Ninja DJ Attack!!!: SCR Interviews Le Castle Vania at Identity Fest
Many moons ago, a mischievous gang of ninjas ravaged a young boy’s town, killing his parents and leaving the boy a homeless orphan. As the dawn broke and the smoke cleared, another, kinder gang of ninjas came to the aid of the boy, taking him in and raising him as their own.
They dubbed the boy Le Castle Vania and trained him in the deadly art of ninja-DJing so that he might one day rise from the ashes to avenge his parent’s death. Once he became of age and mastered his lessons, they released him into the world of music production, where he could utilize his mad ninja-DJ skills to become an EDM music sensation under his new identity, Le Castle Vania.
Touring city after city with the likes of Deadmau5 and Kaskade and gracing the stages of more festivals than one can count in the hunt for his parents’ assassins, this once-orphaned boy, otherwise known as Dylan Eiland, has taken the EDM world by storm, DJing, mixing, and producing a unique blend of indie-rock and hard electronic-inspired beats that coalesce into a sound as unique as the artist himself.
We had the pleasure of stealing a few moments of his time before he took to the stage for this year’s Identity Festival at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, so we could pick his brain a bit about what makes him tick as an artist and what the world of a budding superstar DJ is really like.
SCR: Since you first started DJing, producing and performing, how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist and performer?
Dylan Eiland: I never really set out to do this professionally. I thought it would be cool, but I didn’t even have that picture in my head at all. I never thought, “yeah, I’m gonna be a huge DJ, and I’m gonna tour all over the world” — I wasn’t thinking that at all.
I was just having fun, not really taking it seriously, and not doing it as a profession even, ya know? At this point, I’ve reached a certain level where I’ve started taking it a lot more seriously, being a more productive person. I’m still having fun, it’s still my passion, but before I would just write whenever, whereas now I have more drive to be creative, more drive to put more stuff out.
Once you reach a certain level, I think you have to start doing that; if you really want to keep growing, then you have to start stepping it up.
Do you think the pressure of accountability now helps? This is pretty much your day job, right — this is what you do?
I don’t think of it that way, I don’t feel a pressure out of it; it’s not like that to me. It’s more like I’ve gotten so far, and as a creative person, you always have that sort of hunger to go to the next step or to the next level and if you really want succeed, you’ve got to do what it takes to get there.
So, it’s not like a pressure that, “oh I have to do this,” it’s like, “fuck, I want to do this!” Like I wanna go out there and I wanna be headlining this bitch next year. I want to get to that next level.
What equipment did you start off with, and what are you using now?
When I very first started DJing, I learned on vinyl and turntables and from there went to CDJs and from there went back to turntables but using Serato. The reason I quit using turntables was because in doing that, you’re lugging records around everywhere, and going on tour like that is a nightmare.
I like the aesthetic of turntables and I’ve always liked the feel, because that’s what I learned on, so I started using Serato, which is great because all your songs are contained on the laptop but you still have that old-school feel and control of vinyl. The problem with vinyl is that my shows get really crazy, with me jumping around all over the place, and the tables get bumped, and it’s literally a needle on the record, so we had to go back to CDJs, but I use that in conjunction with Serato now.
What inspires you to create music? Is it a moment or a feeling or a place, or just random inspirations?
It’s different depending on the songs. For my new album, I set out to make it more like albums used to be when I was growing up, what I enjoyed, more of a journey, you know?
If you listen to like electronic music records or dance music records, it’s just like “tracks,” you know, so what I was setting out to do was more of an experience when you listen to it the whole way through. So, that was kind of the inspiration for that. Also, different emotions go into different songs, and the emotion you want to draw from the crowd is usually a part of my inspiration, as well.
Do you have set times where you sit down and say, “okay, I’m going to write music now,” or does it just happen?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t; usually it just comes naturally. With that stuff, I think it comes better when you aren’t forcing it. A lot of times I will just tell myself, “okay, today I’m going to go into the studio,” and I think the big thing is just getting started.
If you can just get yourself to sit down and focus and start messing around, usually some kind of inspiration will come. But if you just are trying too hard to force it and it’s not coming, usually you don’t want [to] power through to the other side; you have to maybe go and do something else for a little bit and then come back to it and have a different perspective.
What are your musical influences?
I take influences from all over; you know, I have a background with rock music and I’m a big fan of rock music, so that definitely influences my sound. When I first started DJing, I was into drum and bass, so I take influence from that sound, as well. Stuff like Joy Division, some old disco stuff, Daft Punk — it’s a big jumble of everything. I’m a big fan of The Mars Volta, also heavier stuff like Refused.
So it’s like a mish-mash? One of your bios described your sound as a mix of indie-rock and that sort of thing, with a harder edge, and drum and bass. So it seems like your sound pretty much echoes your personal musical taste. What’s your personal absolute favorite musical genre above all? Do you have one particular favorite?
I don’t really even think about it; I just like a song or I don’t. I don’t go by genre. A lot of people try to throw me into electro, but I feel like my music it doesn’t really sound that much like electro house or whatever. More like, it just happens and is its own thing.
Where do you see yourself in a year, professionally — headlining this festival for one, obviously, like you said earlier?
I just want to see myself keep putting out music and see what comes naturally. Of course, I want to take it as far as it will go, but I’m so stoked with everything that’s happened so far, like if this is as far as it ever went, then I’d still be happy that this happened.
So whatever happens, happens. I just wanna keep putting out music and I feel like it’s worked with what I’ve done so far, and everything keeps growing, so that’s what I’m going to keep doing and ya know, keep pushing for that next step.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being part of a traveling music festival? Have you done any other traveling festivals? We know you’ve toured with other individual acts, but any other sort of similar setup?
Identity Fest is the only one of its kind; there’s no other electronic music festival that’s touring in amphitheaters across the country like this. I was a part of it last year, and it’s an amazing experience. My favorite thing about it is you get to play to huge crowds that are everyone there’s fan base, so it’s a lot of exposure to new people that maybe haven’t heard you before or haven’t gotten to check you out, and it’s a great opportunity on that front.
Maybe the difficult part of it is that you’re at a music festival every fucking day and over a long period of time. It’s actually easier this year because there’s less stops; they cut it down more and worked the routing better. I think different factors went into what cities were chosen this year, but last year was a lot more grueling.
There were several more stops, and there’s a lot more off days this year — they’re only doing Thursdays through Sundays, whereas last year there were weekdays, as well, like Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It didn’t really work, doing it on weekdays; they were just trying to squeeze extra cities in for routing purposes because you know, it costs a whole lot of money to have a whole crew on downtime for that many days.
There’s a lot of logistics I’ve learned about how this all works, but the only real downside is that it’s grueling, you’re at a hot fucking music festival, all day long, every day with the same pounding electronic music all day long, and it’s super fun and rad and it’s a great time, but it’s you know, every day, and it wears you out, it really beats your system down. Imagine all the walking around on a single day and to be in it every day? You can really feel it after the first week; your whole body is sore.
So you’re out and about for the first week and then after that, you’re holed up in the tour bus relaxing in the AC.
Yeah, so then the festival ends for the day, and everybody’s still hanging out, all the artists are here, drinking, partying, whatever, and then you come back and get on the bus and there’s a whole new bunch of people. This year I’m on Bus One, which is a very coveted thing, if y’all don’t know — it’s the head people that run the festival, and I’m the only artist on this bus.
It’s really rad, they kind of keep it more low-key and pro. Last year I shared a bus with Datsik, who’s like a fucking party animal; raver chicks on the bus, tons of people hanging on the bus, so you know, that was a little more full on. Being at the festival all day, then getting back on the bus, and people want to keep partying and they turn on more blasty electronic music, it gets a little hardcore, you know.
It does seem like it could be pretty exhausting doing it day after day for days straight.
Just in mood and energy now, you can kind of tell that we’ve rounded the corner, and the artists aren’t hanging out as much or aren’t drinking as much or are just staying on the bus, and are so like, “let’s get this shit over with!”
I’ve been flying out on the off days this year — like, on the weekdays, I’ll just fly out for a bit. I have a house in Atlanta and an apartment in LA, so wherever I’m closer to, I just go sleep in my own bed for a few days then fly back out on show days. Since they had me back on this year, I got a few perks for being a repeat offender. I think the audience of the festival is really starting to know me.
Yeah, we were here last year and saw your set, and it was great. On the writeup from last year, there’s a great picture of you jumping up and down all crazy; it was an amazing set last year.
Well, thank you. It looks like there’s nobody at that stage today, though — I’m going to have to pull them all in.
Surely it’s because of the heat. The rumor is that they sold like 6,000 tickets maybe, so they’ll be here, but later, when it cools down a bit.
I’m going to have to trick ‘em into coming out into the sun; I’ll pull ‘em all in. The artists that they have on this stage earlier are more up-and-comers, people that haven’t toured as much or been on festivals or whatever, so usually early this stage is a little slow, then from me on it’s all people that have toured quite a bit. I think it’s me, Doctor P, Showtek, then Nero, so from that point on, we should be pulling them in.
Actually, side question: last year Steve Aoki had his side stage, the Dim Mak stage; was he a big part of the production last year, or did he just have a stage?
No, he didn’t have any part of the planning or anything like that, it was just a branding thing. He was headlining, and that was pretty much it.
So is he a cool guy?
He’s always been cool to me!
It’s hard to tell sometimes, because, you know, you see artists and they’re larger than life and you love ‘em, and then you hear things like, Deadmau5 — and we love Deadmau5 — but that he’s kind of an ass or whatever. And you get disillusioned because, you know, it shatters your perceptions of your favorite musicians.
I’ve never heard any bad things about Steve; he’s always been cool to me. I did hear a lot of bad about Deadmau5, though, like, “oh, Deadmau5 is an asshole,” or whatever, but I went on tour with him, and Joel [Zimmerman] is fucking cool as shit; he was super nice to me.
That dude’s never been anything but a really rad dude to me, so I wouldn’t listen too much to that stuff. I think probably what it is is that, you know, Joel is a huge act, he’s probably getting approached all the time by people and like, probably like some “thing” happened that, you know, got bad press.
And he’s opinionated, too, which is of course fair.
All I know is I went on tour with Joel, and I was kind of nervous because I’d heard the same stuff, and he was just cool as fuck, ya know?
Anyone that loves his cat that much is A-OK in our book. Anyway, take us through a typical day on the road — you get to a place, you wake up, set up, you just chill, do you do anything interesting? Like what happens when you get here?
Typical day, it’s really pretty laidback; we drive at night, so we usually will wake up and we’re at the venue. So when I get around to rolling out of my bunk, I’ll go drop off my merch, because I didn’t bring a tour manager this year.
Then today, they had a contest, and whoever won got a DJ lesson from me, so I did that. Everything is here, we’re all self-contained, and we have catering, so there’s no reason to leave the site. I’ll go check out some of the other acts, hang out. It’s a lot of fun, but there are not a lot of surprises, you know? It’s the same thing pretty much every day, just in a different place.
When you play, do you have a set list prepared, or do you just play off the vibes of the crowd?
I have certain elements of it planned, like I have an intro and I have certain mixes that I know I’m gonna play, because of certain transitions that I know work really well and always get a reaction out of the crowd. I have a rough sketch, I would say, and then I have all my songs organized by keys, so I can mix any key together and all that, and I just go through certain things that I want to play and then throw things in that are pulling off the vibes from the crowd, so it’s a little bit of both.
What was your favorite festival experience as a performer and as an attendee?
Probably playing at EDC or really any of those fucking awesome Insomniac events. Being at EDC, playing to like, maybe 10,000 people. Or I played this gig Escape From Wonderland last year — which is one of those big, big, big festivals in Los Angeles — played main stage there, night time slot; it doesn’t get much better than that.
So it’s not really necessarily any specific one experience, it’s just that whole playing to thousands of people at night with the lights and all of that?
That’s the thing about the festivals, is you get to play to so many people at one time, and there’s that wave of energy coming through the crowd. It’s like when a big track has dropped and you see the reaction. Literally seeing thousands of people moving to what you’re doing. At Escape From Wonderland, my tent was so full, you could see people jumping outside the tent and the tent was fucking huge, it was the biggest tent I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, from an attendee standpoint, being packed in the middle of it, the energy is pretty intense. It’s really an amazing experience.
When I’m at a music festival, I’ll always go out into the crowd at some point and watch an act that I like, just to remind myself of that experience, because it’s really useful as an artist to know what people are taking in from what you’re doing.
What do you like better, festivals or concerts?
I like all sizes of shows, as long as it’s a good turnout for the size of the venue. Like when you play a really small venue, and it’s really packed, it’s a certain kind of energy that you get out of it that you don’t necessarily get out of a big festival. I feel like people are more prone to going fucking crazy when they’re smashed together in a smaller space.
Do you have any spare time, and what do you do with it? Any other hobbies?
“Spare…time”? What is this? No, I mean, pretty much…no. When I do have spare time, it’s usually spent writing music, working on something music-related or working on something on the back end with my label, Always Never Records.
There’s so much behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into doing a project like this; I think people don’t realize all the things you have to do. So much of my time goes into that, but when I do actually get some down time, I will usually go to a movie or something like that; I’m a big cinema fan.
I worked with this really cool composer on my upcoming album, his name is Tyler Bates. I’m a huge fan of his work, he’s’ scored a lot of really rad movies — he did the entire score to the movie 300, he did Watchmen, he did Dawn of the Dead, all of Rob Zombie’s movies, tons of other stuff. But yeah, so I’m kind of looking at getting into that whole world as he and I have become good buddies, and we’re talking about me doing a score for some films coming up. Cinema is kind of my “other” thing.
Who do you like hanging out with best on the tour?
Probably this year on the tour I’ve hit it off with Madeon; he’s a really rad guy. I haven’t hung out with Doctor P much, but he has almost always played after me, so we’ve got a pretty cool vibe going, because, you know, I set ‘em up, and he knocks ‘em down kind of deal — he’s a really rad dude.
Stephan Jacobs is a really rad dude, he’s a super nice guy. The Nosia guys were on some of the stops of the tour; they did a remix for me and they’re good buddies, so of course they are fun to hang out with.
How do you feel about giving these interviews while on tour; is it fun, cumbersome, neutral?
It is a lot of telling people the same stuff most days, but otherwise I’d be sitting on the bus or out in the heat, so I’d rather be getting the word out. I appreciate you guys having the interest.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time — we really appreciate it!
Absolutely, it was my pleasure. END
Keep an eye out for Le Castle Vania’s next album, coming out soon. In the meantime, stay tuned to his website http://lecastlevania.com/ for more news, tour dates, and free (yes, free!) downloads.
(All photos by David Wood.)