The Year Of Dom Dolla: Melb Muso Reflects On 'Rocket Ship' Career

29 June 2023 | 12:25 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"I sit down and think 'What do I aspire to do next?' And I honestly haven't really landed on it because I don't know what's possible."

Dom Dolla

Dom Dolla (Source: donslens)

Australia's hottest DJ/producer Dom Dolla (aka Dominic Matheson) has pulled off his biggest coup. 

He's facilitated Nelly Furtado's triumphant comeback, the pair collaborating on the electro banger Eat Your Man – a meta throwback to her 2000s hits I'm Like A Bird, Promiscuous and Maneater

Even the pop icon's past super-producer is a fan. "She actually messaged me this morning, saying she showed Timbaland Eat Your Man and he loves it!" Matheson flexes.

Matheson is currently based in Los Angeles, but he's back home on a fly-by visit. "I've literally come home for some press and bits and pieces," he says. 

Originally, Matheson was meant to have just two days after arriving from Ibiza. "I was like, 'That's insane!'" And so he extended his stay, first checking in on loved ones in Melbourne, then heading to Sydney. 

Alas, the superstar has struggled to acclimatise to the Antipodean winter. "Sydney's colder – I think it's six degrees or something here at the moment. I'm underdressed!" 

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For a Monday morning, Matheson is cheerful, joking that a Sony Music rep has him "jacked up on cappuccinos." Though chatty, he often finishes his answers with a quizzically laidback "so…" Regardless, Matheson will return in December to play his biggest-ever hometown shows at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl - which sold out in five minutes.

Despite emerging as a streaming phenomenon with the anthems Take It, San Frandisco and Rhyme Dust, Matheson still can't fathom why Furtado sought him out. 

"It was just pretty incredible," he rhapsodises. 

"I grew up listening to her music – like me and my younger sister used to listen to her on repeat as a kid. Her quirky melodies and stuff I think had a pretty big influence on me."

Furtado premiered as a boho star in 2000 with Whoa, Nelly!, hatching the folksy I'm Like A Bird

The Portuguese-Canadian had her greatest success teaming with Timbaland for 2006's innovative hip-hop soul – and sexually empowered – Loose (She even visited Australia on a promo tour.) 

In later years, Furtado has kept low-key, last releasing 2017's indie The Ride. As such, her exclusively, and seemingly randomly, joining summer's Beyond The Valley (BTV) festival in regional Victoria caused social media mayhem.

It was because of BTV that Matheson and Furtado connected – the DJ headlining annually. Curious about the billed acts, Furtado played Matheson's music and "apparently was really into it." 

Her management reached out, he recalls. "I was like, 'Whoa, this is pretty wild.'" Furtado proposed they work together. "We started chatting and basically developed a WhatsApp friendship; got along like a house on fire."

In another surprise for fans, Furtado accompanied Matheson during his BTV set on New Year's Eve – the two performing a mash-up of Loose's Say It Right and Bicep's Glue that had trended on TikTok. 

"The first time we'd met in person was at the festival and, since then, we really hit it off," he says. "I’ve been house-sitting for her in LA and helping her with a bunch of her upcoming pop records." 

"I think we were in Philadelphia in February, working on a bunch of her stuff, and she turned to me and she's like, 'I really wanna be on a Dom Dolla club tune.' I was like, 'Whoa, okay, this is crazy.' And that record we finished so fast and that ended up being Eat Your Man."

"We kind of delved into it a bit and had some pretty deep conversations. We feel like the reason she's into my music is 'cause I listened to her so much growing up and that sort of influenced my sound… So it's this really cool full-circle moment. So, yeah, the whole thing's bizarre and quite surreal."

Oddly, the eclectic Furtado hadn't previously ventured into EDM. 

In 2002, the UK DJ Paul Oakenfold featured her on a track with Tricky that was wonky downtempo over dance. But Furtado has long approved credible remixes.

In 2021 Germany's Quarterhead remixed her fado ballad All Good Things (Come To An End). Still, Matheson was astonished that Furtado wanted to cut house with her "heritage in pop."

 "It can kinda be a bit risky delving into stuff that's sort of got more of a left-of-center club house/techno appeal – and especially it being her first release back after not releasing music for so many years. But I really admire her creativity and her aspiration just to do different things." 

Matheson is unsure if Furtado intends to include any of their other collabs on an album, but describes them as "absolute bangers".

Like Furtado, Matheson had a bicultural upbringing, being born in Manila – Dad an architect. He was a toddler when the family moved to Darwin, before settling in Melbourne (he graduated from Kew High School).

 Matheson was exposed to house as a kid via Basement Jaxx's Rooty, gifted by his holidaying Mum (she thought he'd appreciate the cover). Matheson began DJing in his teens, and threw parties with mates, but pursued graphic design, working at Mushroom Records. Meanwhile, he eased into production, honing a distinct tech-house style. 

In 2015, the year he resolved to quit his day job, Matheson issued the groovy Define with Go Freek via Sydney's Sweat It Out label – the track synced for the Hollywood EDM flick We Are Your Friends starring Zac Efron

In 2017, Matheson had a domestic hit, Be Randy, with Torren Foot – his rise temporarily halted as he overcame tinnitus from an ear infection. 

But it was 2018's Take It that assured the DJ's global breakout. Months after playing his first Coachella in 2019, Matheson circulated San Frandisco (with spoken word courtesy of veteran DJ Justin Martin), winning an ARIA for 'Best Dance Release' and polling in triple j's Hottest 100. 

The wider industry recognised his crossover potential, Matheson remixing Dua Lipa's Don't Start Now .

Isolating with his folks in Melbourne early in the pandemic, Matheson has since travelled the world – the DJ circuit rebuilding fast. 

"The lifestyle is pretty non-stop," he sighs. "You're always in a different country or always in a different place." Leaving lockdown, Matheson also determined to relocate to the US, choosing LA over New York because "it's where all the songwriting sessions happen; it's where all my friends live." 

The itinerant DJ finally found his own pad this year – but has "spent eight days there in total." However, he appreciates that security. 

"I felt some faint layer of anxiety disappear, knowing that I have somewhere that I can call 'home'," Matheson reveals. "That was really nice. Picking out furniture and artwork and stuff – like I'm excited to go home and check it out."

And 2023 is shaping up to be Matheson's year. In March he aired Rhyme Dust, a throbbing collab with legendary Detroiter Marc "MK" Kinchen that went viral after Matheson snuck it into his Selected Sessions livestream from a Belgrade rooftop. 

Matheson considers Kinchen a friend, having already remixed his One Night with Sonny Fodera. "He's such a chill dude." The US deep houser has enthralled him with "some wild stories" – like how when recording with Snoop Dogg at the height off the '90s bicoastal rap war, he was fitted out for a bulletproof vest.

When asking Matheson whether a Calvin Harris-mode producer album is next in his gameplan and he's non-committal. 

"I'm sitting on a lot of music and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it all. I think an album's probably like a natural progression. [But] I'm not sure when it'll be. I don't think it's in the immediate future. I'm kind of enjoying writing, putting out single by single and seeing if people enjoy it," he mused. 

"I'm just enjoying being creative and sort of following the natural trajectory of what's happening and enjoying the ride. So I'm in no rush for an album. When it comes out, I think it'll be pretty special. I'm excited to show people what I'm capable of." 

Matheson is ambitious for his art, adding, "My aspirations are probably continuing writing club music as 'Dom Dolla' that has potential to grow outside of the club world and expand beyond house and techno," he speculates, citing Strangers, an aerial track with Sydney indie-dance band Mansionair. Similarly to Basement Jaxx, he's into hybridisation.

Since working with Furtado, Matheson has been keen to further expand into pop – particularly producing other artists. 

"It just keeps me engaged and keeps me interested." He contemplates occasionally having the freedom to not heed his brand, yet Matheson's main obstacle vocationally is logistical.

 "My tour schedule at the moment is so wild that I barely have time to scratch myself, let alone get into the studio and help other people with their stuff."

Indeed, as a DJ, Matheson is now in the same league as those Aussies NERVO, Timmy Trumpet and Alison Wonderland. 

"I've smashed, obliterated, my touring goals," he says, aghast. "When I first started, my goal was to host my own show at [the] Prince Bandroom in Melbourne, which was like 800 people. Now we've sold 24,000 tickets in Melbourne. So I'm just honestly holding on for dear life to the rocket ship, really."

Post-COVID, EDM is surging – Coachella headliners Fred Again.., Skrillex and Four Tet a cultural watershed, and Beyoncé presently touring an arena concert behind her house album RENAISSANCE.

So far this year, Matheson has played twin nights at Colorado's famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, while also DJing back-to-back with Chicago's John Summit at Detroit's prestigious Movement Electronic Music Festival

"It's only in the past few weeks where I've had to kind of sit down and think 'What do I aspire to do next?' And I honestly haven't really landed on it because I don't know what's possible."

Matheson admits to feeling pressure in a competitive scene. "I suppose dance music is now more popular than ever, so even agents and promoters around the world are like, 'Wait, what is possible? What can we do? How big can we make this?'" But he's mindful of pacing himself – and "not getting too caught up."

Matheson believes that the industry has learned the importance of self-care following Avicii's tragic passing in 2018 – hence his changing those flight plans. 

"I'm really lucky because I'm surrounded by an amazing team," he says. 

"I've been really, really picky about who I work with. My management, tour managers, marketing, production – everyone I surround myself with is really sort of emotionally intelligent and switched-on. So everyone's on the look-out for each other at any given point. And, obviously, we wanna be here for a long time. I can see my career lasting hopefully decades. So sleep is probably paramount, wearing earplugs, not drinking too many beers – unless absolutely necessary and when your family and friends rock up at the show!" he laughs.

Matheson is now also selective about bookings, saying, "This year the focus has been on playing shows that are more significant, rather than just saying 'yes' to everything – which a lot of the time you feel like you have to do when you're on the come-up."

Linking with Furtado isn't the only "full circle moment" for Matheson lately. His dates at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl shattered the record for the venue's fastest-selling. "It was honestly like a life goal of mine," he reiterates. 

In fact, Matheson felt apprehensive about headlining The Bowl. When told of the response, he was in disbelief – a mate filming the "emotional experience" in Toronto.

"You can see me just losing the plot," Matheson laughs. He posted the video on Instagram – and, again surreally, was congratulated by followers such as Kaskade, Sophia Bush and Dylan Alcott.

A nostalgic Matheson recounts numerous events at The Bowl he's attended as a punter, from Parklife to Jack Johnson

Ironically, Matheson missed arguably the most iconic dance production: Daft Punk's 2007 Alive spectacular. He was still in school and, hanging at a friend's house party in Camberwell, the underage crew discussed trying to jump the fence. 

"I was like, 'Ah, nah, I'm having a pretty good time here,'" the sensible Matheson laughs. "Obviously, everyone anticipated they'd be touring forever. I was like, 'I'll go when they come back' – and obviously they never came back. It's my probably one big regret."

Back to the future, Matheson has a furtive scheme for his shows, with talk of "surprise guests". "It's gonna be wild," he enthuses. 

"Yeah – I get goosebumps thinking about it."