Crossover dance rediscovers its spirit in the phenomenal new record from decorated producer and Harlem Shake creator Harrison Rodrigues, AKA Baauer. He answered our questions about Planet’s Mad, which tells the thumping, glimmering tale of a bizarre cosmological event during which a kaleidoscopic alien planet – and its cast of strange lifeforms – merges with Earth. Suffice to say, we’re not in Harlem any more.
Watching the superb mini-movie for the album [embedded at the bottom of this article], it became apparent to me how weird the human (and alien!) urge to dance is – we hear a beat, and we are compelled to move our bodies around in time. What are your thoughts on that bodily drive?
I move all the time. I move when I’m making music. I’m kinda infamous for this on my twitch channel. As far as my thoughts, well – we’ve been making musical instruments before we could make vessels. We’ve been making music and dancing to music since before we even made a bowl. At some point you’d have to say it’s the most fundamental art form of being human – just making music and responding to music. Kind of amazing. I don’t think you can separate the idea of being human from dancing, actually.
At several points during the film we see a lens-flare containing the letter ‘B’ – it’s like we are literally seeing through your lens, or eyes. Do you feel the visuals did capture your vision as accurately as possible?
Yeah the whole concept is about the worldmaking idea of creating an album. And so the entire visual album is directly meant to represent my perspective and imagination. The little lens fx you picked up on was a nice subtle gesture to that idea, from Rick Farin.
How did the extra time you had to create the album’s world and characters impact the outcome of this record?
Just having that luxury of time through lockdown… [and through] continuing to discuss the world we were making, meant it all came together really easily. But the initial spark for everything was just a gut reaction to the music. In [HOT 44] – which is a techno record I guess – the lead percussion splits into two lines of drum fills, seeming to split off in different directions. So when making it I already knew this should represent a worm that had been split into two sections. And over the process of months this became a creature drawn by Chloe Scheffe and animated by Rick Farin, who now has a full back-story and name. It’s awesome. It’s just about giving body to these songs. It’s something I guess I’ve always done but we’ve never directly honoured that in the visuals quite so well as this project.
The album presser contains the interesting reflection that Planet’s Mad is rooted in “a time before ‘EDM’, where it seemed everyone appreciated dance music via the likes of Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Justice and Chemical Brothers.” What do you think happened to the cultural zeitgeist, or to the dance genre, that changed that far more widespread appreciation?
Festivals really took over, and the priority that live music took over artists’ incomes changed the scale of everything. In a way, it’s just hair metal for our generation. There wasn’t really the infrastructure of nightclubs in the US to support the rising popularity of electronic music en masse, and so hard ticket touring and festivals took it all to another level to create what’s understood as EDM.
But I guess where I’m pulling from was dance music in the MTV generation, when you’d be listening to rock one second, then hip hop, then big beat and breaks. And then just after that I was in the UK, and those acts were all over BBC R1, as were Gorillaz and stuff like that. A lot is said now about genre dying, and there not being fans of one thing anymore – but what we’ve seen is audiences splinter through social media and digital advertising and what we’ve lost along with big radio and the age of music TV is this intersection of dance music for people who maybe aren’t into the lifestyle of plur and partying, but love a couple big dance records a year. That moment made for big, weird crossover dance records – which doesn’t feel the same anymore.
I love playing big dance festivals, but I’m also into playing for fans of rock and hip hop – that’s always been cool to me. ‘Cause that’s how I listen to music. We’re meant to be into it all.
Which of our new alien pals is your favourite?
Probably Pedro. He sits on my shoulder while I’m making music. He’s cute. He smells terrible.
Planet’s Mad by Baauer is out on clear and green vinyl and CD on July 31 via LuckyMe.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.