Although Harry Rodrigues posted ‘Harlem Shake’ to his Baauer SoundCloud page in April 2012, the single didn’t start to take off until a homemade dance video set to its music surfaced online early in 2013. But boy, it sure escalated quickly from there. Unless you were living under a 3G-blocking rock last year, there’s very little chance you avoided the ‘Harlem Shake’ internet meme. As well as inspiring several thousand video interpretations (and subsequently dominating Facebook and Twitter news feeds), the song eventually reached number one in both Australia and the US.
“It was early on [in my career], so it was a little scary,” admits Rodrigues. “[It was] a little overwhelming because it was happening on such a big scale.”
Achieving this level of attention right at the start of one’s career can often result in getting classed a flash in the plan and being swiftly forgotten about once the trend runs its course. However, mainstream success has never been the young New York producer’s chief ambition.
“Having a track that is the number one on Billboard and [getting] that much exposure, I’ve learned that that wasn’t for me,” Rodrigues explains. “That’s not what I wanted to aspire to as a producer. I was much happier trying to create new, weird shit that would be different and fresh.”
Indeed, ‘Harlem Shake’ is by no means ordinary chart fodder. The song is probably most widely remembered for its build-up into a bass-heavy dance drop, which is why it was utilised by so many dancing webcam users. Listening back, though, ‘Harlem Shake’ is a bold genre conflation, fusing elements of hip hop, Euro dance and a range of found sounds – a combination that can’t have been chart-motivated.
“When I made that tune I was just having fun and fooling around, doing whatever,” says Rodrigues. “If that worked out for me one time, it’ll work out always.”
Even though joining the pop elite wasn’t Rodrigues’ ambition, there are some definite positives to a song of this persuasion invading the charts. In particular, the wide circulation of a track like ‘Harlem Shake’ can introduce listeners everywhere to the innovative underground that lies beneath contemporary electronic music.
“The bigger something gets in the mainstream, the stronger the underground version of that will be,” Rodrigues says. “You can’t have cool, forward-thinking shit without the mainstream shit. So, the stronger it gets in the charts – all this EDM stuff – that means the stronger the underground, cool, forward-thinking shit will become.”
It’s been 12 months since the ‘Harlem Shake’ sensation took flight, and in that time a string of impressive Baauer tracks have showed up online, including collaborations with RL Grime and hip hop superproducer Just Blaze, as well as remixes for The Prodigy and No Doubt. In line with the SoundCloud origins of ‘Harlem Shake’, the site remains a favoured method of distribution for Rodrigues.
“I do love putting out singles,” he says, “not even singles, just putting out tracks; staying flush with the way the internet works. When I made ‘Higher’ with Just Blaze, we put that on SoundCloud the night we made it. I really think that is the best way to release music now. I know that as a fan that’s how I like to discover music, so it’s definitely the way I like to release it as an artist.”
Rodrigues turns 25 this year, which means that even though he’s well and truly entrenched in internet culture, his formative listening years predate online services. Yet his eclectic production references betray a studious knowledge of electronic music.
“I originally grew up in the UK so that kind of shit was always on BBC Radio; just always around me growing up in England. Then I moved to the States and started to dig a little deeper and discover more. But it definitely just came from hearing it on the radio in England.”
Considering Baauer received such a resounding welcome into the pop music realm last year, how can 2014 possibly compete? Well, work on his debut full-length record is underway, but Rodrigues isn’t too bothered about reviving the commercial highs of ‘Harlem Shake’.
“I’ve taken some time off touring the past couple of months to get in the studio and I am working towards a big body of music. No matter what, I told myself to always have fun making music. Always at least have fun doing it and everything will sort itself out.”
In the meantime, his non-stop travel itinerary finally brings him back to Australia next month for Future Music Festival. The crowd involvement during ‘Harlem Shake’ will definitely be something worth witnessing. And the spectacle won’t end there.
“There’s new tracks [in the live show], and [I’m] combining tracks that people already know and love in different and interesting ways and just trying to create a fun atmosphere. Lately I’ve been bringing around a couple of lighting and visuals guys to every show. So now, as well as the music, there’s a big visual package to go along with it.”
Future Music Festival is on at Royal Randwick Racecourse on Saturday March 8. Catch Deadmau5, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pharrell Williams, Hardwell, Eric Prydz, Rudimental, Porter Robinson and many more.
The Future Music Festival app, developed with Rdio, will get you around the festival nice and easily – download it from the iTunes or Android app store.