I was thinking about the first rave I ever went to as I drove out to Kapolei last weekend.
It was in one of those abandoned subway (“tube”) tunnels in London with huge, heavy curtains separating the rooms. They had the main house area, a jungle room, a happy hardcore room, and one of my favorites – the garage room. I had no idea who was playing, and for the longest time we never really kept up with the DJs — just the style of music. That’s why you would see a genre listed next to every DJ on flyers back then (this was, like, 13 years ago).
This era, however, is all about the names. The DJs are at superstar level.
As far as superstar DJs go, you could say GTA are doing pretty well for themselves. Coming off a highly-coveted, superstar DJ bro-down summer camp on steroids cruise called “Holy Ship,” Matthew Van Toth (Van Toth) and Julio Mejia (JWLS) have played back-to-back sets alongside Diplo, toured with Rihanna, have an upcoming tour planned with Flume’s music project What So Not and recently signed their first record deal.
With thousands of screaming fans at every show and the electronic music holy grail that is another Ultra Music Festival slot this year in their hometown of Miami, these two are definitely ones to watch.
GTA. (Courtesy photo)
The performing producers are known for stretching the boundaries of genres and have produced all forms of music, including moombathon (before it was cool), electro (at the height of its popularity), trap (which should be over soon if it’s not already) and lately, a more future-sounding hip-hop that makes everyone’s booty bounce. Anyone who has seen GTA perform knows they were the perfect duo to warm up the crowd for DADA Life at Podium Raceway Park during "Winter Wonderland" on Saturday, Feb. 1.
When I got to the show it was messy, to say the least. Not just because of the rain and the overcrowded, insufferably hot venue, but because the boys were about to go on and they were having technical difficulties — Van Toth's USB sticks were corrupted and he was trying to move files from a MacBook he had no charger for that had four percent battery life left. I winced along with him, while JWLS sat there scrolling through his music in good spirits. You could tell he was pretty excited to get on stage.
CHRISTA WITTMIER: Hi Julio! So I wasn't planning to ask this until later but I have to know now. What was it like touring with Rihanna?
JWLS: Oh man, Rihanna is pretty awesome.
CW: Did you have to play a lot of mainstream music to open that show?
JWLS: Yeah, well you know, we were trying to play more commercial because it's a big pop crowd. Everybody is there for Rihanna.
CW: So you had to be more sensitive about what to play?
JWLS: Yeah, we're opening for her so in order for that to work we wanted to prepare the crowd for her, you know, get them amped up. That means playing stuff to get them in dancey mood and the only way to do that is to play songs they know.
CW: How did you like playing in Hawaii the last time you two were here?
JWLS: Actually that was one of my favorite shows last year. I love Hawaii; it's awesome. That was our first time here.
CW: Did you do any sightseeing last time?
JWLS: We didn't have a lot of time to do much, but Matt went and hiked up Diamond Head.
CW: Do you remember anything you ate?
JWLS: Amazing sushi at this place called Unagi.
CW: Have you done anything fun this time around?
JWLS: We went hiking. Today we went to... what's that crater?
(At this point, Van Toth turns around from his computer for the first time with a big smile.)
VAN TOTH: Kooleooo?
CW: Kuliouou! Did you eat anything good?
VT: Ahi tuna melt at this place called Kale's.
CW: You were here last year opening for Krewella. Did anything about that show stand out?
VT: I guess it was just like, I had never been here before and I hadn't heard much about the scene here and it was just very very surprising. Everybody was so into it. It was so awesome.
CW: Can you remember any specific tracks that took you by surprise when Hawaii fans responded to them?
VT: I do remember we have an edit that goes from Grizzly’s 'Bugatti' edit into one of Julio’s tracks that's like a trap song. We were just like, "Oh man, I don't know if it will work," then you see everyone going crazy.
GTA. (Courtesy photo)
CW: You guys put out a lot of trap, moombathon, dub step and electro house. Is there any genre you wouldn't go near?
JWLS: I mean we try to make everything. Lately we've been doing a lot of rap, not trap kind of rap, but like, you know, slower rap and stuff for radio. We’re also trying to work on different kinds of EDM, like the ghetto kind. More clubby stuff. Let’s see what else, like goofy house. I like garage.
CW: What was "Holy Ship" like?
JWLS: It was crazy. Like, I got off the boat and I think a day after I was just like, 'Man, I want to go back on!' But during that whole time it was literally just straight party party party party party.
CW: Any specific plans for this year's Hawaii set?
JWLS: I think right now we're probably going to play really intense music just to hype everyone up. We know Dada Life is like one of the craziest artists, especially their DJ sets. They’re super crazy; just amped up. We want everyone to go crazy and party.
CW: Tell me your dream lineup. Eight people. Go!
JWLS: Definitely Major Lazer. Tiesto is really sick. Laidback Luke.
VT: Major Lazer! Flosstradamus. Claude Von Stroke is really fun to watch. Joris Voorn.
CW: You guys are known for being more spontaneous in your sets. Is there something specific you see when you're looking in the crowd to know what they would want to hear? Like, “I see a lot of girls, I better play booty music.” Is there a method?
JWLS: It's really just trying to see what works. I get on the mic now and ask. I’ll say like "put your hands up" and if they do then they're feeling it. There will be times when we're playing a song and nobody's really dancing and you're trying to get up on the mic and they're not doing anything. That’s when you know you have to change your style. It's really just based off of people's reactions. If they're going crazy then you're doing a good job.
CW: Of all the cities you've been to, which has the best food?
CW: Best nightlife?
JWLS: New York has really good nightlife because they go late.
VT: Los Angeles does, but everything closes at 2 a.m.
CW: Best women?
CW: Who's the gnarliest, most fun artist you've toured with so far?
JWLS: Definitely Rihanna. Rihanna is crazy. She’s really cool; we partied with her in Europe, in Australia. She knows how to have fun. She told us that she wanted to make some music we were like, SURE!
AFTER WE TALKED, they took the stage, opening with that "Bugatti" track — and the entire room went crazy. They kept the energy up for their entire set, setting the stage beautifully for Dada Life.
It was fun to go back and read all the feedback online after this show. Kids took to Facebook to express their disgust with the heat and the venue, only to be countered immediately by the “older” generation telling them they were spoiled.
“For real though, RAVE IS GRIMY, DIRTY, WET, AND FULL OF LOVE. If you can't comprehend that or handle it, then this scene is not for you!” one user posted.
The whole event page turned in to an older generation scolding the younger, telling them to be more appreciative of what they have, which made me very happy.
The people scolding were barely 21, but they are already seasoned party people. There are now more positive comments than negative; the love these people have for the music and for the party is awesome. It’s nice to see how appreciative they are of all the hard work it takes to put these kinds of productions together.
Christa Wittmier has chronicled Honolulu nightlife since 2004. She is senior marketing director at Young's Market Co. of Hawaii and executive director of music for POW! WOW! Hawaii, and also helps promote the popular "Bacardi Pool Party" on Oahu. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.