It couldn’t have taken Matoma’s manager more than a few minutes to retrieve me from the hotel lobby, but it turned out that was all the time it took for him to pass out on the hotel room’s little loveseat.
Matoma is currently on a bus tour of the US, dubbed the “Party At Your Place!” tour, with support from Steve Void and Cheat Codes. Tom was kind enough to invite Electrojams over to his place for an interview before his show in Minneapolis to talk about his history, performing, remixing, and his plans for the future.
Also, we covered a harsh fact of life, especially for somebody touring the country by bus: Matoma cannot sleep on a bus. It’s not a new revelation by any means, as Matoma toured as the main support for the Chainsmokers last year on their “Friend Zone” tour. I asked how bus life compares to the jet set life flying from one festival to another.
“It depends on…well, you can’t really compare them because festivals are so much bigger. Here, you get like up close with people that actually listen to your music and hardcore fans. And fans. But of course, you don’t fly that much and you don’t have to go to the airport. Most dates, you can after the gig just go to sleep until the next place. But also of course, I don’t sleep that well on the bus because of the movement.” On the surface, it seems like a bus tour would be a great way to see a country, but it seems Matoma may not maintain consciousness long enough to see it once they stop moving.
Matoma’s real name is Tom Stræte Lagergren, a 25-year-old electronic music producer from a small municipality in Norway, whose rise to fame over the past couple years is owed to his remixes and mashups of 90’s hip-hop that take the heavy aggression of the originals and replaced that with a kind of subdued island heartbeat. To be frank, it’s a little weird, but it works.
I found Matoma like most people, through Soundcloud on his mashup of Ice Cube’s “Hello” with “Party and Bullshit” by Notorious BIG. So how did he come to the decision to mix this music from contending factions.
“First of all, I just had like the feeling that like the kids these days, they don’t know about the old school hip-hop in the way that I knew about when I grew up. Like especially back in Norway people weren’t listening to that type of hip hop. So I just wanted to introduce the flow and those artists in a new way, and the two songs, they fit together like perfectly, in key and in pitch and in tempo and in the flow and swing. So I just thought to myself, ‘Why not?’”
But that’s not where Matoma’s relationship with music began. For that, you have to travel back to when he started taking piano lessons at the age of seven. By the time he reached 16, playing on a national stage in Norway and spending countless hours studying and playing Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin, Matoma was ready for something more. That’s when he bought a laptop and started producing music and he was hooked. Later, he enrolled in college to learn about music and production.
“I took a bachelor’s in music technology and production, but way, way later. But that was just like in general with music and [how] sound moves in space and nature, and also acoustics. More of the very technological stuff of music, not know how to make a song, but it helped me to structure everything and see us from other perspectives than I’d seen it before.”
Still, it seemed like a pretty big leap to go from the literal classics and technical monstrosities to the arguably more simple world of electronic music. It seems the creative freedoms took precedence over the staunch rules of classical.
“Like for me I love mashing up and mixing genres. as I keep up with electronic music, like my sets are a very good example of that. But, it’s all about having like that thread and everything, that feeling that it fits together. Music is music and as long as you know how to take it from one place to another, there’s no limits or no barriers.”
That desire for freedom and diverging creative expression extends to his studio productions as well, and his current project, ‘Hakuna Matoma’ is a perfect example. An album is traditionally a kind of destination that a producer arrives at after a certain amount of isolation, but Hakuna Matoma is more of a song by song evolution where he’s taking his fans on the journey with him. The self-released alternate format has already paid dividends, specifically in the case of his collab with Sean Paul, which they’d finished only two weeks prior to his appearance at Coachella last April.
“When I played Coachella, I brought out Sean Paul and we a few weeks earlier, we did the track ‘Paradise’ in the studio together with Paul and Nakia and KStewart. It just felt like a perfect Coachella moment. So we wanted to release it like two weeks after we made it and that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have my platform of the album.”
It wasn’t a surprise to hear that Coachella was his favorite show he’s played, considering he had a coveted sunset slow at the enormous Sahara tent. It turned out that he was originally scheduled for a day slot on a smaller stage, but Matoma and his agent hustled in enlisting guests like Akon, Sean Paul, and even a rare appearance by Ja Rule in the weeks leading up to the festival.
“Yeah. I was scheduled to be way, way before, but he just hustled and said to the promoter and to the guy that owned the festival that we were bringing all these guest artists and my manager made that happen. Like with Ja-Rule, the day before I played at the Marquee in New York. He had this 15-year anniversary there, so I managed to talk with him and convinced him to come to Coachella. And that was the day before, so we flew him to Coachella and… that’s how that all happened.”
Fortune and fate clearly favor Matoma, as much as many of his fans. The first time I saw Matoma play was last year at Electric Forest on a beautifully produced Tripolee stage and the one thing I remember most of all was his incredible enthusiasm. Even if he didn’t say it (which he did, a lot), you could tell he was stoked to be there.
“Yeah, absolutely, I was very excited, and like, nothing else has changed since then. For me, it’s all about traveling around, meeting new people, spreading new music and spreading the love. I just think about, especially with DJ’s, who play songs on this stage, of course, they have a reputation, and an image to protect, but it always seems like there’s a glass [wall] between the DJ and the audience. And they play so much music that does not connect, it’s just noise, and you really need to be on something to enjoy just standing there and jumping.
For me it’s more about the connection with the music and that it’s important that you have stories to tell as a deejay.”
So what about the stories you have to tell, I wondered. What’s coming up next?
“I’m always working on new music, but with the music industry, you can’t talk much about them because of the politics and the music. I just want to share music non-stop and that’s why I also made the album Hakuna Matoma.
I have new music coming soon, I’m excited and stoked about it. I always write music, even when I’m on the road, sitting on a bus. I always try to find room and space to get inspired and also be inspired.”
That’s something I’ve learned about producers, is that if they have something coming, they won’t tell you about it. Even though they really want to, there are rules in the industry that keep a lid on things. So while he may have been drawn to the blanket genre of electronic music for its eschewing of traditional rules, he still recognizes the importance of drawing inside the lines when he needs to. I opted to end the interview by asking for Matoma’s advice for up and coming producers.
“Just work hard and don’t find yourself in a spot where you are always dependent on others. You have to be standing on your own and trust your instincts, and work hard. Also just. Looking at tutorials, and reading about the different software. Use your ears and try out different stuff and to find your sound. Be confident that as long as you work hard to do it for a long time, I will make it. Like with me, I started producing when I was 16, but still like I didn’t show people except for my family and friends my music. But I didn’t release any music until I was 23 years old. Because I just felt that the music I had produced until then wasn’t good enough to show to people and I just continued working nonstop really hard, five to 10 hours a day. And that’s the reason why I also went to music school. I didn’t know that my goal was to become a producer or a deejay. My goal was to live by music and have music in my life and I could like maybe work as a sound technician, maybe work in the studio, and work as a music teacher. But that opportunity to go three years to university, and be disciplined,and learn the stuff I learn made me realize that if you just work hard, the sky’s the limit.”
Indeed, that seems to be the case with Matoma, who’s churning out hit after hit on his journey to spread love and music and smiles the world over.
I was given tickets to the show at Mill City Nights in Minneapolis, but after seeing the way Matoma effortlessly worked the room, drawing in songs and samples from a wide swath of house, electro, nu-disco, and otherwise, I would happily pay to see him again. Check out the photo album from the show and head to hakunamatoma.com for remaining “Party at Your Place!” dates and tickets. I highly recommend it.
I work, live and play in Minneapolis.
I try to tell the story of the people that create music and experiences through pictures as well as through words.