More than half a decade into his career, Australian producer Golden Features has well-and-truly established himself as one of the country’s premier electronic acts amassing over 120 million global streams, one platinum and four gold records to his name. Over the years Tom Stell’s musical evolution has seen the producer push boundaries in aesthetic and sound revealing more of himself to fans and slowly unmasking himself in the process.
Stell instantly became a festival and airwave staple with his debut EP, driven by the success of the Nicole Millar-featuring ‘Tell Me’. Never one to rely on a formula, he developed his sound further on the following EP XXIV which housed two of his biggest songs ‘Telescope’ with K. Flay and ‘No One’ with Thelma Plum. That was only to be topped by standalone drop ‘Wolfie’ featuring Julia Stone, a track that has since had over 20 million streams.
Stell had already become a firm favourite in his home country, selling out his 2015 national tour, but the rest of the world was catching. He drew praise from the likes of electronic music heavyweights like Porter Robinson before taking his shows to the US. He played large-scale electronic music festivals including HARD Summer and Holy Ship.
The debut album was Stell’s next challenge and it’s one that he painstakingly crafted. SECT arrived in 2018, almost two years after his previous release, and showcased an immersive sound that emphasised the journey rather than singular destinations.
“I’m never going to pander,” says Stell, adding, “SECT was an exercise in not being tied down to one thing or one sound.” He wanted the record to showcase a purposeful evolution and the result was a “concept record” that needed to be devoured whole rather than in chunks; a rarity in modern dance music. The album reached #1 on the iTunes Chart and also nabbed the coveted triple j feature album.
With the debut album on hand, he developed a live show that took the Golden Features experience even higher. The SECT headline tour saw him sell over 15,000 tickets across six shows. He also closed out the 2018/2019 edition of Falls Festival with a triumphant victory lap that left a lasting impression. SECT lent itself to the live arena as Stell took the opportunity to take fans on a trip through dark, pulsating beats and dizzying experimentation. “The sets need to flow like an opera,” he says. “It needs sections that are down-beat. It needs to flow and take you on a journey.”
The album was a personal work that saw Stell allow very few collaborators into his world. It had just one featured vocalist with the producer admitting he’s, “very particular about how things are done.” A drive to keep creating music that sounds new, however, has seen him enter a collaborative stage of his career that has already resulted in projects with The Presets and ODESZA plus a production credit on Katy Perry’s 2017 record Witness.
“Before [The Presets] I’d never really worked with anyone else for an extended period of time,” he says, speaking about 2019 EP Raka. The project featured some of Stell’s boldest production to date matching the vocal energy of Julian Hamilton with vibrant, all-encompassing beats. Simultaneously Stell was embracing more collaborative work, this time however with dynamic US electronic duo Odesza.
The two acts had been on the festival circuit together a few times, notably “getting slowly seduced by each other’s music,” on Groovin The Moo in 2016. After ODESZA played Laneway Festival in 2018, however, they rented an isolated house together in New South Wales and started aimlessly working on material.
As always, Stell is already looking ahead to his next creative turn. He has been reinvigorated once again by time immersing himself in the Berlin techno scene. There’s a clear direction for what he wants to do yet, not that anybody will be able to guess it.
“You lose scope of your work the more you work on it,” Stell says. “I’m all about getting the ideas down quick...getting the heart of the song in it and then going in to refine the song until it shines.”
Stell’s next move is a mystery until it’s unveiled but there’s one thing we know for sure. He’s always looking for a detour into the next unexplored space of electronic music.