The Glitch Mob: From Basements to Burning Man to the Biggest Stages on Earth
"At the end of the day, if you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself": an in-depth interview with the bass music trio.
The Glitch Mob—Boreta (left), Ooah (center), and edIT (right)—outside of David's Cuban Cafe in Miami, looking hella boss.
When I sat down for lunch with The Glitch Mob, members Boreta (Justin Boreta), Ooah (Josh Mayer), and edIT (Edward Ma) had just completed 12 of over 40 shows slated for their international tour supporting Love Death Immortality, their second full-length album. The LP (their first in nearly four years) broke early this year to incredible acclaim, debuting at #13 on the Billboard 200 album chart and No. 1 on the iTunes electronic chart, positioning the trio as headliners at some of the world's biggest stages.
Where their first album, Drink the Sea, was melodic and at times melancholy music for headphones, Love Death Immortality is more festival-ready weaponry for giant sound systems. Still heavily soaked in their signature synthesizers and saturated basslines, the album represents a more aggressive turn that is engineered for bigger room and bigger drops.
Since their debut, The Glitch Mob has come a long way, and they've done it all on their own terms. To this day, the Los Angeles-based trio keeps a hand in nearly every aspect of their output, from the design of their stage show's custom-made instruments to the art and iconography of the Glitch Mob brand. Throughout their ascent into the limelight, they've been able to hold onto a kind of oversight that has their contemporaries green with envy.
Originally emerging out of the basements and warehouses of the California underground—cutting their teeth at events like Low End Theory, which also nurtured artists like Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer—the group has now gone international. Their busy summer will see them touring through the US, Belgium, France, England, and the Czech Republic, and during our in-depth discussion over lunch, we touched on their longtime connection to Burning Man, their totally sick new stage show, and the endless love they have for their fans.
THUMP: Can you talk about the early days when you were just getting started in LA?
Boreta: Low End Theory was a place for us to experiment with the hip-hop side of things, because that was what used to differentiate us from everybody else in the rave scene. Ed knows Daedelus from school; we booked Flying Lotus for his very first show in San Francisco. It was all part of this Little Big Bang at the time, and people like Gaslamp Killer, Daedelus, and Nosaj Thing have all gone off in different directions, but Low End Theory is still the same place to come and execute your most head-fuck beats. We still have a lot of respect and love for it. I feel like we're kind of Low End Theory uncles at this point.
Ooah: But that's not just where we came from, and whoever said that is wrong. That is one aspect of where we come from, but even before Low End Theory was a thing we were playing Burning Man, we were playing underground warehouse parties in SF, and we were playing all over Downtown LA.
How did Burning Man inform your sound and style?
Ooah: It's very similar to Low End Theory. It was just another place for us to go and experiment with sound, or try out music and get weird as fuck. It's a very open-minded event—it's not like going to Ultra, and it's not based around music; it's based around art and community, and music just happens to be a part of it too.
Boreta: People like to make fun of Burning Man, and it's the butt of a lot of jokes—for good reason. It's a totally crazy, psychedelic, San Francisco hippie festival. It's always been a fun place to play music because there's no entry fee, there's no VIP, there's no money. You just go out there, get on some giant soundsystem and you play music and people are just out of their minds. We've been going for eight or nine years now, but Diplo and Major Lazer came out there with us for the first time this year and they were like, "Shit, this is really actually fucking cool."
It's the last place where you can go play and there are no fucking billboards anywhere; there's no corporate infiltration—and it's the last stronghold. Now that the festivals have become so infiltrated by corporate America I think you're going to see more and more people going there without being crazy San Francisco hippies like we are.
What's your craziest Burning Man story?
Boreta: One night I was sitting out near one of these art cars that they drive around. It's like a big car that was in the shape of a jellyfish and there were flame flowers on the side. We were all sitting there, probably a group of ten people, and it it was 4AM and everyone was really fucked up and I was like, "Man, I really wish we had a drink right now." Everyone's really high, what could we do? Then a guy dressed up like Hunter S. Thompson appeared out of the dark with a bottle of Makers Mark and he handed it to us and walked away. It was a messenger from god.
I heard you have a new stage show and that it's incredibly badass.
edIT: Martin Phillips, who we worked with on our last tour, designed the stage set. He's done the Deadmau5 cube, the Daft Punk pyramid, the Kanye mountain. We have this gigantic stage setup that we call "The Blade." It's this custom-designed, massive instrument that all three of us play. It's been designed and tailored to make it so we can play our music the way we want to. Martin has always tried to emphasize the fact that we're playing music up there, so we added these big Tyco drums. If you're up front, you can see every note that we hit.
Do you guys have a big hand in designing all that?
Boreta: We had designed all of our stuff up until this one. This is the first time we had a team of people to help us out.
You're often called a DIY group, but what does that term mean to you?
Ooah: It means we literally have our hands in everything we do: the music, the look and feel of everything, the way everything is programmed and put together. We'll never hand something off to someone else and be like, "OK you can just do that." We work really closely with everyone on our team—everyone from our tour manager to guys on the other end that are helping with art direction. We sit in the studio day after day going through the lighting and video, picking everything down to the littlest color of what's going to be on the album art. We've always done it that way. We're completely independent and we're not signed to a major label or anything, so everything we do is ours.
Boreta: We were literally DIY up until very recently. Two tours ago we built our own lightshow. We went to Home Depot and bought the metal, and we went and purchased the lights from a guy in Orange County. Ed would build the set while Josh and I were outside grinding. We were also the tour managers and we designed the merchandise, and set up the merch tables. The whole thing has come from us wearing many hats in the whole operation and enjoying the whole part of the process. Now that things have gotten so big, we can't do everything ourselves so we have people to help us.
Ooah: But for everything Glitch Mob-related we're the front line.
edIT: And we're just perfectionists. What we want to say to the world and the story that we want to convey is very important, and at the end of the day, if you want something done right you've got to do it yourself.
You recorded your new album in the desert around Joshua Tree, in California's Mojave desert. What was that process like?
Boreta: Joshua Tree was amazing. We wanted to disconnect and reboot and come up with a new message to tell the world, so we moved out there for a month and we lived in this crazy house that this architect from New York built, and it was made out of this weird desert shit. There were mattresses and metal rusty things everywhere and it felt like it just came out of the desert floor. I felt like we were living in a David Lynch film the whole time.
By contrast, you spent some time in Miami around Ultra. How does that make you feel?
Boreta: There are so many ripped abs walking around everywhere. The ripped-ab-guy-per-capita ratio is out of control here. It makes you feel pasty and flabby.
Now for some fun questions. What's the best Matrix movie?
Boreta: I'm actually a big fan of The Animatrix.
Ooah: The Animatrix is my shit! The Cinematic Orchestra song in there—"Who Am I"—was my jam for a long time.
Do you prefer Indica or Sativa?
Boreta: We may actually be the only people you meet at the festival who don't smoke weed. No weed here.
Who are worse: the Australians or the French?
Boreta: Australians. I would rather get in a fight with a French guy than an Australian guy. An Australian guy would definitely beat my ass.
What do you think about people who fedoras? Are they trustworthy?
Boreta: It depends on what kind of facial hair they have. That can change their whole dynamic, but in general, yes.
Ooah: There is a very classy way to wear a fedora and a very unclassy way to wear a fedora. It depends on the time of day, the vibe, the shoes they have on.
What's your favorite fast food?
edIT: Del Taco.
Boreta: Nandos, but that isn't really fast food.
Have you ever had a run-in with a particularly over-excited fan?
Boreta: Just the other night we were eating beignets at Café Dumont at like 4AM after a show, and we tweeted a picture of one without even saying anything and a bunch of kids came and they were like uuuuggghhhh. It was pretty funny. Sometimes you forget that stuff goes out to the public. They came in and mobbed our beignets.
Do you often have to do press junkets where you show up and take pictures with your fans and autographs?
edIT: We love doing that. Actually after every single show we play we hop down and we hang out and sign autographs. We have this invite-only secret fan club called the Mob—they're real hardcore mega-fans and we have a place for all of them to meet up and talk and they get free tickets to the show.
Ooah: A musician who doesn't like their fans is doing it for the wrong reasons.
See The Glitch Mob on tour this summer:
June 7 - Governers Ball - New York, NY
June 12-14 - Bonnaroo - Manchester, TN
June 20-22 - Electric Daisy Carnival - Las Vegas, NV
June 22 - What The Festival - Dufor, OR
June 26-29 - Electric Forest - Rothbury, MI
July 4-6 - Badlands - Calgary, AB
July 25-27 - Center of Gravity - Kelowna, BC
August 1 - Lollapalooza - Chicago, IL
August 3 - Osheaga - Montreal, QC
August 14 - Rock Altitude Festival - Le Locle, CH
August 14-16 - Frequency - St. Polten, AT
August 14-17 - Open Air Gampel - Gampel, CH
August 22 - ℅ Pop Festival - Cologne, DE
August 23- Reading Festival - Reading, UK
August 24 - Leeds Festival - Leeds, UK
October 3-5 - Austin City Limits - Austin, TX
October 10-12 - Austin City Limits - Austin, TX
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