Behind the Bananas & Champagne: Dada Life on their origins and what’s in store [Interview]
It’s been just over 10 years since Olle Cornéer and Stefan Engblom founded Dada Life, but the bananas have yet to spoil and the champagne hasn’t yet turned.
The perennially and fundamentally mischievous Swedish duo still abide by the “No Frills, Just Fun” mantra which has pervaded their career since its nascent stages. At the moment, this modus operandi is manifested in their ongoing Compound Evolved tour – the latest iteration of the Dada Land performance experiences which have defined the duo’s live shows since their 2012 album, The Rules of Dada.
A challenge which all long-standing artists must address is the difficult task of remaining authentic to their roots while also evading stylistic stagnancy. A decade into their careers, Engblom and Cornéer manage to tow this line because their core philosophy as Dada Life has always centered around evading the status quo in the interest of putting forth maximal-energy dance music with an absurd aesthetic.
Despite the duo’s straightforward, simplistic approach, they draw from a wealth of diverse influences, citing the eclectic likes of Little Richard and John Cage as inspirations. Of course, fundamentally, Dada Life are rooted in the tenets of Dadaism – the absurdist artistic movement of the early 20th century founded by artists like Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara, who refuted the aesthetics and values of their contemporary capitalist society in favor of randomized art for art’s sake.
“For us, it’s kind of obvious that Dada – Dada Life – comes from Dadaism,” says Olle Cornéer. “We thought from the beginning that it would be so obvious, we’d never need to talk about it, basically. But apparently people don’t know about Dadaism so we kind of make fun with it. Instead we’ll say, like, ‘The Dadaists, they took everything from us. We were the original ones.’”
While a majority Dada Life’s listeners may not be familiar with the artistic movement whence the duo drew their name, the reasons behind the group’s formation closely mirror the sentiments which ignited Dadaism itself.
“[Dada Life] started off where we wanted to do the opposite of what everyone was doing,” Cornéer purports. In a period during which the dance music community treated itself quite seriously on the whole, Olle and Stefan looked to invert the paradigm for their project:
“We just wanted to do everything the other way around. You know, ‘Jump up and down to this stupid stuff’ and, you know, basically what we do. I would say that the scene has changed a little bit, so now it’s way more inclusive and more allowed to have fun, and people are not taking themselves too seriously. People took themselves way too seriously back [in 2007], but here, not really right now.”
Though Cornéer is not so bold as to attribute the decline of self-seriousness in dance music to Dada Life specifically, he notes that his and Engblom’s decision to snub haughtiness in favor of absurdity is how they live up to their name: “In essence, Dadaism, to me, is to not give a fuck and do everything the opposite.”
Flouting the status quo in the interest of having fun and making boisterous music isn’t an arcane concept, but it’s one which pervades practically every facet of the group. Even the most recognizable piece of Dada Life’s aesthetic – the iconic bananas and champagne – came about through pure happenstance. When asked if there was any reason behind the culinary combination’s inclusion into their brand, Cornéer swiftly states, “No, it just happened.”
“We had bananas and champagne on the rider when we started DJiing,” the artist continues. “And then, someone tweeted or wrote us, Oh these guys are hilarious, they have bananas and champagne onstage.’ And we were like, ‘Oh, that is pretty funny actually!’ And then we kind of, you know, started getting a rep. Because bananas and champagne are the perfect combination. The bananas are there if you don’t have time for dinner – it’s the perfect club food, it’s safe and clean and secure…and champagne kind of explains itself.”
What began as the “perfect combination” for Olle and Stefan’s pre-show nutrients has since become a cult phenomenon among Dada Life’s following. In 2015, the group broke the world record for “Largest gathering of people dressed as fruits/vegetables” when 629 people attended a Dada Land performance proudly donning banana garments. The fruit-fueled feat followed the duo’s (now superseded) achievement of breaking the record for the world’s “Largest pillow fight” in 2013.
As impressive as Dada Life’s bizarre feats of record-breaking may be, Cornéer points out that, like the emergence of bananas and champagne in their iconography, none of their records have been thoroughly premeditated. When asked about the potentiality of plans for a future world record, the DJ states the following:
“You know, it’s funny because that’s a question we get asked a lot. I can tell you how it happened, and then you’ll realize why we don’t think like that. We originally did the pillow fights, and for each time we did them, we did them bigger and bigger. And, at one point, we were like ‘Wow, this is so big. Let’s see if we can break the record.’ And we realized, yeah we did.
“And it’s the same thing with the banana suits. Like, more and more people just showed up, and at one point, we were like, ‘We need to break this record.’ So we’re not really looking for records to break. For us, it’s just gaiety. I mean, breaking records for the sake of it, that’s a gimmick. If something happens that makes sense for us, then we’ll break it, but we’re not looking to break any records.”
To turn an idiosyncratic party idea into a world record-breaking bacchanalia requires a level of dedication throughout a fan-base which few musicians can boast. At the end of the day, of course, such devotion has arisen not from Dada Life’s varied hijinx, but from their musical catalogue. Coming into fame for gritty, straightforward four-to-the-floor releases like “White Noise/Red Meat” and “Unleash the Fucking Dada,” the duo shifted in somewhat of a less simplistic and more melodic direction for much of their latest LP, The Rules of Dada.
However, in 2015, Dada Life proffered “Yellow is the Color of Happiness” and “Red is the Color of Rage,” a two-part release which returned to their earlier, simpler roots. When asked if this coupling was an intentional look back to their older music, Cornéer answers affirmatively:
“Exactly. Especially with Red & Yellow, we wanted to go back to the music and the sounds that kind of were around when we started Dada Life to kind of reignite ourselves in a way. But, we’re working on a lot of music right now, we’ve been in the studio a lot in the past month, so we have a lot of music coming out this year. And, part of it is gonna be just straight up bangers like the old Dada sound. But, you get more than that too, so you need songs. So there’s gonna be songs too, of course.”
Inserting more diversity into their music is one way through which Dada Life has managed to remain fresh while also keeping their formative style intact since their 2012 album. The scope of Cornéer’s musical range, in particular, is vastly diverse. In 2014, while recovering from cancer, Olle launched Night Gestalt, his brooding, ambient side project, which essentially operates as a foil to his upbeat, electrifying partnership with Engblom.
“There’s one music you hear in your head, when you’re pumping up the Friday night energy. But then, there’s another music you hear in your head at 7AM on Sunday morning. And that music isn’t the same…I love all kinds of music, and for me electronic dance music is like 10% or 5% of what i’m interested in. So, it kind of makes sense for me to do other stuff too.”
Responding to a question of whether or not the “Sunday morning” music of Night Gestalt will make its way into the slew of new music which the duo have in their pipeline, Cornéer is doubtful.
“Probably not. I mean we’ll see, we’re working on it right now. One [project has] removed the drums. That’s what I did with Night Gestalt – removing the drums, removing the bass, and removing as much as possible. But with Dada Life, the philosophy is almost the opposite. It’s about adding as much as possible to maximize – you know, the Sausage Fattener, that sound. So I would say that Dada Life and Night Gestalt are almost counterpoints. It’s like Night Gestalt is everything that Dada Life is not, in a way, and the other way around.”
In addressing the Sausage Fattener’s role in Dada Life’s maximal-energy musical catalogue, Cornéer also reveals information of a new plugin that the group has on the horizon, called Endless Smile. Where Sausage Fattener has succeeded for years as, effectively, a highly-functional gain plugin, Endless Smile will operate as a one-stop panacea for creating energizing buildups. “In essence it’s a buildup plugin,” Olle remarks. “You just put it [into a DAW]…and you can automate the whole buildup, the whole tension-making.”
At the crux of Dada Life’s affinity for making their own plugins to help other producers optimize their efforts, lies an indication of their love for making music. Cornéer notes that, “In contrast to a lot of other producers, we actually do everything ourselves. We make all the music, we mix it, we master it sometimes…we’re involved with every step.” Past maintaining creative autonomy, Engblom and Cornéer’s desire to be involved in every step of their compositional process stems from a genuine, unjaded love for their craft.
“It’s not only about having autonomy, it’s more about how we started When we started Dada Life we were packing T-shirts and shipping them out to people who bought them. Like, the whole Dada Life, it kind of started like a punk, DIY thing. We want to keep it that way, because we want to do the whole thing. We think it’s fun. We want to be in the studio, we want to create the plugins. We don’t want to give that away to someone else. It’s not only about having control, it’s actually about doing the fun stuff – not the boring stuff.”
Over a decade into their careers, it’s a rarity to see musicians who still possess a love and excitement for the process of making music with Dada Life’s fervor. However, it’s unsurprising that Engblom and Olle remain so enraptured in their craft, as their entire course together been predicated upon fostering revelry, absurdity, and individuality.
Nowhere else do these three tenets coalesce more resoundingly than in their live shows, which the duo want to be an utterly unique experience for all attendees. “Ever since we started calling our live concerts, our shows, Dada Land, we’ve been wanting it to feel like you’re actually stepping into another nation when you come to our show,” says Cornéer. “A nation where everything is free, and where you can do whatever you want to do. And, with our Evolved tour, we’ve been working even harder to achieve that experience…instead of adding lights, and lasers, and pyro and whatever, we’ve been working hard on creating experiences in the crowd and around the area that are fun and makes for an experience for your whole life, that makes it feel like you’re actually in Dada Land.”
While the first Dada Land compounds arose after The Rules of Dada, the ongoing second round will predate their next wave of new material – which constitutes an album, but probably won’t be released as one. In discussing Dada Life’s imminent releases, Cornéer says, “We talked about it as ‘the album,’ but I’m not sure that we’re going to release it in the form of an album. Because I don’t know if it makes sense nowadays.” He further remarks that while he doesn’t know the format their new music will be released in, it will “be the size of an album, that amount of material.”
Regardless of how the duo’s wealth of new songs will materialize, it seems safe to presume that the music itself will be a manifestation of Dada Life’s perennial drive to do their own thing in as bombastic a way as possible. Cornéer’s parting words serve as a succinct recapitulation of this core desire:
“I just hope that the music that we love just keeps on living, and that everybody’s not just following the latest trend. But, i would have said the same thing five or ten years ago.”
In essence, the above statement captures the reason for Dada Life’s longstanding success of balancing authenticity with diversity. In a sense, Stefan and Olle have been doing the same thing as artists for over a decade. However, that “one thing” is doing precisely the opposite of the current status quo within their scene. By flouting conventions in the name of mischief, Dada Life have become the rare act to avoid stagnation by remaining static.
Words by Will McCarthy; Featured Image by Rukes.