Some hail Galantis as a super group savior of main stage dance music. Others are drawn to the duo’s magnetic blend of eclecticism and energy that enthralled its first crowd in the Indio desert last month at Coachella. But for Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklow, Galantis represents something simpler that can be deceivingly difficult to attain: creative freedom.
“Something I really appreciate from being in a band and writing music for other artists is that there are no boundaries or limits here,” says Karlsson. “We can do whatever we want.”
Karlsson is quite familiar with the other side of the coin. As one-half of Swedish pop production duo Bloodshy & Avant, he won a Grammy for co-writing and producing Britney Spears’s crossover smash “Toxic,” and has lent his talents to such hit-driven heavyweights as Madonna, Katy Perry, and Jennifer Lopez. Karlsson also moonlights as one-third of enigmatic indie pop band Miike Snow, whose lush synthscapes rear their heads on Galantis’ eponymous debut EP.
Eklow – aka Style of Eye – can relate as well, having co-written and co-produced Icona Pop’s No. 1 hit “I Love It,” in addition to releasing his solo productions on such varied labels as OWSLA, Fool’s Gold, Refune, and Dirtybird.
The two Swedes became fast friends after meeting at Karlsson’s Robotberget studio in Stockholm, trading track ideas and song snippets while on the road with their respective acts. Pulling a Baltic “Led Zeppelin IV,” the Swedes donned headlamps and retreated to a secluded island studio in Stockholm’s sprawling archipelago to sow the seeds from which Galantis would grow. Karlsson’s keen ear for atmospherics quickly coalesced with Eklow’s dance floor-focused fundamentals under a unique songwriting emphasis.
“We always start with the song,” explains Karlsson. “We use guitar, piano, and bass lines we don’t keep to figure out which clothes we’re going to put on each melody and lyric. I think that’s different than a lot of others in the dance scene. They have a beat they love and then force a top line on top of it. I feel like that makes it sound like a remix. I’d rather do it our way, it’s more fun too.”
Employing a host of vocoders and creative processing chains, the producers interwove male, female, and robotic vocals to lend an androgynous and anonymous appeal to each song’s verses and choruses.
“You’re the first one to ask about who is singing!” exclaims Karlsson. “That’s pretty cool, because we wanted to have something you couldn’t quite figure out. I think people are just like, ‘Oh that’s Galantis.’”
“For us, there’s a big win in not being able to envision the actual vocalist when you hear the songs,” echoes Eklow. “The lyrics and melodies get more space when you treat vocals like this.”
The duo’s creative approach and pacing varied. While they spent months painstakingly reinventing “You” until finally being satisfied with its arrangement, songs like “The Heart That I’m Hearing” came together in a matter of days. When they eventually departed the island’s dark shores, a six-track EP had taken shape that drew upon their divergent musical strengths.
To provide a visual counterpart to the release’s catchy refrains and unconventional elements, Galantis commissioned the design of the hybrid feline-jellyfish “seafox” mascot that adorns their release artwork, music videos, and stage show. It’s an easy metaphor for the quirky approach that Galantis brings to modern dance music.
“From the beginning, we wanted to be a bit on the side of what’s going on in this scene,” says Karlsson. “It’s a lot of people doing something that sounds very similar and, while I don’t mind it, it doesn’t move or touch me as much as I’d like. It’s a little bit cold or dead. We’re going towards something else and are happy a lot of big artists are coming to us and saying they really like it.”
Indeed, Galantis has been widely embraced by the dance music establishment it threatens to upend. “Smile” received an edit from Kaskade, who joined the duo onstage at Coachella, while Tiësto and twoloud recently remixed “You.” Laidback Luke this week tweeted that Galantis was “light years ahead” of the rest, and Porter Robinson hailed “You” as the only so-called EDM he’s enjoyed in months.
Few artists can lay claim to making their debut performance at Coachella less than two weeks after their first release, and Galantis paid close attention to every aspect. The duo rehearsed their highly regarded debut for weeks even before knowing the festival timetable. Karlsson describes Galantis’ 9:30 pm Gobi Stage berth as a “dream slot,” while noting stiff competition from Pharrell Williams and Empire of the Sun.
“We were scared because we weren’t sure what to expect,” says Karlsson. “Would people have heard us? Would they show up? We stepped out onstage and saw the massive crowd and started performing “Smile.” Hearing that crowd overpower the vocal was unreal.”
That energy extended to their entire North American tour, infecting even New York’s notoriously cool Bowery Ballroom, where fans belted the lyrics while wielding their shoes like cheerleader pom-poms. By implementing live synthesizers and drum pads into their live show, Galantis has achieved onstage electricity that fuels its crowd’s frenzy in a feedback loop.
“We brought our favorite tools from the studio to make it fun for us onstage,” says Eklow. “Mixing records is one thing, it’s technically pretty easy for us as we’ve been doing it for a long time. But it’s very refreshing to be able to spice things up with what we’re bringing and deliver something unique to each show.”
Reclining in Los Angeles where they wrapped up their tour, both artists are eager to return to their island getaway and finish their first full-length album. While tempted to road test the new tracks on their recent tour, they ultimately opted to keep them under wraps. Fans won’t wait long, however, as the album’s songwriting is mostly complete.
Additionally, Galantis has plans for a number of collaborative singles and a revamped live show for their next go around the globe.
“On the next one, we’ll just have a gigantic studio onstage spinning around,” Karlsson says, laughing.
It’s unclear whether he’s kidding, and that’s what’s great about Galantis.