Golden Features Interview: "I was gearing up for people to not enjoy SECT."
The masked Sydney producer gets very real ahead of his biggest Australian tour yet.
At a time when we want our bangers on tap and yesterday, it says something that Golden Features (real name Tom Stell) took over two years to complete his debut album, SECT. It says even more that over that time he kept the single output relatively minimal, and didn't tour all that much since tagging on the Falls Festival tour and Field Day for a couple of shows to replace MØ back in 2016/2017. In the immortal words of Pepper Brooks, "it's a bold strategy Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for 'em."
Interviewing Stell last week ahead of his biggest Australian tour to date kicking off this weekend in Sydney (with a sold out show at the iconic Horden Pavilion, mind), it's no surprise that the less-is-more approach was difficult to maintain at times. "I’m such a hard critic on myself," he begins, in the midst of prepping a huge new live show. "I was gearing up for people to not enjoy [SECT], because I’d been working on it for so long I just lost scope of what it sounded like. Then the first single [Falling Down] got a mixed response..."
Fortunately Stell also has a pretty strong belief in himself, and despite constant cries of "release the Guillotine VIP" or "where's the drop?!" on social media posts, he knew what he set out to do, and stuck to it: "Like anyone you begin to believe what other people say. The reality of it is that you can’t make everyone happy, but at the same time while I enjoy writing heavier tracks, I don’t like doing that all day every day. It’s like McDonald’s – it’s nice but you don’t want to eat it all day every day. I’m not putting out things to sound pop or work on radio, if I’m doing it it’s because I believe in it and I like it. Those voices creep up on you; ‘Should I do this? Should I do that?’ But at the end of the day I’m getting better and fighting them and trusting myself."
And the proof, as one would always hope, is in the pudding: "I think since the whole record has come out and people have realised it’s a whole thing, not just one thing or another. Each part props others up and makes it stronger."
Stell also wasn't alone in bringing SECT to life, working with a few different collaborators - most notably close friend and "future groomsman at my wedding one day" Harrison Mills of ODESZA, and Australian dance music legend Kim "The Presets" Moyes. Not a bad couple of players to have in your corner, and a couple of dudes who were invaluable to the process of bringing the LP to life:
"I love [Harrison] because we can just critique the shit out of each other and there’s no ego there. It’s really natural. So we tear each other apart and then go back through everything. The collaboration with him just came from sending him an idea, and he just picked up a microphone and starting humming some melodies which ended up becoming Everything... Normally I don’t like using things that other people have offered up. But it was just that good, and I really like Harrison, I trust him, it felt more normal him helping than if it was a stranger pitching it."
When it comes to Moyes, Stell basically had to pinch himself after finding an ally in one of the brains behind one of his all time favourite acts. "I’m a crazy Presets fan boy so I had to hold it together. It was a trip, he came over to my place and I played him one of the cuts off the record and he got goosebumps on his arm. And I was like, 'Oh I can quit music now'. And then after that day he just pitched in and was always willing to help when he could, taking this real big brother role which was everything." Moyes proved most invaluable in helping Stell get one of his "favourite songs on the record" from a place of almost being scrapped, with some help from a little Aussie trio called DMA's.
"The reason the album took so long was because we couldn’t figure out the top line for Falling Out, and I was complaining to Kim and he goes, 'leave it with me'... And he hit me up a couple of days later and he’d been wrapping up the DMA’s album, and said 'I really think Tommy [O'Dell, frontman] can do something amazing on this'. There’d been 30 different versions of Falling Out at this point and I was getting ready to scrap the song entirely, and he got in the studios with DMA’s and they knocked out this rough guide and after Field Day I gave it a crack myself."
With the album out to a rightfully rapturous response ("It’s gone above and beyond my expectations to be perfectly honest"), attention turns towards the upcoming album tour, one that Stell is as excited about as he is nervous. He sees it as an opportunity to give something back to patient fans, and also honour the dance music legends he cut his own teeth too. "The thing for me is I wanna give back what I got from other artists. There’s a lot of people I watch play… Like Boys Noize and Chemical Brothers and all these different people. And I’ll never forget those moments, they were just these things I’ll take to my grave just as some of the most incredible moments of my life."
And now Stell acknowledges that he's in a unique position to hopefully do the same: "I had this moment where I was like, ‘Man it’s kinda me dishing out these moments for others now,’ so I feel this huge responsibility for people to do the best I can do. They pay to come to a show, or just decide to be at your stage at the festival, and they’ve chosen you over someone else."
This also means he's moving away from DJing, leaning further into not only just his own music and edits, but playing live and building tracks as well: "I’ve switched everything over from a DJ set to everything being played piece by piece, each song is split up into 8-12 tracks, and all of them are getting edited and mixed live. There’s synths on stage, and things that were otherwise done in the studio will be coming out live. It’s a lot of work and it costs a lot of money to do, but there's something about this that I wanna keep pushing higher and higher."
He cites Daft Punk's seminal ALIVE 2007 Tour as a reference point, perhaps not in size but in scope: "I see so many artists and see their show and they don’t play their own music, and just spin all this random shit... As far as live electronic shows go, I think we peaked at Daft Punk’s ALIVE 2007 tour. Have you met anyone who doesn’t think it was that good? And it’s like why did we move away from that? Why aren’t people doing things like that still, putting together live performances, where it’s different to the record versions. You don’t just play things sequentially front-to-back.
"Who has surpassed that, who’s come close? The Chemical Brothers maybe. Justice? Deadmau5? The Daft Punk Alive Tour just seems to still be the pinnacle, the high water mark of live electronic performances."
Golden Features at Field Day 2017 (via Facebook).
You'll have your chance in the coming weeks to see how Golden Features' new live show stacks up at one of the dates listed down the bottom, after which Stell has no plans to slow down: "A lot of people take their feet off the peddle, but I wanna tour, I wanna go to some new places, get some life experiences to draw from and get stuck back into it. This is all I’ve got, this is what I do, and I consider myself very lucky to do it. I think people have shelf-lives and that creativity tap can turn off any time. While the tap’s on I wanna do everything I can."
Sat 11 Aug – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (SOLD OUT)
Tue 14 Aug – Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
Sat 18 Aug – HBF Stadium, Perth
Fri 24 Aug – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Sat 25 Aug – The Forum, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
Sun 26 Aug - The Forum, Melbourne (NEW SHOW)
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