Interview: Goldfish on the Global State of Dance Music and Ephemeral American EDM

Thursday morning—I stroll into work about forty minutes late, unshowered, and running on three hours of sleep. To say that I looked “disheveled” would’ve been gracious. But rest easy, I knew what I was getting myself into the night before, and it was 100% worth it.  My colleague—Austin Ekaireb—and I were granted a pre-show interview with South African DJ duo, Goldfish. Here’s our story.

A Conversation with Goldfish

Wednesday, April 2nd at 5:30pm: I receive an email from Goldfish’s U.S. tour manager saying Dom and Dave (a.k.a. Goldfish) will have time for a brief interview at the venue—New York City’s Stage 48—at 6:15.

Both Austin and myself are avid Goldfish fans, so the purpose of this interview was crystal-clear to us: give more exposure to these live-instrument-wielding DJs to music fans here in the U.S., find out first-hand why this genre (LDM, or “Live Dance Music”) has not taken off in the United States, and how these two formally trained musicians have meshed their traditional jazz backgrounds with contemporary electronic production to make some of the grooviest music around.

“Hold Tight”

[Tweet “”Everyone jumps on the bandwagon, then no one wants to do it.” – @GoldfishLive on EDM”]

South African Sultry: The Band, The Music

Upon arriving at the aptly named venue, Stage 48 (it’s on 48th street between 10th and 11th avenues), we were warmly greeted by Mr. Will Raymund—the guy in charge of Goldfish’s U.S. touring—and led into an awkwardly vacant 1200-person venue. Next thing I knew, my colleague and I were met with the confident gate of David Poole (who will from this point on be referred to as ‘Dave’) and the near-blinding platinum blond hair of Dominic Peters (who will be referred to as ‘Dom’). Handshakes were now a thing of the past—a relic of our relationship—and it was time to dive in.

Rukkus: Feel free to get technical; how you make a song…what process do you use? Is there a standard? Do you approach a song more as jazz musicians or just go straight to the music production software?

Dave: I think, as with most producers, we generally start with some sort of sample, whatever that sample may be. And even if it’s something that you’ve played and recorded, then turned into a sample where you chop it up and can repeat it and move it around. Dom will play a riff on the piano—play a couple riffs—and record it, then slice out one. You get those core elements that become the essence of the track.

The Cape Town natives are musicians first and producers second; these guys are trained jazz musicians. How would this skillset translate in the world of EDM, though? Sitting just inches to my left, it was clear that Dave’s initial, stoic and somewhat formal persona was becoming lively and excitable, and I doubt it was caused by the post-sound check adrenaline rush.

Rukkus: If you could have, would you have tried to go to DJ school when learning how to produce?

Dom: I wouldn’t really want to change the background we have—ya know, like learning instruments.

Dave: Learning instruments and everything… it’s like you learn to read a book before you read comics. Even if you end up being a comic writer, you still want to be able to read the books. Musically, obviously having the background as musicians, we had a lot to learn—we still have a lot to learn—from the dance floor perspective and the dance music production techniques…all that kind of stuff.

Dom: It’s basically the battle between listening music and dance music.

Comic book literacy aside, we had just started the interview and it felt more like a casual chat with good friends. The borderline ominous energy of the empty 1200-person venue had been expelled and replaced by good-time anticipatory vibes of the show to come later that evening.

Rukkus: Is any of the live stuff improv or all rehearsed?

Dave: The live stuff… I would say probably 50/50… 50/50 improv. Obviously there are lines like “Soundtracks and Comebacks” where there’s this big sax line in the song…

Rukkus: But could you vary it up?

Dom: Sometimes mainly for our own happiness. It could be very boring to just re-create the album every single time.

Dave: And we do try to jam when we’re playing live as well, cause it’s a great forum for coming up with new ideas and new little things that you can turn into songs. We’ll be playing at the end of a song and jamming with some loops and something new will come up. We’ll look at each other and go, “Let’s remember that, don’t forget it.” That’s just one way. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast way that we do every song…there’s probably about—in general—five or six different ways that songs normally come together, but then there’s always a new way.

Dom: Sometimes it starts with a sample, sometimes it starts with a riff that Dave played at a gig, sometimes a chord progression, sometimes it’s another track we’ve heard, or a jazz loop that we don’t necessarily use, but it inspires a similar kind of thing.

“Washing Over Me”

Just after Dom and Dave performed the track “Washing Over Me” late in the set—a track from the duo’s 2012 eponymous album—the two let their chops show, offering up jazzy impromptu back-and-forth solos. It’s amazing to hear that skill on an album, but hearing it live (and unexpectedly) is an entirely different experience. You don’t just hear the music, you absorb the communal energy of nearly one thousand fans who all appreciate the novelty and intricacy of the music being played for them.

Rukkus: A lot of music listeners in the States aren’t really accustomed to hearing a sax along with electronic beats, and I think it kind of confuses them at first.

Dave: For many years [in Europe] people have just been playing sax along to DJs…but it’s always been like a “jammy” karaoke vibe where the saxophone player just pulls in and kind of plays.  Where we are hopefully a few steps above that, the instruments are a part of the song—intrinsically part of the song.  Although we are jamming as well, we are improvising…it’s tied into the music.

“It’s like America just discovered Coca-Cola. It’s sweet, it’s fizzy, and anyone can get into it… but you’re gonna get diabetes if you have too much of it.” – Dom on America’s EDM Craze

The Culture, The Global Scene

Dave: It’s kind of a weird position to be in. We’re like a Top 40 act in South Africa. We get on the main radio stations, Dom gets photographed buying toilet paper in the shops, and that sort of weird shit.

Rukkus: How do you guys like that life?

Dom: That’s why we go on tour! No one knows us, it’s great!

Dave: But it’s also amazing—it’s always amazing talking to fans. [Last night] I was just standing around and some people came up to me…and everyone wants to tell you their story about how or where they first saw us. I always find it very interesting… it’s cool that people do that.

Considering that these guys have done, according to Dom, “zero promotion, other than our Facebook,” it’s pretty remarkable that they’ve been able to sell out multiple shows throughout this current U.S. tour (before NYC, they sold out San Francisco, Dallas, Austin, and Washington, D.C.). But that is what music fans want today—interaction and engagement with their favorite artists. The hyperactive, schizophrenic EDM scene in the United States has completely dismantled that relationship.

Rukkus: I’ve tried to ask myself, ‘which is the niche of dance music that’s not going to cycle out completely?’ To me, it just always comes back to a few people who will always be the best at making it.

Dom: It [EDM] sort of just feels like flavors and fashion though—it’s like the clothing industry: “Oh straps are in this year! Oh deep house is in this year!” Everyone jumps on that bandwagon, it gets totally overloaded, then no one wants to do it. It all goes in cycles… and it’s just universally accessible, in the fact it’s got a strong beat, which is the first thing you react to if you’re a basic listener—strong, big bass sound.  It’s almost like Monsanto genetically modified chocolate or something. There are always different shades of that, and we would maybe go with the whole ‘home cooking’ vibe—the organic side of things.

It was at this point in the interview that Dom’s body language and overall demeanor seemed to change—much like Dave’s attitude shift earlier on. Originally, I pegged him for a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but his change of temperament was noticeable. Now, he was giving off a cool and slightly irreverent “take it or leave it” vibe. On their newest album, Three Second Memory, Dave earnestly stated, “We gave ourselves permission to kind of just do whatever we wanted [on the album]. I think it’s a mix for a very interesting experience—not a one-dimensional ‘Calvin Harris album of fifteen #1s.’”

goldfish dj

Goldfish add many unorthodox elements into the mix.

The performance at Stage 48 was indicative of this refreshing temper. Throughout the show, both musicians would sporadically break into extremely jazzy improv solos and unrehearsed riffs. It was the kind of thing that the typical EDM-head would harshly disapprove of. “Where’s the big bass!? Where’s the 4/4 kickdrum!? I didn’t pay to see some contemporary Charlie Parker revival band!”—Anonymous EDM fan.

Rukkus: Lots of electronic music fans in America like to like what other people are listening to. If you were selling out a show, some “Joe Shmo” who’s never heard of you is probably going to want to buy a ticket. What’s your experience been like with American crowds?

Dom: It’s like America just discovered Coca-Cola. It’s sweet, it’s fizzy, and anyone can get into it, and that’s what EDM has been. But you’re gonna get diabetes if you have too much of it.

Dave: The only thing that kind of strikes me, though, is that EDM is almost perfectly designed for the U.S. It’s super energetic, super “hype-y.” And since the very first time we came to America, the crowds here have always been like that. It’s always amazing playing in America because people are super energetic; they’re enthusiastic and up for it… it does kind of tie-in really well with that style of music.

Rukkus: So, in your opinion, who is doing electronic music ‘the right way’ here in the States? Who’s being the most creative with their music?

Dave: Avicii… he’s a very clever dude. He’s actually quite groundbreaking; if you put him up against all other guys and sounds coming out, his are the most melodic.

Rukkus: It feels like he incorporates some different musical elements and influences like pop, dance, soul. It’s a little more experimental…

Dave: It is a little more experimental, it’s not just a female vocal into a big fuckin’ Afrojack drop. The world is going to get over that, I think, very quickly. Already in Europe—last year in Holland, which is a massive outdoor dance scene—90% of the festivals dumped all the EDM and they all did deep house, all techno. It’s only a matter of time before that happens here.


I’d like to give a great big thank you to my long-time friend and colleague—Austin Ekaireb—for his insight and arranging the interview, and of course, Goldfish.

Article by Josh Cranin
Feature photo credit: Ross Hillier

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