Felix Cartal is a mystery man in plain sight. The DJ/producer is on all the social networks—Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr. His nuanced, Technicolor house music is online in abundance at the aforementioned services, as well as on track and album-share blogs and various MP3 retailers. Naturally, he has FelixCartal.com staked out and active to the point that he shares the nitty-gritty technical details of his creative process. Try to draw a bead on Cartal the person, though, and you’ll find little more than his real name (Taelor Deitcher) and city (Vancouver). He lacks even a Wikipedia entry, which even the most inconsequential musicians seem to boast lately.
“I don’t think there’s an intentional idea behind it,” Felix says in a mellow drone, but “at first, it was fun to toy with [anonymity].” At least, it is until Cartal gets associated on Google—via a common spelling error—with the notorious Arellano-Felix drug cartel. “I’ve never tried to associate myself with that, by any means; that’s actually sort of an unfair coincidence for me.”
Another unfair association would be to juxtapose Felix with earthy 1980s cock rockers Tesla. It’s not because of their stylistic divergence, but rather the band’s well-documented “No Machines” stance toward the use of keyboards and computers in musical performance. Tesla’s position was ironic (their namesake is mechanical engineer Nikola Tesla), but so is Cartal’s. One might expect him to be reflexively defensive of his craft, but he’s eye-to-eye with Tesla on the musicianship count. “I hate the term ‘live’ for DJing,” he told Monday Magazine in December, “because it’s not really live, no matter what you do. I manipulate recorded sounds.”
In the week that his debut album Popular Music gets a digital release, Cartal stands by his words. While dance music entails technique and artistry, it is mechanical or, at least, automated. As bass player and vocalist in the indie-rock band Orange Orange, he knows what he’s talking about. “When you’re playing live, the charm behind it is that you can make mistakes. You can hit a wrong note, or my drummer could be late on the two or the four.” With programmed music, these goofs don’t happen. “You press ‘play’ … and it’s not ever going to fuck up.”
The other aspect of Tesla’s and others’ gripes was that machines drain the emotion from music. Cartal agrees that, generally speaking, dance music is rather a one- or two-note genre, always happyhappyhappy or trippy-mellow—but that’s the point. “In the simplest terms, it’s a party. You can’t overthink it.”
Dance music is about letting go, not navel-gazing. That’s probably why Cartal doesn’t bog down his Websites with solipsism. Instead, he opens up through his music, although rarely via direct lyrical expression. Mostly, he’s subtle, like in the video-game humor of “World Class Driver” or the sublime tones of “Something Nice.” And when Cartal is straightforward, like when he blogs about the track “Montreal Dreams” (Skeleton, 2009), he shares only so much. The track, written in Glasgow as afterglow from his first show in Montreal, is a “personal favorite,” and the city is “one of my favorite cities to visit and DJ in,” he writes, before commencing a lengthy breakdown of the track’s technical ecstasy.
Emotions have their place in music, Cartal says, but “there has to be a balance” between that and the diversion artists represent. “I feel like a lot of rock bands, when they [get deeper] into their careers, they lose the idea that people just want to have fun when they go to concerts.” He doesn’t need to be a celebrity, and won’t inflate his music or his story with so much hot air.
Even when he’s given a chance to give big ups to Salt Lake City when asked about the inspiration for his track “Salty Lake” (also from Skeleton), he keeps it real. Sometimes a song isn’t about anything; it gets its identity from where Cartal was at—geographically—when he wrote it. “It’s as simple as that,” he says, and he’s quite content to let the songs be his identity. “The more music I put out, the more I put myself out there.”