Boulder’s Elliott Vaughn and Clark Smith were both in bands – Vaughn played bass with The Malah and Smith played saxophone, keyboards and percussion as the frontman 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, percussion, and DJs.
On November 22, Vaughn releases the EP Eli Spiral and his friends with JOOF Recordings in the UK, led by acclaimed progressive trance producer John “00” Fleming. The EP includes collaborations with DYNOHUNTER and producer Kri Samadhi, but “Stellar Playground” is entirely Vaughn’s work. True to the nickname Eli Spiral, the song’s layered synths spiral into each other, driven by a cavernous bass drum and sizzling closed hi-hat. “Tigris Panthera,” a collaboration between Vaughn and DYNOHUNTER, follows a similar quarter-beat pattern, but with more syncopated percussion and vocal fillings that showcase DYNOHUNTER’s distinct timbre infused with Latin.
Both have shows coming up: Eli Spiral performs on Saturday December 4th at the DV8 Distillery in Boulder, and DYNOHUNTER performs with Queen of Air at Yellow Barn Farm in Longmont on Friday December 17th.
Vaughn and Smith took the time to share their process of collaboration with Westword, as well as their decision to move from bands to DJ-inspired formats and how they respond to those who question the artistic integrity of electronic music.
Word from the West: You both come from the band world, but recently decided to focus on more solo projects, the deejay 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 enjoyed spending long hours in the studio which were hard to find on the go, and it allowed me to create a complete catalog for the Eli Spiral project.
Black-smith: I would say it’s a natural progression as well. Over time I found myself more excited and inspired by DJs and producers, so it made sense to follow my passion and focus more on deejaying and production. I love the improvisation and freedom that a DJ offers – being able to go with the flow, feel the energy of the moment and create an ensemble that speaks to that moment.
What are you most musically passionate about around Denver?
Vaughn: We both attended the first Whirling Dervish event in Denver with John Digweed in 2016, and it was a pleasure to watch it grow over the years. They bring incredible talent to Denver right now. Personally, I’m thrilled with my Eli Spiral set at DV8 Distillery in Boulder on December 4th.
Black-smith: The Whirling Dervish parties were really great. They definitely bring to Denver a greater warehouse party energy typically seen in big cities, and I think that shows just how much the house and techno scene has really blossomed over the past few years. I’m really excited for Sven Vath in February; he is a living legend.
What do you have to say to musicians who despise the deejay, and even sometimes electronic music, as a valid form of musicality?
Vaughn: There will always be these debates about music, because it is an ever-evolving art form. I grew up playing bass guitar and learning to DJ and produce, so these debates have always seemed trivial to me. Art counts, not the medium.
Black-smith: I think it’s a pretty closed and naïve view of art. Growing up playing the saxophone and studying it in college, I was definitely a “musician” before I became a producer and DJ. I think becoming proficient in any of the three is a challenge, and I respect different things about each medium. Art is all about communication and connection, and whether you do it with a traditional instrument or communicate through the production or the DJ, if it touches the listener, then you’ve done it.
There was a cross between the jam and festival scene and wook bass music. Do you see a cross between her and house music?
Vaughn: Yes, it seems like there is a crossover between the different musical scenes right now, which I think is a good thing. Many of us grew up going to both raves and live music events.
Black-smith: It was exciting to see house DJs appearing more and more on festival stages in recent years. It’s really great to see a cross between musical scenes and people discovering new music. I think there are definitely a lot of parallels between house music and jam bands. I would say those magical moments where everything comes together is something shared by both scenes.
What does your creative and collaborative process look like?
Vaughn: We speak the same musical language, quite simply. Since we’re both based in Boulder, we can have in-person studio sessions and exchange ideas in real time, much the same way we would improvise on the live music scene. This is our seventh track of collaboration, and we’ve developed a process where we write down the initial ideas in my studio and then feed them to the DYNOHUNTER studio, using whatever tools we collectively have.
Black-smith: Working with Eli has been really amazing. The songs always seem to fit together very easily, and it feels like you’re always on the same page in the studio. We certainly have a ton of trust and respect for each other’s ideas and decisions, and a shared vision for sound.
How did you 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 happy to send our next demo to JOOF. John and the team have created an incredible label that has remained true to their underground roots despite some commercial success. This is my third Eli Spiral EP with the label, and I’m grateful to have a musical house that welcomes my open approach to electronic music. I would go to see John play in Atlanta in the early 2000s and I was always amazed at his ability to blend elements of techno, progressive house, and trance.
Black-smith: I would also add that I feel like in the underground house and techno world, the music speaks. Great tracks are signed all over the world, no matter what market the DJ lives in or who he is. We are very happy that a veteran DJ like John “00” Fleming has supported our music so much!
Eli Spiral plays Dance Til You Glow at 8 p.m. on Saturday December 4 at the DV8 Distillery, 2480 49th Street East in Boulder; tickets cost $ 10. DYNOHUNTER performs with Queen of Air at 6 p.m. on Friday, December 17 at Yellow Barn Farm, 9417 North Foothills Highway in Longmont; tickets are $ 30 to $ 100.