In Felix Cartal’s hometown of Vancouver, the iconic steam clock is one of the best-known landmarks. Every quarter hour it whistles its chimes, accompanied by clouds of vapour, as tourists and locals alike look on. It’s a model of ingenuity and proverbially reliable. Attributes you could easily pin on Felix himself.
As the hard-working DJ, producer and songwriter prepares to release his fourth album, Expensive Sounds For Nice People, and after a string of hit singles and a JUNO Award in his native Canada in 2020, Felix – born Taelor Deitcher – like many of us, has been taking stock.
“I’m used to being independent,” Felix says of dealing with this past year’s enforced confinement. “There’s a bit of a lone wolf vibe there. To get in my studio and just grind away. But touring was such a massive part of my life and it gave me structure. I like having my free time, but it can be daunting.”
The majority of Expensive Sounds For Nice People was actually completed in early 2020, just before the world changed. But speak to Felix and what percolates through is a fierce work ethic and attention to detail. So, with his DJ career suddenly on hold, he was granted some unexpected bonus time that he used to spend time with his young nephew… and to perfect the final mixdown of the album. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I was like, ‘Cool! I have more time to keep mixing these songs forever!’,” he laughs. “I don’t know if it was good for my sanity, but I’m happier with how they sound.”
From the get-go, Expensive Sounds For Nice People displays the duality that Felix says lies at the heart of his music. The Life, featuring the sweet-natured vocal talents of Québécois electronic pop duo Fjord, bounces along on a sunshine vibe and grin-inducing breakdown. But analyse the lyrics and things aren’t quite what they seem.
Its pivotal line – ‘I used to believe that life was just a breeze/But the highs and low set me free’ – is a commentary on the superficiality of social media, says Felix. “If people also share life’s ‘misses’ once in a while, I feel like we’d all have a better shot at living confidently,” he explains.
Felix previously played in punk and hardcore bands, but the group dynamic is not the best model when it comes to inviting in people from the outside to collaborate, he says. Which is why Felix finds the freedom to work with who he wants, or by himself, seductive. It’s also allowed him to shape-shift. Mine, co-written with LA-born singer Sophie Simmons, is one of two singles on the album that have gone platinum in Canada. Keen to keep the vibe of Sophie’s early demo with the Gifted – played to him with a guitar, says Felix – the result is a folk-tinged, dance-pop anthem with an unforgettably catchy vocal hook.
The other platinum-seller, Love Me – a collaboration with fellow Canadian, Lights – won a JUNO for Best Dance Recording last year. Appropriately, it came about after Felix summoned up the courage to wander over to Lights at a JUNO after party. They discovered that they were mutual fans and born within a couple of days of each other. After sending Lights a beat, they went to and fro on honing the song – as perfectionists do. “I see the opportunist in her. It’s so inspiring,” says Felix. “It comes back to that DIY attitude. We both came from that same background of just slogging it out.”
While Love Me is the result of a creative relationship across the digital realm, two tracks on the album came via a hook-up arranged by one of Felix’s past collaborators, Iselin Solheim. The songs in question – My Last Song and Happy Hour – were the product of three days of intense writing with Norwegian duo Hanna Mjøen and Jim Bergstad in Oslo. They’re a testimony to Felix’s quest to fully learning his craft.
Elsewhere on Expensive Sounds, Felix’s ability with vocal chops lends Going Up a distinctly Discovery-era Daft Punk vibe, while his prowess at working a party is vividly displayed on cuts like Only One (featuring Karen Harding), a joyous slice of thumping, 21st Century piano house.
The album, Felix says, is less about one unifying theme but rather a compendium of short stories, each shedding their secrets and wisdom over multiple plays. “I made the decision to really hone my song writing for this album. Too many people just slap on some electro beat on that doesn’t really match. I started thinking ‘How do I make the production really serve the song?’. Next Season [Felix’s previous album] felt more minimal. Here, I was trying to make things bigger and a little more fun. There are emotional songs on the album, but it’s more carefree.”
Besides finessing the album, the past year has also seen Felix find new ways to keep in contact with his audience. He has hosted a series of shows on streaming platform Twitch, performing live mixes, chatting with DJ friends and even running competitions to seek out new talent, with guests including Kaskade and Tokimonsta helping judge.
“It reminds me of when we would skateboard,” Felix says of the aspiring producers that he’s discovered. “And there’s some 10-year-old ripping an insane kickflip over ten stairs when you’ve been trying to do that trick for five years. I love that.”
As an indication of his love for music and its future prospects, this championing of up-and-coming production talent couldn’t be any clearer. Not that Felix will be passing on the baton any time soon. Before then, there’s lot of hard work to be done, inspiration to be handed out and plenty more expensive music for nice people to be made.
Saturday, July 16
8:15 PM-9:00 PM