Perry Farrell, the ‘godfather’ of alt-rock, might soon have a new moniker to honor his strides in…electronic music? Yes, Farrell’s still a part of Satellite Party and Jane’s Addiction, but he’s also integrated a sizeable DJ area at Lollapalooza, performed live with Paul Van Dyk and Moby, played at Cochella under DJ Peretz and has a live electro act with wife Etty Farrell. While it seems surreal to chat blogs and The Bloody Beetroots with a man who’s famous for an extensive rock-based career, make no mistake about it, Farrell knows what he’s talking about. In fact, with every passing day, he’s becoming increasingly entrenched in the dance scene and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the business. Here for URB, Perry talks about DJ culture, the future of bands and finding his way in an electro world.
I’m very excited to talk to you because of my personal history with the DJ tent at Lollapalooza.
I know! Did you go this year?
I did, and I played last year so I can see first-hand how much bigger the area is now, but that stage is still just two years young. What was the tipping point for you to say, you know, ‘this is something we need to incorporate into Lollapalooza’?
I’ve always been into the [electronic] scene. I did a festival once called ENIT with people like Lady Miss Kier and Orb and we mixed it with Love and Rockets and Porno for Pyros; I was thinking about incorporating electronic music with live bands a long time ago. I tried to do it with Lollapalooza as soon as we got into Chicago but there wasn’t an area specifically laid out for it. When it started to spread out, people like Girl Talk were on the BMI stage but I feel like, with electronic music culture, it’s so important to have the area itself be a beautiful scene. I don’t really see it as a stage.
Were you surprised at how quickly people took to that DJ area last year?
Last year people were showing up in droves, even during the headliners. They never thought that when Rage Against The Machine was playing, Perry’s [DJ area] would still be packed. So when we saw that we said, we have to make it bigger. I’m always ahead of the curve in my head and I’m enough in front of the curve that I actually miscalculate a lot of times.
There were a lot of fresh acts this year at Perry’s area — a lot of people representing new generations and styles of music.
What I’ve seen happen in the last five years is the hybrid of electronic musicians – of working hand in hand with live instrumentalists, vocalists, drummers and everything else. There are people like Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem from a few years back and now young groups like Hey Champ and Crystal Castles. These people are a beautiful hybrid. What happened was, young musicians started to produce themselves because the money ran out at the major record labels and in doing so they learned about electronics. Now they not only produce with electronic software but they take it out onto the stage with them. When you’re talking about presentation it’s nice to know there are groups out there that have a healthy dose of electronic music.
With all these hybrid groups coming out, do you think that displaces or changes the role of the DJ?
You can’t necessarily say that because it really boils down to economics. For me, I think that if you don’t have a lot of money and you have a small club, without much trouble you can get a great DJ to come in and rock the party. You’re not always going to be able to get a crew to come in and play some of your smaller rooms. I have nothing against the single producer/DJ who shows up and kills it, but I love, as I said, the presentation of things. With the live element you’re always going to have a human connection. Humans connect with other humans and that’s why [groups] like Depeche Mode work so well to this day. Even though it’s synth music you have a live drummer, live singers, live guitar, and so you need that human connection. There’s just something about it that human beings can relate to.
Depeche Mode certainly represents the old guard in that arena but it seemed like the slant this year at Perry’s area centered on hipster acts and blog music – the MSTRKRFTs and Boys Noizes of the world.
Well it’s pretty widespread. I go on Beatport and I try to listen to the music… you know I go to the top downloads and one song sounds nothing like the other. One guy is doing dubstep another’s doing classic, there’s vocal house so it’s pretty widespread. I have to say I like a lot of it. Music is kind of like food – you eat different things at different parts of the day. Like this morning I’m going to get up and have watermelon. This evening I might have quesadillas. I was listening this morning to people like Fleet Foxes and Ra Ra Riot and they’re so different from electronic music. It’s this new thing that’s been developing, it’s like human music. These are young people, you think they would want to make brash, hard music, but they’re making soft, flowery music. I can dig it, I appreciate the talent.
It seems like the people who listen to the harder stuff are into that as well – they go to both sides of the spectrum.
You know what I mean? You listen to Bloody Beetroots when you’re ‘x’ing at 2 in the morning and it feels great. I put it on now, I’d kill myself.
I think some people would be surprised to hear Perry Farrell knows about The Bloody Beetroots! Were there any artists in the DJ area you weren’t familiar with but blew your mind when you saw and heard them?
I was familiar with all the ones who ended up headlining and playing in the evening. And the other ones, like you said are hipster and blog people. The Hood Internet for example, I admire these guys. I found them because I like music blogs. We had a pretty good radio music station here in LA called Indie 103 and I used to like to listen to that station and it went down so it drove me harder into the Internet and satellite radio. I don’t do it all the time but I go into these periods where I start cruising music blogs and, to be honest with you, I download a ton of music just to get familiar with what’s out there. I’ll do it for weeks and weeks and weeks and then I won’t do it for a few months and I’ll just be writing my own stuff. That’s how I came across people like Dark Wave Disco and The Hood Internet – local Chicago guys.
There are a lot of blog critics who say blogs teach people to not pay for music. Would it be fair to say in this argument you’re on the side of the blogs?
Yes, I am. I like going on people’s sites and seeing what their remixes sound like, and if they’re really cool, I like to rip them! That sounds terrible because I’m a musician but I don’t care if they do it to me.
Will you be giving away your music?
Jane’s Addiction just recorded two songs with Trent Reznor that we put up on our website and he put it up on his. There’s also a video [Etty and I] just finished that we did ourselves. It’s called “I Like ‘Em Big” and it was a viral video and self-produced song. So there you go! I don’t mind at all throwing things up. It’s like art projects. Look, I’m a musician so I should be the first one to say it’s not fair, but it is okay. You just have to look at the world a little differently. Recording is a beautiful luxury that we have today in the modern world where you can hear the songs even if the group doesn’t get there. I find a great joy in scouring the Internet for music.
Let’s talk a little more about the work you do with your wife Etty. You guys are now performing live electronic music! I saw you last year when you did that set with Slash in the DJ tent.
What happened last year, it was too much. It was set up just for the DJs and it wasn’t really set up for us. I had Slash, a guitar player, Etty and myself and I think we had Samantha Ronson all trying to stress that PA and it ended up crashing on us – so sad! But this year, we were ready. We took painstaking time and care into putting together not only a great PA but a lighting system too.
So what’s your setup?
What I’ve been doing with Etty is keeping it what I call “light and loud.” It’s four plane tickets but everyone’s playing off laptops. [I have] my ProTools LE 8.0 and I put my tracks on ProTools and that’s what I play straight off of. I’m trying to get the crossovers and mixes to sound the way DJs do it because when classic DJs like Mark Farina bring a track in, there’s something that happens. There’s an energy that comes into the room and I try and replicate that when I’m playing with live instrumentals. If you have experience as a DJ it’s kind of helpful because it’s a very different timing. You can come in over songs for a minute, then it goes into a buildup and drops out and that’s something live people don’t do. Live people, they have three and a half minutes and that’s a song.
You’ve mentioned some self-released material but I hear you’re also working with people like Kaskade and the Swedish House Mafia. Those must be label-affiliated!
Yes, we also did a single with Kaskade that’s coming out on Ultra. I’m excited about it. I do enjoy writing with different people, different producers. It’s really fun and you get to meet so many more people than if you’re just by yourself. I always look at people like Danny Tenaglia and Sasha and Digweed and Pete Tong… It’s wonderful in electronic music – as long as you continue to do good work and bring a good track to the party you’re always welcome. It’s a lifelong vision to just be able to be a part of the electronic music scene.
Is it tough to switch from the mentality of doing albums to doing singles and each one being a different collaboration?
In my stage of the game, I prefer it this way. I like the idea of constantly being in writing a lot more than I like the idea of a record cycle. I like to write year round and then perform whenever there’s a really good party. People go around the world as an electronic artist. You could be booked 360 days a year if you wanted to. The beauty of it is, you don’t do that. You book out and have a good time and burn out and get off the road and just keep writing tracks, and I love that. I want to get on a tour but all the people touring are on labels. I don’t think you need labels exactly to do it — it’s just that you can brand yourself better.
There are a lot of people who become big artists and tour just from people passing along their songs.
I know. I could always go to Beatport, that’s an option. I could just put my stuff up on there and other places like that and Maybe URB [laughs].
We’ll take it!
Like I said, I like to see the scene, people that are going out and listening to music and bringing their new tracks. That’s what I appreciate so much about the DJ scene. They’re bringing produced tracks and they’re not waiting around for record companies. The whole old format doesn’t apply to them. They don’t care and they’re still having the time of their lives and they get to have the most beautiful life traveling and everyone’s having a wild time. If I can just comment on where the wild times are, it’s in that scene. It’s in the electro scene. The rock and roll scene doesn’t seem that wild to me anymore. It’s like the arteries are clogged but the parties I’ve been playing in the last year, Ultra and Electric Daisy and Hard, those are the parties to be at. That’s where the young people are still experimenting and discovering so it’s exciting to me to be a part of that.
Speaking of young people, are your children getting into this as well? Do you ever catch your kids dancing around to Crookers or Diplo?
Yeah, they’re almost desensitized to the whole festival thing. They always come out on my stage at the end. My boys, they’re five and seven, they’re at the stage where they emulate what I’m doing. At this point they’re making believe that they’re singing and dancing – they’re acting out like they’re doing their thing. Whenever they come into the studio at my home, they immediately get on my drum machine and my synth and try to make music.
Are they gravitiating towards anything?
Well I don’t push them. I super don’t push them. I almost think Maybe I should start pushing them because people like Michael Jackson and Tiger Woods got really far by being pushed. I just don’t want to do that because… I can’t be that cruel. My seven year old already started a band! He wrote a song called “Shadows of Darkness” and performed it. I wasn’t even at the show because I was on tour so I only have the video of it. He loves music.
Seems like you won’t have to push them! Do you ever think, ‘wow, it would be cool to perform with the whole family’ later on down the road?
Yeah. I really do. I think about Bob Marley and what a great family he had and how they were music ambassadors. So with my boys, when they go over to the Kidzapalooza area I always tell them, “Be ambassadors. Go over there and make sure the other kids are enjoying themselves. See if they’re getting along and show them the rock and roll petting zoo…” So they’re getting it.