How Bixel Boys Broke Paypal with #FREELIFE
This feel-good story comes in all black.
If you've been anywhere near THUMP over the past few months, you've heard us wax poetic about Bixel Boys. Even considering the breakneck pace of modern dance music, their development has come about startlingly fast. It's been barely a year since they started showing up on Soundcloud with edits of pop classics. Since then, they've remixed everyone from The Crystal Method to Architecture in Helsinki to Kiesza – all while crafting a distinct perspective on future house and wearing lots and lots of black.
The LA-based duo of Rob May and Ian Macpherson seemed to emerge from the womb as a fully formed enterprise with a unique presentation and a wide breadth to their music. Their catalogue is as stylistically diverse as their aesthetic is precise. "We came from two totally different worlds," MacPherson explains. "I like to focus a lot on the branding and marketing and Rob loves to focus on the music. We don't settle on anything that we don't actually 100% approve on. It's made our identity, musically, visually, stylistically, all something that's really true and we could really be behind."
"It's really personal. It's a real amalgam of Rob and I," he goes on. "I think it's a really honest, open brand, too. I don't think we turn anybody away." Their #FREELIFE jerseys have become a ubiquitous presence in the LA underground while also turning up on the backs of everyone from Skrillex to Martin Garrix to Lil Jon.
"We both started doing Bixel Boys and, I guess, probably focused on it too much for our office jobs. We both ended up getting fired," MacPherson laughs "No shame! We got fired!"
"I think the jersey gives off the aesthetic of a group," May explains. "It's like a team. We both love sports, and, maybe in my amazing fantasy world, I was a sports star, so maybe in this realistic world, i'm thinking 'how can i make it seem like i'm on a big sports team?' It's cool to be a part of a team and to build a community, not only through music but through clothing. I think that's been the most surprising part about how our brand has affected people. I feel like, instead of having fans, we have teammates."
That was never part of the plan, though. "We didn't think they were gonna do well," laughs Rob. "We thought the jerseys were gonna bomb. We thought just we were gonna wear them." It was their #FREELIFE Draft that turned the shirts into a bonafide thing, though. May explains further: "We wanted to give away some shirts. We didn't wanna sell them. We wanted them to be something special, something earned. We put this thing out and said 'send us 150 words about why you think you deserve a #FREELIFE shirt and we'll pick 10 people.' I was expecting to get maybe 20-30 emails…We ended up getting thousands. The depths of the stories on a personal and intimate level was mind-blowing to me. It made me realize, in that moment, that these shirts can do something really good."
"After we did that," Ian says, "We didn't see how we could turn around and sell them. It wouldn't have been right."
I can't even remember us actually discussing it. I think we just knew that it was the right thing to do. I felt weird about taking a bunch of profit from the jersey," says Rob.
Yesterday, FREELIFE went global. The duo paired with Thunderclap and Camp Kesem to release a run of the shirts with 100% of proceeds going towards the camp, which supports the children of those afflicted with cancer. In the process, they crashed the Paypal setup they were working through. Never fear, they got back in business pretty quickly.
Obviously, there's a lot more than just wicked tunes going on here. Often, though, you'll hear producer repeat a mantra that music and music alone should be the center of a project. "I don't think that's a wrong notion at all," MacPherson notes."That's a totally true and correct way to think. There are acts that live and die by their music catalogue. I think, for us, we're both creative people in a lot of different realms. It's hard to say we should just only focus on just music. Like we both said, we got fired. If I wanted to limit myself, I'd have a boss."
It's clear from hearing the duo's music that they're not beholden to anyone. Their tunes go from dark and seedy bassline to melodic deeper house to upfront electro-tinged tracks. "I'm like a throw it at the wall kind of producer," says Rob. "When I produce, I take as much crap as I can and just throw it and look at it. If I think it's kinda cool, I'll keep it. Or just smudge it a bit with my hands."
"Rob's the Jackson Pollak of producing," Ian laughs.
Their mixes are even more varied than their tunage. Ian explains, "We adjust our sets a ton. A lot of it has to do with who we get placed with. We'll play with everybody from MK at SXSW to, like, DJ Snake in Orlando. You can't do the same thing every time. The versatility in our music catalogue has made us able to play with all sorts of people…Having thrown so many parties too, I can't say how annoying it would be when it's like 10 o' clock and someone comes out ripping Calvin Harris off the bat. Context is so important, the build of the night.
Their MIXED BY in particular, to maintain a sports thematic, was a curveball. It's 32 minutes of layered, feelsy R&B. "When we do mixes, we like to do them more of as a snapshots of what we're actually listening to at the time," Ian explains. "I don't feel compelled to want to make mixes that reflect the DJ set that we had just played. They should be something else."
Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP in Los Angeles - @JemayelK