You may have heard of Calvin Harris. The Scottish singer/songwriter/producer/DJ (born Adam Richard Wiles) made close to $50 million last year on the back of chart-busting singles, world tours and an auto-tune machine singer named Rihanna, for whom he wrote “We Found Love.”
If you just tuned in during 2013, you probably think Calvin is just another pop-douche EDM DJ, pressing play and waving his hands a lot while the kids beg for “the drop.” You and your hipster friends rag on him while you smoke American Spirits outside that bar no one’s even reviewed on Yelp yet, even though you think that one song with the singer of Florence and the Machine is pretty good.
Does that paragraph describe your opinion of Mr. Wiles? This post is for you.
I remember first coming across Calvin Harris, back in ’07, while scrolling through new music on Acquisition, an OSX Limewire clone. I was coming out of my “Only Led Zeppelin and Woodstock bands” phase and digging into underground and older electronic music, from Tune Up to Stanton Warriors. Harris’ first album “I Created Disco,” was already a hit in the UK (surprise), but was nowhere to be found in the states. My friends and I fell for it immediately, from the irreverent “Neon Rocks” to the loopy “Vegas” to the perennially underrated “Love Souvenir.” Not to mention the hits: “Acceptable in the 80s,” “The Girls” and today’s track, “Merrymaking At My Place.”
The album was an instant classic that presaged the move towards the knockoff 80s electropop that dominates the blogosphere today. It was totally raw and flippant, a kid fiddling with a computer, imbued with a real-life case of Julian Casablancas’ laconic ambivalence. It also launched Harris into the next-level, tearing him from the underground before he got settled.
He started writing, producing and remixing for a bunch of other artists, while working on his breakout follow up, “Ready for the Weekend” (2009). Standouts include Kylie Minogue’s “Heart Beat Rock,” Dizzee Rascal’s “Dance Wiv Me” and “Holiday” (from his fantastic album “Tongue in Cheek”), and The Ting Ting’s “Hands.”
In ’09, he issued this quote – “If you look at music it’s a frightening stranglehold that Simon Cowell has got over the entire music chart in the UK at the moment” – after trolling Cowell’s feel-good masterpiece of commercial dominance “The X Factor” by walking on stage unannounced while balancing a pineapple on his head. His apology: “At the end of the day, I had a pineapple on my head.”
I was lucky enough to see Harris perform live, with a full band, at Coachella in ’08. I’ll admit to leaving early (Prince was playing…) but remember thinking “Oh, this is real. He’s really good.”
Sadly, he hasn’t performed with a band since 2010, preferring to rake in the cash with solo DJ sets and a steady stream of cheeseball electro-pop offerings that show none of the range that made him such an exciting young artist. I guess $50 million can do that to you.
But this is a celebratory post, in honor of the artist that was. The artist that created a human synthesizer, aka the “Humanthesizer,” out of bikinied models (Google it). The artist that launched a web series called “JAM TV,” in which celebrities tried to open jars of jam (now unavailable on the regular internet. And if you’re like, huh, regular internet? Good, keep it that way.) The artist who “Created Disco” for a new generation of record-heads, from Dumfries to Santa Monica.
Thanks Calvin. Can’t wait to have you back.