Anton Krueger is not a DJ. He is, however, up for a challenge. A few weeks ago, New York-based MC, performance artist and author Mykki Blanco came through Colorado as a guest lecturer for the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design’s series on identity and art. Blanco was also scheduled to play a show the following evening at the Larimer Lounge and mentioned over dinner with Krueger and some friends that he would need a DJ for the show.
“I just said, ‘Oh, I’ll do it!’” says Krueger with a nervous laugh. “I had never deejayed before in my whole life — I am not a DJ.” But the next day, Krueger conferred with friend and fellow musician Colin Ward (who makes music and deejays under the name Alphabets) about what software might be easiest to acquire and learn in a matter of hours before the show. And that night, Krueger pulled it off. The teen was, for one set, Mykki Blanco’s DJ. “It was crazy that Mykki had faith in some eighteen-year-old who was lying to him about being a DJ,” says Krueger.
He may not be a DJ, but he is routinely mistaken for one with his main musical project, Bollywood Life, which incorporates a wide-ranging (and heavily electronic) sonic palette. “I think that is one of the misconceptions with this project — when I submit to play a show or someone hears my music on SoundCloud, they assume I’m a DJ guy; so many people assume I’m only using samples or that I’m a DJ. Then they see me live and are surprised that I play real instruments and that there is no laptop on stage.”
As a middle-schooler growing up in Louisville, Krueger began playing music early on with childhood friend Luke Thinnes. What started as covers of three-chord rock songs eventually evolved into the duo’s noise project, Floor Freakers. By age fourteen, Krueger was going to shows regularly at Denver DIY venue mainstay Rhinoceropolis and figuring out how to book shows and be a part of the music community. On one particularly memorable night, they “booked” — Krueger thinks it was more a matter of convincing — local act StaG to play a house show while Thinnes’s parents were out of town.
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Floor Freakers eventually disbanded, with Thinnes focusing on the solo project sleepdial (before moving on to his current incarnation as French Kettle Station). Krueger, now seventeen, was bored with high-school life and decided to graduate early; he then headed to Los Angeles to play music with the newly transplanted StaG.
Originally, he played bass in the band, but a last-minute loss of a drummer landed Krueger behind the kit. He did a short tour with StaG in 2014 and recorded some material with the band that is set to be released later this year. StaG drifted apart when a few of its members took up offers to play with other bands, and Krueger went on his way, eventually connecting with Slow Magic, who was in need of a merch person for an upcoming tour. But Krueger says the merch-dude job was short-lived, and by the end of the tour, he was running all the lights for the show. “I would like to say I was ‘light designer,’ but it was barely a legitimate title to give myself,” says Krueger. “It was crazy. The venues were insane, and I got to run lights on these crazy boards all over the country that I was definitely not qualified to be touching.”
This whole time, Krueger had been working on his own music. And once touring with Slow Magic came to an end, he found himself back in Los Angeles. Through family connections, he wound up living rent-free in a house in Orange County that just happened to be a hub for some up-and-coming hip-hop producers, including Deedotwill, a protégé of Atlanta producer Lex Luger, who’s best known for his work with the likes of Rick Ross and Ludacris. The nine or so months that Krueger spent living and working in the O.C. proved extremely influential in shaping Bollywood Life’s sound and the way in which he created his music.
“It was just me and all of these 25-year-old trap producers; I was the only white kid there,” says Krueger. “I learned a lot from them and kind of incorporated that into the music I was making. I was trying to be more of a producer and less of a noise guy.”
Searching for a music scene in which he could be more upwardly mobile, Krueger made his way back to Colorado. This time it was his own musical project, Bollywood Life, that directed his next moves. He bounced from his parents’ house to friends’ couches for a few months, all while working on his infectious but insightful dance music, playing shows and putting in long days recording music from the newfound angle of musician/producer.
“I wanted to start doing less sample stuff and make my music more composed and orchestral,” says Krueger. “I don’t want that to overshadow the fact that I want real instruments and I want to play with a bunch of drummers or musicians. I want to do stuff that is more intentional, and that’s why I feel like the producer mentality allows me to treat my music more as something intentional on the production end rather than an improvised noise thing. Not that noise is unintentional, but I would like it to be more developed to my standards. It’s more about wanting to fully develop my sound rather than just experiment with things.”
He didn’t play many shows in Los Angeles, but in Denver Krueger found a supportive music community and the right kinds of venues to help him grow up — and out — of the notion that he’s “just a DJ.”
“It’s just part of the SoundCloud culture. There are plenty of awesome and talented performers that do just control stuff using Ableton, or they deejay — and I have no disrespect for that, because they’re doing things I don’t know how to do,” says Krueger. “But at the same time, there’s no space or identity for a song if you could have just heard it in a random mix that someone made on SoundCloud. It makes it tough for me, because it’s assumed I’m only using samples or that I’m a DJ.”
Regardless of the assumptions around what, exactly, Bollywood Life’s process is, Krueger says it’s the scene itself that is moving his music along. “The community I was working with in L.A. was different; it was a whole new ballgame, because it’s just more acclaimed rock venues,” says Krueger, though he acknowledges that it was fun and cool to be there and witness the music scene. But in and around Denver, he’s found that he can take advantage of more opportunities and be more than just a bystander. “It was tough to be in L.A. and see what was happening [in Denver] from afar, because I was working in such a different realm of a music scene,” he says. In Colorado, a younger artist like Bollywood Life has the opportunity to be the supporting local artist for a national act like Mykki Blanco. In a saturated music scene like Los Angeles, competition for the same slot at a venue on any given night is much greater.
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But the bigger cities are still calling: Bollywood Life was recently picked up by Treasuredog, a New York City-based artist-management company. Krueger is also working on finding the right home for the new music he’s been working on and hopes to release an official EP or album in the coming months. In the meantime, he’s playing as many shows as he can, performing with bigger artists as they come through and being an unofficial city guide, showing off Denver’s creative community and its relentless DIY spirit.
“I saw Mykki Blanco play at Los Globos in Los Angeles, and it was a crowd of hundreds of people with their cell phones out, just not moving. I was like, whoa, this sucks,” says Krueger. “Then when he played here in Denver, I probably knew half the people in the crowd, and they all really gave a shit about Mykki. The crowd was smaller, but it was so much more real.
“I just don’t ever want that to be the representation of my city; I don’t want to be playing to a crowd of dead fish on their cell phones. Being at a show in L.A. was like being at a freak show where the crowd was just posting to Instagram the whole time.”
Live, there is almost no way for Bollywood Life to play in front of an immobile audience — it’s like the crowd starts moving in anticipation before he even begins. Krueger hits his percussion pads wildly and often wanders — or flings himself — into the crowd while the music rolls on. But the songs don’t get far without their conductor, and he quickly finds himself back on stage to send the steel-drum sounds speeding up in tempo as they bump through the speakers. At only eighteen years old, Krueger has a long time to take Bollywood Life to the next level.