It’s always refreshing whenever I find out today’s cutting-edge DJs have mad respect for high-resolution audio. Take 24-year-old Norwegian tropical house DJ Matoma, who had garnered a mind-blowing 73 million listens on Spotify for his remix of “Old Thing Back,” a classic track by the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. “When I do a remix, I always consider the original,” explains Matoma. “I went to music school for three years, taking music technology and production. I respect the production part of a song; I’m not trying to overproduce it. I’m really into sound, and sound design.”
Matoma (born Tom Stræte Lagergren) feels his schooling very much influences the direction of the music he makes and mixes. “The Matoma sound is when you hear that kick and you hear all the elements of the songs, like the groovy bass lines,” he details. “It’s more advanced than other tropical house acts, because — and don’t misunderstand me, many of them are talented, the ones who produce from home — they don’t have the basic knowledge of sound. They don’t know how sounds are supposed to be in a big room with big speakers. They don’t know how you should have a bass line be real and big, but at the same time, let you feel the kick.”
I also asked Matoma about his personal sound-quality ideals, and his thoughts on streaming and MP3.
Mike Mettler: Is there a record by somebody else you consider to be a benchmark in terms of sound quality?
Matoma: I would probably say, there’s another Norwegian guy called Funkin Matt. He’s more into the future house and deep house. I also like Mark Knopfler. He’s a great example of a really good sound guy. I really like how he produces his albums, but it’s in a totally different genre.
Oh, that’s interesting. Mark Knopfler is one of my all-time favorite artists, ever since he was in Dire Straits. The sound quality of the records he makes and produces are always top-notch.
Listening to a good Mark Knopfler record on a high-quality speaker system that’s optimized in your living room — that would be the best way.
I totally agree. I’ve done that with his albums on vinyl, in surround sound, and via 96/24 high-res files. Do you do your mixes in the highest quality you can?
Yes! And it’s hard to do it, because when you’re doing electronic stuff, you need a lot of space. If you fill your hard drive with too many tracks, the computer shuts down. And high-resolution is much more necessary when you’re recording live than if you’re using plug-ins on your computer.
Are you OK with streaming music or listening to MP3s, or do you feel something is missing from those experiences?
I feel like a common person when listening to MP3s. The main problem with music today is people are using it for everything. They don’t actually sit down just to listen to music, to enjoy music. It’s not a meal.
If you go to the cinema, you go to actually see a movie, and people don’t do that with music. You go to a concert, and people get drunk or go on their phones. There are so few people in the world who actually sit down to have a good listen on a good system.
That’s what I do as much as I can. I have a name for it too — I call it appointment listening, where all I do is listen to the music, and do nothing else.
Yeah! I totally like that. My feeling about MP3s is you try and produce them as good as you can. People won’t notice the quality you’ve put in on an MP3, but you have to do it in the high-res. The percentage of most people listen to music in bad quality.
I always try to make my tracks sound as good as possible on great speakers. I produce on headphones, but I always check how my stuff sounds on shitty speakers, because I know that’s how many people are going to listen to it.
Live, I always play my sets in the highest WAV files. I’ll never play MP3. I see posts on the Internet where they say, “Oh, people won’t notice the MP3 in the clubs.” Yeah that’s true, because that means you think the acoustics in that club are really shitty! But if you go into a club where you know they have the high-res or the high-quality German speakers — like the really good ones they use for festivals — and you’re playing MP3 on those speakers, it will sound shitty. So like I said, I only play high-res wav files. I understand the concept of high quality. You get so much more low end when you play from that format.
Is there one song you’ve mixed that you consider to be the benchmark for quality in terms of how it sounds?
I have to say “Old Thing Back” is unique because of the low end, and the clarity in the drums. But if you play it from Spotify, it’s not high resolution, so… (chuckles)
When Atlantic signed “Old Thing Back,” they wanted to master it themselves, but I ended up mastering it. They tried, but they were so far away from my masters, so I ended up mastering it for a week before putting it up.
I’m really interested in surround sound! I would probably do it with original stuff — maybe one or two songs on an album, really explicit, and with lyrics. It would be cool to just show people what I’m able to do with that.
Given the dynamic range you’d have to work with, I’d love to hear 5.1 versions of some of the remixes you’ve done as well.
I think with the Astrid S track, “2AM,” you’d get blown away by the dynamics of the bass and the clarity of the vocals, because I really spent a lot of time getting that perfect. Also “Try Me,” the one with Jason Derulo and Jennifer Lopez, which was done in a really nice studio with really nice microphones and great preamps.
Read more of my interview with Matoma on Digital Trends.