To stay up-to-date with our Discovery alumni, we’re featuring some of the standout artists who are emerging from the scene and pushing boundaries with their music. This is an ongoing series, so be on the lookout for our Discovery spotlight!
Mahalo’s distinctive and emotionally compelling slant on house music has allowed him to emerge from the over-cluttered L.A. dance music scene as one of its most unique artists. What he’s accomplished in less than two years is nothing short of remarkable. His self-described “liquid house” style drips with sexy swagger and has earned him an impressive list of production credits, including releases on Toolroom, Armada and Spinnin’. The ever-growing list of artists that continue to support his music is just as impressive, with names such as Nora En Pure, MAKJ and Sam Feldt all singing his praises. He’s also struck a chord with the Spotify community, having landed spots in the platform’s most prominent playlists (listeners reportedly boogied to 4.6 years’ worth of Mahalo’s music in 2016).
Mahalo started this year on a high note, having won an opening slot at the Quantum stage at Countdown. His deep, seductive beats were the perfect way to set the tone for New Year’s Eve. Now, only a month or so deep into 2017, he’s looking to have his biggest year yet with an official remix of Zhu’s “In the Morning” already on the books.
We had a chat with Mahalo to find out more about how his dad exposed him to dance music, how his past experiences influence his art, and some of the other jobs he held in the music industry before his big break.
Your dad got you into dance music. Was he just a casual listener, or does clubbing run in the family?
Yeah, my dad has been into dance music since before I was born and really paved the way for me, in regards to my ongoing interest in the genre and its culture. However, I think he’d still fall under the “fanboy” category, as he didn’t pursue any type of music career. He still goes out to clubs and festivals, though, when he can, haha. I believe the last show he hit was Nightmares on Wax a couple months ago in Seattle.
In a previous interview, you said you had a rough time growing up. How have those experiences helped inform your view of the music industry and how you approach your art?
I wouldn’t necessarily say a rough childhood or anything, but I had to go through some adversities that played in to why I chose to call myself Mahalo. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have had it any other way, though. In my opinion, adversity builds character, and character is what makes you who you are; I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without my past. I think these experiences have equipped me to better handle the volatilities of this industry and have certainly played a part in the emotiveness of some of my darker music and vision for the project.
You’ve worked several behind-the-scene jobs in the industry. Can you talk a little about the path that led you to where you are now?
I was lucky enough to get into the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, which really opened the door for a lot of opportunities in the business. I’ve worked as a promoter, manager, engineer, blogger, etc.—and those experiences gave me a pretty extensive idea on how to conduct business in line with the expectations of the industry. I think they all collectively played a role in me pursuing my own music career again. But I have to say, working with other artists as a manager and on their music really is what acted as the catalyst.
Can you talk about the inspiration for the video for “Heartbeat”? How did you and VIDKID conceptualize the story, and how does it reflect the song?
The video is an interpretation of the age-old tale of light versus dark. However, in this case, we chose to focus on the dark side of this girl being personified as the demon you see stalking her. The concept is that her demons “want to be her heartbeat” and essentially strive to take control of her, which falls in line with the ominous vibe of the tune. The ending is really up for interpretation, but for me, it’s about acceptance.
As for how it came to be, VIDKID and I are old friends. One day, “Heartbeat” came on when he was over at the studio, and he was feeling it for a video project. We came up with the plot together, slated the crew, shot the thing, and the rest is history. Big-ups to VIDKID for making that video so cool.
People talk about 2016 as if it was the worst year ever, but it was a breakthrough year for you. You had some huge releases and closed it out as a Discovery Project winner. How do you practice staying positive and focused so the externalities don’t affect you?
2016 definitely tested the will of many of us, but it’s extremely important to maintain a good attitude about things. In regards to the music, last year was unbelievable for me, and a lot of the things that happened helped keep my head above the negativity. To answer your question about externalities, I think they undoubtedly affect the way one makes their music; however, it’s up to oneself to make sure they’re affected in a way that breeds positive results. “Energy” (ft. Cat Lewis) is a great example of taking a difficult situation and creating something constructive from the emotions behind it.
Is there anything on the horizon that you can talk about?
I can’t elaborate on everything I have on deck, but Cat Lewis and I have teamed up again for one of our biggest and loudest tracks yet, called “WTFYWF” (What the F**k You Waiting For). This one is due to drop later this month on Jamie Prado’s label, Midnight in Paris. It also features another tune I produced with upcoming Hawaiian vocal artist Jason Arcilla, titled “Give It Up.” We’ll be having a sweet little function to celebrate the release in Los Angeles, so follow me on social media to find out how to come and party with us!
We always want to know what inspires our artists. Check out what Mahalo had to say about three of his own tracks.
ZHU “In the Morning” (Mahalo Remix)
Having a chance to remix ZHU was definitely one of my highlights for 2016—and having it be my debut release of 2017 was even cooler. I’m blown away by how it’s been received, and it has been a great way to kick off this year.
Mahalo “Current Mood”
“Current Mood” was one of my breakthrough tracks of last year and really got the ball rolling for me. The tune debuted with Toolroom Records and has since been released on my managers’ label, Perfect Havoc. We have a big surprise coming this spring on this one, so keep an eye out. 😉
Mahalo ft. Cat Lewis “Be My Love”
“Be My Love” represents a different side of my production style and features the signature vocals of Cat Lewis. I love making these types of crossover tracks, and it was great teaming up with No Definition for the release. Together, we were on the future house Top 100 for over a month on Beatport and received a ton of radio play on it.