DJ_Dave Conquers the 'World’s Hardest Game'

DJ_Dave Conquers the 'World’s Hardest Game'

By Joan SummersMar 28, 2024

I hadn’t planned on leaving the house last Friday, but when the bestie pulls up with tickets to Hannah Diamond at local Philly hotspot Johnny Brenda’s, it’s hard to resist the temptation. So there I stood in the crowd, skimpy little denim number on, unsure about who would open for the hyperpop princess. Enter DJ_Dave, who begins to code her set live onstage. The practice, dubbed algorave, seems so natural to the techno-wizard. I’m mesmerized.

Behind DJ_Dave, a live feed from a laptop streams a video overlaid with lines of code, which whiz by. I catch SOPHIE sample stems in the complex text and smile, feeling her spirit. The crowd is positively electric, and I find it hard to move in my scoochie dress with how closely we’ve packed around the stage, everyone eager to stretch even an inch closer to DJ_Dave or the music.

Between sets, I’m at the bar with a mocktail, pulling up a Google search. She has remixes out for Tove Lo, Channel Tres and former PAPER People star Uffie. DJ_Dave also DJed Grimes’ Met Gala after party, live-coded at the Whitney, performed at underground parties with UNIIQU3 (whose excellent tour diary you can read now on PAPER.) So utterly engrossed I found myself in old live code performances, I almost forgot to get back in the crush of fellow girls and gays for Hannah Diamond.

Afterwards, I track down DJ_Dave, tentatively pulling down on the hem of my dress to seem more professional. My attempt not to gush about her set mostly faiil, and we exchange contact info, the questions already pouring out. “This feels so serendipitous,” she says, and laughs. She has a new song out this week, “World’s Hardest Game.” Perfect. On the BSL home — the subway, for any New York heathens — I’m already sending out emails, mascara smudged, feet sore from dancing so hard.

Check out the excellent “World’s Hardest Game” and PAPER’s conversation with the equally excellent DJ_Dave below.

I’m so excited to dig into your new song! What can you tell us about “World’s Hardest Game”?

If anyone remembers, there is this game from 2008 that was a really simple but really hard maze or obstacle game. It was so hard most people could barely get past level four. The whole time you played this game, this really incredible song would play in the background — it had a really strong synth lead melody and was the perfect song to listen to while in the zone trying to conquer this game. A few months ago, I remembered that song and felt inspired to make a track that made me feel the same way that one did. It came together pretty quickly, which is always a good sign for me that the song was meant to be created. As a nod to my inspiration I named the song after the game, and that’s how “World’s Hardest Game” was born.

When I caught your set at Johnny Brenda’s earlier this month, I was blown away watching you code and mix onstage. When did you first learn to code, and how did you integrate that into music and DJing?

Thank you! I really love getting the chance to do live-coded sets, and the ones on the Hannah Diamond tour have been especially fun. I first learned to code in 2019 in a web design class, and then learned about live coding shortly after. Live coded musicians make up a big part of the live code community (there are also visual artists, dancers, weavers, and more), so learning about live coding for me also came with learning about the relationship between code and music. In my own work, I created a hybrid live code/DJ set, which is how I perform most of my live code performances. This entails using two channels from the DJ equipment and one channel from my computer where I’m live-coding and mixing those together accordingly. It’s quite similar to the setup of a regular DJ set, the only difference is there’s an additional audio source coming from my code.

There’s also a video element to your sets. How do you go about crafting visuals and are they also affected by the coding we see onstage?

I just started incorporating visuals in my solo performances and this tour is my first time getting to try it out in front of an audience! I run my visuals in a web-based live coding environment called Hydra (made by Olivia Jack) and use it to manipulate live webcam footage. The audio and visual code are completely separate, and the audio code doesn't affect the visual code. There are ways to make the visuals reactive, but at the moment, I’m coding in two environments at once during my set. Before this tour, all of my live visuals were created and performed by my longtime collaborator Char Stiles, who I got to perform with again recently in Boston where they are currently in a research program in the MIT Media Lab. I have Char to thank for being a huge source of inspiration and an informant of my visual identity.

Your fantastic music video for “Array” was co-directed by Andy Rolfes, who creative-directed Hannah Diamond’s shoot for PAPER last year (Shoutout!). What are some creative inspirations you pull from in this glitched-out world you’ve created through your art?

Andy is amazing and it was such a pleasure to work with them on the music video. I get a lot of inspiration from the artists around me and the work that comes out of our collaborations. When we get together, the ideas just start flowing, and the final product always ends up being inspired by all of our work, experiences, interests, a result of our worlds combining. Honestly, I get really inspired from learning new things about my field and learning new skills in general. So whenever I am in the midst of learning something new I tend to use that as my inspiration for the project at hand — for example, all the visuals for “World’s Hardest Game” were made in Hydra, which I recently learned.

You were a resident DJ at Frank Ocean’s Homer Radio and previously live-coded at Grimes’ Met Gala after party. Do you have a favorite memory or party or set so far in your career?

My favorite set so far was probably at my Interface party back in September 2023 at H0l0. I got to bring a concept to life that I had been dreaming up for a couple of years: combining live-coded sets with traditional DJ sets back to back, and it was just such a great night immersed in community and surrounded by friends. It was also the first time I got to meet fellow pop live coder Lil Data in person, which ended up being the catalyst for a lot of cool things we’re currently working on together.

You also mentioned going on a headlining tour of top computer science colleges in April to perform and teach guest seminars, and a TED Talk with TEDx Cornell afterwards. How do you see the realm of live-coding expanding and influencing music in the coming years?

YES! Doing a tour at comp sci colleges is a concept I have been hoping to actualize for quite a while. I’m so excited to start next month and I am beyond honored and thrilled to be doing a TEDx talk to finish off that tour. The main inspiration I hope people take from live coding is that creative coding exists, and technology does not have to be this terrifying, futuristic, artificial threat — it can just be something to play with. I don’t think live coding will necessarily be for everyone, but there are so many lessons to learn from it.

Photography courtesy of DJ Dave