Their songs have dominated international dance music festivals and the club scene for nearly a decade, but what happens when the party is over?
This is a question John Martin and Michel Zitron spent time pondering last year: The Swedish singer-songwriter duo are behind some of the biggest dance anthems of the past decade. With Zitron mostly on writing duties and Martin’s soaring vocals delivering sky-scraping hooks, the pair are the modern equivalent of fellow Swedes Benny and Bjorn.
Where the latter shaped pop music through their songs with Abba, Martin and Zitron have helped move dance music from the clubs to stadiums, with a string of adrenalin-pumping hits, ranging from Swedish House Mafia's Don't You Worry Child and Tinie Tempah's Children of The Sun to Tiesto's Red Lights and Martin Garrix's Now That I've Found You. But such acclaim doesn't come without a furious work ethic, which naturally resulted in the two burning out.
Ironically, that creative crash is partly responsible for their latest project.
A new natural sound
This time around, though, the duo are channelling their energies into their own group, Vcation, and their debut single, Lay Low, is a summery ode to taking it easy. "This is the first time in years that we actually really, really feel happy to make music," Zitron says. "We didn't really have any expectations, we just wanted to put it out there and invite people on our new journey that has just begun."
Lay Low is perhaps the most organic-sounding track the two have been part of. The song melds live instrumentation, from thick bass to assertive drums, with tasteful electronica such as hazy keyboards and finely chopped vocal samples. It all sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a sunset beach party. It is the vocals, shared by both Zitron and Martin, responsible for the track's emotional heft. Zitron's resigned croon hints at a man who has spent far too many late nights on the dance floor – "Money made me numb," he sings, "When I was hoping it would make me better."
“We wanted to say something with the song,” Martin says. “We didn’t feel like going down to the beach and partying happily. We wanted to describe how we felt. We got some kind of therapy from the writing of that song, we just dressed it up in the costume of a summer song.”
A break from the treadmill
Zitron says the band’s name denotes the group’s move from electronic music towards a more eclectic sound. “We are going to be super-bipolar with our music,” he says. “We’re going to release sad songs, we’re going to release pop, we’re going to release ballads … that’s the vacation for us.”
The duo have played a major role in making dance music a cultural juggernaut, but do they feel the genre has reached a saturation? After mulling that question over, it is Zitron who takes it up: “When I personally started to listen to house music even before I was a songwriter and artist, I used to DJ. And at that time, DJing and house music were for the clubs. And now it has gone to big arenas, and the clubs you’re playing in are not your average clubs anymore. They’re the kind that you have to pay hundreds to get into, and then you have to buy a table. It is all about business now,” he says.
“I don’t think EDM has come to an end. I just think it has to move on. I think that something new needs to happen.”
Keeping it real
Martin says the genre's commercial success was also beginning to have a detrimental effect on creativity. While the duo remains proud of their industry calling card, 2013's Don't You Worry Child, it also resulted in a string of offers to recreate its chart-topping success. It was enough for Zitron to almost blanch whenever he heard the song on the radio.
"At the beginning, at every song-writing session we went into, everyone wanted a piece of that song. They wanted a new Don't You Worry Child so much and that became a pressure," he says. "But now, we've changed our view of the song. Now, when we hear it, we get happy. We will keep the song in the Vcation set when we perform live."
The success of Don't You Worry Child has also cemented the universal rule of song-writing – that no matter the genre or subject, if it makes you feel something, it's worth recording. "It is about capturing a feeling," Martin says. "Even if you sing about nonsense, if you mean it and sing from the heart, people are going to respond – people always recognise your realness."
For more on Vcation, visit www.facebook.com/vcationmusic