Ookay (live): A Conversation About Defining His Career
The Live Show:
As Ookay ascended the stairs leading up the backside of the main stage at Nocturnal Wonderland aka The Wolves Den, there was a palpable mix of nerves and excitement, not only from him but from the rest of his entourage. The reason behind the heightened level of nervousness was because this particular performance was different from the previous shows that have spanned his four year career as a DJ.
This show would be his first live performance. A showcase of talent that could potentially separate him from the pack, a display of musicianship set to captivate the sea of eagerly waiting fans, a chance for artistic expression that up until now lacked the proper platform. One thing was certain, this was a textbook carpe diem moment and Ookay was more than ready to take it.
The live show was an obvious departure from the dubstep and trap dominated sets that he has been delivering for years. Somehow though, Ookay craftily pulled off a healthy combination of his catchy melodies and happy riffs with the trap associated razor sharp synths and filthy bass drops. By taking the lead melodies, solo parts and synths then playing them on his keytar, or picking up drum sticks and playing the heavy bass drops and signature samples, he was able to deliver a live performance for every track. Keep in mind he was singing all of the vocal parts while performing and mixing his own songs.
The craftsmanship of the performance alone was worth seeing. Ookay, the one man band, carried the crowds attention for over an hour, never seeming to stop switching instruments, changing synths and mixing tracks. He was truly a master at work acting on reflex and natural performance abilities, looking more than comfortable as he expertly engaged the crowd. If there had been any doubts or judgement on what this set would be, the performance he gave on stage shut them down immediately.
Shortly after Ookay completed his monumental live show debut I lingered in the artist lounge at his trailer, mingling with a mixture of his friends, family and team. I patiently waited as the elated buzz that followed the seamlessly executed first live performance settled to a mutual agreement among the group. His live show wasn’t only an amazing performance, but the right choice for the rest of his career.
I took this time to meet as many out of the entourage as possible, introducing myself and trying to understand everyones relation to the man I was due to interview. I was pleasantly surprised, finding that everyone I spoke with not only had something to contribute in some form or another, but they did it with a genuine belief in Ookay’s artistic ability and direction. This was contrary to the usual mix of good and bad that typically follows an artist experiencing such meteoric success.
Casually making small talk I had the chance to sit down with his parents which were gracious enough to take a second to talk to me about a variety of things, like what this experience has been like for them. It was enlightening to get such a raw and honest perspective of the EDM world we find ourselves so absorbed in, but most importantly, I got an inside look at the people who had curated Ookay’s life. A glimpse of the world that nurtured this amazingly talented young artist.
His father spoke about the musical atmosphere that Ookay had been brought up in; helping his father with his shows as a bassist in a band, carrying musical equipment and being surrounded by live performance for hours. His mother attested to the previous claims and reiterated the apparent, that at a very young age Ookay not only expressed a passion for live music but demonstrated undeniable talent when singing or given an instrument.
As we talked I noticed that regardless of how the conversation would start to stray, it would always find its way back, returning to affirmations of the live performance that had just taken place. Obvious from the unwavering smiles and radiant happiness, his live performance meant more than a new stage in his career, but a declaration of the talent that they had seen manifest and grow throughout his life.
After a quick call to the PR team from his tour manager Jenks (another example of the groups unwarranted kindness) I got the go ahead to do the interview. It was my turn for conversation with the man himself. Aware of the five minute time frame that press is typically allotted for interviews I scrambled to find the right questions.. the corrected angle.. And then I entered the trailer.
Taking a seat on the floor as the group adjusted arrangements and tried to settle so we could start the interview, I had a change of heart. During this five minutes full of quick conversations, continued celebrations and spontaneous breaks of excited distraction, I decided to scrap my script and go rogue. A traditional interview didn’t make sense in this setting, it wouldn’t have captured the magnitude of the moment.
As we started into it the interview I updated Ookay and everyone in the room that this would be a conversation, a chance for everyone there including him to talk about what just happened, how he got there and what it meant. The following is an abridged version of the interview because the full conversation went well over the five minute mark due to constant interjections and jokes followed by endless rebuttals of sarcasm and laughter.
CH – This was a completely live set, period. First time?
A- Fuck yeah.
CH – How did it feel?
A – I kinda got rushed into this, I wasn’t supposed to do this for at least another month.
A – No, my agent was like hey.. You are gonna do a live show whether you like it or not #BenHoganSucks JUST KIDDING, Actually he is the one that pushed me to do it.
CH – & you are happy that he did?
A – Yeah because if he had waited for my okay to do it, we would have waited another year.
CH – That’s typically how creatives are right?
A – Yeah I’m a procrastinator. (Laughs) No but really, he (agent) let me know after he booked the festival, “Hey you are doing your first live show, get ready, it’s in four weeks.” I was like “okay well i’m going to start sweating very soon because I have not even thought about what we are going to do yet.”
CH – As far as instrumentation?
A – I didn’t have Jack crap.
CH – What was the timeline here.
A – A little over a month, but it took me about four weeks.
CH – So you have been locked up in studio sessions figuring out what instrumentation to use and where?
A – No, not even man, I did three full day studio sessions rehearsing for this show. Before that I just had all the music. Seriously we had three day to rehearse, that is all we had.
CH – As far as the live set goes, did you know what songs in particular you were going to dissect and what parts you were going to be playing live?
A – At first no, I was seriously jumping into this head first.
CH – Okay, well for the producers out there, because there are people out there that are going to want to know you process going into the Live Set development. For instance you have a song, did you say okay I know the layers to this, I want to play this drum kick live because I know it slaps and I want to be creating that energy live or I want to play the keys part here because it simple and carries for the crowd?
A – I knew I had enough music, I have been producing a lot, the stuff that has been sitting there, a lot of stuff that was brand new, and I just knew it would fit in the live show.
CH – Is this complete rebrand?
A – I think it is, I think my mentality on music and performance has changed. I mean really it was something new for me, I was at that point where I need to challenge myself, I have to do something different. I have to impress myself.
CH – You don’t see a lot of acts that are doing this.
A – No.
CH – It is interesting because the act before you Dr. Fresch and your follow up Valentino Khan are very bass heavy, you still have that in your act but it was a slight departure from your typical sound. But you obviously kept the fans going while still adding that live pop sound that you premiered tonight.
A – Yeah, of course, it is where I am going!
I am not saying I couldn’t do that (Bass heavy) forever, I could, but I want to impress myself, this wasn’t for anybody else. Something I wanted.
CH – Do you see yourself going down the path of what you did with Noah, you are looking for vocalist and you are making these tracks that are pop EDM hits with your sound.
A – Yeah, I mean I already song write and I sing everything, every song but Chasing Colors.
CH – So it is really something you want to do? It wasn’t your manager or agents influence, it was you.
A – They were just the ones that said okay well this has to happen now, and I knew it had to
happen but I was just too busy in the studio to think about what I was going to do live, when they gave me a due date and were like this is it, you either fail or you succeed. There is no in between. It is this or that.
A – I remember getting the Nocturnal flyer that had Ookay Live, I was like fuck I guess I need to figure out what to do now. When that came out I had nothing.
CH – Let’s talk about that for two seconds. It’s the catchiest shit ever man, where’d it come from?
A – (Laughs) Thanks man, it was actually a track I was never going to release until I signed with Mo from Redlight who does Marshmello, Jauz, ect. We were just talking one day, and I said “What do I do next?” So he asked “What songs do you have ready?”, “Well “Thief”.. And a bunch of Trap shit.” And he said “Just put Thief out..”
As soon as he said that I called an Uber went home finished the second verse, the second drop and the Outro and the next day it was out.
CH – Do you think that “Thief” helped you segway into where you are at now with the Live show?
A – That was such a shot in the dark for me. I thought either people are going to hate this or love this. And yeah, It changed the entire game for me. It made me realize how open people were to my evolution as an artist. It gave me the confirmation that I can do whatever the fuck I want now. There is no ceiling.
CH – When people pivot their sound they typically do it gradually, you made a bold move.
A – Yeah it is a shot in the Dark, but I think it will work. The live show is already being excepted on Twitter, it’s normal already, it’s part of Ookay. The stamp is there.
CH – I agree man I am excited to see where it goes. So before we end this what should the fans know?
A – In LA we are doing the pop up show Sept 22nd & 23rd on Melrose with brand new merch, the Album WILD! COOL! Is coming out the tour is titled the same as the album and is performed live like tonight.
CH – Any last easter eggs for the fans?
A – oooooh um the album should be out early January!
CH – Perfect man thank you.
A – No thank you!
My first conclusion from our conversation was about him as a person. Down to Earth would be an understatement. This is a kid like you and me, surrounded by close friends, living life and making music. Realizing dreams and not being afraid to chase them. Taking talent and using it, not hampering it to fit a mold of something it isn’t. The music is as real as real can get.
My second take away was the undeniable feeling that this live set meant more to him than any other show he had done before. Not because of the scale of the production, not because of the family and friends that had made the trip to see him perform, but because it meant an evolution in his identity as a musician, not just a DJ.
More to the point though, the live show is pure entertainment. A performance that gives you an intimate look at the talented DJ you thought you knew. It is a chance to connect with the artist, see him in his element and watch as he displays his undeniable talents as a musician. The live performance adds a level of welcome complexity to his already captivating sets. It truly is the beginnings of something bigger. There is no doubt that Ookay’s new live performance will give him the ability to transcend the binds of any certain genre or sound, ultimately giving him the creative freedom to forge his own legacy as one of the great electronic musicians of our generation.
Shameless Plug: Tomorrow Saturday the 23rd & Sunday 24th check out Ookay’s pop up 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Melrose at 7372 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, California 90046. RSVP Here
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