1. Cooper Saver
Interview with Cooper Saver
Highland Park, Los Angeles
Jan 12, 2018
What was your first exposure to dance music?
By being obsessed with keeping track of what was going on on the internet. I was just really hungry to go out and hear music I liked outside of my bedroom. I went out alone constantly and slowly met people one by one. Facebook, Myspace, RA, wherever I could find stuff going on. I would ask people at record stores or look at post- ers at Amoeba.
That world wasn’t as easy to access back then, especially in LA.
I was definitely into dance music prior to experiencing it out in the real world. I was listening to a lot of stuff at home and was already starting to DJ in high school but I hadn’t been to a club yet.
Around this time the popular thing in LA was electro. A lot of my friends were into that music. Not a lot of it spoke to me but it gave me an opportunity to go and see DJs play. A lot of these events were 18+. I could go see Fred Falke or Alan Braxe or someone like that and not worry about getting a fake ID stolen. It was great but it wasn’t entirely in line with what I was looking for.
It took a while but I eventually found it. There was a lot less going on in the LA underground at the time. I remember waiting months on end for particular parties that I had bought pre-sales for way in advance, compared to now where there are like 5 things every night.
You mentioned you were into dance music before experiencing it in its intended context. Do you think that informed your taste, gravitating towards things that were considered listening music than straight up club tools?
Yeah, and I’m still navigating that to this day. Stuff that I considered club music my older friends would look at and say, “Oh, this is cool but it’s so chill”. That’s still a part of my taste.
There was a time where you were distributing mix CDs, was that the start of your DJ career?
During high school I had a friend who made a mixtape every month on Ableton of tracks that he had recently discovered. That inspired me to do the same, I would make a mix every month of whatever I could find that I liked. It didn’t matter if it was club music or not, just something you could dance to. Around that time kids were having house parties and needed music and suddenly I had a purpose. That’s where it all came from.
What were you listening to at that time?
I think my first real entry into dance music was through bands like The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem, all of the DFA stuff. I remem- ber hearing the James Murphy and Pat Mahoney Fabric mix, that was the first time I head Metro Area. Classic, classic stuff, nothing too deep, nothing too obscure, it was all very digestible and that’s the kind of stuff that I really liked. Not a lot of people around me appreciated that music so I felt like I had found something cool and interesting. It was a really nice contrast to all the gnarly, aggres- sive, bro-y electronic music that was blowing up at the time. I felt like it was my rebellion.
It seems like you were in on something that you felt alone in.
Well I also think I missed that era. That was a scene and a sound that people a generation older than me embraced more than my age group, so I felt alone until I met more people.
When did you first feel like you were in a scene where things clicked? I think when I went to my first warehouse parties in LA. I was still 18 and I didn’t even know how the whole process worked. You have to wait for the address and go to some illicit parking lot and take a shuttle to the party. The first time I had that experience it totally blew my mind. Ever since then I would always be waiting for the next party.
You spent some time doing music journalism. Can you talk about how that relates to your DJ career?
This is amazing, I’m pretty glad you asked this because I never re- ally talk about it. I got to interview tons and tons of DJs in my teens, and I still do occasionally when the project is right. I was totally set on being a journalist before all this other stuff. I learned so much about the art and the culture from interviewing people that I looked up to. That provided the inspiration and motivation to do what I do now. I owe a lot to those interviews and that time in my life.
Do any of those stand out as particularly important?
I did an interview with Mark Seven for Love Injection out of New York a couple years ago. It really impacted me because his story isn’t very well documented. He’s a cult hero, an underdog type of guy and those are the people that I gravitate towards. I thought his story was amazing and it’s something that I carry with me. That mindset and the ethos of a true contributor to underground culture really opened my mind.
There’s been countless interviews from over the years that have left me saying, “Wow, not only did I just talk to that person, but they really opened up to me and I can relate to them” and that makes all of this seem less of a weird fantasy and more like something you can incorporate into your own life.
It’s interesting how accessible people are in this culture com- pared to other music scenes. There’s this sense of collabora- tion and obligation to younger generations.
Half the time these people are blown away that someone younger them is even remotely interested in what they’re doing and where they came from. When you get someone like that going they’re going to tell you things that you can apply to your own life and your own projects. It’s a huge source of inspiration. I still read interviews every day, I think it’s a good way to gather knowledge and learn about something that you’re investing your time in.
I wanted to talk about your own musical productions. It’s something that you’ve been focusing on recently, you had a record this year on Common Edit as well as remixes on DFA. I’ve always made music to some degree but I didn’t put everything
that I’ve learned together until recently. I’m still really self-conscious about it and figuring it out. I also don’t want to be like, “Hey guys, I’m a producer now, I don’t do any of this other stuff”. It’s just anoth- er thing I like to do that keeps me busy, and even if none of it comes out I’m still stoked because I’m learning something and it’s fun. I definitely want to focus on it a bit more, I’m trying to re-prioritize a couple things right now. I’m really happy with DJing and traveling, I think putting out more music is next on my list.
You cite DFA a really important influence and now you’ve had music put out on the label. Can you talk about how that rela- tionship evolved?
It’s such a trip to think about it. It’s pretty insane that I put out a remix on that label, I had the poster on my wall in high school. All of the DFA remix compilations were what made me realize I liked dance music. You think it all sounds like “Sandstorm” when you’re a kid, but then you hear this other stuff and it speaks to you. The first time I worked on something for the label was with my friend Dan T who was in a group called Cosmic Kids. We formed a good relationship with Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem when he played Far Away. He started this new band, Museum of Love, and they asked us to do a remix. After that we did a couple more remix- es and then I did a couple of my own. The party was a way to get closer to these people that were like superheroes to me. I wanted to spend time with these people that I didn’t see in LA, I wanted to get to know them. That led to putting out music on the label that changed my life, years later.
That’s like the unknown thing about throwing parties. It’s so much more than just the night, you bring these people out , show them around your city and build relationships.
Totally, and they’ll do the same for you. You’ll find that this dynamic is more common with underground events. If they recognize that someone is putting in that amount of work, putting so much on the line to throw the party, they aren’t going to forget it. That’s going to stand out more than the millions of identical clubs they play on the road. If some kid picks you up in his car, takes you to a random warehouse, and it’s a killer night you’re going to remember it. The time that you spend in traffic from LAX with your favorite DJ getting to know them is one of the best parts of throwing parties. I wish I recorded the conversations, really amazing and highly influential stuff.
That brings us into Far Away. From what I understand it wasn’t initially intended to be a party.
I don’t think I really knew what I was doing at the time. I had this ra- dio show opportunity and I had to come up with a name in 24 hours. I just picked something without a concept and the party helped me figure out what it would be. The party was initially started to launch the radio show and it was really fun. Just being really naive and hungry for something I saw an opportunity to continue doing it.
What was that first party like?
The first party was at The Short Stop in Echo Park, a really small bar. At that time I knew nothing about booking people so I just asked some friends to play. My friend Diego who goes by Suzanne Kraft played, that was also quite early on with his music too, and Woolfy from DFA drove down for the night from Ojai.
It seems like you came in at a time where there was a wave of talent in Los Angeles of people with new ideas.
It was an exciting time, that’s when I started getting involved with dublab and getting exposed to their whole radar of talent. All of the oddball stuff was such a refreshing contrast to the clubby big-room Hollywood nightlife sound. It opened the door to this whole other universe here that I was so excited to discover.
LA was really different at the time. The underground didn’t exist at any scale comparable to how it is now. How did you come up with the framework for what you wanted to do? Honestly, I just thought that something was missing and that I could add something new. The level of health of the underground has gone up and down over the years but there’s always been an underground in LA. I wasn’t there for the glory days that the older heads speak of so I can’t speak on that, but when I started the party there was a sound that wasn’t represented. I thought there was a chance to show some of my taste, disco, weird house and stuff like that.
You’ve been able to build something where you have recurring guests, it’s a tightly knit party and almost like a loosely knit collective. How did that come to be? Where these people that were your friends, where you actively seeking to establish a sound, or maybe both?
I think both. I don’t think I was too set on establishing a sound initially, it was just a natural occurrence. Even though the DJs we book play very different kinds of music there’s some sort of thread that ties them all together. That’s really exciting to me, each artist that plays is like a segue to the next and I’m along for the ride, it’s not a conscious decision.
From Far Away you’ve been able to build a DJ career for yourself where you’ve toured globally. Was there a turning point where you went from someone who played a lot in Los Ange- les to spending more time going elsewhere?
I never really liked playing my own party. I’d have so much on my mind that I wasn’t in the right headspace to provide my best set. For the most part I’d rather sit in the back, take a couple of deep breaths and just watch everything. I never thought that I would be a traveling DJ. When I started the party I thought it was going to be helpful to give me more opportunities to DJ, but it became less about me and more about the artists who I wanted to showcase. When I started getting opportunities to play out it was really excit- ing, it still is. The first gig that I played outside of the continent was in Berlin, 4 or 5 years ago. That was for my friend Paramida, it was such a turning point, it honestly changed my life.
You have a tape series, Far Away Tapes. Was that a plan from the start of the party?
It wasn’t a plan from the start. I wanted to do something to get more people familiar with the party, but then I tossed that idea aside and just decided to ask people who I thought could deliver a fun mix to have on tape. It’s really simple, there’s not too much thought behind it apart from the fact that I encourage all of the guests to come up with a concept for each mix. It’s not the average mix that you would find on Soundcloud, I want it to be something that you can listen to in specific settings that the artist intends for.
There’s a story to each mix, it goes back to the true definition of a mixtape. It’s a lost art to
a certain degree, with the convenience of putting any mix you want on the internet. It moves a little slowly. If people are gonna make a special mix they’re gonna take their time, as they should. It’s a passion project on my side but I’m really glad that people like it.
The internet has created a saturation of mixes, but these tapes for the most part exist only as physical objects. Is that intentional?
Kind of. We eventually put the mixes on Soundcloud way later on. I encourage people to listen to them on tape, a lot of the artists are making them with being on tape in mind. It sounds cool with the compression and tape hiss, it’s part of the whole thing for me. I’m not trying to make a thing where people are paying $100 on Discogs or anything, I’ll make more if it comes down to that.
For me tapes are one of the most magical media.
When it’s done right it’s so special. There are tapes I have from other people’s series’ that I consider completely classic. I love how you can pull out the artwork and look at it, there are all these subtle details you can throw in there. Making records is a pain in the ass but tapes are relatively easy to get going and it’s true to the DIY nature of all of this.
Especially with LA’s car culture, you pop something in and live with it, it becomes a soundtrack to your life.
I feel like the tapes get a lot of mileage in LA versus other cities because of the car culture. Driving and listening to mixes is all I do. If you live in LA that’s basically what you do, you drive and you lis- ten to music. If you have a mix that you listen to often in the car it’s going to become embodiment of that chapter of your life. There are so many mixes that I think back on as reflective of a year in my life. I think that’s such an important part of music and tapes are a good way to convey that. Mix culture is creating this time capsule that will later be a nostalgic thing that you look back on. With the pace of things getting put out online it’s hard to get things out to people, they’re constantly being buried by other stuff. If you’re putting out something on tape it’s a special thing that is separated from the constant cycle of mix recycling.
It’s interesting, it runs counter to what the ethos of what a party is. This ephemeral thing that you have to be there in person to experience.
I think it’s cool when people put recordings from nights out physically. You don’t remember every single moment when you’re there, you’re living in the moment. I have tapes of parties that I’ve attend- ed.
At the end of last year you began releasing some recordings from some of the Far Away parties. Do you record every night?
For the most part yes. They don’t always come out for a number of reasons, I can’t control that. If we get permission and the quality is fine we try to put it out. It helps put this movement on the map. If people across the world are seeing that so-and-so played a ware- house party in LA it makes them interested in what’s going on here. It’s another form of communication.
It’s interesting seeing LA’s profile rise in the world. Growing up here I never thought of it as a hub of dance music culture. Do you think it will eventually be a city that rises to the level that major European cities are on?
I think it is there now and it’s continuing to grow stronger. It’s funny, if you look at old house tracks on YouTube and you see the “back in my day” comments there will randomly be things like “Downtown LA, 1992 place to be!”. It’s been bubbling here for a long time. It’s crazy, I want to know about that, I want to know what was going on then.
They’re usually mean comments.
That’s the one turn off. There always like, “The kids today don’t know shit!”.
I was rewatching the Resident Advisor Real Scenes Los Angeles episode yesterday and the comments were harsh.
I actually saw those comments recently too. It was fascinating though, the way these people are commenting makes it seem like we missed out on something that was really big at the time. Or that
could just be part of the natural progression.
You can’t talk about Far Away without talking about the con- text in which it exists. In Los Angeles there isn’t a way to have consistent venues, it’s usually a rotating cast of warehouses throughout Skid Row. How do you maintain a sense of consis- tency in a party if you don’t have a venue that you can always lean on?
I think it comes from being prepared to make do with what you’ve got. I’m not losing sleep over finding venues like I did when I first started. It’ll come together in the end if you put the feelers out. There are always situations where you lose your space the day of the event and you have 8 hours to put the party together. If you can manage your stress and deal with that it’ll probably work out. I do think that it’s a problem that the spaces come and go so frequently, especially with the volume of parties today. The lifespan of a ware- house space is quite short and less things are spaced out now.
Los Angeles is really different place now than it was when Far Away started. You were saying that the underground comes in waves and it seems like we’ve entered a new epoch. What have you seen change?
I think a focus on teamwork. When all of the new parties were emerging around the same time it was hard to work on the same level. Everyone was going through the same learning curve at the same time. People becoming more in tune with each other’s dates and knowing who is doing what at what time has helped a lot. Right now it’s quite healthy. I’m really happy to see how much is going on, with a new generation too. I’m no longer the youngest person in the mix, it’s great, it’s working. It’s inspiring that this energy has the power to transcend and grow. I used to complain that there weren’t enough people that liked this stuff and now it’s almost overwhelm- ing.
Do you think this current model is sustainable? Can this last?
It depends on what your definition of lasting is. If you look at all of the iconic clubs of dance music history they were all short lived but well documented. Our culture is still so new that it’s hard to deter- mine what the endgame is. It’s hard for me to say that I’m going to feel great about going to BevMo and picking up 500 Tecates when I’m 50 years old. I would hope that our community has evolved from where it is now by the time that I’m that age.
Can you imagine an infrastructure that allows people in this community to hang around into that old age? Is there a path that you see, maybe even one that doesn’t exist now?
I think we are creating that world for ourselves now. We’ll reflect on these years and say, “Wow that was really something special”. I think that there will always be people that are hungry and excited to throw this parties, but things need to evolve to some extent if we want to legitimize this culture. Rave is still a dirty word.
Especially in LA you have this history of promoters like Insomniac Events having high profile legal issues, and for most people that was what they associated with raves and electron- ic music culture. What would a legitimized culture look like? Can you imagine a world in which dance music is treated with the same reverence as jazz or rock music?
I think so, or maybe even just a world that has a better under- standing of the ethos of dance music. What it’s actually about and not the image that it’s received from people overdosing at massive EDM events. It’s hard to imagine what it would look like in LA for a number of reasons. For instance, transportation, lack of suitable venues, the layout of the city itself. If you look at places in Europe where club culture is at the forefront of their arts community the government is putting up money to ensure that those scenes are thriving and sustainable. It has an entirely different image than it does here.
I see what you mean. There are structural barriers to dance music being legitimized in LA. We have an early cutoff for alcohol sales.
We would need the city to be on our side and we would have to work closely together as a team to create a new culture. The cutoff is a huge factor in this, but even if it was resolved we would still be left with the problem of not having the right kinds of venues to accommodate us.
The places where most of these parties take place, Downtown, Skid Row, Boyle Heights, are all undergoing massive devel- opment. In the wake of the Ghost Ship fire and in the lead up to the Olympics it’s not hard to imagine increased police scrutiny on illegal events. Do you think there will always be forgotten corners of the city or will parties have to come into the overground?
There have always been waves of police busts, and I haven’t no- ticed it getting worse. With the way that Downtown is being devel- oped a lot of these spots’ days are numbered. There are probably a few years left but that’s not good enough. We want something permanent, we want something that will last and provide for fu- ture generations. It’s tough. We would need people to own some of these spaces and turn them into real venues without taking away the underground feeling.
Now that you have had the chance to spend time in so many other cities, what do you see that you would want to replicate here?
The way that nightlife is so ingrained in regular life overseas is fascinating. People have so much admiration and respect for these parties that they can go to at all hours. LA has a scene for that, there are so many of us that like this music and I think that if our city allowed for it we could have the most thriving nightlife community in America. We’re missing something and people are hungry for it. I’ve seen a lot of great examples of things that LA is missing. Are you familiar with the Mister Sunday parties in New York?
Yeah, from Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin?
Yeah, I think something similar to that in LA would be so next level. That would take us out of the warehouse, out of the darkness and into more community oriented fun. Our weather here is incredible, it rains once a year, it’s summer year round, and we don’t have an open air legal party. Pushing things in that direction would be so beneficial to the city.
It’s interesting what they’ve done with Mister Sunday. For so long dance music in America has has been so stigmatized. To see it become such a beloved community thing, you wonder why that wouldn’t thrive here.
I think that is a crucial step to make if we’re talking about longevity and preservation. Spending less time thinking about how we can do warehouse parties and more about how we can make this a community culture. The DJ stage at FYF was such a crazy reality check for me, seeing what is possible if we have the ability to pull something like that off. If we had the permits and the approval of the higher-ups, we could have something that a lot of people could attend and be a part of without having to deal with the warehouse. The warehouse thing is very normal to you and me, but for an out- sider it’s still pretty gnarly, even though there’s not much to actually be afraid of. Would you tell your parents to come check it out? You’d be a little hesitant right? I would.
It can be pretty shocking. You’re in these derelict buildings in parts of LA that most people don’t go to during they daytime, let alone at 3:00 AM.
Which is great, and like I said that stuff needs to exist and it’s so important, but the next step needs to be something else. It’s not selling out, it’s not going cheesy with bottle service, it’s still under- ground. The daytime thing is the next step.
People extol the virtues of dance music for being this thing that brings people together in terms that are almost religious. If it’s actually that significant why wouldn’t you want to share that with as many people as possible? Especially if you can take it outside of a context that is inaccessible for so many.
Exactly, a lot of people can’t go to late night things but love this music. Maybe they have kids or maybe their parents won’t let them go because they’re still young. What’s stopping them from having a nice Sunday in the park listening to some house music? That’s a step in the right direction.