Together, Daniel Paul Davis and Christopher Nelson, collectively known as Judah, are working to help put Minnesota on the dance-music map. “We don’t want it to be a flyover state,” said Davis. They’ve won thumbs-up from the likes of London Grammar for their remixes—but as they’ve learned, the life of a remix artist is complicated.
Davis and Nelson’s friendship predates Judah; the duo grew up next door to each other in Rosemont. They began exploring the dance music genre in 2006, working out of makeshift bedroom studios and self-teaching. When Davis went to the University of Minnesota and Nelson to the University of Iowa, their collaboration transitioned into a long-distance project.
Neither Davis nor Nelson studied music in college, instead pursing marketing and software engineering respectively, but the passion persisted. “We weren’t taking it extremely seriously but more as a hobby in between studies, or lack of studies,” said Davis.
Davis graduated in 2009, and while he was waiting for Nelson to finish his studies over the next two years, he hit his big break. At an after-party, he met Andy Moor, an up-and-coming DJ producer in the United Kingdom. In exchange for his marketing services, Moor paid for Davis to cross the pond to apprentice with him in dance music.
Fast-forward a few years. Davis returned to the Twin Cities with sharpened skills, ready to give the collaboration a real go. The duo began their first original track during July of 2012, but they became discouraged when it took over a year to finish. In response they embraced an alternative creative process “We decided to take a different approach,” said Davis. “We worked on tracks that spoke to us that were not in the dance music industry but could be, that people could appreciate.”
Their first such track, and to this day, their most successful, was a remix of British electronic pop trio London Grammar’s single “Strong.” Davis and Nelson finished the remix in December of 2013 and were shocked by its success. “I started the project to try to impress some girl,” Davis admitted. “Then all of the sudden our names went skyrocket. We had 150,000 YouTube hits in four months.”
The duo was even more shocked to run into London Grammar’s vocalist Hannah Reid during their gig at the University of Minnesota. She invited them backstage and introduced them to the band. Davis says despite her positive reception to the remix, Reid could not help them sign the track to the label since “Strong” had already been released, and the legal rights were complicated.
Obtaining remix rights to songs such as “Strong” presents a challenge to DJs like Davis and Nelson. They must go through the original track’s label to get their tracks signed. “The stumbling block is the gatekeepers,” said Davis. “But because of social media and SoundCloud, it’s easier than ever before. We just haven’t had the luck of getting something signed.”
In the meantime, the duo share their remixes on SoundCloud and YouTube. Judah’s SoundCloud includes remixes of songs by artists including Ellie Goulding, Banks, and Agnes Obel. As Davis and Nelson see it, their remixes are win-win for themselves and the artists. “We don’t sell it,” said Davis, “and we promote them as well. They take a cut—they get ad revenue.”
Although Judah continues to attempt to gain access to the rights that will allow them to officially release their tracks, they’ve found support in other realms. Group Therapy Radio, a weekly show hosted by trance music DJs Above and Beyond, played the duo’s tracks and offered them international exposure.
“They’ve been supporting everything we’ve done,” said Davis. “They’ve been willing to invest time and guidance with us. This is all grassroots, no promotions, no paid advertising, just word of mouth.”
Judah describes their style as deep house: a slow-tempo, groove-based sub-genre. They feel that the electronic dance music played on the radio is at its peak, while deep house is gaining popularity. “It’s very hard for us to get inspired by other dance acts right now. It’s cookie-cutter,” said Davis.
The duo identifies tracks that strike them as different or unique, such as “Strong” or Danish singer Agnes Obel’s “Dorian.” They then migrate these tracks to the studio for remixing and produce their own content to go alongside these songs.
The remix of American singer-songwriter Banks’ “Waiting Game” is the duo’s latest release. “We’re huge fans of Banks,” said Davis, “Remixing songs like this is a way to promote a different genre and a different viewpoint.”
Judah hope Minnesota will embrace their approach. “Within the last eight years, the popularity of dance music has grown tremendously,” said Nelson. “There is definitely a scene.” The duo has played at a range of venues including Crave, First Avenue, and Rev Ultra Lounge.
Although both Davis and Nelson still work their day jobs, they plan to stay in Minnesota even if Judah becomes a full-time gig. “We’ve covered all the major cities, but there’s something comforting about Minnesota,” said Davis. “There’s something about coming home and smelling the Minnesota air.”
Ellie Fuqua is a sophomore at Macalester College. She plans to double major in international studies and media and cultural studies, and hopes to pursue journalism as a career.