What do Galantis, Miike Snow, Sky Ferreira and Britney Spears' "Toxic" all have in common?
Christian Karlsson, the Swedish DJ and songwriter who spent the last 30-odd years becoming one of the most influential and untamed voices in modern music.
Since his early days as a skateboarder-turned-rapper and punk rocker-turned-beatmaker, Karlsson has quietly stacked up top-tier credits and international awards, launching project after successful project. Yet, he's never explicitly made himself the center of attention.
You may have heard of him as Bloodshy, one-half of the storied pop production duo Bloodshy & Avant, under which moniker he's worked with major artists from Christina Milian to Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and more. Or perhaps you recognize him from the eclectic dance act Galantis. But you've never quite heard his full professional story — until now.
On Galantis' latest string of singles — the newest of which, “Dreamteam” featuring Neon Trees, will arrive on Oct. 27 — Karlsson opens up about his personal struggles with ADHD and gets back in touch with his rebellious music roots. After jumping from project to project, he's ready to connect the dots of his musical past into one sonic story.
Below, Karlsson details the biggest milestones of his remarkable journey so far, from starting in punk rock to the latest chapter of Galantis.
Finding His Voice
It was punk rock and skateboarding that got me into music; the subculture of being political and against everything.
That expression is the most important part for me, and it will always be. I have a professional side, of course, but the seed that started it all was being in the punk rock and skateboard scene, and that will never go away. Every time I need inspiration, I take inspiration from subculture, hip-hop or anything inspiring to me. I think I'm too old today to understand what's going on with new subcultures, but I really hope that it's growing and that it's always there for young people. I think that's very important.
I started writing songs with a really bad acoustic guitar, learning three chords to write punk rock. My biggest wish in life was to get an electric, and once I did, I started a punk rock band when I was 14.
I loved melodies from the start. I did like a lot of other punk rock too, but I was drawn to really cool, melodic punk rock. That's where it started. It's a good genre to start with, because it's easy.
Beat-Making A Name For Himself
[I became interested in making beats] when hip-hop came into skateboarding through House of Pain and Cypress Hill. I collected vinyl. I had Public Enemy and EPMD. I was already a fan of hip-hop, but when punk rock and hip-hop met, that was really interesting to me.
All of a sudden, I really want a drum machine. That was my first step into production, learning an MPC 60 and starting to program. I was one of the first signed rappers in Sweden when I was 15. I did two albums and opened up for the Fugees in all of Europe. Jay-Z asked me to do a remix for "Hard Knock Life."
In that way, I started as an artist. Producing for others was never anything that I planned. It wasn't that I wanted to be on stage. I just wanted to create music, and I didn't realize there were other people behind artists producing the songs. It's not like the punk rock bands I was listening to had a producer. That [understanding] came from hip-hop.
When I was 22, Quincy Jones invited me over to the U.S. the first time. I hardly spoke English. I worked with him on a lot of projects, actually. That's when I introduced that I actually know melodies, that I'm not only a beatmaker. I had a lot of great ideas for melody, and the melodies started to become a very important tool for me, as well as making something really fresh and somewhat left-field.
Finding The Formula
Bloodshy was my rap name. I had a group called Gold Mine where I was a producer, rapper and founder. Pontus [Winnberg] was the keyboard player in the live band. That's when we got to know each other, and then we split paths. I moved to Stockholm, and he was in Gothenburg.
Later on, when I made that remix for Jay-Z and a bunch of other things, I invited Pontus to come and try making music with me. I was like "I went away a little bit from the hip-hop stuff. I'm trying to make beats for other people." Christina Milian was one of the first ones that was big for me, and Pontus came when I was doing that. That's the first time we worked together on something.
Milian wasn't really signed or anything. It was more of an artist development thing Def Jam was doing. Instantly, I wanted to work with her. I believed in her, and we did a lot of songs together. That was the first really big project I took on as a serious production role.
Breaking The Charts…
After Christina Milian, I was working with a lot of artists and just writing so many ideas every day. I now understand that I was never the perfect producer because I never hit the mark of anything an artist was aiming for. I always hit a completely different place. I just need to go where I want to go, and if someone wants to tag along, that's amazing, but I'm not really the producer to say, "Can you do something like this?" I'm like, "No, I'm gonna do something else."
I actually wrote "Toxic" for Kylie Minogue. I think the A&R was on vacation or something, because they never got back to me. Then, I was working with another artist, Samantha Mumba, in L.A. The A&R for Britney was working across the hall and really wanted to meet me. I played him "Toxic." I didn't even play the whole thing. He came back like, "I want you to work with Britney, and I really liked the song you played," and it turned around really quickly.
I had a very tough choice to make, because Janet Jackson flew me over to London, and she wanted to work with me at the time, too. I had to choose. That was a very tough decision for me, because I was a huge fan of Janet. But I felt like, with Britney, I had someone that could follow where I wanted to go and do some crazy stuff. Maybe I'm completely wrong, but Janet was really strong. She knew what she wanted to do and was telling you. I was super into it, but I felt like, if I'm going to do my crazy s—, maybe Britney's project was better fit for me.
From then on, me and Pontus were with Britney all the time, from being with her on the tour bus to different studios in different cities. She trusted us, which was great. We felt like we had freedom, and we had a great relationship with whoever she was working with at the time. I really liked working on [Spears' 2007 album] Blackout. We wrote so many great songs, and we really took the freedom and just went with it.
…And Breaking The Mold
Miike Snow started as me and Pontus being really fed up with Top 40 music. Everyone was just asking us to make another "Toxic" or whatever it was, and we decided not to work on other artists anymore. We didn't answer any emails or calls or anything like, Let's just do our own thing.
We met Andrew Wyatt in a studio in New York. We really clicked with him and instantly started working on music together. Our plan was to release it on MySpace, and that was it, just follow the freedom. "Hey, if the song is eight minutes, it's f—ing eight minutes!"
I'm really proud of the decision, and Miike Snow just grew. Probably the first 100 shows were tiny venues, like 100 people, and we're the opening act, traveling in a van, carrying all the gear and building our stage stuff. People are like, "You're a big producer, why are you doing this?" I was like, "I f—ing love doing this!"
Miike Snow organically grew and started getting a lot of love and support from other musicians and creators. That was what we wanted. It was actually exactly the right love because someone was giving us love for the crazy s— that we liked to make. Then we started to play bigger festivals and tour like crazy.
Me and Pontus had been looking at the dance scene for a long time. You can hear that in our productions. There's a lot of electronic music and dance music in it, and we had it in Miike Snow. Then we started to DJ the parties after Miike Snow shows.
I started to love DJing, and we got really tight with Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello — before they were Swedish House Mafia. They were huge fans of Miike Snow and the song "Sylvia," and we took a peek into their world. I was with them in Ibiza like, Oh my god, this is crazy. That sparked something in me that kept on going until, eventually, the Miike Snow DJ sets I was playing became so disconnected from Miike Snow that I had to start a new thing. Indie dance could only take me that far into the night, right? I needed to be a little bit more clubby. And I just needed a vehicle for that.
Nurturing New Talent
I [met Sky Ferreira] when she was 13. She DMed me on MySpace, and I was blown away. This was the cockiest 13-year-old girl I'd ever spoken to. She keeps on saying she's the best at everything. I showed Pontus like, "There's something about this girl. She's so confident, and everything she's saying, I'm buying."
She was cool in the club space. Sky is gonna hate me saying this, but I was like Maybe she's a new Uffie. Uffie was, like, blowing up at the time, and I worked with Uffie later in my career because I was a huge fan. Anyway, I'm like "maybe she's like Uffie" because she was in the headspace of dance music and indie, that Ed Banger [Records] world that Uffie was in. Then Sky sent me [a clip of] her singing. I'm like, "You gotta be kidding."
I dove right in and started to create a sound working with her, inviting people that I thought would be good for the project.
I took a break from touring with Miike Snow after 600 shows or something. I felt like I was a little bit cornered, like how I felt when I started Miike Snow to get away from Top 40. I felt pinned down in this touring thing, and I needed quicker output.
Linus [Eklöw] was a good friend of mine, who remixed "Animal" by Miike Snow and my first Sky Ferreira song, "One." We started to talk, and I said "I'm going to start my own thing. We should work together," and that's how Galantis started.
I knew I had something when DJs started coming out with pop songs. It wasn't just techno DJs like Richie Hawtin anymore. That's when I felt like, This is what I do. I write songs and DJ. These guys were great, but I've been doing this way longer, so if you want a songwriter that can DJ, I'm like, "Alright, let me show you how." I just wanted to throw all my s— out the door as quickly as possible, because I knew if the world was ready, then this would be amazing.
Galantis was so important to me. I struggle with ADHD, and that's why I call the first album Pharmacy because I needed to go back into the studio and make so much music. I just wanted to feel good again about creating, because I wasn't creating as much on tour. This is my medication, and then I also wanted something that was an "upper," something that was happy and leaned the way I wanted to feel.
I said to myself and Linus, "I only want happy, cool-feeling dance music, but I don't want to be cheesy." There is a line. When you think about Motown, it's all cool, but it's also happy vibes. Why can't we try to get that into dance music? Cool, but happy, warm and inspiring without being cheesy. That's what I was going for, anyway.
I think "Peanut Butter Jelly" is the most like that. Now, people are gonna read this and be like, "Well, that's cheesy," and I'm gonna say, "No, it's not!"
I'm chasing freedom all the time in my music. Miike Snow is so much freedom, but I'm writing the songs with Pontus and Andrew, so it's not the complete freedom I get in Galantis. Now, I can pick any vocal and work with anyone, and dance music was the way I wanted to express myself because I was so into DJing.
I wrote [Galantis'] "Bang Bang" because I've never told anyone really about my ADHD, and I just wanted it out there. Recently, I've come into different communities, and hearing about ADHD from other people has helped me a lot. That's what I want to do with the song, give something back and tell my story.
"Koala" definitely hits very close to home in terms of just doing my own thing wherever it goes and not being scared of going there. This is something that doesn't sound like anything else I know. It's a weird one, but I love it.
I wrote it with a very good friend of mine, Andrew Bullimore aka Beatbullyz's, who I wrote "No Money" with. His son is singing "No Money." He was 10 at the time. And I was back with Bully and writing, and he had an idea where his now two sons could sing a song to his newborn daughter. The mom is from Australia, and his sons call her Koala. So Bully's two sons are singing to their little sister about Koala.
He sent me a little snippet singing it with his boys. I had, like, five studio sessions going, and I threw everything away, just skipped everything and worked on this. That's how much I felt like, I just want to go where this is taking me. That's what inspires me every day, coming back to freedom. I just did it because I felt like I wanted to do that, and now I'm really happy that we're putting it out.
The third recent single is "Dream Team." That's a very collaborative record with some people that I'm working with more and more. The idea was sent to me, and I was drawn to that little bit of something punk rock. I heard so many different pieces of music in one song that I felt very inspired to work on it.
If "Koala" was like, Zoom, here it is; this is the other type — when you're drawn to it, you like it, and then you have to keep on working on it. At times, I wanted to give up so badly, but there's something in me that won't ever give up on that challenge; some type of pressure I put on myself. This is a collaborative record with other people, and we're sending it back and forth. Snippets were changing, but it was a cool journey, and sometimes that's what it takes to make a record. I'm not scared to put it down and take it back up again. I'll never give up.
It's like "Peanut Butter Jelly." I wrote that thing 10 years before it came out. I pitched that to so many artists, and no one liked it. Everyone hated it, and every time someone disliked it, the more I used to be like, I'm gonna put it out one day, and I did — and it's a pretty big record for Galantis, actually.
It gets easier with experience, to have more output but less of a stressful life. You know how to do stuff. In the beginning, I was living in the studio basically, but today, I get more music out than ever, and I don't have to live in the studio anymore. I do create music 24/7 anyway. It's just in my head, you know?
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