Cassian Talks Debut LP 'Laps,' Attending His First GRAMMYs & Staying Calm In Quarantine


Photo: Sean Robinson


Cassian Talks Debut LP 'Laps,' Attending His First GRAMMYs & Staying Calm In Quarantine

After countless DJ sets, remixes, singles and behind-the-scenes roles mixing and producing, Cassian is ready to claim the spotlight

GRAMMYs/Apr 30, 2020 - 03:00 am

Sydney-born, L.A.-based mixer/producer/DJ Cassian has an impressive musical resume, dating all the way back to learning piano and guitar as a kid and playing in several bands in high school. Well before he was old enough to hit the clubs, Cassian was DJing and making electronic music. He was inspired by the rich alt-electro scene that exploded in his hometown in the '00s—particularly Modular Recordings, which launched powerhouse Aussie acts like Cut Copy, Tame Impala, Bag Raiders and Van She.

Since then, the triple threat has been sharpening his production skills and refining his upbeat brand of electro/house/techno with DJ sets, major remixes, sprinklings of singles and behind-the-scenes roles mixing and producing for his fellow Aussie electronic acts. With his work mixing RÜFÜS DU SOL's fan-favorite Solace cut "Underwater," Cassian earned his first GRAMMY nomination at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards.

Now, with his debut album Laps (due out June 26 on RÜFÜS' Rose Ave Records), Cassian is finally ready to step into the spotlight. Ahead of the gorgeous LP's release, and right before the title track dropped on April 24, the Recording Academy caught up with the "Magical" artist to dive deep into the project and his musical path. He also talks about how it was attending his very first GRAMMYs, his friendship with RÜFÜS, the first rave he attended and how he's been keeping calm in quarantine.

When did you move out to L.A.?

It's been a strange move because it's been this drawn-out process. When I first moved here, I didn't truly move. One of my buddies had an Airbnb house he was renting and I took it over and didn't leave for a few years. But it wasn't my place, it didn't have my name on the bills or my furniture there or anything like that. That was, I think, the end of 2015 when I first came out here. I was going back and forth to Australia a lot. Now, with this lockdown I'm going to be in the States for who knows how long. But I just moved into my own place and set it all up, and I've got a little home studio here. So it took me like four years to get set up, but now I'm being forced to really settle in.

I bet it's nice that you have space to make music. I can imagine that that's an essential thing for you right now?

Oh, it's so lucky. It's just a small apartment, but it has an extra little room that I've got a home studio set up in. And I was working at another studio Downtown for the last three years and I just moved out of there. I didn't even know where I was going to have my next studio, but this little home studio is providing a good little interim setup until I can get into the next proper spot.

Wow, that's wild. Do you feel like you live in L.A. now?

It was weird because I was still spending so much time in Australia the last few years. Last year, I was in Australia for more than six months. I had so many shows out there. And every time I go back to Oz it's like I never left, and then every time I'm here it's like I live here. So it was this weird type of double life I felt like I was living. Now, I think this is the longest I've been in L.A. without going anywhere is the last month. I probably haven't been in one place without going anywhere for a month in at least four or five years. So it feels good, it feels nice to have so much more energy. My energy for workouts and everything is so much better, and I just generally feel pretty good.

A project that's a long time coming, your debut album Laps, is due out in about two months. What does it mean to you to share this body of work with the world, and what did it feel like when you finished it?

Well, I'm still working on it. We had some last-minute issues with one of the songs and we had to cut a new vocal from another artist. But we found someone really quickly, and we're still in the process of smoothing that out right now, but it's really exciting. It's so funny, I've worked on so many albums and projects for other people, and there's never that moment like, I don't know, you see in a movie, where you finish the album and press send on the email or hit the export button, and your like, "We're done, all right!" And you have this moment of relief.

It's always, you finish mixing, then you start the mastering, and then there's a couple mastering changes, and then you have to go back and change the mix. It just drags on for a long time so you never really get that moment. It's just lots of little moments—figuring out what the artwork's going to be, figuring out what songs are going to be on the album.

And yeah, it has been such a long time coming. I've been playing most of the songs that are on the album in my live show for about a year and a half now. I've been living with these songs. I've had the book of what my project is all about, and I've been reading it over and over, and I know what it is all about, but no one else does yet.

So I think that's what's most exciting about it, is just giving people the full picture of what the project is about, and also the full picture of what the songs I've been releasing mean in the context of it. The songs were never, "Oh, I have a single and let's just release that," it was all these songs that have been existing for years before we decided to do an album. Then it was forming and bending them, changing them to fit the story that I wanted to tell on the album.

How would you describe what is the album is about?

The album is about the cycles and loops that everyone experiences in relationships—that's why it's called Laps. It's the concept of doing laps, and the album is meant to explore that full spectrum of what a relationship is from the start, even before a relationship has started with someone. It's from that moment of being open to going through it all the way to that moment when it's over and it's completely gone, and you're just starting again.

You've released a handful of tracks ahead of it over the last year and a half, and the title track, which closes the album, is the latest. How do you feel "Laps" speaks to the project as a whole? And where does that song fall in the creative timeline of the album?

I never thought that it would be released on its own as single. I started working on it after I had the concept for the album, and from the start it always fit the story, it was the end of the album. The idea behind that track is that it's a linear journey. It's the [final] phase of forgetting and moving on. By the end of the song, the feeling I was trying to go for is that it's a clean slate and you're back to the start, you're back to a neutral place. The track doesn't really have a chorus or a main moment to it, it just starts and goes on like a journey. It has some moments, but it's not like anything else I've released or done before. I guess that's also why it's so long, I wanted to cram a lot into it to where it starts and ends in different places, and going through a range of moments in the song.

That's super cool. Is it one of the last songs you wrote for the album?

Yeah. The original demo started maybe three years ago, I think it was 2017 when I started. And it's been a constant change. The version that is coming out was only finished a couple months ago, and there were some big things that were changed over the last month before it was done. There's a bunch of songs on the album that are like that. Because I just want to keep working on things, and I'm never like, "Yep, this is done." If you give me more time I'll just keep messing with it.

So yeah, the concept for "Laps" has stayed the same, it just changes with how I've been feeling over the last few years. It's had so many different forms, and the version that is being released is just the most recent way that I felt to express the story of the song.

It would be super-interesting to see the evolution of it.

Yeah. There's some funny demos of all of these songs. There's one on the album called "Open Up," which the original version of that song had my friend singing this really soulful vocal and was very soothing. Then somewhere along the way it just completely changed to be this more aggressive track. It's been a cool journey with all these songs. There's probably a couple on there that the demos are close to how the final version sounds, but for a lot of them they've really been through so many totally different versions.

So when you've been performing them live, were there earlier versions that you played? Did you have any Frank Ocean moments like that?

Totally. "Together" has changed a bunch as I've been performing it. The version on the album I played at CRSSD, but in the last two years since I've been doing the live show there's been three main versions, where the main instruments or sections are all different. That's one of the oldest songs on the album actually. I wrote that song with one of my friends about four years ago; everything was completely different to how it is now. That old demo, there's nothing in common with the most recent one, not a single sound, not a single melody. Apart from the vocal, everything changed.

Would you say that you're a bit of a perfectionist?

Oh, for sure. I'm always very self-critical of my work, on my own music and work I do for others. I'm always trying to get closer and closer to this sound I have in my head for whatever project it is. I think that's part of the reason why this album has come together now. I finally decided I was at a place where I could actually execute the sound I wanted to a level that I was happy with.

It feels like some external perfection is definitely my own thing. And, at least for the last few years, I've been confident in what I could do, but now, with the album especially, I really found the sound and everything else I wanted to do, something that I would be proud to push people to listen to.

I want to talk about one of the other songs you've released, "Magical" featuring ZOLLY of Crooked Colours. You've worked with them before—you mixed Vera, correct?

Yeah, I mixed that album and co-produced "Perfect Run," the last track on that album. Yeah, as soon as we started working on that it was a vibe, and I just basically said to Phil [Slabber, a.k.a. ZOLLY], "Dude, please sing on a track for me. Let's write a song together."

So, the journey of "Magical"—I initially had this repetitive, almost techno but really slow, instrumental track that I wrote. I was mixing it with one of my friends, his name's Jack Glass, he's from Bag Raiders, another Australian guy. We were messing around in his studio and I didn't think, "Oh, this should have a vocal", it was just instrumental.

Anyways, Phil and I were both in Sydney and he had a little time. We could finally work on the song we'd been talking about doing for a few years. So we went in the studio and he was like, "What have you been working on?" I played him some stuff, including that slow techno thing, and he was like, "Oh this is sick, we should write to this."

At first, I was like, "No"—there wasn't even any chord changes, it was just very repetitive on its own. But we just started writing chord changes to it and working on the vocal, and it came together really quickly, mainly in just that first session. We kind of brought it together. Also, by that time I already had the concept of the album, so we wrote it with that in mind.

It's funny, because that original beat doesn't sound anything like what the final thing is now, but when he heard it, it inspired him. He was like, "Oh, here's what we should work on." There's something about the energy of that initial idea is still there, but everything changed.

Does it feel different bringing some of the people you've mixed and produced for onto your own project? 

Well, it feels really good. Because even with the music that I work on, most of the time is with friends and artists that I like. I don't want to sound like I'm saying no to people all the time, but I am careful to pick and choose to work on stuff that I really like. Especially because I have to balance my time between that behind-the-scenes work and my artist work. In the past, I definitely got caught working on projects I wasn't passionate about, and so for the last few years it's been only things that I'm passionate about it.

Most of those are also things I would love to work on with my artist project, and most of the people I work with behind the scenes, eventually there's going to be a collab together as well. And this is just the first one. When you work on an album together, you get to know each other pretty well, and you get in touch with their singing, you get to know their voice. I like being that familiar. I've always leaned into familiarity, like friendships, and even just with places. I'm not going into any cafes at the moment, but there's one café that I always go to with my friends. I try to collaborate with all my friends really quite a bit.

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That's awesome. And based on everyone you've worked with before, if that was your pool of people to collaborate in the future, that's pretty dope.

Yeah. I'm very, very lucky with Running Touch and Hayden James, with RÜFÜS DU SOL. There are so many great artists that I get to work with. All those relationships started with a friendship. If I can help them on their project, I love doing it, and it's also nice to get to work on and hear music before anyone else does. And then not only hear it but get to influence how it sounds, and have your input into music that you really enjoy.

Speaking of friendships, you got your first GRAMMY nomination this year with RÜFÜS for "Underwater." Do you have any good stories from the show? What was the experience like for you?

Well, I was actually kind of sick. I was feeling a little sketchy a few days before, and then that night I started really feeling sick. But no, it was awesome. It was the people that worked on that song, and on that album [2018's SOLACE], we were all there. It was just a nice day to spend it together and just take a moment to appreciate that album and song.

That day was really crazy because Kobe passed away. We went into the Microsoft Theater [for the GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony], we sat down, they came up to our category and we didn't win, so we were a little bit bummed down. But obviously we were also still really happy, congratulating each other and stuff. We decided to get some lunch, and we walk outside and there's thousands of people. My phone starts going off, and my friends are texting me telling me what happened. It was so surreal. In general, it was a very surreal day. And even just to be at Staples. I'm a huge NBA fan. I go to games all the time there, and to be there on the day Kobe passed away, in a familiar place, but it was set up so differently.

Everyone who performed, like seeing Lizzo, it just didn't feel real. I was also in this haze of feeling like I was coming down with the flu. It was a very strange but memorable day. It was one of those experience that, especially with the red carpet, it's one of those things you just feel super lucky to have the chance to do. Going down any red carpet is a lot, but the GRAMMY red carpet is so much.

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The RÜFÜS guys and I spoke about that lot, especially in regards to being on stage, it's just slowing it down and taking things in, taking that extra second to let things hit you and sink in, and feel what's happening in the moment. So that was really cool. It's one of those things like, "Who knows if I'm ever going to get the chance to do this again?" So you really try to enjoy it for what it is, and take it all in, but it's also incredibly inspiring, you're like, "Oh, I want to work my ass off to try and be back here."

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Hell yeah! I always say, you got to put that energy out there into the world.

I joke around with my friends about getting gold records and stuff like that, but I've never made the joke of, "We should get a GRAMMY for this." It's crazy.

Your track, "Lafayette," another album cut, was the first release from RÜFÜS' Rose Ave Records back in 2018. What did that inaugural label release mean to you, and what does it feel like to be a part of their label family?

With that song especially, for me, it was like, "That had to be their first song on there that they release ever" because I've been working so copiously with them since like 2012, '13. I've done so many shows with them, and been mixing their records, and remixing them. They're also all my closest friends. And that track in particular, I made the initial idea on tour with them in a Sprinter van years ago.

I think we were on the way to Chicago or somewhere in the Midwest. I was just sitting in the front seat of the van. It's crazy, because now when they tour they're on a bus. But yeah, we would just all make music in the van and then play it to each other when we got to our next stop. It only feels right to me that they started a label and it comes out on their label. Again, it's one of those things you would never speak. Like, "Hey, why don't you guys start a label and we put out this record?" It's just a thing that's happened, and it feels right.

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I would love to learn a bit more about your musical journey, as you've been putting out tracks and remixes for the better part of the decade. When did you first start learning to make music, and then when did you get into DJing and producing?

So from when I was really young I was learning music. I always had a piano in my house—I started when I was about five. The piano that I was learning on was my great-grandma's piano, and that whole side of the family was super musical, there's a ton of musicians and an orchestra conductor. My parents aren't musical, but my mom definitely kept that family tradition alive. I learned piano from when I was really young and I started learning guitar when I was 11 or 12. I was always in a band in high school.

When I was 15 or 16, I was in a band with some family friends who were a bit older, and we were doing gigs in the city, at bars and clubs and stuff. My mom and dad would have to come to supervise me because I was underage. The lead singer's older brother ran a nightclub, and so we would do shows at his club and DJs would come in afterwards. I'm like 17, 18, seeing electronic music. And Sydney back then, there were so many good bands as well. With Modular Recordings, all those acts were just killing it in Sydney.

I remember one time we supported the band Van She. I never heard stuff like that before and I was so stoked. I went and bought their single the next day. I was just immersed in that world from when I was pretty young, and I just wanted to do it. I had no idea what I was doing, there wasn't YouTube [tutorials] and stuff back then. I started making friends with people who were making that kind of music, and slowing figuring it out. I think my first record I put out, when I was 18 or 19, was on Bang Gang Records, which was a Modular subsidiary label.

I look at things so different now. Back then I didn't have a plan, I wasn't trying to say anything, I was just making music and messing around, releasing it with no thought. Slowly, over 10 years, like I was saying before, I've been figuring out what I can do better, and how to move forward closer to whatever the sound I hear in my head.

I've stayed on that journey for that last 10 years, and it's funny because I say all that but also I feel like I'm really just starting my career as an artist right now. It took me that time to learn what an artist was, and what I wanted to say and do as an artist. And to have infrastructure around me as a label that supports me, and management that is helping me execute what I want to as an artist. So I've been doing things a long time, but I really feel like I'm just starting with this album, the first thing for me as an artist.

Did you DJ college parties or make music when you were in school?

No. Well, it's so different in Australia, most people just go to school in their hometown. I grew up in Sydney, one of the biggest cities in Australia, and there's a bunch of schools there. So I went to a school that was 20 minutes from my house where I grew up and I never really got into it. I was never involved on campus. I would just go to my lectures, go to my tutorials and go home. That was it. Eventually I just stopped going; I started touring and was like, "Cool, I'm done with this."

What was the first concert you attended when you were younger? What about the first electronic music show or rave you went to?

That line is so blurred because when I was 16 I would go and play those shows and stay after and see bands. One of the first I can remember is, around 18, I was going to see Bloc Party at the Horton Pavilion in Sydney, which is this big almost-warehouse venue. One of the first raves I guess I went to was the Daft Punk Alive tour [in 2007]. It was really good.

We did so many things like that. They played in Sydney and me and a bunch of friends went. I think I might already have been making music a little bit when this happened, because the Bang Gang guys were DJing before Daft Punk, and I knew them, and I remember they were playing songs and I was texting them going, "What's this song? You got send me this." But yeah, that was definitely one of the first big ones I went to.

There were a few really good ones. There was Park Life Festival, in 2007 or 2008, seeing Digitalism and Justice—they were crazy. It was lucky, it was all pretty good stuff that I got to see when I was first getting started. And it's crazy with what electronic music festivals and shows look like now, when that Daft Punk show came along, there was nothing like that, not even close. Now, nothing is still really on that level, but everything is in that vein of crazy lighting and video. That show was like the template.

When you're 18, and it's Daft Punk, it's all their songs and their remixes, and the pyramid just started out with lights and colors, and then by the end of the show the pyramid was a full video screen with lights all over that lit up at the end. Every song there was a new surprise that would blow your mind. It was a crazy show.

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At CRSSD, you had your first main stage live show. What did that set feel like for you, and what are you most looking forward to about eventually getting back on stage?

I think it was the first time I had done my full live show at a U.S. festival, definitely the first time on a main stage doing the live show. That show was really special because the album was more or less finished, so I played "Laps" for the first time there. That's the first live show where everything I played was the final album versions, so that felt really cool. It was also the first show that we had visuals. My whole team was there. There's three people on my management team, and they were all down there, and my girlfriend was there.

Also, I played CRSSD years ago, and I'm close with the whole FNGRS CRSSD team, and they've become fans over the years. It felt the start of the next chapter, and to start it with them felt really cool. And you know what I was saying before about familiar places, CRSSD is so familiar to me. I was there when RÜFÜS DU SOL played two years ago [they returned this year], Hayden James has played there as well. I played there three of four years ago. I just feel so comfortable there.

I was a little worried about playing so early in the day, but a bunch of people came down. I was super inspired after that show, and looking forward to—because we had the whole year planned out—a bunch of the summer festivals and headline shows later in the year. I guess when things get started again, I'm trying not to have any expectations.

When you're releasing an album, everyone, like my managers and agents, has been working so hard to put together this year of touring, release schedules and everything that compliments the album and what you're trying to do as an artist. Then, within a week, it's all gone. There's nothing you can do about it. I'm not bummed out about it, but everything is gone so quickly. I'm going to try to take it in stride and, I don't know, just roll.

A bunch of my friends always tease me about this, but generally I never get excited about things until they're done, really. Even when I was driving into CRSSD, or going out to Coachella with my girlfriend or with one my managers, they're like, "So are you pumped?" I'm like, "Not really. We'll see what happens when it's together." So that's my attitude with this. Who knows when things are going to get started again and what things will be like, but I'm not going anywhere.

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What has helped you stay grounded during quarantine?

Honestly, I'm still figuring it out. Everywhere I go really, I'm such a creature of routine; whether I'm in L.A. or when I'm in touring in Australia, I still get to have my routine more or less because my family's out there. So it's been hard to figure out what that new quarantine routine is like. I'm trying to stay focused on figuring it out, which is what's helping me stay grounded.

I used to go to the same café every day, and eat out lot and get takeout from a bunch of my favorite spots. Now all of that's changed, so it's like, okay, my routine is going to the shops once every two or three weeks. Nothing exciting, just trying to ration out my pasta and figuring out how much Himalayan rock salt I can use every day.

Are there any things you think are going to stick in the quarantine routine? You mentioned working out, or anything else that has felt good?

For my workouts, I used to get up super early and go to the gym every day at the same time, same gym. Now, I've been exploring the neighborhood I live in, and walking around more. I'm definitely going to be doing more of that, definitely going to be cooking for myself more. My old routine I would just get up, workout, go to the studio. I would just be in the studio all day, have dinner at the studio, then come home and just sleep.

Now I'm realizing I didn't need to do that, and I've set up a little studio at home, so now I can just work from home when I don't feel like going to the studio. Also, I traveled so much and I didn't question it, and took it for granted. And [now] it's been a conversation I've been having with my team.

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Daft Punk on stage with Nile Rodgers (left), Paul Williams (center) and Pharrell Williams (center right) at the 2014 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic

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Notorious for their silent (and masked) appearances, French EDM duo Daft Punk had 'Random Access Memories' collaborator Paul Williams deliver their heartwarming message at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — which included a shout-out to Macklemore.

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This year, Daft Punk is celebrating their 20th anniversary. Their groundbreaking album Random Access Memories also celebrates a milestone anniversary in 2023, turning 10 on May 17.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, we turn back the clock to 2014, when Daft Punk won the prestigious Album of the Year award for Random Access Memories. Notorious for their silent, faceless appearances, musical legend Paul Williams accepted the duo's award while they stood back.

"Back when I was drinking and using, I used to imagine things that weren't there that were frightening. Then, I got sober, and two robots called me and asked me to make an album," Williams joked at the beginning of the speech.

"I just got a message from the robots, and what they wanted me to say is that as elegant and as classy as the GRAMMY has ever been is the moment when we saw those wonderful marriages," Williams said, referring to Macklemore's revolutionary performance of "Same Love" at the same ceremony. "'Same Love' is fantastic, and it was the height of fairness and the power of love for all people at any time, in any combination."

Williams went on to praise Daft Punk's generous spirit, their fellow collaborators, and the love that went into making the album.

Press play on the video above to watch Paul Williams' full acceptance speech for Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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A selection of items on display at Power of Song Exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum.

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Nile Rodgers, Jimmy Jam, Smokey Robinson and more provide deep insights into their hit collaborations and creative process at GRAMMY Museum's The Power of Song: A Songwriters Hall of Fame Exhibit, open from April 26 through Sept. 4.

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Since its founding in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame has been celebrating the great songwriters and composers of our time. In 2010, it found a physical home at Downtown Los Angeles' GRAMMY Museum.

Now, the GRAMMY Museum is adding to that legacy with a special expanded exhibit, which dives deep into the history of songwriting and recorded music in the United States — as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame and its inductees' role in it. Whether you're a songwriter or musician who loves the creative process, a history nerd, or simply a music lover, this exhibit is for you.

When you enter The Power Of Song, you'll hear the voices of legendary Songwriter Hall of Fame inductees and GRAMMY winners — including Nile Rodgers, Carole King, Diane Warren, Smokey Robinson and Jimmy Jam — discussing their creative process and some of the biggest songs they've written. Take a seat on the couch to absorb all their wisdom in the deeply informative and inspiring original short film.

Turn to the right, and you'll find a timeline across the entire wall, explaining the origins and key points around songwriting and recorded music in the U.S. On the other wall, pop on the headphones provided to enjoy a video of memorable Hall of Fame ceremony performances. One interactive video interface near the entrance allows you to hear "song highlights," and another allows you to explore the entire Songwriters Hall of Fame database.

The exhibit is filled with a treasure trove of handwritten song lyrics from Taylor Swift, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty and many more, as well as iconic artifacts, including Daft Punk's helmets, a classy Nile Rodgers GRAMMY look, and guitars from Bill Withers, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Toby Keith.

Below, take a look at five things we learned from The Power Of Song: A Songwriters Hall Of Fame Exhibit, which will be at the GRAMMY Museum from April 26 through Sept. 4.

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Legendary funk pioneer and superproducer Nile Rodgers is the current Chairman of the SHOF and has an active presence at the exhibit. One case features the disco-esque lime green Dior tuxedo Rodgers wore to the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, along with the shiny metallic helmets of French dance duo Daft Punk, who collaborated with Rodgers on their GRAMMY-winning 2013 album, Random Access Memories.

Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk and Rodgers had forged a friendship and been wanting to collab for years prior to 2013's Record Of The Year-winning smash "Get Lucky." When they finally connected and Bangalter and de Homem-Christo played the CHIC founder the demo for "Get Lucky," he asked to hear it again with everything muted except the drum track, so he could create the perfect guitar lick for it.

Bangalter and de Homem-Christo decided to essentially re-record the whole song to fit Rodgers' guitar, which joyously drives the track — and carried it to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, Daft Punk's first Top 5 hit.

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Photo: Rebecca Sapp

Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis Set Up Their Studio The "Wrong" Way Because Of Prince

In the exhibit film, Jimmy Jam tells several stories about working with — and learning from — Prince. He recalls how he and Terry Lewis watched Prince work and record everything "in the red," so they set up their Minneapolis studio to follow his lead. A sound engineer told them it was too loud, but that ended up being the sound that artists like Janet Jackson and Usher came to them for. It was a "happy mistake," as Jam put it, that helped their legendary careers as a powerhouse production duo take off.

Prince's dogmatic, tireless work ethic also rubbed off on the powerhouse pair. One rehearsal, the Purple One kept pressing Jam to do more, which resulted in him playing two instruments, singing and hitting the choreography from behind his keyboard. "He saw that I could do more than I thought I could; he saw me better than I saw myself," he reflected.

"God Bless America" Composer Irving Berlin Didn't Read Music

In his 50 year-career, Irving Berlin wrote over 1000 songs, many of which defined American popular music for the better part of the 20th century. Along with penning "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "There's No Business Like Show Business" (among many other classics), he wrote 17 full Broadway musical scores and contributed songs to six more plays.

Berlin also wrote scores for early Hollywood musicals starring the likes of Ginger Rodgers, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, and Bing Crosby. He made a lasting, indelible mark on music, theater, film and American culture writ large.

Rather astonishingly, the widely celebrated American Tin Pan Alley-era composer was self-taught and didn't read sheet music. His family immigrated to New York from Imperial Russia when he was 5 years old, and when he was just 13, his father died, so he busked on the streets and worked as a singing waiter to help his family out.

In 1907, at 19, he had his first song published, and just four years later penned his first international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Berlin had a natural musicality and played music by ear in the key of F-sharp, with the help of his trusted upright transposing piano, a rare instrument that had a mechanism allowing him to shift into different keys. His "trick piano," as he called it, where many of his unforgettable songs first came to life, is on display at the exhibit.

Read More: GRAMMY Rewind: Smokey Robinson Accepts A GRAMMY On Behalf Of The Temptations In 1973

Smokey Robinson Didn't Expect "My Girl" To Become A Timeless Hit

Smokey Robinson was an important part of Motown's hit-making factory as a singer, songwriter and producer. In the exhibit film, he discusses "My Girl," one of his classic tunes, which he wrote and produced for the Temptations in 1965.

"I had no idea it would become what it would become," he said.

He says that people often ask him why he didn't record the unforgettable song with his group the Miracles instead of "giving it away" to the Temptations, but he never regretted his decision. Instead, he's honored to have created music that stands the test of time and means so much to so many people.

Robinson joked that the Temptations' then-lead singer David Ruffin's gruff voice scared girls into going out with him. Really, he loved Ruffin's voice, and thought he'd sound great singing a sweet love song like "My Girl." Safe to say he was right.

After World War II, Pop Music Changed Forever

Prior to World War II, American music operated as a singular mainstream market, and New York's Tin Pan Alley songwriters competed to make the next pop or Broadway hit. In a post-World War II America, especially when the early Baby Boomer generation became teenagers and young adults in the '60s and '70s, tastes changed and new styles of pop and pop songwriting emerged. As rock shook up popular culture, Tin Pan Alley gave way to a new era of young songwriters, many who worked out of just two buildings in midtown Manhattan, 1619 Broadway (the Brill Building) and 1650 Broadway.

In this richly creative and collaborative environment, powerhouse songwriting duos began to emerge and reshape pop music, challenging and balancing each other — and creating a ton of hits in the process. The hit-making duos of this diversified pop era included Burt Bacharach and Hal David (Dionne Warrick's "That's What Friends Are For"), Carole King and Gerry Goffin (Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'") and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me," both in collaboration with Phil Spector). In fact, there are far too many classics penned by these four prolific songwriter duos to list here.

While there are still songwriters that pen big hit after hit for pop stars (Max Martin is still at it, as is his protege Oscar Görres), the dynamics in the industry have continued to shift with singers taking on more creative power themselves. Today's pop stars — including Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift — have found success co-writing with their own trusted teams of songwriters and producers. But as this new exhibit shows, it doesn't matter who is behind the pen — the power of song is mighty.

Meet Tobias Jesso Jr., The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Songwriter Of The Year

Daft Punk Essentials: 10 Songs That Showcase The Duo's Futuristic Innovation
French musical group Daft Punk performing in Italy in 2019

Photo: Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori via Getty Images


Daft Punk Essentials: 10 Songs That Showcase The Duo's Futuristic Innovation

The French electronic music duo's massive influence in the '90s and early 2000s transformed the dance landscape and continues to resonate. On the 10th anniversary of their smash hit "Get Lucky," revisit some of their biggest hits.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2023 - 06:13 pm

Dance music wouldn't be the same without Daft Punk. In 1993, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo joined forces, not knowing they would become trailblazers of the decade's French house movement.

The duo took their name from a negative review of their former band Darlin', in which their music was criticized as "a daft punky thrash" — and so Daft Punk was born, living up to their name by merging creative absurdity with liveliness. The duo made few public media appearances, quite literally shrouding themselves in mystery through a sci-fi aesthetic accompanying their prolific, contemporary sound.

From their 1997 debut studio album Homework to collaborations with The Weeknd decades later, the duo built their extensive discography on a fearless restyling of electronica. Contributing to dance music popularization in North America with their 2006-2007 tour, Daft Punk is credited with ushering EDM into the mainstream.

Although the duo disbanded in 2021, their influence is everlasting: colorfully blending house with every genre from techno to synth-pop, Daft Punk has proved their creativity knows no limits.

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the GRAMMY-winning duo's "Get Lucky" and their 30-year career span, take a listen to these 9 funky essentials by Daft Punk.

"Da Funk," Homework (1997)

Tripping into acid house, Daft Punk's single "Da Funk" is a glaring highlight from the duo's debut, Homework. Featuring a squirming, snappy 303 bass line and refreshing disco-inspired sound, the lyricless track is a '90s house classic.

"Around The World," Homework (1997)

Daft Punk's dynamic sounds are staples in clubs all over the world, and part of this is due to the smash success of their single "Around The World." The second single from their debut hit No. 1 on dance charts worldwide, its only lyric — fittingly, "around the world" — repeated 144 times to reach full earworm potential.

"One More Time," Discovery (2000)

Daft Punk regards "One More Time" as the bridge between Homework and Discovery, and this song speaks to the duo's timeless, overarching creativity. Spotlighting their signature auto-tuned vocals and futuristic production, the song is a full-blown celebration. Upon release, the track tied with "Around The World" by hitting No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," Discovery (2001)

An instant influential hit, "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" combines the keyboard riff from Edwin Birdsong's 1979 funk song "Cola Bottle Baby" with heavily vocoded vocals. The song has been remixed, sampled, and covered dozens of times, and a live version of the track — from Daft Punk's live album, Alive 2007 — took home a GRAMMY for Best Dance/Electronic Recording in 2009.

"Digital Love," Discovery (2001)

Led elegantly by a Wurlitzer and filled with prolonged harmonies, this Daft Punk essential sloshes through a dreamy electropop soundscape. Longing pulses through the textured, technological track, and its softness cushions the song's outlined fantasy in a graceful way.

"Robot Rock," Human After All (2005)

Wonderfully mechanical, Daft Punk's "Robot Rock" is a staple of electronic rock. Its central and only lyric — "Rock, robot rock" — repeats over and over, meshing with a looping synth-led riff and electric guitar power chords. Filmed on VHS, its music video glitters as the first video to star Daft Punk exclusively.

"Starboy" - The Weeknd, Starboy (2016)

The title track from The Weeknd's third studio album, "Starboy," strays from Daft Punk's signature electronic sound, determinedly wandering into edgy pop and R&B. Surprisingly, the collaboration is Daft Punk's first and only No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Get Lucky" featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, Random Access Memories (2013)

Pulling in a couple of legends for collaboration, "Get Lucky" strikes a perfect groove as a disco-pop banger about staying up 'til the sun. Starring Nile Rodgers' radiant guitar riff and Pharrell Williams' funky vocals, the experimental song won Record Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 56th GRAMMY Awards.

"Derezzed," TRON: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2010)

Who better than Daft Punk to craft the soundtrack for a sci-fi film? The pair's robotic aesthetic and futuristic music perfectly complement the 2010 Disney cyberworld film Tron: Legacy, and "Derezzed" stands out as an especially immersive track. At the 54th GRAMMY Awards, TRON: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack Album For Visual Media.

"Lose Yourself to Dance" featuring Pharrell Williams, Random Access Memories (2013)

Pharrell Williams returned to work with Daft Punk for the groovy "Lose Yourself to Dance" in 2013. His vocals float through the song's funky production, and partway through, a multi-layered clap imbues the track with new, crowd-sourced energy.

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2022 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Dance Music
(L-R) Fred again.., Shygirl, Amelie Lens, Black Coffee, TSHA, PinkPantheress, Honey Dijon, David Guetta

Photo: (L-R) Frank Hoensch/Redferns, David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo Sanchez/Redferns, Michael Tullberg/Getty Images, Joseph Okpako/WireImage, David Wolff-Patrick/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo/Redferns, Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV


2022 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Dance Music

Dance music was resurgent in 2022, bringing an explosion of energy from underground names and top-line stars alike.

GRAMMYs/Dec 23, 2022 - 04:58 pm

The dance/electronic genre runs wide and deep, encompassing a myriad of subgenres, artists, labels and fan cultures. By any definition, 2022 was a landmark year for the genre, as clubs and festivals returned more energized than ever and a wide spectrum of artists embraced dance music's spirit of collective release.

This year, Beyoncé and Drake turned to house music to inspire their respective albums, spotlighting several dance-music stars like Honey Dijon, Black Coffee, &ME and Rampa as collaborators. There was also a dizzying array of new music within the genre, including years-in-the-making albums from the likes of Flume and Bonobo and innumerable DJ sets loaded with unreleased tracks (or IDs, to EDM-heads).

The genre also thrived in the live sphere, with several dance festivals returning to their pre-pandemic status quo and many stars hitting the road for headline tours, including ODESZA and RÜFÜS DU SOL. In a genre that defies easy categorization, the outpouring of creativity was undeniable. Below, find eight trends that bubbled up in dance/electronic this year, setting the tone for 2023.

House Infused Pop

In a moment of cosmic alignment, two of music's biggest names found their 2022 muse in dance music. Beyoncé went all-in on house, disco and ballroom on her long awaited seventh studio album, which paid thrilling homage to dance music's Black and queer roots. In an all-star cast of collaborators, the singer found a kindred spirit in Chicago house veteran Honey Dijon, who brought her jacking energy to album cuts "Alien Superstar" and "Cozy."

Meanwhile, Drake's Honestly, Nevermind coasted breezy house and Baltimore club beats, with input from the likes of South African superstar Black Coffee, Keinemusik linchpins Rampa and &ME, and Gordo, the artist previously known as Carnage. Summer saw Drake take his own house pilgrimage, turning up at Black Coffee's Ibiza residency and a Keinemusik party in Saint-Tropez. 

As the fog lifted on two years of pandemic life, the back-to-back albums — which both debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart — pushed house music back into mainstream discourse, and put a shine on lesser-known artists doing the work. 

Artists Respected The Roots

While the work is far from done, this year saw dance music more consciously acknowledge its Black and queer foundations. After exploring the theme with Beyoncé, Honey Dijon delivered Black Girl Magic, a joyous house album that celebrates Black queer identity.

It was also a big year for forward-thinking Black artists in the UK, who foregrounded their lived experiences on some of the year's standout releases. Shygirl's Nymph and TSHA's Capricorn Sun were both supremely confident debut albums, while jungle DJ Nia Archives and pop-dance producer PinkPantheress also enjoyed breakout years; the former via electrifying DJ sets and her Forbidden Feelingz EP, and PinkPantheress with a string of releases including "Where you are," featuring Willow

Accepting the first-ever award for Best Electronic/Dance Act at London's MOBOs Awards, which honor "music of black origin," Nia Archives spoke to dance music's essence: "Jungle is music of Black origin and I'm proud to be flying the flag for my community and my scene." 

Women Took The Techno Reins

Like other dance subgenres, techno remained predominantly white and male in 2022. To redress this imbalance, some in the industry are pushing for top DJs to insist on an inclusion or diversity clause in their contracts, stipulating that promoters book a diverse lineup.

Despite this reality, a cohort of women made a strong claim to techno stages in 2022. Belgian talent Amelie Lens had a triumphant year as a producer, label boss and hard-hitting DJ, while Italy's Anfisa Letyago was a breakout performer at festivals like Movement, Sónar and EXIT and French DJ Anetha took her Mama Told Ya label to new heights. 

Following a star-making Boiler Room set in 2018, Palestinian DJ Sama' Abdulhadi made her Coachella debut this April. Three months later, bona-fide techno superstar Charlotte de Witte became the first woman and techno artist to close the Tomorrowland mainstage in her native Belgium. Meanwhile, at Berlin's techno temple Berghain, new residents Nene H and Sedef Adasï pushed against techno's strictures in long, wide-ranging sets. 

The UK Came Through

UK club music is always firing, but 2022 took it up a level with new iterations on UK bass music. In a year that electronic maestro Four Tet won his streaming royalty dispute with Domino Records, several of the producer's peers dropped consequential releases.

In April, Welsh duo Overmono distilled their fast-paced take on techno, house, breaks and UK garage on the five-track Cash Romantic EP, including the summer anthem "Gunk." The EP slotted neatly into Four Tet's orbit alongside fast-paced UK-centric club music from the likes of Brainfeeder recruit Ross From Friends and Vienna-born, Manchester-based salute. And up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, festival headlining duo Bicep perfected their own genre-blurring sound. 

Within this world — and arguably in dance music at large — no one blew up this year quite like Fred again… Respected as a producer for artists as diverse as Headie One and Ed Sheeran, Fred made his name as a solo artist during the pandemic with the first two volumes of his Actual Life album series, which set the template for his intimate night-stalking sound. 

In 2022, the producer's Boiler Room London set went viral — 11 million views on YouTube and counting — with its loved-up rollercoaster of Fred again.. originals and bootlegs spanning house, drum & bass, trance and pop. With Actual Life 3 (January 1 -  September 9 2022) now out, Fred again.. is riding into 2023 as the UK producer to beat. 

Tech-House Went Further Mainstream

When Australian producer Fisher released "Losing It" in 2018, he had no idea what a phenomenon it would spark. Originally a secret weapon in the DJ's sets, "Losing It" became Beatport's top-selling track that year and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Recording. It also cemented the tech-house subgenre — which evolved from its UK-centric roots in the 1990s to become a dominant club sound across Europe — as a mainstream force in a post-EDM world.

That trend continued in 2022, powered in part by Fisher's still-growing popularity and breakout hits like James Hype and Miggy Dela Rosa's "Ferrari," released on Universal's Island Records. 

After an ascendant 2021, Chicago-born DJ-producer John Summit dominated the year in tech-house, thanks to his prolific output and savvy use of social media. Together with friends like Chris Lake and Dom Dolla, Summit has muscled onto festival mainstages with a bumping, vocal-laced tech-house sound typified by his 2022 releases "La Danza," "In Chicago" and "Show Me." With a 2023 headline show locked at Colorado's famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre - a strived-for badge of honor for dance artists in the US - Summit is proving the big-ticket appeal of tech-house. 

EDM Nostalgia Lived On

A decade on from the explosion of EDM in the U.S., a few of that era's key players made notable returns in 2022.

Back in 2012, big room house hitmakers Swedish House Mafia shocked fans with the announcement of a farewell tour that kicked off just after they delivered their compilation album Until Now, featuring anthems like "Don't You Worry Child" and "Save The World." But 10 years later, the trio of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello made their return with 2022's Paradise Again, which saw the trio evolve into a darker pop sound while still honoring past glories in their comeback shows. 

EDM nostalgia also fueled the 2022 team-up from deadmau5 and Kaskade as kx5, whose debut single, "Escape," could've been the biggest progressive house hit of 2012. In a full-circle moment, the duo capped off the year with a headline show for 46,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the former home of EDM massive Electric Daisy Carnival. According to Billboard Boxscore, the concert was the biggest ticketed global dance event of 2022 for a headline artist. 

Reaching further back, French electro-house trailblazers Justice marked the 15-year anniversary of their debut album, †, by sharing a previously unreleased demo version of its timeless single, "D.A.N.C.E." In dance music, even the recent past is ripe for reviving. 

TikTok Made Dance Hits

Just as TikTok helped to make and sustain pop hits in 2022, the addictive video-sharing app also played its part in dance music. While DJs flocked to TikTok to share tips, tricks, mash-ups, and videos from the booth, some of the genre's biggest successes were driven by the TikTok community.

Released in late 2021, Acraze's "Do It To It" became the definitive TikTok dance/electronic hit of the year. A chunky tech-house rework of girl group Cherish's 2006 single of the same name, the track went viral as a TikTok dance, featuring in over 3 million videos. Oliver Tree and Robin Schulz's aggressively catchy "Miss You" also blew up on the platform, powered by Tree's all-in persona. Meanwhile, Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal's garage-tinged house banger "B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)" hit No. 1 in the UK after going viral on TikTok, turning two club-focused producers into overnight stars. 

Rave Was Recontextualized

Dance music is forever mining the past to inform the present, and this year was no different. Throughout 2022, a wide swathe of DJs and producers reached back to the sounds of '90s and early 2000s rave, Eurodance and hard dance to give their sets a jolt. 

The trend was particularly notable in techno, which in recent years has become more open to trance and breakbeat influences. Proponents of this throwback sound include the German artists DJ Heartstring and Marlon Hoffstadt, while Dutch DJ KI/KI powers her sets with decades-old hard dance for a new generation. 

At the more commercial end of the genre, DJ/producers David Guetta and MORTEN have reached back to the past to inform a sound they call "future rave," complete with the October launch of a dedicated Future Rave label. 

Whether looking to the past or striving for the next big sound, the dance/electronic genre was undeniable in 2022, with more highs to come. 

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