirrors is pretty varied, so hopefully that introduction will lead people to check out the other things I’m doing." Indeed, the album hops across genres, from the bluesy "Smoke and Mirrors" to "Bronte," an achingly beautiful song about the heart-rending decision to euthanize a beloved pet that recalls Peter Gabriel at his peak. Gotye is currently touring Europe in support of the album, including dates in his native Belgium, where he looks forward to catching up with family he hasn’t seen in years. <

"Somebody That I Used To Know" was a huge viral hit. Were you surprised at how popular it became in such a short time? 
Yeah, it’s true, the way it exploded exceeded any of my expectations. I put out a single in Australia called “Eyes Wide Open” and that did okay on the radio and had views on YouTube, but it didn’t seem to get its own energy the way this song has in the time it’s been out. So it’s been exciting. Thanks to the exposure I get to travel the world for a couple of months, so for that reason alone it’s fantastic.

Are you concerned that your other songs might not have the same broad appeal? 
Oh, it’s cool. I’ve been making music for a while and I’d be fine if it resonates with a broader amount of people than anything else I do.

What inspires you to write music? Are you mainly into rock ‘n’ roll, or do you work with other musical styles? 
It’s a function of the variety of things I listen to, along with the fact that I get bored easily. I have always liked a number of artists that are quite broad and jump from one idea to another. I have followed Depeche Mode from their shiny pop moments early on to their dark, layered, interesting kind of amalgamations of electronica and rock. So I think about all of that when I’m trying to find ways on my record to bring very different musical directions together. I was surprised you mentioned rock ‘n’ roll on the record because although there might be tips of the hat here or there, maybe “Easy Way Out” is the most obvious one, that’s not really what I do.

Is there some kind of narrative thread running through this album?
I tell the story of the various things I’ve been listening to and the various ways I’ve been feeling over a couple of moments or a number of years, and this record took about two years to come together. So on some level it’s become a bit of a linear analogy of how the record has come to be. Most of the tracks at the top were finished first, and up until “I Feel Better” they were all more of a struggle, more about groping and searching and finding a lot of brick walls and feeling a bit like something you’re aspiring to is a bit out of reach. I think that represents the fact that when I started off, I wasn’t really sure of what I was trying to do and I felt like I was failing most of the time. At the end of the record it represents more of the positive feelings I had as I struck upon more peculiar musical directions like “State of the Art” and “Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You,” which are a bit more idiosyncratic and more like me and my musical taste. It’s kind of nice how the record goes from that struggle to some sense of opening up or salvation in the second half.

What were you thinking about when you wrote "State of the Art"?
I was just in a very playful mood, trying to kind of communicate this absurd enthusiasm I have for a particular electronic organ that sits in my room that my folks bought for me a few Christmases ago. And I wanted to explore all the crazy sounds that are on that organ and also tell a story, an analogy for the way I’m fascinated by something so strange, and these novelty sounds on an organ. I use that as a platform for telling a story about how middle aged men can get attached to certain pieces of technology. It gives the younger generation something of a glimpse of a future that existed in our minds at a certain point, a promise that is very hard for younger people to understand because they’ve got new ways of seeing the world. That’s what I was trying to get at with that song.

Other than that organ, what instruments do you play? 
I play drums, started off as a drummer. Drums and vocals are the main things I do, and then keyboards and synthesizers. 

Tell me about the song "Bronte."
Bronte was the name of my friends’ dog. My friends were unsure for a while whether they should step in and put the dog down, because it was very, very old and very sick. Eventually they decided it wasn’t right to not step in and do something, and I was very touched by the way that they went about doing it. They got their three daughters home from primary school and as a family they all sort of let go of this member of their family that they’d grown up with. I found that quite arresting, because I had also lost a pet of my own in the previous few months.

Good luck on your tour.
Thank you.