Arts and Culture

Eli Spiral and DYNOHUNTER Defend the Art of Deejaying

Eli Spiral (left); Dynohunter (right)
Eli Spiral (left); Dynohunter (right) Eli Spiral by NMV; DYNOHUNTER by Jason Myers
Boulder’s Elliott Vaughn and Clark Smith were both in bands — Vaughn played bass with The Malah, and Smith played saxophone, keys and percussion as the leader of DYNOHUNTER — before each decided to go solo. Vaughn launched his progressive house music as Eli Spiral in 2017, and Smith created a solo version of DYNOHUNTER this year, in which he plays saxophone and percussion and deejays.

On November 22, Vaughn released the EP Eli Spiral & Friends with the U.K.’s JOOF Recordings, which is run by renowned progressive trance producer John “00” Fleming. The EP includes collaborations with DYNOHUNTER and producer Kri Samadhi, but "Stellar Playground" is all Vaughn's work. True to the Eli Spiral moniker, the track's layered synths spiral in and out of each other, driven by a cavernous kick drum and a sizzling closed hi-hat. “Tigris Panthera,” a collaboration between Vaughn and DYNOHUNTER, follows a similar quarter-time scheme, but with more syncopated percussion, and vocal fills that highlight DYNOHUNTER’s distinct Latin-infused timbre.

Both have upcoming shows: Eli Spiral performs on Saturday, December 4, at DV8 Distillery in Boulder, and DYNOHUNTER plays with Queen of Air at Yellow Barn Farm in Longmont on Friday, December 17.

Vaughn and Smith took time to share their collaborative process with Westword, as well as their decision to transition from bands to DJ-inspired formats and how they respond to those who question the artistic integrity of electronic music.

Westword: You both came from the world of bands, but have recently decided to concentrate on more solo endeavors, with deejaying being the main medium of performance. Why did you decide to make this transition?

Vaughn: I think it was a natural progression for me after many years of touring with a band. I've enjoyed putting the long hours in the studio that were hard to find when out on the road, and it has allowed me the opportunity to build an extensive catalogue for the Eli Spiral project.

Smith: I’d say it’s also been a natural progression. Over time, I found myself more excited and inspired by DJs and producers, so it was logical to follow my passion and focus more on deejaying and producing. I love the improvisation and freedom that deejaying affords — being able to go with the flow, feel the energy of the moment and create a set that speaks to that moment.

What are you most excited about, musically, around Denver?

Vaughn: We both attended the first Whirling Dervish event in Denver with John Digweed in 2016, and it has been a pleasure to watch that grow over the years. They are bringing some incredible talent to Denver right now. Personally, I’m excited for my Eli Spiral set at DV8 Distillery in Boulder on December 4.

Smith: The Whirling Dervish parties have been really awesome. They are definitely bringing a larger warehouse-party energy generally seen in larger cities to Denver, and I think it shows how much the scene for house and techno has really blossomed over the last few years. I’m really excited for Sven Vath in February; he’s a living legend.

What do you have to say to musicians who disregard deejaying, and even sometimes electronic music, as a valid form of musicality?

Vaughn: There will always be these debates about music, as it's an ever-evolving art form. I grew up playing the bass guitar and learning how to deejay and produce, so these debates have always seemed trivial to me. The art matters, not the medium.

Smith: I think it’s a pretty closed-off, naive view of art. As someone who grew up playing saxophone and studied it in college, I was certainly a ‘musician’ before I became a producer and a DJ. I think to become skilled at any of the three is challenging, and I respect different things about each medium. Art is about communication and connection, and whether you’re doing it with a traditional instrument or communicating through producing or deejaying, if it touches the listener, then you’ve succeeded.

There was a crossover between the jam and festival scene and wook bass music. Do you see a crossover between it and house music?

Vaughn: Yeah, it seems there is some crossover between the different music scenes right now, which I think is a good thing. Many of us grew up going to both raves and live music events.

Smith: It’s been exciting to see house DJs showing up on festival-scene lineups more and more in recent years. It’s really great to see a crossover between music scenes and people discovering new music. I think there’s definitely a lot of parallels between house music and jam bands. I’d say those magical moments where everything comes together are something shared by both scenes.

What does your creative and collaborative process look like?

Vaughn: We speak the same musical language, simply put. Since we're both based in Boulder, we're able to have in-person studio sessions and bounce ideas around in real time, similar to the way we would improvise on the live-music stage. This is our seventh collaboration track, and we've developed a process where we write the initial ideas at my studio, then bounce over to the DYNOHUNTER studio, utilizing all of the tools we have collectively.

Smith: Working with Eli has been really incredible. The tracks seem to always come together really quite easily, and it just feels like we’re always on the same wavelength in the studio. We certainly have a ton of trust and respect for each other’s ideas and decisions, and a shared vision for the sound.

How did you two get signed to JOOF, despite being in a smaller market like Colorado?

Vaughn: John “00” Fleming supported our track 'Solar Drift' during some of his 2020 lockdown livestreams and radio shows. So we were very pleased to send over our next demo to JOOF. John and the team have created an incredible label that has stayed true to their underground roots despite having some commercial success. This is my third Eli Spiral EP with the label, and I am grateful to have a musical home that welcomes my open-minded approach to electronic music. I would go see John play in Atlanta during the early 2000s and was always amazed by his ability to blend elements of techno, progressive house and trance.

Smith: I’d also add that I do feel like in the underground house and techno world, the music does the talking. Great tracks are getting signed all across the globe, regardless of what market the DJ lives in or who he is. We’re super stoked that a veteran DJ like John "00" Fleming has been so supportive of our music!

Eli Spiral plays Dance Til You Glow at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 4, at DV8 Distillery, 2480 49th Street East in Boulder; tickets are $10. DYNOHUNTER plays with Queen of Air at 6 p.m. Friday, December 17, at Yellow Barn Farm, 9417 North Foothills Highway in Longmont; tickets are $30 to $100.
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