WAITING IN THE WINGS
A Conversation With Golden Features
Using only the words: “Tom” and “Golden Features”, I pass from the curdling guts of Can’t Say’s dancefloor and into the murky streak of its backstage area. Everything’s sort of trembling with noise and movement—possessed by the kind of energy that fills a slowly capsizing ship right before the water does. Sasha, Golden Features’ manager shuffles through the stage door, peering into his phone, cap tilted back against his forehead, a giant melting hand tattooed over his forearm. He nods at Tom Stell (Golden Features) as he approaches.
SASHA: So we’re having some issues with the visuals, the files aren’t working…
TOM: Well if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work
SASHA: Yeah it’s not a big deal…There’s not a lot of light on the desk either so we might need to find a way to place my phone or a torch there. We’ll figure it out…
[Sasha scuffs back towards the stage]
WV: Problem with your visuals?
WV: Is that a big deal?
TOM: Yeah (tentatively)
T: Yeah it’s pretty fucking shit, but what can you do?
The backstage area splutters with activity. Someone’s yelling for ice, a small stream of bodies is tipping through the backstage door, nodding and shouting in an invisible cloud of thudding bass. Stell is looking behind me to the door, eyes flicking to the faces shambling towards us.
“Sash! Sash! Close the door!” Stell’s eyes search somewhere behind me. “Oi Petchey! Is there anywhere we can go where it’s a bit quieter for an interview?”
Sasha rejoins us, eyes glued to his phone.
“Oh hey man” he smiles, looking up at me. I was just about to message you, is this you? Wax Volcanic?” he asks, tilting his phone towards me. I nod, smiling, (wearily I imagine, very aware that it’s already 1am). “Oh nice to meet you man. Mark was like: ‘look for the guy who looks like Where’s Wally’…”
Some convincing has transpired without my knowledge or input. Stell just says: “hey guys we can go in here” and we’re suddenly hustled into a back room which looks like Can’t Say’s attempt to balance out the shadowy crowd of oversexed and underdressed kids on the dance floor. By comparison, most people in the back room seem to have rejected the idea of the weekend decades ago. They sit crumpled in front of Excel spreadsheets and desks veiled in loose paper, completely ignoring us while as we collapse onto a small concrete step at the back of the room. Stell is bristling with what appears to be nerves and a thin bravado (designed, I imagine, to counteract nerves). There’s a definite gulf between real-life Tom Stell and the masked DJ responsible for some of Australia’s most merciless club tracks this year. The general mood from the talent backstage is consistently polarised with their stage alter-egos. Stell is apprehensive, amiable; Sable AKA John Dewhurst - purveyor of restless, nimble electro - is calm, talking evenly about aluminium-alloy mountain bike frames. But for Stell, being a deliberately concealed DJ, persona has become somewhat of a focus.
“That’s why we killed it” he nods. Golden Features began originally as a logo for press shots because I literally didn’t have enough money to get my photo taken…”
But soon the idea had stuck. So much that he commissioned the same Sydney-based prop designers who worked on The Matrix to make his golden face a custom-cast, professionally-designed reality.
According to Stell, the idea behind it all is that people “don’t know about the person, it’s the art that matters”. But as Golden Features gained notoriety, the guessing game begun and people’s attention swung paradoxically towards the man behind the art. Some even claimed it was Flume choosing to hit some darker notes. “It became a sideshow” he states coolly, “we killed it really quickly.” Stell leans down, speaking intently as we discuss the nature of Art in Golden Features, a project he hopes to be a synergy of music, artwork, live performance and stage persona.
“It’s all of me, hyper extended. Where I’m anxious, it is extremely nervous and anxious, and when I’m happy it’s over the top happy. So I try to push that in the music, there’s really high points and really low points…”
This emotional discomfort seems to be the sort of modus operandi for Golden Features, present in both the genesis and execution of his sound.
What started as the murky brother of Stell’s straighter EDM production - a style he became frustrated with and, by his own admission, “didn’t want to do” – has become wildly successful. Despite ascending in the same scene as contemporaries easily captured within the unwieldy designation of ‘the Australian sound’, Golden Features is clearly occupying a much darker corner of the dancefloor. The most radio-friendly single ‘Tell Me’, is still a loose fit for airwaves so flooded with Waveracer-grade sheen. Even when it borrows the voice of Nicole Millar (whose voice is also at the helm of tracks by Emoh Instead, PIXL, Cosmo’s Midnight and Peking Duk). Interestingly, Stell used to share a house with Peking Duk and has worked out through a brief chronological assessment of their respective songs that they were conjuring their respective Nicole Millar oriented tracks at exactly the same time, in exactly the same house. And, in true sharehouse style, without either party knowing.
At this point a security guard reaches over the top of us, treating us more like a small pile of discarded toner cartridges than a small pile of displaced humans.
[There is awkward glances, moving aside, looking up at the security guard and her impressive, caustically musical loop of keys]
SECURITY: It’s alright I need to unlock it.
WV: should we hop out of the way?
SECURITY: Uh not sure….Are yous gonna be much longer?
[More awkward glances, moving aside, looking up at the security guard and her impressive, caustically musical loop of keys]
WV: Uh, I don’t know, uh…
[Security Lady opens up the door, where three or four guys are standing in the dark, in a huddle of rangy frames, low, guttural mutterings and the smell of still-burning cigarettes]
SECURITY: Hi how are yas doing?
[Security Lady slips around the door and into the dark]
Back in the regular backstage area Stell offers me and my slightly bewildered companion a drink. I quickly accept, but realize that almost noone else has. In the gutted walk-in freezer that serves as a sort of standalone Green Room (and contributes enormously to the ‘sinking ship’ type feeling mentioned earlier), roughly 1/3 of the bodies inside are drinking. Stell’s conversation at this point is becoming visibly clouded with pre-show intensity, bravado giving way to nerves. You can almost see him ghosting song changes and set nuances in his mind, turning over every possible reaction, good and ill. He disappears and reappears 2 vodkas later (mine, imbibed with juvenile enthusiasm), his persona now fully intact - black shirt, gold necklace, black pants and golden mask in hand. It’s like watching from the wings of an unseen play as Stell moves towards the stage door to perform his second show ever, to dive from the relative calm of the backstage into the brackish sea of bodies outside; featureless mask lowered, humanity muted, character complete.