words: ERIN SHARONI pics: JAVIER LUNA & NATHAN NAVARRO
What do you get when you lock an Israeli, a Norwegian, a Mexican-Swede and a Lebanese-American in a studio? Some solid trap music, apparently.
Bad Royale are the new kings on the Mad Decent block, but as a group of four individual artists they’re not new to the DJ game. With the recent reveal of their identities at EDC Vegas, the world now knows the ironic truth: as solo artists, three of the four members of Bad Royale have already seen significant prior success—producing trance music.
Maor Levi, Kevin Wild and Bruce Karlsson are recognizable names in the land of euphoric progressions and uplifting vocals. With multiple individual releases on labels like Anjunabeats, Spinnin’ and Armada, the Diplo-helmed Mad Decent is likely the last place that their respective fans would think to look for future records. But what began as a half-serious side project cooked up with fellow housemate Elias Ghosn one year ago, has become something quite real: Bad Royale have over 30 tracks set to be released by the end of 2015 between Mad Decent and Buygore, and they’ll join the latter’s label boss Borgore on his fall tour. We caught up with Bad Royale at their San Diego home just before they dropped their debut, the ‘Move Like’ EP, on Mad Decent to find out how a few friends went from trance to trap under the guise of four kings.
How was Bad Royale born?
MAOR: “Elias will tell you because it was all his idea.”
ELIAS: “A long, long time ago ... I had the idea to let a Jew, a Norwegian and a Mexican live with me. They were too poor to afford rent, so I said, ‘You can pay rent by doing work.’ And since the only work they knew how to do was produce, we created Bad Royale.”
MAOR: “Yeah okay, so I’ll expand. The real story is that we started under a different name, The Kingdumb, making trap music. We started out doing really stupid projects, like making tracks from our farts.”
How exactly does one make a track from a fart?
MAOR: “Kevin and Bruce used to record fart sounds into their phones. They would send me the farts and we just used to make actual music out of it.”
For the record, DJ Mag has been in the room while this farting occurred. Our noses will never forget. Thanks.
MAOR: “You’re welcome. So, since Bruce and Kevin are the loudest, they recorded a lot of samples and sent them to me and we started this project called ‘Farts Of Steel’. You can still find it on SoundCloud. And then Elias was like, ‘Why don’t you guys just make trap?’ We were bored one night and we started making it.”
KEVIN: “The idea was that Elias was gonna be the center of all this since he’s like the whitest, skinniest, most non-trap looking guy…”
MAOR: “We made a track and were just like, ‘Fuck it, let’s upload this somewhere.’ Then we realized that this could actually be interesting because we had a lot of ideas and a lot of opportunities to do tracks with singers. Kevin knows people, I know people, Bruce knows people...we got in contact with a lot of managers and vocalists. So here we are.”
Isn’t there a story about hunting down Diplo in a Las Vegas casino?
BRUCE: “Initially, when we started making this music we said that our goal was to get on Mad Decent.”
KEVIN: “Yeah, so last summer Maor had a gig with Morgan Page at Encore Beach Club and we saw that Major Lazer was playing at XS that night. So me and Maor thought to run upstairs and grab a USB with our tracks on it. It was actually mine; I sacrificed a USB because Maor wouldn’t.”
MAOR: “Why would I?”
KEVIN: “We had about five tracks at the time but they were just rough demos. We put those tracks on the USB and went to see Major Lazer that night. Luckily, we were able to get backstage where we thought Diplo would hang out...but what we found out was that he literally appears and then disappears.”
MAOR: “So we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll just wait until after the show.’ Meanwhile, me and Kevin are just getting wasted backstage ... and Kevin, he got really wasted.” KEVIN: “Hard to believe, I know. So when Diplo got off stage, he literally walked straight out as if he was hovering over the chairs, straight past everyone. I went running after him while he had all this security around him. Diplo gets through the casino and to where the room elevators are. Kevin is there in his fucking flip flops, all shit-faced, wearing pool clothing, and he just runs up yelling, ‘Hey, hey Diplo!’ The security guards ask, ‘Should we get this guy away?’ and Diplo goes, ‘No, no it’s okay. This is Hair Bro. Hair Bro is okay.’ “
MAOR: “Yeah, Kevin is Hair Bro [because of his distinctive blonde mane]. Next thing you know, Diplo and Kevin are walking next to each other and Kevin is telling him how we’re a bunch of producers working with Anjunabeats and Spinnin’, and of course Diplo is making fun of us, asking if we’re making ‘twerk trance’ or ‘trance hall.’ We went back to the room to get some sleep. At about 5am my phone lit up with a notification from Twitter, and we saw that Diplo was following us.”
So basically, it’s because of Kevin’s hair that this relationship was forged?
MAOR: “Well yeah, Kevin is the most recognizable. Diplo knows Kevin more than all of us. I guess because they’re both white…”
Speaking of white, you guys are the United Nations of music: an Israeli, a Norwegian, a Mexican-Swede, and a Lebanese-American.
MAOR: “Bruce is what happens when you hold a Swede and a Mexican in immigration; they just mate.”
BRUCE: “I’m a true tortilla Viking.”
ELIAS: “I’m half Lebanese and half generic white person.”
Clearly. How did you guys meet?
ELIAS: “Well, we bought Maor on Israeli-Brides.com. Bruce we got after we hired his mom as a maid. And Kevin has no family so his adopted parents paid me to take care of him.”
MAOR: “The REAL story is that when I signed two of my records to Anjunabeats, Bruce and I became labelmates. We were just internet friends then. Of course, I saw Kevin in every picture with Bruce, so naturally we all started talking and became best friends. This was three and a half years ago, before I moved to the States. At that time I still couldn’t get a visa.”
ELIAS: “We were going to try to marry him off to some American fan, just to get him a visa to come here.” MAOR: “Luckily, I signed with Circle Talent, who got me over here in March of 2013 to play a few shows during WMC, and that’s where I met everyone in person, including [our manager] Alex Harrow.”
Your manager has his work cut out for him. You have a busy fall coming up: touring with Borgore, producing music as Bad Royale and you’re all still working on your solo careers, right?
KEVIN: “Thankfully, there’s four of us so we don’t all have to be anyplace at the same time.”
BRUCE: “My trance career is pretty much done. I left that completely. I really wanted to experiment and prove to myself that I could actually do other genres rather than just the same thing. I was a little pigeonholed. So this was kind of my way out, taking a risk, and it seems like it’s really paying off now.”
MAOR: “I still do all my other solo stuff. I have a techno project coming out on Toolroom, plus my side project Lazer Lazer Lazer with upcoming releases on Dyro’s label, WOLV. And then I’ve also just returned to Anjunabeats as a solo artist … The thing is, because this music [with Bad Royale] is so easy to make, it really isn’t time consuming, so I end up working on, like, a track per day.”
So that’s true, a track per day? You know that plenty of artists would argue against that.
KEVIN: “Maor is like, ‘File: New, File: New.’ "
MAOR: “That’s something that I did long ago, even before Bad Royale, with trance too. Most of my records were made within two weeks. ‘Holding On’ was done in one day. That’s how I work. If I work on something too much, it feels like I’m stuck and I know it’s not good. That’s how I see it.”
Does everyone in the group work that way, or do you compromise as a collaborative effort?
BRUCE: “It’s basically that one person will work mainly on one track and then at the end everyone will jump in and listen to it and suggest little changes. It’s just easier that way.”
MAOR: “We all work with different setups, different speakers, different styles. But at the end of the day if I hear something coming from say, Bruce’s room and I have an idea, I’ll run over there. The production process is that each person has his own studio but in the same house. A producer’s powerhouse, I guess.”
Elias, you’re the odd man out, without a DJ or production background. What’s your role in the process?
ELIAS: “I do absolutely nothing. Actually, I do all of the marketing and branding behind us.”
MAOR: “Elias is really responsible for everything to do with the Bad Royale brand: the social media, the artwork, the merchandise, the storylines…”
That’s right, what’s the story behind the cartoon caricatures of the four kings that represent each member of Bad Royale?
ELIAS: “Well, we used to be called The Kingdumb so that’s where the kings came from. We decided to connect it to our backgrounds. We didn’t just want four generic kings, so we used our cultural backgrounds and developed a story around the whole thing. The name Bad Royale fits perfectly. The story is the kings are time travelers. Their goal is to go through time periods and basically change all the bad things that happened. They go back and try to fix everything that was bad in history. But because of the time paradox, them going back in time trying to fix things is actually the reason all the bad stuff happened in the first place. So basically, they’re going back in time trying to fix shit but they’re really just fucking up history for everyone.”
ELIAS: “Yeah, hence the name, Bad Royale. Also, we’re super modest.”
You’re off to anything but a modest start. ‘Move Like’, your debut EP on Mad Decent, features Trinidadian soca star Bunji Garlin on one of the five tracks. That’s a pretty big get for your first release.
KEVIN: “Elias actually reached out to Bunji.”
ELIAS: “Bunji was one of my personal favorite soca singers and so I started emailing his manager trying to get in contact. I was ignored for months. I kept harassing them and finally they just gave in and forwarded my messages to Bunji. He’s a super cool dude and was down to work with us.” KEVIN: “He asked us for instrumentals. We had a list of about 10. So we sent them over to him thinking he would use just one, and we saw that he was recording on all of them! And it wasn’t just him recording, he was bringing on other artists like Kardinal Offishall and Agent Sasco…”
MAOR: “He knows a ton of people. He was also part of the Mad Decent block parties and he did stuff with Major Lazer and other electronic artists. He was really into our music. We got to a point where we have about eight tracks with him now.” KEVIN: “We don’t even know why he did it ... but it’s awesome.”
Actually, we caught up with Bunji to ask him about that, and here’s what he said: “I liked all of the tracks they sent me so we just went on the attack. The tracks were my style: unique but hard. It sounded like these guys knew exactly what they wanted from the sound and they achieved it. Later on, I realized the four nationalities that I was dealing with. That impacted me even more because ... being able to come from different backgrounds and get the music to sound like this, that was really the story for me. It was a perfect match.”
ELIAS: “It’s amazing to hear that...we’ve been fans of his music for a long time.”
Speaking of fans, when we asked Diplo what he thinks of you guys, he said: “Bad Royale are crazy, they have sick haircuts.” In return, what would you say about him?
MAOR: “He has sick pants. We like his Wesley Pentz. See what I did there?”
KEVIN: “We’d say, ‘Thanks for putting up with us stalkers.’ Literally, EDC last year was our Electric Diplo Carnival.”
A year ago at EDC Vegas you were stalking this dude, and now he’s your label boss. Nice move. Where do you want this to go, ultimately?
MAOR: “We obviously want private jets everywhere.”
KEVIN: “Jets, buses and yachts, all with our faces on them.”
MAOR: “The goal is to take reggae along the electronic route and bring soca music to America. It’s really one of my favorite genres, before I even did this project. I think the main goal is just to continue to encourage this genre into the EDM world.”
ELIAS: “If Gloria from Encore Beach Club in Vegas is reading this, please call me.”
BRUCE: “You have to put that in the magazine.”