The Cali duo’s irresistible debut is infused with their beachy hometown.
Michael David, one half of Los Angeles DJ and production duo Classixx, is enduring one of the great injustices of living in the City of Angels: he is getting a rental car because his own vehicle is being repaired after a hit and run.
Classixx, whose debut full-length album, “Hanging Gardens,” is out today (May 14) through Innovative Leisure, has become known for their L.A. sound, like a 21st Century Beach Boys. Both David and his bandmate Tyler Blake grew up in Agoura Hills, a northern L.A. County suburb, spending every day of their summers at Malibu’s Zuma Beach, and now live in Century City and Silverlake, respectively.
“People sort of recognize that we’re very L.A.,” David admits. “We use the word ‘dude’ a lot with no irony. But also, the beach is obviously part of our daily experience.”
More than a cultural or geographic touchstone, nearly every Classixx recording is infused with SoCal. As producers, they first came to prominence in 2009, with a remix of Phoenix’s single “Lisztomania” – a sun-soaked, pool-drenched rendition of the French band’s previously boppy guitar-driven tune. The remix appeared on a compilation from French clothing store and boutique record label Kitsuné, who also released Classixx’s first solo single, “I’ll Get You” later that year. Despite the popularity of these releases, David and Blake were in no rush to make an artist album of their own.
“We went back and forth with the concept a lot,” says David. “I think that one thing that dance records tend to lack is depth, so the full-length LP as a medium…I don’t know if it holds the same place that it used to.”
Artistically and mechanically, Classixx needed to figure out how to take a collection of records made over several years and turn them into an album, without it sounding like a compilation.
In a move unusual for contemporary indie acts, David and Blake turned to their label for guidance. Jamie Strong and Nate Nelson, owners of Innovative Leisure, have become known for nurturing relationships with artists. Since the label formed in 2010, they have cultivated a roster of distinctive musicians like eclectic downtempo duo Rhye, electro-hip-hop producer Nosaj Thing and label co-founder Hanni El Khatib. When Classixx were ready to release a stream of singles, Strong and Nelson suggested otherwise.
“After talking to Jamie and Nate we reevaluated,” David says. “We were like, ‘Well, there’s a lot of continuity here.’ It kind of all came together conceptually once they helped us to realize what we had.”
“Hanging Gardens” expounds on the group’s established sounds, evoking the spirit of an endless sun-kissed summer, saltwater-coated hair, June Gloom mornings and July Fry nights. By featuring catchy melodies and giving some serious bass across the album, Classixx interacts with the broader current of contemporary electronic music while avoiding the pitfalls of daytime disco cheesiness. Yet for all its sunny day vibes, “Gardens” is decidedly nightclub-ready, owing largely to the instincts of its creators.
“We’re sort of sound-oriented,” says David. “It comes from a lot of playing with quarter phrases and interesting sounds. We’ll build a music bed and maybe a one-and-a half-minute clip. From there, if we’re both excited about it we’ll flesh it out into a full track.”
While the album’s anchor songs feature guest vocalists – Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem on “All You’re Waiting For” and Jeppe of Junior Senior on “I’ll Get You” – the album is mostly instrumental. The choice not to feature too many guests vocalists was a conscious one. “You get these records with a bunch of really huge vocalists and it’s almost bizarre,” David explains. “It becomes too big to fail and it feels really strange when you’re listening. We wanted to avoid that.”
This month, Classixx will shift temporarily away from DJing towards a live show as part of a tour with The Presets, Dragonette, and their friends Holy Ghost!. While they’re both instrumentalists, David admits that it’s been a long time since they’ve performed on those instruments live. “We’re so used to DJ-ing it’s going to be a bit of a transition,” he concedes, jokingly describing their MIDI-to-synth live set-up as “the pinnacle of technology for 1985."
“It’s not going to sound exactly like the record but I don’t think that would be possible,” David explains. “I don’t like to see two guys performing and seeing 12 guys-worth of sound come out of the speakers. When they’re seeing a live show, people want to see something authentic.”
Of course, with a very L.A. record in hand, Classixx becomes an automatic ambassador for the city when on the road, even though sometimes they wish they were back home.
“In cold weather I feel very SoCal,” David admits through laughter. “Neither of us can cope with cold weather. Like, why, why would you expose yourself to that?”
Thank goodness for summer tours.