“I always wanted something like that, something that no one else could offer.”
Life on tour is repetitive in a way many never consider. While the cities and people change with each passing day, the schedule largely remains the same.
Substream contacts Frédérik Durand—better known as Snails—in early December, he’s busy filling time on the road with interviews. “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” he explains just after taking our call. “My last conversation ran a little long, but over[all] it’s a pretty normal day. We’re on the road right now, taking ‘The Shell’ tour all over.”
The last few months have been a whirlwind for Durand, who has been a fixture of the electronic music scene since 2012. In addition to embarking on his largest headlining run to date, the largely sold out ‘Shell’ tour, Durand released a new studio album titled The Shell. The album is his first proper record, featuring 12 tracks aimed at further bringing his own “vomit step” sound to the masses.
“It has been a very busy year,” Durand says with a distinct sense of joy in his voice. “But I wouldn’t change any of it if I could. So many great things have been happening, and I feel there are more to come. The people have been so great this year, and they seem to be getting crazier with every show I play. I cannot wait to see what comes next.”
Before detailing his current tour, Durand cannot help reflecting on his recent appearance at Colorado’s legendary Red Rocks music venue in early October. “To perform in that space is always an honor,” Durand begins. “But headlining is something else altogether. To think we sold it out is still so crazy to me. There is something so special about that place, and I think about it often. Maybe one day we can return, but if not, I am happy we had the opportunity.”
Explaining Snails and his community of fans—known as the Vomit Squad—to anyone unfamiliar with the heavier side of electronic music can be a challenge. His music has the ability to make people from all walks of life feel more alive than ever, but it can also make people question whether or not the Transformers are fighting the Decepticons somewhere nearby. Some have even called it “next level dubstep,” but Durand prefers to shy away from the idea of describing what he does in detail. To him, he’s just being himself, and that apparent disregard for how others may feel about his music is one of the many things that appeal to Durand’s audience. “It’s incredibly hard to tell people what to expect when they have never seen the show or heard my music,” Durand says. “But in some ways, I think, that is a good thing.”
Durand claims he began working on his ‘Shell’ tour in the early months of 2017. “I knew it was going to be something big,” he explains. “And I think we pulled it off.” The ‘it’ being referred to here is an incredibly elaborate stage production that features numerous lights strewn about the stage that makes the whole thing feel like a menacing presence encroaching on the audience, over 150k watts of PK Sound (more than enough to make the bones in your chest rattle), and—as part of the grand finale—an inflatable snail that bursts from the middle of the stage right when the audience least expects it. “I always wanted something like that,” Durand explains. “Something that no one else could offer. Everyone has lights and smoke, but you have to go to my show to see the snail!”
The conversation briefly moves to The Shell, the debut album that Durand was on the road to support. “I worked very hard on this release,” Durand explains before beginning to tell a story about how he partnered with American rapper Waka Flocka Flame on the track “WFSU” (an acronym meaning “We Fck Sht Up”). Durand is 30 seconds into the story before he stops to ask when and where Substream will be seeing him live. Our response, The Intersection in Grand Rapids on December 10, excites him in such a way that he abandons his story to focus on the information he’s just received. “Do you know Chad Verwey,” he asks, “the man behind the show? That’s my best friend. Well, one of my best friends. He took a chance on me and my music before a lot of people cared. That night is going to be unlike any other. You better be ready to have a good time, okay?”
When the big night in Grand Rapids finally comes, the hype Durand spoke of on the phone proves to be no lie. Fans are lined up around the block to get in despite the fact that the temperature has fallen below freezing, and not one of them seems to care. Walking past those waiting to get inside, a plethora of Snails-inspired tattoos are spotted, decorating the flesh of people from all walks of life. Some in line are sharing stories of shows they recently attended, including one young couple who made the 20-plus hour drive from Michigan to Red Rocks just two months prior. “We cannot f*cking wait for tonight,” one-half of the pair exclaims. “This is going to be the best night of our lives!”
The energy inside is no different. As the first act takes the stage, the floor slowly fills with audience members who are excited to dance and break loose from reality. The heavy bass and hypnotic synth help to alleviate whatever worries one may have brought in with them, which in turn makes it possible for everyone to shake off the stresses of the world beyond the venue doors so that they might focus on the escapism at hand. The cold outside is quickly replaced by the kind of sweat-inducing heat that can only be produced when a thousand-plus people throw away their cares and begin dancing as if no one is watching. It’s a beautiful moment fueled by loud music and strong alcohol that could easily go awry if even one or two people made poor decisions, but because of the community Durand has cultivated amongst his fans, it never feels anything less than positive. Here, in this space, everyone is equal.
Those able to walk past the barricades find Durand in a similar position as those awaiting his performance. He begins the night by embracing friends as they arrive and handing them shots (which, when around Durand, means consuming an entire fifth –or as much of it as you can handle before it overflows from your mouth and runs down your clothing—in a single drink). If someone knocks a bottle off his green room table, even an empty one, they must take a “bird shot” that is delivered by Durand spitting a mouthful of liquor into the guilty party’s mouth. It’s the kind of thing that might make those with weak stomachs cringe, but for everyone else, it’s a sign that tonight is all about fun. Much like his music, Durand wants everyone to have a good time that is free from worries over whether or not they’ll feel good in the morning. In fact when one person tries to drive home at the end of the night, Durand insists they stay by playfully body slamming that person on a couch in the back room. Everyone laughs and no one is injured, nor does anyone attempt to drive home drunk. A few are eventually carried out and placed into Ubers driven by people who can be seen praying to whatever higher power they believe in that their passenger does not get sick, and even then, Durand insists he be sent a message so he knows they made home safe. He doesn’t have to do these things, but he does because he sincerely cares about the people who support him.
As more than one fan has told us in the process of making this story, the vomit squad looks after one another. Always.
A version of this interview ran in the current print issue of Substream Magazine