I did not go to Coachella, but Coachella came to me.
“I am inspired by people making something different,” Jackson Stell, 25-year-old electronic producer and musician more commonly known by his stage name Big Wild, tells me before his show. “I get bored with music easily. I like to switch things up. I enjoy being able to get a crowd to dance and evoke a strong, positive emotion.”
On Thursday night, Apr. 21, at Subterranean (2011 W. North Ave.), he did just that.
An approachable and laid back guy, Stell walked up to my table on the second floor of the venue an hour before the show started wearing a hoodie and sipping on a coconut water.
It was awesome to gain some traction on his background before the show, but we did not chat for too long, as it was nearing show time.
His tour bus just rolled into Chicago a few couples ago from Minneapolis, which was the first stop on his spring tour, Big Wild Spring Tour 2016. After telling me that his favorite shows have been in Minneapolis, I assured him that the Chicago crowd would give Minneapolis a run for its money.
“I like to stay calm before a show,” he said. “I like to relax. When I’m playing, I let the adrenaline take over.”
“Venues like [Subterranean] are dope,” Stell said. “I love small venues [and] sold out shows.”
He told me he’s excited to be in Chicago, but he left almost immediately the next day to head to Michigan for his next show. He wishes he had more time here.
“Every city I play in, I like to get out and see the sights when I am not playing shows.”
Nothing touristy for him though — he would rather ask the locals where they like to hang out.
He mentioned plans on releasing new, original tracks throughout the summer and fall, as well as remixes. He also mentioned what music he listens to that inspires him to produce new sounds.
“The music that I listen to is constantly changing. I am always listening to random Soundcloud music. Right now, I am really into Tame Impala and Rationale.”
Tame Impala, a psychedelic pop/rock band, and Rationale, a vocalist/producer/multi-instrumentalist, are so different that I was all the more intrigued with Stell and his music style. He then went into some of his dream collaborations.
“I would love to feature Rationale’s vocals on some of my tracks,” Stell said. “I would also love to work with Anderson Paak. The guy is huge now. I saw him in a club before anyone knew he was. Now, he’s starting working with [Dr.] Dre and he is blowing up.”
Growing up in Massachusetts, Stell started producing music on his computer at age 13. He mostly made hip-hop beats and sold them at his high school. During this time and through college, he worked at creating his own sound. Being the adventurous and unique person that he is, though, he was looking for something more, something that he could not put his finger on.
It was not until he moved out to California after college that he really found his way in music.
“I came up with the name Big Wild on my first trip to California,” Stell said. “I went to Big Sur, and I was so inspired by the nature out there. I decided to pick up and move out there.”
He moved to Venice, three miles from the ocean and full of musicians and producers with whom he could collaborate with and spontaneously make music.
“It is something I just did not have growing up in Massachusetts,” Stell said.
He has only been in Venice for a couple of years, but he has settled into life in Venice pretty quickly.
“My ideal day is sleep in, produce for a couple of hours in the morning, and then go to the beach,” he said. “I bike there and then I bike up and down the beach to clear my head. After, I go back to the studio and produce more music. Then, I head out to dinner somewhere and head back home for the night.”
Stell is not the only one in his family who makes music. His father is a musician and has joined his son onstage at Big Wild concerts in Massachusetts to play guitar.
“My family is very supportive of my music,” he said. “They always come to my shows when I am playing in Massachusetts.”
As soon as Jackson started playing, I was blown away by his stage presence. Right away, he hit the crowd hard with a series of hard-hitting, futuristic-sounding beats. He kept it funky, and he kept the crowd dancing for the length of his hour-long set.
Amidst a sea of electronic music producers, it was refreshing to hear such a unique, versatile sound. It is a little edgier and ahead of the times than any music being produced right now. To describe his sound, I would say that it is a cross between Odesza, Flume, Flying Lotus, and Jamie XX, with hints of GriZ and jazzy influences as well.
Stell is not just up there with a Macbook Pro and his Ableton software kit. He plays the keyboards, a drum pad, a drum box, and he even adds a couple of his own vocals here and there.
The crowd roared when he played his popular remix of Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” and when he shared his new remix of CHVRCHES’ “Empty Threats” that just dropped on Apr. 19.
“Venice Venture,” an original track, was a personal favorite of mine, but each and every song kept the crowd guessing and wanting more. They couldn’t help but chant for an encore after he left the stage.
Stell came back out to play his most popular original track, “Aftergold,” and the song really sealed the show at the end with its soft-hand claps, wind chimes in the background, sampling of vibrating brass instruments and backing by slivers of his own vocals that sent a shiver up my spine.
After the show, I was curious to see how the Chicago crowd compared to that of Minneapolis.
“I was pretty psyched,” Stell said. “It definitely rivaled Minneapolis. I think it maybe even edged it out. The crowd was amazing. I will definitely be back here.”
It would not be surprising if Jackson Stell became a big name artist. He is shaking up electronic music in a big way. If you have not heard of the name “Big Wild” before, you definitely will hear it again in the future.