Dada Life's Olle Cornéer on How Cancer Inspired His New Anti-EDM Solo Project
"I just didn't care anymore what people would think."
With champagne, bananas, and a "born to rage" mantra that defines the ethos of their sets, Dada Life's antics epitomize the hyper-stimulating energy that has ruled festival main stages over the last five years. From Las Vegas residencies to world record-breaking pillow fights, to the duo's own mini-festival, Dada Land: The Voyage—which they arrived to in a hot air balloon at its debut in the Inland Empire of Southern California last summer—there is nothing somber about the Dada. With releases that include an iTunes No. 1 album, The Rules of Dada, and remixes for Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Justin Bieber, Dada Life has became an idea synonymous with having a good time, unafraid of surreal absurdity.
In the fall of 2014, Dada's Olle Cornéer and Stefan Engblom pumped the breaks on what seemed like an eternal rager when Cornéer was diagnosed with cancer. "It was a shock," he says. "It came out of nowhere. I just went for a regular doctor's visit."
Pulled off the road and out of the studio, Cornéer announced his diagnosis to fans in November and was hospitalized for two weeks while in treatment. In the face of his own mortality, he found himself reflecting on his life. One thing came to the forefront immediately.
"I realized how important music is to me," he says. "I knew that, but something like this gives you a reality check. It shows you what's important and what's not. From one day to another, it all became so obvious, what's worth focusing on and what you can just skip."The video for "The Death of SHE," premiered on THUMP.
Cornéer decided to bring to light a project he had tucked away—a darker, more personal project that was decidedly un-Dada––called Night Gestalt (named for the German psychological therapy practice). "I've been working on the songs for a few years," Cornéer says of the project. "But I didn't really finish them until last fall after I was diagnosed."
One, is Cornéer's eight-track album as Night Gestalt, out next week. The musical inspirations for the solo project are broad (Cornéer cites Aphex Twin and classical composer Arvo Pärt as influences), and as anyone who hears it will instantly know, it's nothing like the work he does with Engblom. "It's everything Dada Life isn't," he says. "When I listen to it now, I realize it's like taking Dada Life and turning everything the opposite way. On the whole album, there are no drums, no bass. It's only one bleep, one arpeggiated bleep, and then vocals, used in different ways. I just wanted to limit myself and see what I could do with it."
Cornéer isn't shy about discussing One's thematic concept, a somewhat bleak narrative of intergalactic nihilism. "It's a post-apocalyptic story about a spaceship that's going to colonize a planet. Humanity's kind of lost, we fucked up the planet, it's time to go, but something goes wrong really early and the spaceship just loses course and goes straight into nowhere."
"The whole album is about what happens on that spaceship when you know you're going straight into nowhere and there's nothing to save you."
Despite obvious assumptions that this narrative was written in response or reaction to his cancer diagnosis, Cornéer says both the concept and music were written long before illness may have sullied his optimism. In fact, in some ways, Cornéer sees Night Gestalt as a response to the fantasyland created by Dada, but more of an experiment or a challenge to himself than anything.
"I don't feel restricted when it comes to dance music and Dada Life," he says. "But I wanted to create something that isn't dance music, as a response to 'EDM.' I played around with adding beats. It sounded good, maybe even better. Then I removed it anyway. I hear rhythms and drums in my head. Probably, other people can hear that, too, so I don't need to add it! Music is always created in your head."
Still, Dada Life fans have come to expect perpetual revelry from Cornéer. As much as creating Night Gestalt was a challenge to the producer himself, embracing it is a challenge for his fans.
"Just from seeing the first reactions, some people are getting it, and some people are like 'What is this? Stop!'" he laughs. "But that's how it is. This music is not for everybody. After [my diagnosis] last fall, I think it urged me... I just didn't care anymore what people would think. It felt right. That's the only way I can describe it. In the end, I hope it's going to transcend and reach completely different people than Dada Life does.""The Flesh is Still in Control," the second vide from ONE, and a THUMP exclusive.
Even though Cornéer and Engblom have seemed joined at the hip over the past few years, the Night Gestalt project is a decidedly solo affair. "We haven't really talked about it that much," he admits. "I kept it to myself, to be honest. I don't think I even played the tracks to him–-one or two, maybe. I happen to be half of Dada Life, but this has absolutely nothing to do with Dada Life."
Cornéer has declined to discuss publicly the details of his illness and treatment, but says he is doing well both physically and mentally. "Of course, there's a period of time where you sink down to the bottom of the ocean. But I've been through treatments and now it's just check-ups now and then to make sure that it's fine."
As Cornéer is strong, so is Dada Life. The duo returns to the road this summer, picking up where they left off. "From a creative point of view, creating something like [Night Gestalt] actually gives me more ideas for Dada Life tracks than the other way around," he explains. "It's like I need the dynamics. The songs are pretty dark, when it comes to lyrics and maybe the feeling, but there's a place for those kinds of songs: Music for headphones, Sundays, Mondays! It's not the weekend every day of the week."
Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP.