If you've ever stayed in hostels in Europe—or probably almost anywhere around the world—you know you can always find up-for-it Australians there ready to have a good time. The same holds true for hanging out with DJ/producer Dom Dolla, whose team consists of a tight squad of fellow Aussie creatives. And for his big moment at Coachella 2022, he rolled deep with a crew of about 30 friends from back home, including his sister, who were there to celebrate and support him—and help him set it off, of course.
Just as Dom welcomed me into his circle with open arms, he's been forging a friendship with Chicago-born-and-bred DJ/producer John Summit. They'd been admiring each other for a while and became DJ pen pals, sending each other music before finally meeting in August 2021, when they played B2B at Colorado's Global Dance Festival, one of Dom's first IRL shows since the pandemic began. Since then, they've played together a handful more times, including twice with Chicago legend Green Velvet, at EDC Orlando 2021 and Miami Music Week last month. Green Velvet was both one of their dream B2Bs, so now doing a collab track amongst the three of them is the next star to catch.
Dom has been DJing for half his life (he's 30 and started when he was 15), and began producing at 21. He cut his teeth DJing in the vibrant Melbourne dance scene, working as a graphic designer and club booker to help pay the bills. It's now been eight years since his manager James Fava encouraged him to focus on DJing full-time, and he soon began gaining more and more steam in the local scene. Dom really hit his stride with massive bangers 'Take It' in 2018 and 'San Frandisco' in 2019, his breakout hits in the U.S., which followed his first big hit down under, 'Be Randy', a collab with his friend Torren Foot, in 2017.
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With the momentum he was gaining and bigger global bookings he was getting, 2020 was looking to be a banner year for him. After making his initial debut at Coachella with a surprise set at the DoLaB stage in 2019, he was booked for the much larger Sahara and made it to the official line-up for the ill-fated Coachella 2020. Fava's fiancé had the line-up blown up, printed out and framed for him. “This is a dream gig for me, this and EDC,” Dom shares on the ride into the fest on Friday. During the pandemic, he did a few livestreams and dropped another hit, 'Pump The Brakes', in 2021. Achieving his dreams was in sight whenever things would reopen, and he held tight until summer 2021, when he was finally able to travel again for shows, thanks to Fava and a few other dance acts' managers lobbying their government to allow them out. (Australia had closed borders for much of the pandemic.)
John had his breakout moment during the pandemic in June 2020, when, after months of sending demos to a contact at Defected, they signed 'Deep End'. Before that, he'd been working as an accountant, producing and DJing on the side, until he got fired in March 2019 for spending too much time on music. It was studying accounting in college that led him to producing dance music, teaching himself Ableton instead of studying for the subject he hated. He took the firing as an opportunity to double-down on DJing, and started booking some touring gigs before the pandemic. When things locked down, he pumped out tracks with a "do or die" attitude that clearly paid off. He played some outdoor socially distanced shows when that was a thing, and began building a following on social media with his self-deprecating sense of humor, documenting the party hard side of his career. Since events started coming back more or less for real in summer 2021, both artists have been making up for lost time with busy tour schedules. And their impact on the dance scene and their trajectory towards headliner status was evident at Coachella 2022.
The Sahara tent where they both played Friday afternoon has served up dance music since Coachella began in 1999, and with the rise of EDM over a decade ago, began catering to that big room, more mainstream sound. In 2013, the fest launched the beloved house-and-techno-focused Yuma Tent, and Sahara became synonymous with EDM. (At the last Coachella in 2019, JAUZ debuted his infamous 'Baby Shark' remix during his set at the Sahara.) But it felt different this year. On Friday alone, both John and Dom served up sets rooted in deep and tech-house, and were followed by Miami rap duo City Girls, and after the sun set, Black Coffee. Both John and Dom feel that lockdown has made listeners and bookers more open to house, and they're ready to serve it up.
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They both set off a packed Sahara tent during their Friday afternoon sets, with John playing right before Dom. I interviewed each of them after their sets, while the energy was high. The Coachella livestream was on a delay, so I got to witness them watching their sets and getting reactions from their friends and fans as they tuned in—it was rather surreal for everyone.
The massive tent was packed when John got on stage—the crowd was ready to get down with him. He opened with one of his popular 2021 releases, 'Human' featuring Echoes, along with a quote from Dylan Thomas' Do not go gentle into that good night poem, into a little teaser of a remix of Marshall Jefferson's 'Move Your Body'. It felt like a mutual exchange of joy and energy between John and the crowd: he was bouncing around behind the decks, smiling-ear-to-ear at them the whole hour. While 'Deep End' didn't get a chance to tear things up in summer 2020, it's having its moment now as a staple in John's sets, and when he played it about halfway through, the audience duly went off. He also sprinkled in some unreleased tracks, which fit in effortlessly with the energy of his popular remixes and original tracks.
"If you've ever finished a race or anything like that, it's the feeling of completion, of all that hard work and lots of time spent. I played 23 songs, 21 of them were all my own. I've been making [music] over the last three years of my life, so it felt like a culmination of all my life's work into one set. And so by the end of it, it really was euphoric," John shares with me in his trailer afterwards.
"I was a small artist before the pandemic. And when the pandemic happened, I released a lot of music and really built a big following. I took advantage of that time. And now I'm a big artist. And so now to actually see all the hard work and effort from the last few years come through in these sizes of crowds, I'm like, holy shit. During the pandemic, I got millions of streams and stuff, but you can't translate that to the size of an audience. So once you actually see the size, it's like, wow, I'm actually making a difference in the scene. And it's wild, because I never thought you would see house on stages this big; it's always the side stage. So, to bring house to a stage that had this big of an audience is a dream come true."
Dom was up next, and wasted no time keeping the high energy vibe going. He served up a healthy dose of unreleased tracks, including his next single 'Miracle Maker', which he opened with, setting everyone off. His mixing was fast and furious as he presented a joyful, eclectic sampling of edits, including his remix of Da Hool's 1997 trance classic 'Meet Her at the Love Parade', J Balvin's 'In Da Ghetto', and Rufus and Chaka Khan's 'Ain't Nobody', to name a few. It was a full-circle moment when he played 'San Frandisco', which he first debuted at Coachella three years prior—and the crowd still went hard for it! He made two special edits for the set—of Elton John's 'Cold Heart' and Ye's 'I Love Kanye', a cheeky nod to the dropout headliner. Before closing with his biggest track to-date, 'Take It', he played his forthcoming remix of fellow Aussies RÜFÜS DU SOL's 'Make It Happen'.
"[The energy was] incredible. I was not expecting that many people to turn out, no way. I've been getting messages for weeks and weeks and weeks from fans being excited, so I knew there was going to be a lot of energy, but seeing the tent spilling out, I got goosebumps walking out to that crowd. And then opening with a new unreleased record ['Miracle Maker'] and seeing the reaction to a song that they haven't heard makes me really excited about the future," Dom reflects backstage after his set.
"[Finishing the set felt] like there's a weight lifted off my shoulders. I never really get nervous for shows, I think just because I've been DJing at festivals for a really long time, playing in front of 30-, 40-, 50,000 people multiple times a year. But I think the social and industry significance of an event like Coachella, and what it says about you as an artist, culturally, added the pressure. So, actually, I was pretty fucking nervous for this gig. I was triple-checking all my equipment. I had all my stuff loaded onto 12 different hard drives. Yeah, I'm not gonna lie, I was the most nervous I've been for a show for a really long time."
Once the big set and interviews are done, a celebration is in order. The Aussies are ready. But first, Dom, Fava and the content team hole up in the trailer Airdropping photos to attempt to translate a taste of the big moment to social media. Photos of a stoked Dom with the packed tent, along with clips from 'San Frandisco' and 'I Love Kanye' are captioned with: "I've been daydreaming about this moment for as long as I can remember… COACHELLA THAT WAS UNREAL."
While Dom is finishing business, his squad prepares to mobilize. His sister invites me along and we all make a pitstop at the beer garden on the way to the Yuma. As we're exiting, I hear Black Coffee go on at the Sahara and am called back. Dom was there dancing too, although I didn't see him until right after, as everyone ran into each other on the way to the Yuma. We stop at the VIP beer garden this time, partly watching Daniel Caesar's mainstage set—"We had that idea too! To do Dom TV," Dom shares, admiring Caesar's home video/VHS-inspired visuals—while the full group relishes in this moment to finally all shoot the shit together. Dom introduces me to everyone several times, and jokes about his tendency to do so, but I love it. I'm the type of person that will talk to you for a half an hour and forget to introduce myself. I feel welcomed and grateful to have new friends to rave with at Coachella, and it is clear they all mean so much to Dom. I meet two of the friends who had been traveling for 30 hours to catch his set, but got caught in Los Angeles traffic from the airport and ran to the Sahara upon arrival, only to catch his last song. The video of this sad defeat, which Dom shares with me and on his Instagram stories, is hilarious and heartbreaking. They're planning on returning to the fest for weekend two, and will join the sizeable chunk of the squad also catching his Red Rocks set on April 24. If this isn't what chosen family (and a very dope sister!) is all about, I don't know what is. After the family reunion, we all finally make it to the Yuma—the laser-filled club in the middle of Coachella—for the last bit of The Martinez Brothers' set. We run into more Aussies on the dancefloor, of course.
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All of the friends ask me how I know Dom and are genuinely interested in me and this story. One of the friends explains that he stays with them in Melbourne when he's back home, and how they can usually find him chilling on the couch. "We love having him there. He's really a chill guy," she tells me. Dom literally lives out of a carry-on these days, after recently getting rid of his home. Maximizing his time in the desert, he drove out to Las Vegas on Saturday to play the Mirage, making it back to Palm Springs right before his Day Club set. The squad also rolled through for the Day Club, of course. It is clear that his friends, including his team, are the people that keep him grounded while he's living his go-go-go travelling DJ life; they are his well-stocked mobile home.
John's home base is a spartan room in Chicago, where he decompresses and religiously pumps out new bangers when he's not living out of his suitcase named Sexy Samantha. It is here where he finds balance and focus, the yin to the yang of his "my life is a bender" days on the road. His Coachella crew is leaner, but also has his back, and is often visible scanning the scene to make sure things are in order. John showed up at Coachella looking fly in a black and white floral short-sleeve button-down shirt with silver necklaces. Soon after, another guy—one half of Lost Kings wearing a shirt, the act DJing Sahara right before him—arrived wearing the same shirt. The guy who styled John noticed and literally gave him the shirt off his back. This one, a vintage rainbow-hued Planet Hollywood short-sleeve button down, actually worked even better, reflecting John's outgoing, party-ready vibe. When you have a reliable crew around you, the party will always keep going smoothly.
The dynamic duo reunited on Sunday for another long day of party-starting, beginning at the Hilton Palm Springs Day Club pool party they were headlining. Since the setting was more intimate than the massive Sahara, I noticed their fans were split pretty equally with men and women, and both have a strong contingent of female admirers. While John was on the decks, one of these admirers and her friend found their way into the artist area. Her enthusiasm for every track he laid down was infectious, as she hopped around the couches nearest the decks.
Later on, during Dom's set, a girl with a sign reading "Dom Daddy" in hand-painted gold sparkly letters danced front and center. Another girl in the front waves an Australian flag, eventually sharing a sweet moment after his set discussing what part of the continent they're both from and how she's been going to his shows for years. Wherever they are, Aussies always find and support each other. Dom also has plenty of thirstier admirers. I can't get over one of the videos he showed me that he was tagged in over the weekend, with a girl at Coachella pouring a bottle of water over her bikini-clad chest. I mean, it did get our attention. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this fun-loving squad?
By 6:00PM, the pool party is over and it's time for both squads to mobilize back to the festival for their surprise closing set at the DoLaB, which they had just announced to their fans that afternoon. I am amazed that anyone at this three-day marathon in the desert has any will left to party, but the energy and excitement Dom and John serve up during their hour-and-a-half B2B is matched and amplified by everyone raving with them. Not only is the stage sardined with bodies made up of the Aussies and others who wouldn't dare just sit backstage while such heaters were being played, the dancefloor was impressively full and captivated, especially considering their timeslot coincided with Swedish House Mafia and The Weeknd's headline set. As John said in said in a hilarious video he posted about the B2B—borrowing one of Dom's favorite words, "We're going a little turbo tonight." They started out with some familiar tunes from the weekend, but quickly veered left and served up techno edits.
As midnight strikes, the stages around the fest wrap up. The long, lit weekend is finally over, almost. It's just about time to get some much-needed rest, especially for the guys and their crews, who have to do it all over on Friday for weekend two. And, really, this is just the beginning—of festival season and a busy summer that will see them set things off around Europe and beyond. But they're not quite ready for the party to end. Behind the DoLaB stage, Dom plays a renegade disco set for the squad to celebrate a little longer before they begin to split off. While all I've wanted all weekend is to get a proper night's sleep, I'm bummed this joyful crew is disbanding. Yet I am reassured by the fact that wherever Dom Dolla is, there's at least a few more Aussies ready to get the dancefloor going.
On Tuesday, less than 48 hours after part one of the Coachella marathon ended, I reconnect with John and Dom over Zoom, all of us more refreshed. John slept 18 hours the night before, and Dom and his squad had a massive feast at the Palm Springs Airbnb they're chilling in until things resume on Friday. The vibe between Dom and John, even through their screens, is easy and relaxed, like two long-time friends hanging out. They bounce off each other's thoughts and agree with each other, and a couple times even offer "no, you go first" after I ask a question.
When I ask how the weekend was for them, John goes first: "It exceeded my expectations. We weren't even planning on closing out the festival together, until, I think Friday I got the text from my agent that said we were gonna do that. So obviously, I was planning on the Sahara being massive, and that was, but I didn't expect the closing party to be as crazy as that was too. [That was] my first time ever going to Coachella and it was fucking awesome."
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"That was my third or fourth Coachella I've attended, and I played the DoLaB a few years ago. In terms of my expectations, it absolutely smashed it out of the park," Dom added. "The DoLaB set at the end felt like a really, really high-energy party. And obviously, John and I just read the room and were bouncing off each other's vibe, in terms of what we were gonna play. And we ended up playing mostly techno edits for 90 minutes. It was wild. This has definitely been one of the best weekends of my life, for sure."
"It was such a different vibe, wasn't it?" Dom continues. "The first [set at Sahara], you've gotta plan things, visuals you've created specifically for the festival; you've got just under 60 minutes to showcase everything you are as an artist, to your fans that have come to see you for the first time. And then the DoLaB just felt off the cuff, more a testament to what John and I are about as artists, DJs who love reading the room and really entertaining everyone and creating a moment right then and there based on what's happening, as opposed to showcasing what you're about. So it was a pretty stark contrast, but I think they complemented each other really well."
Fans will be excited to know Dom and John are working on two collabs together right now, one which John predicts will be a "rave bomb." Dom is also working on wrapping up his debut album. "I've got so many songs that I've written that I haven't figured out what production direction to take, with so many amazing vocalists. When that all comes together, production-wise, I'm excited to get a really cohesive body of work out, which doesn't happen that often in dance music, releasing albums, but it's an aspiration that I've had for a really long time." They'll also both be dropping the unreleased tracks they each played in the coming months.
In March, John announced his Off The Grid record label and event brand. Some of the unreleased tracks he dropped during the weekend will be his first releases on it. "For me, throwing my own events is the big thing right now. I'm still always gonna do clubs, but I'm so particular with what the sound is gonna be like and the vibe and all that. It's a big thing to take on and I'm expanding my team and everything. It's pretty ambitious, but that's something I want to take to the next level," John explains.
If there's one key takeaway from my time with John Summit and Dom Dolla, it's that they're both primed to go full turbo for the rest of 2022.
Ana Monroy Yglesias is a freelance journalist, follow her on Twitter