Pop idol or mainstage act? DallasK combines divergent directions [Interview + Spring Break Playlist]
Orlando native Dallas Koehlke might not have been able to legally drink at 19, but that didn’t stop him from booking club sets across the country thanks to his infectious beats and mounting popularity within the electronic dance music scene. The young producer, better known as DallasK, followed his momentum and moved to Los Angeles with a plan to become the next big electronic music producer. If someone had told him that this move would lead to his production skills being the glue behind one of America’s hottest girl groups, and that his singing would be the one aspect holding his diverse roster of releases together, he probably would have found the idea outlandish.
Since Dallas’s move, now six years ago, the 27-year-old has continued to prove that his artistry can hardly be confined to a box. His diverse range of skills have opened doors for him to produce for pop’s biggest acts, release under his own moniker, and perform live as a vocalist. While his past is littered with heavy hitting electronic music collaborations with names such as Tiesto, KSHMR, and Hardwell, his future includes releasing a series of diverse singles that will singularly be held together with his vocals. Some will skew pop, others electronic, and his most recent release “Self Control” even has hints of the punk rock he listened to as a teen.
Koehlke spoke with DA about his unexpected entrance into the pop industry and how it is impacting his future in the electronic music scene. When asked whether he would like to be America’s next pop idol or a headliner at Ultra, the producer noted that his goal is to be a hybrid of the two. His ascent from electronic into pop is reminiscent of The Chainsmokers‘ journey, and it is not one we many artists successfully navigate. Despite The Chainsmokers’ immense success, the backlash they have received along the way as they have attempted to find relevance within both the electronic and pop fan communities has been severe.
Koehlke is optimistic about his future trying to bridge the two worlds together through his music, and if anyone is able to do it, he is a likely candidate. As someone who is ingrained in both scenes, Koehlke’s insights about the differences of a producer’s role in pop versus electronic music are unique. Read the full interview below, and check out DallasK’s exclusive Spring Break x Dancing Astronaut Playlist:
So tell me a little about your background.
I’ve been making dance music and touring as a DJ since I was 19 years old. I’ve done a lot of collabs with Hardwell, Tiesto, and Martin Garrix — people like that. When I moved to LA when I was 21, I met a lot of people and got into the producing songwriting world. I’ve been doing that in tandem with touring all of the time, making club records, and over the past year, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can combine those two worlds.
When I moved to LA, I never thought I would be writing songs, singing, and making pop songs for girl bands. That’s where I found myself, and I really enjoyed it. I figured as a DJ, I wanted to incorporate that because I felt like the music I was making as an artist wasn’t necessarily indicative of me as a person? So, that’s why I’m really happy with “All My Life,” and “Self Control,” because I think they are really indicative of my life. “All My Life” has all of the electro house and the drops, and “Self Control” is kind of indicative of the emo music I listened to growing up. Beyond that, the new stuff that is coming out in a couple of months will be similar and different, and I think my voice is the glue that ties is all together.
Was singing on your tracks intimidating for you? I know for a lot of people it is.
I think the thing that gave me the courage to do it is that my publishing company had an event where they wanted me to perform some of the songs I had written for other people. They were like, ‘you know you can accompany someone on guitar, or you can sing it, or someone else can sing it.’ I was of the mentality at the time that I wanted to challenge myself, and although playing guitar with someone else singing would have been cool, I realized the way for this to be the most challenging was getting up there and singing. I had never done that before.
Even when I was in a band when I was younger, I would play guitar and bass. I was never a vocalist. So I kind of agreed haphazardly without really knowing whether I could do it or not. I practiced a bit, and then I performed “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony, which I wrote the year before, and a Justin Bieber “What do you mean?” cover. It was pretty well received, and everyone on my team was like, “why don’t you sing- you should sing.” Then I backtracked and had all of this music coming out, and I was like, “well hey, why don’t I record these, and see if I like how I sound.” I’ve been producing for other artists, and all I’ve been doing is cutting people’s voices onto songs, so I have the knowledge of what to do. So I did it, and I was happy with the result. Everyone else was as well, so I figured that was the best way forward. It was still very nerve wracking with the live performance thing, and we are still developing the live show. Putting them out and seeing how people react is also very stressful, but it’s been good so far.
You’re career kind of began and was rooted in the electronic music world. Then you branched into pop production, and now you are even the vocalist on your tracks. In your ideal world, what does the future hold? Are you America’s next pop boy or are you headlining Ultra?
Um, that’s a really good question, and I think it’s some kind of hybrid that doesn’t really exist yet, but I’m working on it. I really do love djing, and I love the dance music community. The fans are so passionate. They always come to the shows, and they always come to the events. What I find with other kinds of music is that it is a more passive fan experience. There are alot of people online and around the world, and obviously everyone can’t be everywhere at every festival, but (with electronic music) I feel like it’s a real community, and I love that as like a live blueprint for where I see my show.
10 years from now, I hope I’m just still making dope music. I don’t know what the style will be. It’s hard to tell. If you told Kanye West when he made The College Dropout that he was going to make Yeezus 10 years after, and it was going to be all of this crazy production, and Daft Punk would be on it- he probably wouldn’t have been able to guess that. But yeah, I definitely see myself as some kind of a hybrid between a vocalist and electronic music producer. I think what I always really love about electronic music, especially with the live performance, is that it is just so powerful. Kind of like, it outperforms any other kind of music for me. I mean, if you’re at Coachella, and Arcade Fire is playing mainstage, and Skrillex is at the Sahara Tent — Arcade Fire is cool, but there is no contest. There is not going to be more energy at that stage than there is for Skrillex.
As electronic music becomes more mainstream and poppy, there has been real backlash from electronic music fans who claim that producer’s are selling out and the music is becoming formulaic. As someone who floats between both worlds, what are your thoughts on this?
I’m a fan of lots of different types of music. I see people who float between the two worlds because they are fans of music, and they don’t get caught up in a genre determining if they can like something or not. I see both sides, where people are like, ‘What is this- why are you making Revealed Records music?’ Then I’ve seen people be like, “Holy Shit, I love your old stuff, and this is really good too. I would have never expected you to make this and keep going with it.” But yeah, there are definitely people who are fans of one specific sound or one genre and want to be superiorist with that. I think with streaming platforms and people having access to so much music, genres are becoming a little less important, and that’s what makes it more feasible for someone like me to just make anything I want.
Is the creative process different for you when it comes to producing music for hip pop and pop artists versus creating your own releases? Or is it all the same creative energy for you?
It definitely has different energies, and I think in some ways making music for other people is more freeing because you aren’t restricted. If you’re the voice of something, it all comes back to you, and you are essentially responsible for that. But, if you are making a song for somebody else, and it has a sound you may not have as an artist, but it’s something you think is cool, it gives you the freedom to do that. I will say it is definitely more fulfilling releasing music as an artist, and that’s why I took this time to build my artistry as a singer and songwriter. When you give a song to someone else it becomes their song, and if you really do feel connected to it, but then it is theirs, it’s a weird kind of gray area where it can be very rewarding and very disenchanting in the same way, so making music as an artist is definitely more fulfilling for me. It does come with more challenges with what do I want my message to be, and what do I want to say. It is my voice and my songwriting on top of just making crazy productions and bangers. They are both fun. I enjoy both, and they both have their challenges, but I think being an artist is my favorite thing, and my way forward. If I write a song, and it’s pretty dope, but it’s not right for me, then that is pretty freeing because I have a million outlets to send it to. That gives me the ability to take more risks as an artist.
You’re also in a unique position when it comes to your perspective on the electronic music industry because you’re a part of the electronic music and pop music industries. Do you have observations on how these industries function differently or similarly to one another, and what that looks like?
I think the last few years, with streaming really becoming the way that people consume music, this has led to the music industry really getting turned on its head. Pop has always been focused on radio, right? That’s the way you would break an artist. Radio is still important, and it has plays, but streaming broke down the barriers and allows artists to reach millions of people easily and effectively. Even as an independent artist, you can do this without having a million dollar radio budget. That’s what was cool about electronic music. Because of the internet and YouTube, you’d go to a festival and hear a song, and other DJs would play it, it was kind of like this other way you’d view success instead of going down the radio path, which was like, you know how you became a mainstay in music in general.
With pop, they are more concerned with touring, radio plays, radio shows, and building fans online. That’s important to both worlds, but I think now, it’s the Wild Wild West. You just try stuff, and people connect to it, and if they don’t, you try something else. You know really quickly if it works. I think people have the freedom to do that now, which is really really important. Going back to dance music- a pop artist would make an album, and spend 6-8 months, and $400,000, and that album may not have any hits that people connected with. Then it’s going to take them 6-8 months, a year, 3 years, to do another album, and the record label probably isn’t going to want to put as much money into it because they didn’t make their initial investment back. With dance music it’s like, kids on the computer, going to shows, put something out, if it gets really big then great. If it doesn’t then great- I have another song that I am going to put out right now, and I think that’s the most exciting part of how that’s permeated to pop music now, and that level of quickness.
Is there a particular artist who, if you were to collaborate with this person, you’d be like- this is the pinnacle of my career, and I’ve made it?
What can we expect from you in the next year?
Definitely more singles. I don’t have any plans for an EP or an album or anything like that. Like I said, I like the ability to move fast and see if things work, and I think my goal this year is to release more music than I have in all of my other years of making music combined, and just being able to like, put stuff out and feel like it has a home. Next couple of months it will be single after single, and I’m really excited about it.
In the meantime, Spring Break is upon us, and DallasK put together the perfect playlist to celebrate. Check out the playlist including his new single “All My Life.”