Interview: Claptone – The Mystery Behind The Mask
About a year ago I fell fully down the rabbit hole that is house music after stalking a group of friends who had spent a week in Ibiza.
One of the reposted a mix on Facebook and it was a Clapcast and I instantly became hooked to the groovy rhythm curated on this weekly show. Many times I was caught causally street dancing as I walked to my car in Los Angeles, imagining I was sipping a mojito by a pool or an ocean listening to the masked man lead us all into the sunshine. I mean, lets face it, Claptone is sunshine music. That is exactly the essence he is wishing to spread this summer on his Golden Summer Tour. The tour is taking place over 66 dates and traveling through 20 countries proves Claptone’s worldwide influence on the house music stage. We had the chance to catch him recently in Ibiza, where he hold residency at the legendary club Amnesia, and will open and close the summer.
I, personally, am much looking forward to seeing him perform for the first time in Palm Springs at Splash House August 13th. Here I was able to ask Claptone questions as an artist. Questions about what it is to have made it to the top and that transition towards meeting expectations of fans, who may be new to a genre, while retaining the authentic underground vibe the movement started with.
“I don’t believe in technology finding us hit formulas, which allow villains to dominate the charts.”
It seems the first thing almost every interviewer asks you is about the fact that you are, and will remain, masked. You continuously point out that we are all masked. I agree. Self identity is constantly shifting and we change our masks depending on who and what we are in the presence. However, as artists a rise of popularity usually equates with a pressure to be what people have branded you as. I think we have seen a lot of artists crumble under this sort of pressure to perform. How much pressure do you feel to be the mask? Or do you find the mask has allowed you a higher level of authenticity and freedom to experiment, both in creation and performance?
You are right wearing a mask does take me out of the equation personally. I don’t have to market my private life. But it does not shield me from the expectations my fans might have towards my work. So with music I walk the line every artist does, the line between constant repetition and constant change. Luckily music, especially dance music changes so quickly – so many artists, so much output – that it allows me to try out a lot of things within a very short time span. This lowers the pressure you’re talking about.
You’ve been a force to be reckoned with in the house music scene for a few years now; but, I think its important we acknowledge that this year showed a huge shift for-ward from an underground artist into an international musical sensation. Your debut al-bum Charmer fused a sense of underground beats with indie and pop style vocals and it quickly dominated electronic charts internationally. If we fast forward six months, you then debuted your live act at Coachella. In the US music scene particularly this is THE defining festival for up and coming artists of all genres. How has this expansion of your audience changed the way you perform? Do you find you must play to a more pop con-scious audience vs an underground audience? Is there a pressure to play tracks people know rather than lose yourself in the music completely? How do you deal with this sort of shift as an artist and remain authentic to the original vision?
Claptone has always been about fusing genres. Starting with ‚ ‘Cream’ ‚ ‘Night On Fire’ on to ‚ ‘No Eyes’, ‚’Party Girl’, and, ‘Heartbeat’. But you are right the venues I play become bigger, so there is a shift away from an underground phenomenon. I still play many underground festivals and underground club gigs though and would never consider myself a pop music act only because I am an open minded House producer who enjoys being inspired by Hip Hop as well as Indie Rock and Dub for that matter. As a dancer I want to lose myself in the music, but as a DJ I want to create that special positive vibe and experience not mainly for me but for my audience. Authenticity is a concept we should long have overcome. I actually feel pressured by this concept because it’s against the original idea of club music. I share no love for the concept at all, but yes I sweat. And I even produce my own music, hell, I am even mastering most of my tracks.
Expanding from this: How does the location of the audience effect your performance? Do you feel you have more freedom back “home” (or where you first started out on our planet) in Berlin? Germany? Europe in general? I am curious about this especially in comparison to a US based audience…
The location has an effect but it’s a bit more complicated than that. It doesn’t have anything to do with certain nations’ audiences being more or less responsive. Factors in play for making a gig a great show are a) the people and their attitude b) the sound and it’s quality c) the club, the setting, the lighting and visuals d) the city e) the country f) the planet. These factors influence my choice of tracks and the dramaturgy of my set to a certain degree, but all in all Claptone is a global phenomenon. I am very happy to say that I have fans everywhere on this beautiful planet from Peru to Russia, from Japan to South Africa, from the USA to the UK.
Specific to the US: do you find there to be a difference between broader festivals like Coachella and more “house centric” festivals like Splash House? What are some of the ways you change your tactic of performing to match the crowd?
I adapt slightly but in sound I never deny that I am Claptone. My sound is unique and some say magic, which could be the reason why I play with Jamie Jones one day and MK or the Foals the next. The sonic realm I create has a lot of connection points which allow me to appear in all kinds of line ups.
Another festival trend, especially in US culture, is the rise of conscious festivals (IE Lightning in a Bottle, What the Festival, and Further Future to name a few) — do you sense a difference between these audiences and other audiences you play for? In what ways do you seek to raise consciousness through your music? How do you feel these types of festivals aid that? Do you find there to be a similar trend happening in Europe? What European festivals that you’ve played this summer best embody that vibe?
We have conscious festivals as you call them for over 20 years in Europe, Fusion Festival in Germany would have been one of the first. I love playing festivals where people (artists and crowds) are aware, respect each other and each others freedom and make an effort to make this world a better place. I don’t see myself as a preacher really and my songs don’t give you guidelines on how to lead your life, some might give you an insight into the quest and struggle to become human and some don’t have any particular meaning at all. But my music never lacks character and attitude.