Taking the dance scene by the reins, Rob May and Ian MacPherson have had a year of extremely successful releases, remixes, and shows, and don’t plan on slowing down.  Hailing from Los Angeles, the duo are best known as the Bixel Boys, and are also the creative minds behind the popular #FREELIFE movement, as supported by the likes of Skrillex, Diplo, Dillon Francis and Adventure Club.  We had the pleasure of catching up with Ian and Rob before their co-headlining show at The Hoxton in Toronto with Trippy Turtle. We discussed the likes of all things french house, DJ-ing in space, and what’s next for the #FREELIFE movement.

 

ES:  Being together as the Bixel Boys for just under two years now, could you tell us a bit about how you guys were discovered, and this sudden rise to fame?

Rob:  I sort of feel like we were less discovered and more created.  We were like how a boy band would have gotten manufactured.  We were plucked from two very different places in our lives and sort of brought together to specifically create this type of team.  I would love to say that we had all of these amazing ideas to ourselves in the beginning but we definitely have a huge team of people around who helped us get to where we are right now.

Ian:  The way we ended up meeting each other was through a mutual friend, and then we just started making tracks…The second we started making things, a lot of our other friends working in music wanted to get involved and we put this big team under one roof.  I think having a bunch of people that you trust and like around you helps.

Rob:  It was very surprising.  I mean, it’s super humbling but we did not expect it to go this fast at all.

Ian:  I think we both ended up getting fired from our jobs from not doing what we were supposed to.

ESWhat were you guys doing before/at the same time?

Ian:  I worked in marketing, and I used to promote and throw events.  Rob, was from a different world.

Rob:  I worked in post-production; in TV and film.

 

ES:  So in the spirit of being in Drake’s hood, have you guys had your “we made it” moment yet?

Rob:  Probably EDC…I think that’s definitely when we had a moment where we were like, holy sh*t, this turned into something a lot bigger than we thought it was going to. 

Ian:  It was crazy because after we played that show then we got on a plane and played in Dallas and then came back to play again on Sunday.  Then when we got home I think it all kind of sank in and I was just like, whoa…

Rob:  When my mom was telling me about watching me on the EDC live stream, and that my grandparents were apparently watching it too – it was so embarrassing because they have no clue what dance music is.

ES:  And you guys are just like yelling profanities

Rob:  Yeah, and they’re like ‘why does your partner say ‘f*ck’ so much on the mic?’  And I’m just like, ‘Grandma, it’s just the world we live in…don’t worry it’s just different times’

Ian:  I think when my mom started sending me links that she found on Google from searching us, that’s when I fully got it.  I was like oh, my mom knows what we do now.

Rob:  This is why I stay behind the booth at all times.  He tries to get me to go out into the crowd and mingle and I’m like ‘nuh-uh-uh’  That’s where the bad things happen. 

Ian:  We did a festival in Montreal called IleSoniq not too long ago, and it was super fun – but I ended up stage diving with The Chainsmokers during Adventure Club’s set and I was like ‘Rob!  Come with me!’

Rob:  And I was like nope.  Not doing this.

ES:  Why not?

Rob:  I’m not a big um – it’s not claustrophobia….What is fear of being in a crowded place with a lot of people?  I can be in tight spaces but in large groups of people surrounding me, I get anxiety; that’s the best way to describe it.

 

ES:  Since we last spoke with you guys in April, you’ve had Electric Daisy Carnival LV, Hard Summer, and a number of other big shows – what was one of your highlights other than EDC?

Ian:  Australia.  Touring Australia was like a dream come true. 

Rob:  From a musician and artist perspective it’s so humbling to be able to play music for people in another country; it’s a whole different culture and how they perceive your DJ set is amazing.  It taught us a lot just about how to play DJ sets in general.  They’re such a welcoming, energetic crowd – everyone out there was so nice to us.  It was definitely the most memorable experience.

Ian:  I agree; it was an awesome experience to be on the exact opposite side of the earth, and it’s somewhere that I wouldn’t have gotten to go with any other job that I’ve ever had. So we were there and it didn’t even feel like a job, it felt like a vacation where I was just playing shows in between.

Rob:  It’s incredible how easily connectable dance music is for lots of different countries. You can literally go anywhere in the world and play this type of music, and people respond in some way.  It’s kind of mind-blowing in a way.

 

Bixel Boys x Trippy Turtle

Bixel Boys x Trippy Turtle @ The Hoxton

 

ES:  Do you have a dream destination where you’d want to play? 

Rob:  I’d like to play Antarctica; I would like to do a 12-hour Antarctica set, or in space. Honestly, I think the Bixel Boys should be the first DJ duo to do a set in space.  I’m just saying.  We gotta get NASA.  NASA, or Richard Branson – if you’re listening to us, get us out there, we want to do a rave on the moon, let’s make it happen. 

Ian:  I saw the trailers for Mad Max and I would love to do some sort of automotive rave. Essentially, “California Love” music video, but not Burning Man steeze, but almost like road warrior steeze.   Future desert, Burning Man, meets California Love.  That’s the kind of DJ set that I would love to play.  Talk to me Goldenvoice.
 

ES:  Over the past year, what has changed for you guys the most? 

Ian:  Oh, well we hate each other now (laughs)

Rob:  Oh yeah.  I’ve become a complete diva.  I felt like I had a really good temper before but now I just get really easily set off by small things.  The weird things about being a DJ duo is that it’s like having a traveling roommate.  It’s not necessarily like your best friend – we’re friends obviously, but it’s more like a roommate situation because there’s that professional aspect that you always have.  I think that keeps us on our toes, and it’s healthy.  I don’t think any musical group or duo has ever been the best of friends – look at Oasis (or Metallica) or something.  Those guys hated each other but they make amazing sh*t.  We don’t pry into each other’s personal lives too much which I think is good.

Ian:  It’s important to do because we spend a lot of time together.  It would be like having a co-worker follow you, all the time.  When we go to hotels and stuff, we separate; and come together to prep shows.  It’s important to keep that dynamic otherwise, we would f*cking kill each other.

ES: So before Bixel Boys started you weren’t friends at all?

Ian:  Nope – the first time I had met him was to talk about Bixel Boys.

Rob:  I think that we share a mutual taste towards the things that we like in music.  That obviously kicked it right off from the start.  We generally like the same stuff.

Ian:  The other thing is that we’re good at different things.  He’s really good at things that I’m really bad at and vice-versa.  If we were both really strong-headed in one area, I could just foresee so much head-butting.  But I know when to step back and cut slack; we both let each other explore different areas.
 

ES: You guys define your sound as “Big Room Underground.”  Who are your Big Room influences and who are your Underground influences?

Rob:  I think one of my earliest big room influences is – well I think he’s a hybrid as well, but Laidback Luke.  He was definitely one of my earliest big room guys who I pursued in that realm because I really liked what he did.  Not to mention his insane DJing skills because he is a pure DJ and I really looked up to that because he could do both of those things.  As far as underground, I like really underground sh*t.  I say this all the time but I’m the biggest DJ Shadow fan in the world.  If you know DJ Shadow’s sh*t it’s the most eclectic and weird sample plays.  He’s a guy who lives in basements with tons of records and he just digs – and I wish I could have that life.  Maybe someday I could just retire and dig through records all day.  But yeah he definitely has inspired us and our use of samples, and digging into more eclectic type of music to find those hidden gems and implement them into dance music; as opposed to going into straight pure analog-y type sounds.

Ian:  I think for me, it almost is big room underground; this is the way I see it – but Justice.  For me when I was coming up in LA, I think Ed Banger played such a huge role with the way that I see dance music.  I think a lot of the things we’re doing now with merch and collaborations with brands and stuff, is something that I saw them and So-Me doing, and that’s kind of the way I was introduced to all this stuff.  If you listen to them, it’s big festival music but I used to see them play in the backyards of Barracuda in LA and go to all these weird BBQ sessions where it’d be Busy P and all the Ed Banger guys and Mehdi, and they’d all come out and just play rap, techno, french touch and all this crazy sh*t.  I think that all really developed my taste for what I like to hear; I love hearing big, heavy melodies.

Rob:  Darkness, grit…we like a lot of grit and dirtiness.  We never really produce anything that’s too squeaky clean.

Ian:  If there are little imperfections and things, I love hearing that.  So yeah, Justice, Ed Banger, Busy P, Carte Blanche – all that stuff really developed what I perceive as good.

 

ES:  We’re loving your remix of Botnek and 3LAU’s “Vikings”

Rob:  We got the request for that, and when I first heard the song I thought, ‘I don’t know what the f*ck to do.’  I was like I don’t even know where to begin looking at the parts for this, and how to split it up.  It was something that we just sort of developed.  There was a point where I wasn’t sure if I even liked what was happening but we actually talked with the Botnek guys and what they said built my confidence to finish it.  They told us that we were turning it into a real song.  “Vikings” the original is such an absolute club smasher, and I think it was cool to hear them say that they loved hearing it in a more musical context.  So I think that propelled us to want to finish it.  I’m really happy with how it all turned out.  The response has been really crazy. 

Ian:  It was cool – we had finished that idea a long time ago, and hadn’t thought about it until Dim Mak had re-approached us about putting it out.  Then we talked to Botnek and decided we should definitely release it.
 

ES:  So what’s it been like working with all of these big labels (Dim Mak, Sweat it Out Music)?

Ian:  We pick the labels that we really admire and love.  I don’t ever really get to see the ins and outs of the labels and what’s really happening.  But I respect these guys so much and I’ve worked with so many of them in the past when I was working in marketing, and it’s awesome to bring it full circle now and be a part of their family in loose affiliated ways but it’s been really fun.  It hits me secondarily when we put things out that it was a big deal we had a track with these guys. 
 

Bixel Boys at The Hoxton

 
ES:  Could you tell us about the #FREELIFE movement?

Ian: #FREELIFE was something that when Rob and I were early DJs we started playing these basement parties with our friends in Venice Beach (Guns in the Sun and Steffi Graff) who pretty much taught us how to DJ.  But we were all wearing Nike Frees at the time because they were so comfortable, and we would always just say to each other, ‘Yeah, freelife.  We’re living the freelife.’  And we would have people in the club going, ‘are you just wearing running shoes?’  And we’re like ‘freelife, man.  f*ck yeah it’s comfortable.’  Essentially we took that mantra, and found that it’s more about being yourself, f*ck what everyone else says.  F*ck what everyone thinks is cool or acceptable – just be yourself, who cares. Then we ended up making this jersey. 

Rob:  We thought the jersey was going to be a dud.  We thought nobody was going to like it.

Ian:  But we liked it, so we were like well, we’ll just put it out.  Let’s just see what happens. Then fast-forward and a bunch of DJs started wearing it, and we put all these campaigns behind it, where it was something you earned instead of something sold.  We wanted to see what it meant to other people, and had a wave of awesome feedback.  I think it’s just running with that idea and mantra of being yourself at all costs and f*ck everyone else.

Rob:  The most amazing thing that’s come out of it, that I described in another interview we did; is that the term ‘freelife’ is the most vague but also the most meaningful statement you can make.  If you really think about those two words, it can literally mean anything and it can mean nothing at the same time.  I love that the fans and general followers out there are starting to take it and it’s starting to evolve in itself.  We’re not planning this stuff out – it’s literally the fans and people who are taking the meaning and stretching it out.  To see that happen before our eyes without us even touching it is probably the most amazing aspect of it so far.

Ian:  It has been really humbling having such high profile people wearing it and telling us how much they actually like the designs and meaning behind it.  We’re going to continue to explore that and see where it takes it.  I love how people attach their own meanings to it.

Rob:  I hope it continues to evolve and branch out because possibilities are endless.  We want people to make it their own; that’s what it’s all about.  We’re all in this together.  If you’re involved in dance music or any sort of artistic endeavors, you have to understand that working together is the only way to achieve a greater success.  If you’re trying to compete with everyone all the time then you’re not going to go anywhere.

Ian:  Really the only competitions that are meaningful are with yourself.  If you continue to push yourself beyond what you did last time, I think that’s the best way to do things.  That’s what we found in Los Angeles particularly, where there’s so many DJs and so much producing going on; everyone is really helping each other, and the only people to compete with is what they did last.  It’s been this great incubator for us.

 

ES:  Have you thought of ways in which you could push the #FREELIFE mantra further?

Rob:  I think that beyond merchandise and music – I think that expanding into, most recently, charity work – we’re blending those lines together.  Getting involved in causes, where the fans of dance music can start becoming involved in a cause.  I think right now dance music needs a bit of positive reinforcement on the side of charity and stuff, after all of the negative press it sometimes gets from festivals.  I think there are responsible dance kids out there who deserve to be seen in a positive light and the media always portrays them in the most negative ways.  The #FREELIFE and charity movement is a really good start to turning the tide on how media portrays dance music and the fans. 
 

ES:  Does this have to do with your announcement on Monday?  Could you tell us a bit about that?

Ian:  On Monday we’re going to announce this social media program called ‘Thunderclap’ where we will be selling the #FREELIFE jersey (Click here for details).  100% of all proceeds from the #FREELIFE jersey are going to Camp Kesem, which is a charity based around a camp where kids go after they have lost a parent to cancer or have a parent with cancer.  With Thunderclap, you can opt in and essentially in two weeks (On October 7), everyone will have a simultaneous post to all purchase the #FREELIFE jersey all at one time, to try and raise the maximum amount of money.  And a hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Camp Kesem.  I think that’s a style of how we want to run our merch and what we’ll be doing a lot of in the future. 
 

ES:  Team #FREELIFE is now 50k deep…

Rob:  It starts to grow so exponentially.  It’s always cool to see your fanbase growing 

Ian:  I think it’s less for us about quantifying the numbers and being like ‘oh we can reach this many people at one time’ but more about making real connections with real people. We’ve been going back and forth with this kid from Sweden who has been fighting lymphoma cancer, and he’s become a really rad pen pal for us who we can talk to everyday.  Those personal, one-on-one connections we can make are so much more meaningful than looking at sheer numbers of things.  That’s what pushes me to do more. Not to say I don’t appreciate every single person who has clicked like on our facebook because I totally do, but it’s less something I’m keeping track of.

 

ES:  What’s next for the Bixel Boys?

Rob:  We’re still doing a bunch of shows – we’re doing another Canada tour with Sleepy Tom at the beginning of October, we’re doing a bunch of Halloween shows, and then hopefully we’ll get some studio time.  Latane, our agent – I’m talking to you, hopefully we get some studio time! 

Ian:  We’re working with the OWSLA team for some really special things involved that have music and merch involved; you’ll see it all coming out soon.  A lot more collaborations with other artists and brands;  things that propel us to think more.  That about covers it!
 

#cops

Myself with the super down-to-earth and very knowledgeable Ian and Rob

 

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