From Harvard graduate to full-blown DJ and producer, Tim Wu—better known as Elephante—has come a long way from his scholar days. Since dropping his first remixes in 2013, Elephante has brilliantly created and delivered a range of diverse and eclectic hits like “I Want You,” featuring RUMORS, and “Age of Innocence,” featuring Trouze and Damon Sharpe.
On his recently released debut EP, I Am the Elephante, the rising producer displays an effortless transition between genres, from progressive house to electropop to tropical-inspired beats and beyond. Featuring collabs with MIIA, Nevve, Bishop and more, I Am the Elephante is stacked with masterful tracks.
To coincide with the EP, Elephante is currently taking his I Am the Elephante tour across North America, with a stop at Create in Hollywood tonight. Ahead of his performance, Elephante dropped an exclusive playlist to get you amped for the weekend. We also chatted with the zoo man himself to get a feel for his vast love of dance music.
You graduated from Harvard and quit your consulting job at McKinsey to pursue a career in music. What pushed you to go full-time with your music?
It just got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I could see myself getting comfortable, and I imagined myself 10 years down the line, and I was just like, “Man, I hate that guy.” Plus, I got my first commission for a remix; it was gonna be in Beatport, so I thought I was gonna be fucking huge in a month or so [laughs].
You’ve been surrounded by music your whole life, and you also identify as a “big band guy.” Does your musical past playing and making music in a band influence the music you make now?
Definitely. When I started producing, I already had the musical background, so it was more about translating what was in my head, rather than starting from scratch. I loved making melodies, and I think my tracks were a lot more focused on songwriting and structure than sound design, so that really influenced the kind of music I was making.
There seems to be a lack of Asian-American DJs and producers in the US electronic scene. Have you had any struggles with this issue? Or do you see this as a problem at all?
There are a few of us out there—Manila Killa [of Hotel Garuda], Slander, Autograf, ARMNHMR, Giraffage, and of course the original don, Steve Aoki. I think at first it was a little unexpected to people, but now I try not to think about it too much and just focus on the music. At least for me growing up, being a musician was not a real option. It’s a stereotype, but it’s true: Becoming an engineer or doctor was the dream. I think you’ll see more and more of it going forward. A lot of us are coming to terms with the idea that, “Hey, I’d probably be a really shitty doctor.”
What’s the concept behind The Zoo mixes you post on SoundCloud?
They’re my take on a mix series. Listening to podcasts and mixes was super influential to my evolution, so I always wanted to do one. But I wanted to make it me. I didn’t want to do another weekly series where I just throw in whatever comes in the promo email. I try to make each one special and super representative of what I’m into at the time, like a timestamp or landmark in my career. So, they come out when I feel like I have enough material for it.
You grew up writing songs and singing. Many of your tracks feature vocalists. Would you ever consider singing on your own tracks?
Definitely. I sang on a couple of dance covers I did, including Calvin Harris’ “Flashback” and Bag Raiders’ “Shooting Stars.” The issue is that I’m a pretty average singer. I’m still waiting to write the right song, and if I can find someone who can sing it better than me, then I’m always gonna try to do what’s best for the song.
What is one mistake you see a lot of up-and-coming producers/DJs make? What advice would you give them?
Posting your mixtape on every SoundCloud comment. On a more serious note, I’d say it’s expecting that everything is gonna come fast and easy. I was the same way. You see Kygo or Avicii blow up out of seemingly nowhere, but you don’t see how much grind they put in before things started happening. My advice would be to put your head down and really learn your craft and find your own sound. All the marketing and networking and shit is important, but if you don’t have the music, then none of that matters. And it’s gonna take a while. Be prepared to spend years locked away in your room and know that it might never happen. But if you love the grind of making music and getting better, then that shouldn’t matter.