DJ Seinfeld: "The debate is not whether lo-fi’s good or bad, but if that raw quality can bring something to a track"

DJ Seinfeld
(Image credit: Brainfeeder)

Born in Malmö, Sweden, Armand Jakobsson comically birthed DJ Seinfeld in 2016 having binge-watched the iconic ’90s TV sitcom following a relationship breakup. Although his main project at the time was titled Rimbaudian, the public picked up on DJ Seinfeld’s raw and ready sound thanks to seminal tracks like U, created in the spirit of the early house pioneers.

Much to Jakobsson’s surprise, what began as a tongue-in-cheek witticism blossomed to become his signature project; however, the producer/DJ has been working hard to reinvent his sound. Although regarded as a lo-fi visionary, his new album Mirrors blends the raw emotion of his early DJ Seinfeld records with a more vivid, vocal-led production approach that takes him to a whole new level.

DJ Seinfeld

(Image credit: Brainfeeder)

Do you find it fortunate that DJ Seinfeld was initially a jokey pseudonym that turned into your main project?

“There always a little bit of luck involved in anyone’s musical success. When I started treating production as a job I worked hard to not only become a better producer but a better DJ. 

"I’m humble enough to admit that I do have some type of imposter syndrome when I see other talented producers that are maybe not as fortunate as me in terms of industry success, but I do try to elevate others.”

How do you feel about the name now that you’ve become established under it?

“I feel kind of apathetic about that to be honest – it was worse before when it had a novelty factor and sounded quite sensationalist. It was literally just a joke that went too far, but now I just see it as a DJ name like any other. 

"I could be wrong but I have the impression that most of the people who come to my shows don’t have any knowledge of what Seinfeld was, as that generation probably missed the effect that it had on popular culture. 

"The only people who seem to be bothered are those who treat the TV show as some religious holy grail of comedy or purists who think everything should be super-serious or fall under an umbrella of coolness. There’s nothing to be gained from worrying about what those kinds of people think.”

I usually go digging for samples on YouTube and take stuff from a few channels that upload obscure acapellas

So your production career started by using Ableton as your primary production tool?

“All my productions were and still are done in the box. At the start I didn’t know how long I had in this industry so didn’t want to invest too much in gear. 

"I bought a Korg Electribe synth once but was too lazy to figure out how it would work and after a certain point felt I could do exactly what I wanted if I learned Ableton well enough as it’s more about what I want to make rather than figuring out how to make something. 

"Ableton’s been a convenient choice because there’s a million tutorials for every single aspect of music production available for free out there, but I’m planning on moving out of the box because I don’t want to miss out on the fun of messing around with hardware.”

Did something in particular instigate that change of tone?

“I have a few friends who I look up to when it comes to music-making and we always chat about what kind of effects they’re using, which has always interested me. 

"I feel there’s a whole other world available with certain types of hardware but I’m also planning on doing a live show performance towards the end of the year and I’ve never been interested in watching people go on stage playing music through a laptop

"To bring the show to life, I feel I need to do the audience some justice and actually perform, which then includes learning more equipment and bringing a visual component.”

You’re quite open about the fact that you’re still developing as an artist. Does the album title, Mirrors, tell its own story on that front?

“The name comes from me not really knowing who I was as a producer when I began making this album. I was at a loss on a lot of levels. My first album was easy because I had a specific experience that triggered its narrative and the breakup I suffered was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in a morbid way. 

"Right now I’m in a pretty good place in my life so I thought that if I just made the songs then maybe the music would tell me where I am. I guess that Mirrors is just a way of reversing those roles – instead of starting with an idea, I saw the idea after making the music.”

We’ve been forced to think a little more critically about what dance music does for us

Did that also enable you to use guest vocalists to provide their own interpretation?

“I love using vocals; when done tastefully they can change a track so much. Usually I sample and re-contextualise vocals by warping them beyond recognition; this time I wanted to leave the door open for a few collaborations. 

"I was curious about what a vocalist would do with something I’d written, which is why I worked with Stella Explorer and Teira on this album. It was fascinating to hear what they did because they took my view of a track to a whole new level; that was quite intoxicating.”

Where did you turn to for vocals on most of the other tracks?

“I usually go digging for samples on YouTube and take stuff from a few channels that upload obscure acapellas. They’re a great source as long as you’re able to clear them. 

"Sometimes I’ll have a track ready and know I need a vocal sample to complete it, other times I’ll hear an acapella or vocal cut and get an idea from that of what a track can be. For Walking With Ur Smile I used some samples from an R&B group called Elements of Life who did a cover of an Anita Baker song called Sweet Love.”

Thumping house beats were a prominent element of your previous sound, but that seems a lot more toned down on Mirrors?

“I was adamant about not making a pandemic album, but there’s also an inevitably about how people are consuming music right now. I haven’t been listening to a lot of dance music because the normal outlets for it aren’t available, so I figured I’d make something that’s more in the listening music lane. 

"There are a few tracks that are more functional, but I also wanted to make a statement about my development as a producer and how the technical and melodic components are more important than what a DJ might play in a club. 

"It’s about time I stepped into that area just to prove to myself and others that there’s unpredictability in what I do. For good or bad, I want there to be an element of surprise in Mirrors’ direction and style.”

Do you think this year has proved how much club music is made for clubbing?

“I still love dance music and think there’s a sweet spot where you can bring club music and beautiful listening music together outside of that environment. I might not have found that in my own music just yet but I feel that I’m approaching that point and the more I work on it the more the vision crystallises.”

There’s also the communal aspect of clubbing, which is obviously absent when you’re listening in isolation?

“Absolutely, we’ve been forced to think a little more critically about what dance music does for us, but I’ve always been inspired by dance music inside and outside of clubs. The true value of club nights comes from what the consumer remembers from them. 

The debate is not whether lo-fi’s good or bad, but if that raw quality can bring something to a track

"Some of the tracks I play out that are closest to my heart are about nothing other than when a certain track was played at a certain time in my life. Going back and listening to those tracks while walking in the park, for example, brings them alive, and that’s when I see and feel the value of clubbing in a different context.”

You mentioned wanting to become a better producer. What elements did you feel you needed to focus on?

“Mostly the songwriting, with specific attention to developing ideas clearly, which came from my correspondence with the A&R at Ninja Tune, Adrian Kemp. He put into words a lot of the things I always felt were missing in my own tracks but couldn’t really define. 

"It was very rewarding to have that kind of honest feedback, as brutal as it can sometimes be. I needed to hear about how to structure a song and the dynamic I was trying to promote, which made me think a lot more critically about the story I was trying to tell. 

"Before that, I’d have an idea and could polish it to a certain extent, but never really got a track to a point where I felt I did it full justice. With Mirrors, I really feel like I’ve started making those steps.”

Have you been more focused on the technical aspect of production too?

“I like to focus on melodies but because I’m a dance music producer I’m trying to do justice to the drums and other functional parts of the song in order to do justice to those. 

"I started thinking a little more creatively about how the drums should sound because, although I still don’t have speakers, that part’s always been a bit of a guessing game. 

"I also started to pay more attention to detail, for example, working on elements that might only occur once in a track but still leave their mark. Now I feel that I’m finally pushing through and elevating my mixes.”

Do you feel it’s important to take control of the entire production process?

“I’ve used mixing engineers on some of my previous releases and they did a really good job, but for this album I wanted to do it myself because I wanted to make my own mark. Mixing can play as big a part as the music in terms of how you visualise the sonic picture, textures and the way that everything is phrased.

If you’re able to find a little sound, effect or way of doing things that nobody else has, you might not sell more records but at least you’re different

"I feel a little reluctant to give that away now, even if other people could do a better job than me. Now, it’s completely my own creation and I get a certain level of authority and agency from that. If something’s wrong with a mix, at least I know that I only have myself to blame.”

You’re identified with a lo-fi sound and lo-fi producers are sometimes accused of lacking the skills to be more expansive. However, is reductionism the ultimate objective?

“A lot of the house music tracks I listen to were done a long time ago and they obviously succeeded in creating a pioneering, classic sound with a minimal amount of equipment. 

"There’s a beautiful fragility to those early house records and something engaging about that because you can almost see how those tracks were produced. I feel the debate is not whether lo-fi’s good or bad, but if that raw quality can bring something to a track. 

"For me, it’s just another texture or way to exemplify something I felt was beautiful about those early house and techno records.”

What software libraries do you use?

Omnisphere is a massive plugin that takes up a lot of space but is probably the most heavily used software I’ve gone into. Then I usually rely on MeldaProduction for a bundle of effects and the iZotope plugins, which seem to bring a radiant quality to everything. 

"Also some cassette plugins to bring out that lo-fi quality. Sometimes I want the drums to sound a bit grainy, so it’s really fun to put those effects on to make everything sound like it was recorded on a crappy ’90s mixer. 

"Other times I want the drums to still be banging but a certain part of the melody to have a vintage-type sound. I never use effects on the master channel – I only did that when I didn’t know what I was doing; since then I’ve become a lot nicer to my mastering engineers.”

Do you create certain effects chains to give your sounds an element of differentiation?

“I like using external plugins for my own vanity and to perhaps try to make something other people can’t. Maybe it’s subconscious, but I feel like everyone wants to get a competitive edge and the only way to do that is to find something that only you know how to do. 

"If you’re able to find a little sound, effect or way of doing things that nobody else has, you might not sell more records but at least you’re different. I have one synth that I use on the track called She Loves Me – it’s a bell-type synth sound that has a vintage quality and I decided this is my thing. 

"It came about from messing about with a lot of effects but now that process feels like something I can dive into and own. That excites me because I’ve not heard it on other producers’ tracks.”

My first ever agent sent me a pair of Avantone headphones that looked like something Soviet cosmonauts would wear in space in the ’70s. I was blown away by their quality

You mentioned not having speakers and only working on headphones. What research did you do on that front?

“My first ever agent sent me a pair of Avantone headphones that looked like something Soviet cosmonauts would wear in space in the ’70s. I was blown away by their quality so I’ve used the same brand ever since. I’ve found a sweet spot now with my current pair of Avantone MP1 MixPhones and don’t see myself changing anytime soon.”

Are you concerned that the sound you’re hearing through headphones might not necessarily translate well on other media?

“Throughout your lifespan as a producer you’re always training your ear and I essentially use two or three reference points. When I first start sketching out an idea I’ll use my ear pods and build a large portion of the track on those. 

"If something sounds good, with the odd exception they’ll usually sound good on anything. I think it was Burial who said in an interview that whenever he exported a track he’d look at the skeleton of an audio file and if it looked like a fish he knew the track would sound okay. I’ve embraced that attitude.” [smiles] 

The new DJ Seinfeld album, Mirrors, is out September 3rd on Ninja Tune.

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