Golden Features might as well be called the Ned Flanders of Australian IDM. There is nothing that can be asked of the guy that won’t garner a response of well articulated positivity. Whether it’s lauding the efforts of other acts or discussing and justifying the choices made in his physical and musical aesthetics, there’s nothing he doesn’t feel comfortable addressing. Considering the fatigue that’s begun to set in when it comes to character artists and, more specifically, masked electronic musicians, Golden Features AKA Tom Stell brings a refreshing, almost unique normalcy to his approach. We talked to Tom over the phone while he was ferrying across Fiji on his current tour. Check out the dates and links for his Nov/Dec shows on his Facebook.
How are you doing, Tom?
Not too bad, man. I’m actually on a boat heading over to an island somewhere in Fiji.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been really good, no complaints. It’s been a lot of travelling and squeezing in studio time in between that but no complaints. I’ve gotten to see some cool places, hang out with cool people, no complaints.
What got you into making and producing EDM in the first place?
In school, I was kind of hooked on painting and doing art and stuff like graffiti and things like that and when I got a little bit older, like 18, I started going to shows and stuff and around the same time I realised that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing without running a serious risk of getting into actual trouble so I stopped and I had all this extra energy to put into something. I was so in love with going to festivals and stuff at the time, I wanted to do what those goes were doing and I kinda got fed into it through that.
“…at the moment, I’m trying to kind of build something which is like a whole art project. Kind of like what the Gorillaz did.”
Do you have a future vision for Golden Features or are you just letting it go where it takes you?
For me, I had a really big idea of what I wanted to do from the get go. The whole idea for it for me was to have something that would be a 360º project that was not just music but visuals accompanying that and, you know, cool stage performances and a whole kind of show. Which is why we’ve got things like the mask, that big visual reel that I run every time. I played DJ sets for so long, just like other people’s music with my own slotted in there that it just didn’t really appeal to me anymore. So at the moment, I’m trying to kind of build something which is like a whole art project. Kind of like what the Gorillaz did.
Did you ever imagine that your public image would build hype like this?
I had no idea when I started. We only had kind of an idea with what I wanted to do with it and I had a very brief idea of what kind of music I wanted to make and how I wanted to do it but from day one, the second it got picked up by radio, everything went really quick really fast and I’m just trying to catch up constantly with it all. It still confuses the crap out of me.
How did you come about picking the mask and aesthetic you use?
Basically what happened was when I was doing all the press shots, I wanted a picture to put on the profile pages of everything but I couldn’t afford to get a photo of myself taken. At the time, I was working a shitty job where I was basically just covering rent so I didn’t have money for anything other than food and sometimes I didn’t even really have money for that. So I drew a picture and when I drew it, I drew it with the face cut out and I realised that the nose and eyes and stuff looked pretty shit and I didn’t want to use them because I couldn’t draw eyes and noses as well as I could draw a face so I just filled it in with something. So initially, there was a galaxy in place of the face and I thought it was too dark and you couldn’t really distinguish it so I replaced it with the gold colour and then all of a sudden, before shows, everyone was talking about ‘Oh, I hope he wears the mask’ and stuff and I didn’t see it as a mask, it was just a design thing. But I got it made after the thought because it was like ‘oh shit, that’s actually what that could be’ so we went to a prop designer and gave him that picture and said ‘we basically want this’.
So is it just you who does your visuals?
As far as the visual aesthetic goes, the initial stuff was all me. Now, for the live stuff where there’s moving images, a lot of stuff I don’t know how to do and don’t really have the time to do. I’ve got a guy who does all my visuals. He’s the same guy who does Porter Robinson’s stuff. His name’s GhostDad and he’s just the most amazing guy on the planet. He helped us out earlier by sending us out these visual reels and giving us a chance. So it was really cool to see him come back with exactly what I wanted in a matter of days.
He’s fucking amazing. I can’t stress how good he is at his job. He doesn’t get the credit an on-stage artist would get but he’s touring around and making all these reels on the go and he’s never not working. He’s just so talented. I hope he gets the recognition he deserves.
Do you think growing up in Sydney influenced the direction of your music?
It did. I love Sydney still. I forget how much I love it after I’m there for a couple of months and then I go away and come back and realise what a great city it is. I think it’s a ‘grass is greener’ situation all the time. I live there and I’m used to the beautiful beaches and really good weather, you know? Winter on a bad day is still 15ºc which is Summer in England. I have no complaints about it, I just forget. So it’s nice being able to travel so much because it reminds me how much I love home.
Now that Sydney has a fairly overbearing lockout at 3am, do you prefer partying and playing in other Australian cities?
The lockout hasn’t affected me all that much so far. I’ve seen it happen, which is the interesting part, I’ve seen the entirety of King’s Cross die purely from that in less than a year which is really sad because when I was younger, I used to go there all the time and it’s something I really enjoyed doing. For me, as far as the music i’ve been making and stuff, my shows in Sydney have been either outside of the lockout zones or at festivals where I’m on a little bit earlier in the day so there’s no complaints as of yet. It’s just sad where we live in a city where people need to be nannied like that because at the end of the day, terrible things happen all the time but media sensationalises certain things and if a story works for them, then they’ll drive it into the ground and make as much out of it as possible.
It also seems counter-intuitive. If you’ve got problems with alcohol-fuelled violence on the street, I don’t know why you’d take people fuelled by alcohol and force them out onto the street all at the same time.
Exactly! The sad reality is, it’s not an alcohol problem, it’s an arsehole problem. I’ve been out countless times and gotten as drunk as I can possibly be and I’ve never been in a situation where someone’s been like ‘fight me’ or I’ve wanted to fight someone else. There are guys who drink and, we all know someone like this, where they drink and all of a sudden, they want to fight people and all of a sudden, you’re holding them back and it’s a shitty situation and it’s shitty that alcohol affects people that way. It doesn’t mean we should ban alcohol or lock out venues, not really. The punishment should suit the crime for these people and there needs to be a kind of education there rather than very strict laws to stop it from happening. The laws are never truly effective, it’s education which is the most effective thing.
I heard that you want to be Slumberjack’s mum.
Yeah. *laughs* Man, you’re on the ball. That was very quick. I love those dudes, they’re hard not to love. I met them in Perth, I think, where they’re from and they’re just cool dudes. There’s a real style and fashion about them and I can’t help but love every bit of music they make. Everything they do has been an absolute banger so far. It’s not necessarily the kind of stuff I make but I really appreciate them as guys as well, so yeah, I’d definitely be their mum.
They’ve got a new EP coming out this Friday. We were streaming it exclusively before the launch on ACCLAIM.
Word! I think I heard the title track off that, it’s got a funny name…Body Cry? I’ve heard that track, I haven’t heard the rest. For the past week and a half, I’ve just been travelling. I haven’t had a chance to cop it. With them, they’re the type of people where I can just download it, I don’t have to preview or listen to the song first. I just know it’s going to be good.
Are you a fan of other anonymous masked musicians?
You know what, man? It doesn’t bother me so much on the electronic scene. I fucking love MF DOOM though, you know? It’s not a mask thing, the mask is an addition to it. It’s more like what they’ve created. It’s created an entire world around them. Doom exists in his own world, as his own character, he can jump in and out of that character at will. That’s the shit I love. There are other people who do it without the mask too, like Die Antwoord. It’s just something that I really appreciate because it’s so immersive when you watch them play. People are interesting but who’s really that interesting? You’re performing art, so why not make the entire thing an art piece?
“For me, to sit down in an interview and put on a character and pretend to be someone else, it seems disingenuous.”
You don’t seem as eager as them to cultivate an alter-artist personality. In your first ever publication interview, you gave your full name out on the first question.
Sure! I am who I am and I think that personality comes out in as far as performances and as far as the music and things so I think that’s if I’m writing music, I’m writing it from the mindset of that person and that person is only a hyperextension of me. It’s never not me, it’s just all my faults, all my positives just magnified by a thousand. For me, to sit down in an interview and put on a character and pretend to be someone else, it seems disingenuous. It’s not something that I’d enjoy doing, it’s never how I wanted to portray myself. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable. The same goes for if I went and sat down in an interview with the mask on and tried to talk to you through the mask. I don’t want it to be a gimmick, I want it to be kind of a tool to use as a way of performing. All of a sudden, it’s recognisable, it’s not just a guy standing there. Making something different has always been my main thing. If it’s different, if it’s good, if I’m happy with it, then it’s something that I want to put out.
I think that’s why Die Antwoord don’t really do interviews.
Yeah, they only do brief ones. And look, who knows? That could be them and they could morph into those people. I’m just not sure. They’re so radically far out there. For them, the music is everything and they’re just an anomaly, you know? I’d never want to bite the style of someone like that. They are so uniquely them, I’d never want to try and do exactly what they’ve done.
Nicole Millar features on your debut EP on one track and before that EP was released, you were largely unknown and she was already working with Peking Duk and acts like that. How’d you get that feature spot arranged?
I couldn’t tell you, to be honest. I made the track and she was someone I’d wanted to work with when I was doing the kind of electro-house stuff before this. And I kept her in mind when I started making music geared more towards that kind of indie sound, she was always in mind so we sent it out to her, she wanted to do it. We just chalked up an agreement really quickly. The interesting part about it all though is Peking Duk were my housemates. I lived with them and I was working on the track Tell Me while they were working on the track High in the same house but neither of us had a vocalist for the tracks! It was right up until the last days when I was moving out that it happened. So we kind of both released tracks that had the exact same vocalist on it, not realising that the tracks were made under the same roof.
That’s pretty cool. So you don’t live with Peking Duk anymore?
Nah, I moved out a little over a year ago now. But I miss it every day. Those guys are like my brothers. They’re really good, inspiring people. They have a brilliant work ethic and a really good outlook on life.
It seems like you get along with a lot of other Australian electronic musicians.
It’s hard not to. You guys have mutual interests, you both love the same thing, you’re both part of the same scene. You’re constantly around each other, you know? I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been on a bill where Tkay Maidza’s been on the exact same bill. Like, I see her probably two out of three gigs I play. You often get billed together a lot and it’s nice to have people wherever you go, you can just party and get along with people. It’s seldom you find an uninteresting person or a rude person while you’re touring around. They’re usually really lovely.
You’re Soundcloud has had a bit of a blackout for a few months. Are you just busy with shows or is there something you’re working on?
What’s happened with Soundcloud is- I sent out a remix like two months ago, I think that was the Presets remix? I’ve got another remix coming out quite soon and then basically, the past year for me has been kind of playing these shows, writing more music that’s above the old music and more of it. So essentially what I plan on doing is dropping a bigger EP very early next year. I could have released a single every month or every two months and kept it rolling, but I like producing stuff in a collection. You can make bolder with certain tracks and people won’t be like ‘what the fuck? I thought you made this type of music?’. It gives you a bit of a stretch to do whatever you want and you’ll have those few tracks that sound like you which you gotta make but then you can do some more experimental stuff as well. That’s what keeps you happy in the studio and inspired.
Where are you most excited to be performing on this tour?
There’s so many different spots, man. Sydney for me, to play at Chinese Laundry, I used to play there under some different names, some opening spots and that’ll be fun for me. To headline a show there that sold out two weeks into being announced is pretty fucking crazy. That’s the big one. I’m excited to play Brisbane too, there’s too many. Even these shows right now in Fiji is so cool, to be able to hang out with a bunch of friends and jump across a boat to play on an island to play on a beach somewhere. It’s really cool.
Who else should people be listening to right now?
I think a lot of people I know that are doing it and doing it well are already getting recognition. You’ve got Benson from Melbourne who’s making some really amazing music. There’s lots to name but he springs to mind. He’s an absolute monster.
Hear more Golden Features on Soundcloud.