DJ Seinfeld Is Not a Punchline
The Swedish producer came to rise on the winking, nostalgic tide of lo-fi house, now he's releasing a surprisingly heartbreaking debut album.
Photo by Dani Canto
Somewhere in the micro-history of the internet, nestled in between the first fan-made music video and the final move to curb copyrighted material's use on YouTube, Windows Movie Maker was a minor deity. The stilted transitions were a cut above Powerpoint's and the filters were a woeful precursor to Instagram's, but Movie Maker opened the door for enterprising fans to add their creative voice to the legacies of their favorite artists.
Considering it was free software, users were given immense power in their ability to splice together anime footage, screengrabs of Sims falling in and out of love, and superimposed ASCII emoticons atop poorly transcribed lyrics. The results were sometimes ambitious and often excruciatingly cringeworthy, but the practice of scrappily edited music videos gave an agency to music fandom in the early years of Web 2.0.
We're probably a few years out from a proper Movie Maker resurgence, but a strange current of underground electronic music has brought the homemade music video back for critical reconsideration. Swedish producer Armand Jakobsson not only embraces most of these fan videos; he commissions them.
Over the past few years, as DJ Seinfeld, he's made deep house tracks raised on Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks soundtrack ("U"), warbling acid house ("Feel De Bum Slap"), and crunchy, heartbroken trance refractions ("Time Spent Away From U"). Tied together by overpowering tape hiss and distortion as intentional production touches, Jakobsson's work quickly folded into the catch-all tag "lo-fi house" along with fellow cassette-warped producers Ross From Friends and DJ Boring. As is wont of internet-based subgenres, the nebulously linked scene immediately went through the ringer of dissection and antagonistic thinkpieces.
Seinfeld's work often finds itself at the center of the scene's acclaim and controversy. Despite the eclectic tracks, Seinfeld detractors pointed to the jokey name, production style, and amateur music videos that accompanied his most popular tracks as undercutting the sound. But a winking sense of humor coating the nostalgia-tinted emotion was always part of DJ Seinfeld's charm. Pixelated clips from General Hospital and One Tree Hill—complete with network watermarks and the "old film" Movie Maker filter for emotional effect—act as visuals for yearning singles like "U Hold Me Without Touch" and "By Your Love." The songs themselves can feel as charmingly dated and heartfelt as those early internet relics, but Jakobsson likely takes that as a compliment.
"The [videos] that are done by this one guy, his channel is OOUKFunkyOO. I've sent some stuff through to him because I really admired the things he does," Jakobsson says, calling from his adopted home of Barcelona. "He's a good friend, so I entrust him with getting the right interpretation over."
But Seinfeld's first full-length, Time Spent Away From U (out November 3 on Lobster Fury), isn't the sort of half-joking affair that his critics might've come to expect from these clips. It might not redeem the whole of lo-fi house for skeptics either, but its sweeping, bookish observance of house music history is something to behold. It also offers, for the first time, a curiously vulnerable glimpse into the light-hearted producer's personal life, positing itself in a press release as "an extended post-heartbreak love letter… from a silent dance floor."
If anything, Time feels more attuned to the hours after leaving the club: a friend passing out on a couch, a TV set to re-runs for no one in particular, and a YouTube stream playing of a long-forgotten club mix ripped from cassette, implanting a sense of nostalgia for a party you never even went to.
We spoke with Jakobsson about his rise in the realms of lo-fi house, being a serious producer with an unserious name, and the heartbreak that built the foundation of Time.
Noisey: I know you produce under the names Rimbaudian and Birds of Sweden, but was there a particular track that made you realize another alias was necessary?
DJ Seinfeld: I've always tried to make raw dance music in a way. For some time, I was perfectly happy to have it as Rimbaudian, but about a year ago now, I went through this breakup and didn't really make any music. I just binge-watched Seinfeld and had a lot of walks. When I started making music again, I wanted to go extra raw, extra hard. I didn't really care how polished or cohesive it was. It was kind of a gut feeling that it wasn't exactly what I was doing with Rimbaudian, which was my only other alias at the time. It was like, "Why not create a new alias and do things anonymously for a while?"
When the DJ Seinfeld moniker started popping up online, I feel like a lot of people put focus on the name, the ironic nature of it alongside the rest of the lo-fi house producers' names, and then the music itself would get a mention later on.
For sure. A couple years ago, I would struggle to sorta relax over those kinds of things. I've always appreciated humor whenever it could be injected into various forms of art and, because [DJ Seinfeld] was anonymous for a long time, I felt very free to do what I wanted and joke around without being offensive to anything or anyone. That was a liberating thing, but, of course, there was this whole debacle with the name.
I wasn't too concerned with how people were thinking about it, but I saw people posting that they refused to listen to my music simply because of the name. That's completely fine if they want to do that, but I felt that was a completely reductive approach to music in general. There are so many instances of various artists producing something anonymously and calling it "untitled" or "unknown artist."
Would you say you're naturally more humorous or serious?
Before, my biggest issue was taking myself too seriously, just as a person and also what I was doing. Now, in the last few years through different kinds of therapy and experiences, I've managed to isolate myself and not take things too personally. I take music very seriously; it's the main focus for me now, but that doesn't mean I can't have fun with it. In this day and age, it's not very conducive to take yourself or the reactions around your music too seriously. There's so much good music out there that I'm very easily humbled and impressed.
A lot of the tracks on Time Spent Away From U were posted on Soundcloud over the past year. Did you always have an idea of which tracks would make the album or did you let listener reactions guide the selection?
I didn't really plan an album at all. I just really wanted to make some tracks and, because the Seinfeld thing was anonymous for a long time, I didn't really care too much about what format it was going to be released in. It was my friend Nick Williams, [who] I worked with under my previous alias, and Jimmy Asquith over at Lobster Theremin… we realized that I was just putting out so much music on my Soundcloud [and] the album idea didn't come across until very late. I was on the fence about it at first because I always thought if I'm going to make an album, I'm going to try to make it more conceptual. Like, build it from scratch and have a whole story around it, but this sort of turned out to be a retroactive kind of thing.
It almost feels less like an album and more like a deeply personal mixtape meant for a particular person.
I guess the reason why it sort of sounds like a mixtape is that it came from a very particular time period. I didn't really listen to the tracks for a long time after I posted them, so that was part of my insecurity, but when I go back now, I sort of see where [the inspiration] came from. That's why I chose to be quite open and honest about what it is. Once you're exposed to the public eye in a bigger way, it's always a bit scary to be reviewed by writers and get criticism for things you do. I thought, for my own sake, I'm just going to be as open as I possibly can and it's just going to be a extreme relief when it's actually out there knowing I don't have anything else to say about it. The bandage is ripped off, there might be a scar left, but it's healed.
Now that you've moved on, is it easier or harder to produce?
I find it a lot harder these days to make music when you don't have something emotionally overwhelming driving you. I've been used to producing things very impulsively and in the moment, but now, I want to develop myself not only as a producer, but as an artist. I remember I met [a DJ] in Paris at the point where I was getting more attention; he came up to me and was like, "mate, whatever you do, stay heartbroken; it's working." Now, when I have these sort of creative drops and don't really make any good music, I'm like, "Fuck, maybe I need someone to break my heart again." That's a slightly depraved view of life and relationships, I guess.
I mean, it's intense. I know this album was an "extended post-heartbreak love letter," but still…
It is very intense. At first, when the press release came out, I was like, "Okay, I don't want people to think that I'm constantly sad or heartbroken." I'm not really that sad anymore, I'm trying to maintain a happy and engaging life… but when I thought about it that way, I sort of realized "why not?" Had you asked me a year ago if that's what I'd say about the album, I'd say yeah, that's perfectly true. I hope people don't take things too seriously, but who knows?
The album as a whole is very obviously about a particular "U"; over half the titles on Time Spent Away From U feature the letter. Are you concerned how the person known as "U" will think of these tracks?
That person, "U," I haven't really been in touch with her for a long time. One of the songs, "I Saw Her Kiss Him In Front Of Me And I Was Like WTF?," was extremely honest and that was… more than a year ago now. We had a couple friends in common and I'm not sure if she knows who I am or that the songs are about her in a way. I just never want to have any angry titles or bear grudges. As much as it was about the person "U", it was about me in a way. For some time, I thought the album was going to be called "U and I" just because of the identity crisis I went through. But yeah… I think she knows. I'm not sure.