Creativity is a gift. It’s easy to recognize. There’s just an ease in which the essence of an artist is revealed in the way they act, talk or display their talent. Surf Mesa is a DJ who is rising in popularity. His music is dance based and based upon the 3.5 billion streams he’s had so far it is catching on quickly and broadly.
Surf Mesa is also thoughtful and articulate. This makes him atypical of the usual perception of a DJ. Most think of a DJ as an extension of music, someone who can match beats and adjust moods by manipulation of sound levels, and mash ups of different pieces of music which work when played against each other or interlocked. The usual conversation about “sick beats” rarely extends to whether or not the performer behind the board is intrinsically articulate. Surf Mesa is a project which stands for “sounds with good feels”.
The path to a career comes from building good songs, plus getting attention. Surf’s break came when just as he left high school, TikTok took ILY (I love you, baby) featuring Emilee to broad distribution. He saw over 300 million streams in a matter of months. The song has received platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and been embedded into 7.6 million videos seen collectively five billion times on TikTok. Listen to how the song catches and holds you:
Like many who are gifted, Surf spent his time learning the craft rather than paying attention to academics. He barely graduated from high school because the effort all went to mastering song production. Because he has four older siblings, they were able to hand down to Surf the technology tools which allowed someone to build songs and distribute them with little more than a computer and an internet connection.
He began making music when he was eleven years old, and mixing songs when he was twelve. He’s a digital native who has become proficient in using software tools to mix the sounds produced by musicians. The job of making house music is to arrange audio and export sound. Surf’s view of music is that it’s positive energy and good vibe. Surf began to get known for making house music collaborations with pop artists. He’s worked with Gus Dapperton, Madison Beer, Bipolar Sunshine, along with doing remixes with Marshmello & Halsey, Shawn Mendes and Becky G.
Surf’s newest release, Marching Band has a darker grove edge and is more complex than what he has done previously. Coming next is a hybrid. The idea is a top line with a danceable groove which Surf is excited to share. His target is environments where people are youthful and feel included.
Surf will be playing festivals for the rest of this year, including appearing at Outside Lands plus traveling for some of the foreign Lollapalooza shows. His songs are a reflection of what he has been hearing. Surf is just trying to get people to dance more.
It was making music that he likes which led Surf into his label deal. In early 2020, Surf was living in Venice Beach, CA. ILY was blowing up on TikTok. He got a “DM” from Natalie Dodge, Vice President of A&R (artists and repertoire) at Astralwerks. This cold approach led to a relationship which benefits both Surf and his label.
For artists, there is freedom in developing a deep relationship with their label. The label’s team are helping build his brand and putting out what is inspiring to him. He shows them his current obsessions. They are along for the ride. Meanwhile, in the greatest turn of phrase ever, Surf is working at building his catalogue. He’s “trying to Michelangelo this David.”
As a D.J., Surf travels light, usually alone, although sometimes with a tour manager. Arriving at the show It’s him and a USB drive plus 3 backup drives just in case. His struggle is to balance his desire to create new music against the rigors of traveling and performing. And, in this new world where you must exist continually on social media, be a video content guru is the advice he hears repeatedly.
I really enjoyed talking with Surf Mesa. He’s both passionate about his work and articulate in the way he describes the process. Below is our conversation in both audio and video podcast format:
It always makes sense why someone ends up where they are. Surf knows that if he was always partying in high school, then and went to college and entered that social scene he would never have mastered his craft.
Instead, he skipped out on a lot of school and didn’t go out with the popular kids. Surf barely graduated. He even had to take 2 extra online classes just so he could graduate. But if it happened any other way it wouldn’t have happened at all. It was his complete focus on music which led him here. Everybody ends up with what their foundation is supports and over the long haul reward follows effort. Surf Mesa has all the tools to rapidly scale the ladder to major festival slots. Just watch, or better yet, listen.