Tom Stræte Lagergren, better known as Matoma, is a young Norwegian producer who has in recent months become a household name in the realm of tropical house. Despite initially entering the scene relatively unknown to many, Matoma almost immediately made a name for himself throughout the dance music community by combining the sounds of old school hip-hop with a groovy twist of tropical house. He began his career on a strong with his remix of The Notorious B.I.G’s “Old Thing Back,” which has since remained his most renowned track to date, currently boasting 20 million plays on his SoundCloud page. However, this wasn’t the young producer’s only major feat; Matoma has also released several other remixes which have received ample support from all over the world, along with a dynamic EP titled, “Hakuna Matoma.” He has played multiple festivals throughout Europe, as well as the U.S. Recently, the rising star producer made his way to Tampa, Florida to play at one of the biggest EDM festivals in the southeastern region, Sunset Music Festival. After his massive set at SMF, I had the pleasure of having a quick chat with Matoma to discuss topics ranging from his unique sound to his new album, and what separates him from the rest of the pack as a DJ and producer.
First of all, great set out there today! The crowd seemed to really feed off of your energy which was fantastic. Did you enjoy it?
Yeah, thank you so much! That was amazing. The energy was really good. I had a lot of fun up there with that crowd and they seemed like they were having fun with me too.
I noticed that you didn’t just stick to playing all tropical house. I liked that aspect because it gave the crowd a mix and you kind of don’t know what will come next. Is that how you normally play your sets?
I honestly try to just play the music that the people want to hear. Simply feeling the crowd is all I try to do, and play the music that will make people get up and dance and be happy.
I appreciate that, because that’s really what a DJ is supposed to do. You aren’t just standing up there and pressing play.
[chuckles] Oh, no, no. I don’t like to do that at all. I want to read the crowd and play what they want to get a reaction. It’s not the same if you just press play basically.
You’ve played at several festivals now from Europe to even the U.S. Was this your first time on a main stage at a festival?
I think actually Coachella was actually my first here in the U.S. But that stage was considered the main stage for dance music there. I had a lot of fun playing at Coachella. Today was a big day for me though. SMF is a great festival and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Where did you come up with this unique sound of blending old school hip-hop with tropical house? That flows so well and you normally wouldn’t picture the two going hand in hand like that.
When I was a student DJ back when I was getting my bachelor degree in music production, I wanted to present old school hip-hop in a new way. I really wanted to make it easier to dance to as well. The older hip-hop sound and flow is based off swing or funk and soul. You can feel that because when I first listened to the old school hip-hop, I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I could definitely feel the soul put into the music and that’s really powerful. So I just tried to combine that hip-hop sound with some nu-disco and tropical house, and it just became something great and I went with it. I just began to post that on SoundCloud and my friends started sharing it to their friends and then it just blew up into a fan base.
You just recently released your debut album “Hakuna Matoma”. I noticed that it got some mixed feedback on the way you approached this. What was the reason you decided to make your album into a dynamic instead of releasing all at once?
I wanted to bring the fans along for the journey because it is a story. For example at Coachella, I brought out Sean Paul and we released a track just for Coachella called “Paradise”. Immediately after I played that set, I released that track that everyone heard in the set. So the fans could go and download it or buy it to hear again in their car or wherever they want to listen to it. The concept of the dynamic album is that whenever I have a moment in my life that I want to share with my fans and the people who listen to my music, I will release songs. It’s almost like a playlist, really.
I thought it was a very interesting approach to bringing new music to the fans. Which is why I found it strange to see it receive some negative feedback towards it.
People are going to have their own opinions about what I do, which I can’t change, so it doesn’t really effect me. I basically saw this as an opportunity as an electronic artist to give my music to the fans in a different way. If I were in a band or a singer, then maybe releasing an album all together would be more suitable. Since I’m an electronic producer and I’m always in the studio or playing at festivals so it is a constant journey. I would rather present my music in this way than just releasing everything all at once.
What’s great about that album is that it doesn’t contain all tropical house and it has different styles. You seem like the type of producer who really doesn’t try to define himself through one specific genre, and that translates through your sets as well. Do you just like to change it up a bit?
I would agree with that. I’m not really into the labeling of genres and sub-genres. I am into music, it’s what I love and that’s all it is to me is music. A good example would be my set today which was many different genres of music. But if you can mix the styles together and make it suitable for the crowd, it will begin to feel natural to them. I feel like if you can do that, then you have accomplished something big in the dance music world. I always feel like you should try new styles.
You’re right about that. Because when most people think Matoma, they think tropical house. What do about you when you think of Matoma, what do you see instead?
Yes! Most of the people think of Matoma as just tropical house. To me, that’s not entirely true. When I think Matoma, I think of a guy who is just trying to give the audience a happy and fun experience to remember. I think of someone who tries to build a connection with the crowd that stays with them.
With how the dance music culture is evolving today, do you find it difficult to build this connection that you are speaking of?
If you do it right, then it’s not really hard to do. But the contrast between my set and how some of these other DJ’s are playing here today is so different because they play very hard. No disrespect to the U.S. audience because I love them, but it seems like most are not there for the love of music but for the party aspect. The music is getting harder and more intense it seems like because of that, too. But what I see is that when I go on stage, it takes maybe five or ten minutes for people to be like, “Oh, what is this? Let’s try this out.” Then they begin to open their ears and minds to the music instead of just jumping around with no connection to the music at all.
I saw that you have one of your songs that is part of the official soundtrack for the Angry Birds movie. That has to be an awesome feeling to have your music featured on a film’s soundtrack.
Yes, “Wonderful Life (Mi Oh My)”, that was such a big accomplishment for me. It’s really an incredible feeling getting to see your work on a movie like that. When they came to me and asked if I wanted to do a song for the movie, I didn’t even hesitate and I just went for it because it sounded exciting. I also went to the premier, of course, and I saw the movie. It was really good, by the way, you should definitely go see it!
It looks like your next stop after here in Tampa, you’ll be playing in San Diego along side Martin Garrix tomorrow on the 29th. Not your typical show combo but I’m sure you guys will make it work. Are you excited about playing a show with a guy like Garrix?
Oh yes, I’m very excited to play this one! It is also my birthday tomorrow, so that will be a special show for me. I’m also looking forward to doing this show with Garrix as well. He is a very talented guy, and I think he is doing this for all the right reasons like myself. A lot of these DJ’s, they come and go. But the one’s who are really passionate will remain. You can see it in his eyes that he is passionate about what he does and he strives to become better every year. So you can expect a guy like Garrix to keep getting better and growing bigger in the future.