In February, THUMP came across an unsigned, four track EP on Soundcloud by a mysterious producer called Golden Features. With tens of thousands of plays in a matter of days, we were curious at to who exactly this (possible) newcomer was - and taking a closer look, everyone else seemingly was, too. After airplay on Australian radio and a championing from up-and-coming EDM juggernaut Porter Robinson, the hype was starting to build, so we tracked down the man himself to get the exclusive first interview with him: on starting off strong, what dance music is like in Australia, and who exactly Golden Features really is.
THUMP: Hi Golden Features - spill it. Who really are you?
Golden Features: My name's Tom Stell.
How old are you? Are you from Australia, or just based there?
Golden Features: I'm 23 and yeah, I'm Australian. I've always lived in Australia.
The past couple of months have been a real whirlwind for you. How long have you been making music for?
Golden Features: Well, before I started producing as Golden Features I was doing more EDM style stuff – more "big room" house – but to be honest with you, I didn't love it anymore. I wasn't enjoying it. I felt like I was forcing something. That I was just trying to fit into what everyone else was doing, because it seemed like the easy option. After that realisation, I started making a few tunes that were more to my taste, and more like the music that I was enjoying at the time. The whole creative process was a lot quicker and easier. It actually made me happy again. I wasn't banging my head against the wall.
You've got a four track EP to date on your Soundcloud – was that creative process fairly quick and easy too?
Golden Features: Yeah totally. Once I started to run with it I had quite a few songs together before I knew it, and I started picking between them – which ones I liked, which ones are too obscure and weird. I went through all of them - and then I picked a name. I decided I wanted it to be a complete creative project; not just about the music, but rather the music and the imagery tied together. For me, it's kind of an ego thing. I want this thing to be of its own merit, and not of what came beforehand.
Why were you so set on having a strong visual element? Can't the music speak for itself?
Golden Features: Well, my background is entirely in arts. I've grown up in Sydney my whole life and while we're not the biggest city in the world, we're one of the biggest in Australia and graffiti has always been quite prominent throughout my childhood here. It was always something I used to express myself, and I looked up to a lot of the older guys doing it too.
So your history is in hip hop more than dance music; graffiti, rap music?
Golden Features: Yeah, absolutely. I came up listening to hip-hop guys like MF Doom – which ties into the whole anonymity thing. I've always loved hip hop but when I turned 18, the general drinking age in Australia, I started going to dance music festivals and got introduced to acts like The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk. Daft Punk actually did a live tour here in 1997, it was an amazing pedigree of music to be indoctrinated into as a young kid, as far as dance music goes. From then on, it was just full speed ahead.
How did you make the transition from fan to producer?
Golden Features: From memory, I think I convinced my family to buy me the shittiest decks you could buy. It took a lot of convincing because if I jump on something, I jump on it and I'll give it 100% of everything. I started DJing a bit but within about six months, I'd sold everything, bought Ableton, and got to work.
What is dance music culture in Australia like?
Golden Features: When I started getting into it all, it was around they real heyday of Justice - and Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers were touring again. I think Crookers were the main ones that stood out in my mind when I started listening to it. Honestly, they were like nothing you'd ever believe. They are huge here. Everyone down here was crazy about them, and I think they still are a bit. The US is a whole other world for that, though. This time last year I was in Miami for Ultra Festival, and that blew my mind.
How do you think the US and Australia compares?
Golden Features: Man, that entire festival, the entire US dance scene? They're whole stance is bonkers. People are fanatical about it. You've got guys like Ryan Hemsworth and these really off-cuff, amazing people making great music and touring the world. I'd definitely love to take my music over there. In Australia though, it's a bit more loose. Now with guys like Wave Racer there's this new resurgence of people getting really interested in it, and it's getting a lot of radio play. Our festivals here are not as strong as they used to be. I think there was a point in time where there was about 10 festivals a year, and now there's about two or three. I'm not sure if you guys have heard about it but we've had really crazy lockout laws.
What happened with the lockout laws?
Golden Features: Our main red light district is called King's Cross, and recently there's been a whole bunch of what they call "alcohol-fuelled violence". To cut a long story short, a few people were badly injured and killed in fights, and it's all been blamed on alcohol. The long shot of this is they're closing everywhere at 3am, and stopping service of alcohol at 1.30am.
What affect does that have on the dance music scene in Australia?
Golden Features: It's pretty much killed the major nightlife scene over here as far as club nights go. We'd go usually to 5am or 6am, so it's definitely a culture shock for it to be cut off.
Presumably though, the local scene is almost at a remove from your music at the moment – it's all taken off purely online, and it's mostly US DJs and radio that have been reaching out to you.
Golden Features: To be honest, everything's happened so quickly. I think it was five or six weeks ago that everything launched. I was lucky though. We were shopping around for labels for a brief period, but then eventually decided to give it out for free. The following day the lead single, 'Tell Me', got picked up by a Triple J representative.
What's Triple J?
Golden Features: It's our main younger demographic radio station. After the track got played, it all spiralled from there. We got label offers and it eventually led to me signing to a big label for the next EP - and for the previous one, which will get a proper re-release.
And what about playing shows?
Golden Features: As of yet there have been no shows. We've got a couple in the works, but I don't want to play the whole DJ thing, and go out and play a bunch of other people's tunes. With that, you find yourself eventually becoming a person to fill a spot. You're playing the same songs as everybody else because you know they'll get a reaction. The whole idea of the Golden Features project is to turn myself into an artist that people actually go to see for their own music.
So, tell me, why all the secrecy behind Golden Features?
Golden Features: Because I'm not really being forward about who I am, no-one's talking to me about it. I think I was just lucky. After Porter Robinson got behind my music I got such a great reaction feedback. Guys like Porter are kind of my idols, so for him to push my music was a massive deal for me. It gave me such a confidence boost.
As far as the anonymity thing, I always liked graffiti because it's artwork that's important to the world, but not all about the person who made it. You go out, you do whatever you have to do, you put it out there in the world, and you don't expect personal credit for it. You just do it because it satisfies you. If people like it, they like it and if they hate it, they hate it - but at least it's something real, out in the world. The Golden Features character came about because of that. I didn't want my face plastered over things just because I prefer to have a character that I speak through.
What is about having a character and being anonymous that appeals to you?
Golden Features: To be honest, everything that I want to convey with this is just to have one, cohesive idea. I don't want people to be hung up on the anonymity thing because, in my mind, it's not important. It's the music, the artwork and the message that's being sent through that are the most important. When you get stuck on the whole "Who is it?", guessing game type of thing, it's just a side-show that detracts from everything else.
Yet your anonymity up until now has massively fuelled your music getting out there. Surely that's a two way street?
Golden Features: I guess it's good because it's created some form of hype, albeit inadvertently, but it's bad because if people are into it just because they think I'm some big artist, and that I'm just some weird moniker, they're not actually interested in the music. Hopefully people are actually enjoying it. I've heard a lot of rumours. I've heard I'm meant to be Flume, ha. The whole secrecy thing bummed me out for a bit, but I'm going ahead with what I wanted to do in the first place.