Exis is an Australian-Filipino music producer and DJ. The year 2017 has already started out with a massive impact with his remix for Armin van Buuren’s "I Live For That Energy" ASOT 800 Anthem. It was played to thousands of people at the ASOT 800 Festival in Utrecht. This without a doubt has put his name on the global scale along with many other artists. In 2016, Exis also made huge career leaps as his track "The Count" [Who's Afraid Of 138?! (Armada)] and "Anywhere (Exis Remix)" [Universal Nation] both reached #1 on the Beatport Trance charts. Having two consecutive #1 tracks in a row, both tracks were also played on Armin's A State of Trance radio show three times and voted as Future Favourites. "The Count" was played at renowned events such as Electronic Family and Tomorrowland while "Anywhere" was played at Dreamstate and many more. Exis also remixed Orjan Nilsen's "Violetta" early in 2016 which gained a great amount of support and reached #19 in the charts.
Other than producing quality music, Exis is also a great DJ. He has toured around Australia playing under the "Trance Nation" brand and has also played in high profile events such as Stereosonic and Atlantis. He has also begun his reach in Asia by headlining in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Bali.
Exis' style can be described as big room trance & big room psy, which is known for huge sounds and banging drops. His inspirations include Armin van Buuren, MaRLo, Mark Sixma, Heatbeat, David Gravell & Vini Vici. Exis will continue to release on Armada Music and without a doubt, holds great talent and promise that is worthy of looking out for in the future. Expect to see more of him very soon!
DJ's Arena had the chance to catch up with Exis to discuss about his latest tune “Emergency Call” (and got an inside look at his expertise in producing the track from start to finish), the synergy with the crowd, tracks/techniques in a DJ set, being stuck in the studio since March, and many more. Read the interview below!
Hi Exis, it is a great pleasure to interview you! To start off, if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about yourself - your childhood, the impact of the music you grew up with and at what point in time you decided to become a producer/DJ. Was there a particular artist/tune which got you into trance/psytrance music?
Hi, thanks for inviting me to this interview! I’m Exis, a trance/psytrance artist from Australia. I fell in love with trance in the 90s when I first heard tracks like JX - You Belong To Me, Robert Miles - Children and Alice Deejay - Better Off Alone. I studied and played the piano from the age of five, initially self-taught then I took piano lessons years later but as soon as I heard trance’s synthesized sounds for the first time, I couldn’t get enough of it. By the age of twelve I got my hands on ‘Music’, a game on PlayStation which allowed me to create my first ever electronic music! It was just a hobby for many years of course, naturally I went through my schooling and university. It wasn’t until I decided to quit my job 8 years ago did music production/DJ become my full time profession.
Why "Exis"? [I can presume "exis" comes from the Latin verb "exeo, -ire", and it means "to grow/evolve/raise". Is the name connected to the Latin significance or not at all?] How did it come about? Is there a story behind the name?
I got the name Exis from the book 1984 by George Orwell. It’s about existentialism which is the view that humans define their own meaning in life. I’m a true believer that we make our own destinies through our choices and decisions. The word Existentialist resonated with me so much that I decided it as my artist name and then eventually shortened it to Exis for convenience.
I would also say the Latin word you mention and the meanings ‘to grow/evolve/raise’ also matches what I stand for.
If you had to choose one element of your music that defines your music as a whole, what would it be and why?
Energy. I give my tracks that energy and vibe to get you pumped to dance and have a good time. If I make a track that lacks the energy I envisioned for it, I probably won’t release it.
How do you typically begin building tracks? Do ideas come from playing or do you already have a concept in your head?
I love starting out with the kick and bass. I will spend the longest time on the bass especially because it’s important to get the relationship right between the kick and bass. This is the track’s foundation so if this is not great from the start then it won’t be a great track in the end.
I will have a general idea and some inspirations at the beginning on what kind of track I’d like to make but all that can change in an instant depending on how the track evolves and sounds. Usually there’s lots of trial and error involved especially when you’re making a completely new sound and not a continuation from an previous existing track/project file.
Do you think it’s imperative that DJ’s these days produce their own music?
Yes, yes and yes! I don’t think there’s much more to say to that.
Please tell us more about your fresh release "Emergency Call". Can you walk us through the creative process from start to finish?
‘Emergency Call’ is the track that I would use to describe 2020. The world is in a big mess right now and I feel we are living in an emergency, not just with the Covid-19 pandemic but a lot of other problems as well.
When I first worked on this track, I was not thinking of the emergency theme yet. I just wanted a track with a really hard kick and in-your-face bass. Once I got that foundation down, I thought a hardstyle lead sound would fit very well but I didn’t want to go too hardstyle with screech sounds and such, I made a hybrid by layering both trance supersaws and hardstyle distorted leads.
Then during city lockdown, I came across the robotic vocals and countdown which at this point I realised what kind of theme I could go with for this track. I searched for some spaceships-zooming-past sounds and alarm sounds to add to that ‘suspense/emergency’ feeling. Thus, ‘Emergency Call’ was born.
At any point during the production of "The Count". the remix for Armin van Buuren’s "I Live For That Energy" ASOT 800 Anthem, and the remix for Ben Nicky's "Anywhere" did you have a feeling the tracks would turn out to be as big as they became?
I did not know they were going to be big! In fact, I wrote ‘The Count’ because I was not having any luck signing my 132bpm big room trance tracks so I decided to change up the style just one time. When ‘The Count’ got released and exploded in the scene I was so surprised! It was my first #1 on Beatport and I didn’t even have a follow up ready, let alone started on one. I started working on ‘Mantra’ but for months I just couldn’t get it good enough. So, I decided to leave it to ease the pressure on myself (‘The Count’ has been released for 3 months already at this point) and just make a new style again but this time a remix for Ben Nicky’s ‘Anywhere’. This was actually a bootleg, I just made it for fun. I sent it to Ben to see if he would like it and immediately he contacted Universal Nation records and got them to sign it right away. I was not expecting ‘Anywhere’ to become huge either because it was not an official followup for ‘The Count’ but it got loads of support and became my second #1 on Beatport.
It was at this point of two successive hits that I believe Armin decided to see what I can do for his upcoming ASOT 800 Anthem ‘I Live For That Energy’. When I got asked to remix this track, I treated it like an exam. This was the chance to prove myself. It wasn’t an easy task though because the original was amazing! When Armin approved the remix, I was filled with joy as I finally accomplished a huge milestone in my career. This one I had a good feeling it would be big and it was, Armin played it everywhere and got loads of support from many other DJs!
Where have you been spending time over the last few months? What have you been up to during lockdown? Do you feel like it has helped you to have extra time at home for music or are you craving to get back on tour?
I’ve been basically stuck in the studio since March. I was living in Prague earlier this year which went into lockdown in March. Then I went back to Melbourne in April where I had to spend two weeks in mandatory hotel quarantine as part of coming back home! Shortly after, Melbourne went into lockdown and still is.
So yes, I've been stuck in the studio for many months. I’m craving to get back on tour but I understand it’s just not possible so I’m making the best out of the current situation. I’m using all this extra time not just to write more tracks but to also evolve my production skills!
How do you express your passion in a DJ set? Do tracks or techniques matter more?
I think track selection and crowd engagement are the most important things to get that synergy with the crowd. For me, I don’t like doing planned sets so I usually decide the tracks to play on the go. I like to keep my audience dancing and having a really good time. Usually I will play very energetic tracks, breaking it off with one or two breather tracks to reset the mood and then smash the crowd with energetic tracks again. I’m also dancing behind the decks myself, I feel it’s very important to be one with the crowd!
What’s the music scene like in Australia and how does it compare to Europe for its night life?
Before I left Australia two years ago, the scene was thriving. There were stadium events and club events with all the big names coming down regularly. At the moment though with Covid-19 there’s almost zero events. But I think a lot of countries are suffering a similar situation :(
In Europe, especially during summer, there’s just festivals going on everywhere! It helps that many countries are within close proximity to each other and the population is way bigger than a single country of Australia. I would say Australia has great parties and great trance supporters but Europe just has more options and parties.
If you could take the stage at any location around the world, where would it be and why?
It would be Tomorrowland. This is the biggest dance music festival in the world, it’s my dream to play there!
If you could choose any artist to collaborate with who would it be and why?
Vini Vici for sure! I think my style would fit perfectly with theirs. Their music inspired me to start making psytrance and I’ve loved psytrance ever since. They are killing it in the scene and I’ve met them personally, they are the nicest people!
What’s your most treasured tool in the studio and what’s so good about it?
Quadrafuzz and FabFilter Pro-Q3. I love Quadrafuzz because it brings out the sounds and makes them huge. And I couldn’t live without Pro-Q3 as I think it’s the best equalizer out there.
What’s your DAW of choice?
FL Studio! Been using this since FruityLoops 3.
How would you describe the current situation on the global electronic scene?
Given the current pandemic situation, I think now is the time we need to be stronger than ever. I know there’s not much we can do about the lockdowns and closures but as soon as the time comes when we’re allowed to party again, go out there and support your artists, bars, clubs, entertainment venues, festivals, etc. Don’t let the industry die.
Do you think trance has the ability to remain popular and consistent in modern society?
It has proven to stand its ground and stay strong but I think it has come to the point where it needs to evolve again or it will become stagnant.
Please name 3 tracks to represent psytrance spirit:
Ah! It’s so hard to narrow down to just 3. But the 3 psytrance tracks I’m listening to a lot during lockdown are:
Astrix - Deep Jungle Walk
Dead Musicians Society - Balikali (DMS Remix)
Undercover - Imaginary Friends (Samra Remix)
What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
Video games and anime music haha. I grew up playing lots of video games and watching anime so when I come across music I like I will sit there and listen on repeat for hours!
What do you do to unwind and relax when you aren't making music/DJing?
Play PC games. I’m really hooked on Valorant at the moment!
If you had to come up with a slogan to sell an Exis set what would it be?
‘Come and dance the night away!’
What if... you had the opportunity to cross border to the movie industry to play in a movie, what movie would it be?
It would be a movie set in the fantasy world. I love my medieval-style, fantasy genres. Kings, queens, knights, warriors, dragons, elemental powers... One of my favourite movies is ‘Gladiator’ so I’ll pick that.
You’ve been on the trance scene for quite a few years now. Can you give any tips on how to get noticed and to stay relevant in the game?
Keep writing great music. This is very important because there’s just too much mediocre music out there. Keep your social media alive especially now during the pandemic as this is the best avenue to keep interaction with fans. Always be kind, be humble and network whenever, wherever you can. You just never know who you’ll meet / talk to and what impact they can have for your career. And don’t forget your fans and supporters!
Thank you for your time! What can we expect from you over the course of the next year and beyond? What are your future ambitions?
Thank you for inviting me for this interview! My future ambition is to play in more shows and festivals around the world especially in countries I have yet to visit. Playing in a new country for the first time is always very exciting for me. I’m also in the process of evolving my psytrance sound, working on that next level quality so it should be exciting to see what kind of sound/s I’ll come up with. So definitely expect more music to come. And with that said, once this pandemic is over, I hope to see all my fans and supporters around the world again!
Connect with Exis:
Interview made by Adriana-Laura L., DJ's Arena 2020