Whethan and Oh Wonder talk Mamby On The Beach, new collab, + more [Q&A]
Since 2015, Mamby On The Beach has been allowing Chicago’s festival-goers to relish a diverse roster of acts right from the lakefront, the awe-inspiring Chicago skyline as its backdrop. Perched atop the sands of Oakwood Beach, Mamby is known for its eclectic lineup, which this year featured everything from Chicago rap deity, Common, to the indie accents of Cold War Kids, along with electronic titans like Gorgon City, Duke Dumont, and Jai Wolf.
For some musicians, it might seem counterintuitive to tap a 19-year-old to partner up with for a first-time collaboration. For Oh Wonder, that couldn’t be further from the case.
After years of shooting down a plentitude of offers, the London-based alt-pop duo, consisting of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, took a chance on the Windy City’s own Whethan. Before long, “Superlove,” a radiant synth-pop track about a compulsory love, was born. To everyone’s surprise, Oh Wonder joined Whethan on stage after finishing up their own set to debut the song live for a packed crowd at Mamby’s Beach Stage—a jolt of warmth as the sun began to dip under the Chicago skyline.
Though young, Whethan, lesser known as Ethan Snoreck, is no ordinary teenager. In addition to being uncannily talented, at 19, he has played Coachella twice, worked alongside Skrillex, and is best friends—not to mention serial collaborators—with fellow Chicago-turned-LA-natives and young EDM royalty, Louis The Child. Both he and Oh Wonder joined Dancing Astronaut at Mamby to discuss inspiration behind “Superlove,” their similar ascensions to fame, what’s in store for the rest of 2018, and more. Whethan also spoke separately on tour-life as a teenager, his relationship with Louis The Child, and fine-tuning his unique sound.
How did you guys link up for this new collaboration?
Anthony: We were over in LA for a few weeks…
Whethan: I was a fan of their music for a long time, and someone said you should come to the room.
Josephine: And we did. And it was sick.
Who wrote the lyrics for the track, and where did the inspiration come from?
Josephine: A song is what you want it to be, right? I don’t want to prescribe a narrative to it if somebody’s enjoying it in their own way. But I think it’s the idea of when you’re so overwhelmed and in love with someone to the point where it’s a little bit creepy. To me, it’s like when you’re almost addicted to someone, like obsessive love. You think, like, ‘This is not good for me, but I don’t give a sh*t because I love you so much.’
Anthony: We were trying to be as creepy as possible.
You all have similar come-ups in the sense that you began experimenting with production, and started to receive recognition very early on. When you were putting those first few pieces together did you ever imagine that you would reach this level of success?
Whethan: I never imagined [this]. I was shooting blanks, just making little tracks on my computer at 15-years-old, and then next thing you know, different DJs started playing them at different festivals.
Josephine: Were you ever in the crowd?
Whethan: One time when I was really young.
Who was that for?
‘Woah, I guess my songs can be played that loud and on speakers that big.’
Because I didn’t even make music on monitors, pretty much just headphones and this weird bluetooth speaker. So I was like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’
Josephine: We just uploaded songs to SoundCloud for a year, just trying to build a portfolio. And then people were like, ‘You should come play these songs live.’ And we just kind of linked. Coming up on four years later we’ve just been touring constantly for four years. We put two records out.
Anthony: Didn’t expect any of it. So it’s all like a bonus for us.
Did the track turn out the way you guys wanted it to?
Josephine: Hell yeah.
Whethan: We worked extra long to make sure the version was the best it could be.
Anthony: We’ve never collaborated with anyone before.
Josephine: We’ve never worked with anyone on music. Ethan was super accommodating and awesome, and totally respected the fact that we were like, ‘Ah! We’ve never written a song and given it to someone.’ He made it sound better than what we could imagine.
Did you guys have reservations about collaborating in the past or did the right opportunity just never arise?
Josephine: We’ve said no to pretty much everyone over the last three years. Art is so personal. I think it has to be organic and come from the right place.
What can we expect from each of you for the rest of 2018?
Whethan: A lot of singles for me, personally, that might show the bigger picture of what the project will be, but I’m working on a project now. It doesn’t have a date or anything.
Anthony: For us, a bit more touring. And then we’re going to go home, write another record, spend some time in LA. Just make more music.
At this point, the conversation turns to Whethan, OWSLA recruit and critically lauded EDM wunderkind. Fresh off of his Mamby performance, we dove into an exciting day in the life of one of dance music’s newest torch carriers.
How do you feel being on your home territory at Mamby?
It feels good. I feel like it’s been a little while, but it hasn’t been that long. I feel like Lollapalooza was so long ago. I’ve been home since then, but not actually playing. It’s beautiful. It’s sunny. It’s been a great day. We’ve got this nice beach. Got some people coming through for the set, so that’s always good.
You’re vocal about how much Flume and the guys from Louis The Child inspire you. Who’s someone else who’s been inspiring your music lately?
Lately, Ive been on a really big Calvin Harris buzz. I just look at his entire discography and he’s got so many songs that are so good and well-put together. I look up to him.
In what ways do you think you’ve evolved as an artist these past few years?
Well I definitely did evolve. At first it was a lot more bass-heavy and almost instrumental music. But then I just started focusing on the actual songs: the songwriting and the lyrics. Artists like Oh Wonder who can really write a good lyric with a good vibe. So I guess I’ve been focusing more on pop kinda stuff, but I’m finding really cool ways to implement that in with dance music, too. When I first started it wasn’t really dance-y. It was kinda just like you can listen to it and bob your head. But I’m forever evolving.
What’s it like being 19 and playing huge festivals and being on tour?
It’s pretty crazy. It’s started to feel, not normal. It’s weird because I’ve only really been playing shows for like two years. I’ve just been blessed to be able to start to do really cool shows and travel to really crazy parts of the world. I got to go to South America and Europe recently for the first time, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I wasn’t touring. Being 19 is really crazy because I feel like the youngest person a lot of times wherever I go. I don’t let it get to me, though. I don’t even know what I’m going to be making in five years. People always tell me I have so much potential and room to grow, so much time.
There were a lot of events I feel like I missed out on because I just wanted to make music in my room. Now, I live in LA so I’m far from my family a lot. I’m in the same boat as a lot of my friends like Louis The Child who are also doing the same thing as me. Having fun to us is the same thing, just making music.