On April 5, the Harvard Electronic Music Collective invited the artist trio Cheat Codes to speak to students and other attendees at Sever Hall. The LA-based DJ trio includes Trevor Dahl, Matthew Russell (real name Matthew Elifritz), and KEVI (Kevin Ford). The group currently has over 15 million monthly listeners on Spotify and spoke at Harvard about their production process and the hard work behind their rise to fame.
The group spoke to The Harvard Crimson before the event about their meteoric rise in dance music. “It’s cool ‘cause it really wasn’t that long ago that we were just fans of the music wanting to do it,” Dahl said. “A few years ago, we were all in the room talking about wanting to be DJs and wanting to do it, and we were just on a flight with Zedd a couple of days ago and now we’re buddies with him.”
The group also expressed their excitement at coming to Harvard. “When I heard that they were doing a discussion on dance music, I was pretty surprised, so I’m interested to see what the students are into, what they know, what they don’t know,” Elifritz said.
The event functioned like a seminar, with Dahl spending the first half of the event walking the audience through the process by which the group remixed Maggie Lindemann’s song “Pretty Girl.” They displayed the components of the track on a screen, allowing audience members to request components of the song to discuss. While the discussion of “Pretty Girl” moved from bass to vocals to drums, the group kept using the term “ear candy” to describe interesting moments in the music meant to complement the vocals. “If it sounds good to you, you’re doing it right,” Dahl said.
The nature of the event allowed the group to engage with the audience before the Q&A portion of the discussion. At one point, Dahl asked the members of the audience if they knew what “sidechaining” was. After most members raised their hands, the group proceeded to use technical language throughout the event. Even though much of the audience was familiar with production jargon, Cheat Codes assumed a teaching role, making sure to define technical terms along the way.
An audience member asked the group if they had new songs that have not been released yet. After a few words amongst themselves, they decided to play two new, unreleased songs for the audience. Both were greeted with tremendous applause.
In the Q&A portion of the event, the conversation steered towards the group’s songwriting process. Elifritz discussed how Cheat Codes’ music evolved over time. “We’re songwriters. We didn’t really know anything about dance music,” he said. The group started out writing songs that they hoped prominent producers would pick up. German produced Moguai became the first major DJ to take on one of their songs.
After this success, Cheat Codes still struggled to get their music released. “During that time period, we’d write 10 songs and maybe one of them would get picked up by another DJ,” Elifritz said. They initially sent their song “Sex” to Norwegian DJ Kygo, who turned it down. As of today, the single has been streamed over 500 million times on Spotify.
Audience member Avanti S. Nagral ’20 appreciated the candidness with which Cheat Codes spoke, particularly in explaining their creative process. “As a producer, you have so many different moving parts and elements that you’re working with,” Nagral said. “It’s interesting to see if they have a process.”