Two Friends’ Eli Sones discusses how DJs like Diplo and Avicii changed the dance music genre

Eli Sones, right, alongside Matthew Halper, together are Two Friends. 
Eli Sones, right, alongside Matthew Halper, together are Two Friends.  Photo Credit: 97claystreetgreenpoint/George Manatos

Collaboration is alchemy. To find someone to work with who mirrors your sensibilities, yet brings a fresh idea to a project, can turn standard work into gold. For modern dance music producers, this process must be repeated consistently in order to survive.

That’s certainly true for Two Friends, the DJ duo of Eli Sones and Matt Halper. They write most of their songs, but their biggest streaming hits came together in collaboration with other artists, like progressive pop duo Cosmos & Creature and singer Kevin Writer.

amNewYork caught up Sones before Two Friends’ first, as he called it, “show show” (rather than a nightclub performance) at Irving Plaza to talk about that alchemy, both found with people and with other people’s songs.

What do you look or in a collaborator?

The No. 1 thing is some sort of memorable or unique quality to their voice or writing style, where they can stand out from a ton of music out there. One way is we get sent a playlist of songs, of demos. Matt and I, we like to write our own songs, but even if it’s something where we don’t want to take somebody’s song, it can be like, “wow that person’s voice is so cool,” or “their writing style is so cool.” Maybe we’re not going to be doing that particular song, but we want to get them over to the studio. Or, sometimes we hear a featured vocalist on a friend’s song.

Your remixes attract almost as much attention as your original songs. What makes you hear a song and say, “I want to play with that one.”

There’s not really a formula — we’ve kind of gone all different ways — but some of the times, it’s been a throwback song, a nostalgic song from growing up that we know our generation loves, like the “Mr. Brightside” remix we have, or “I Miss You” by Blink 182. It’s tricky: there’s a lot of people [who] are probably not going to be too excited with you tampering with a song they consider already great. And we totally agree with that too! So, we try to walk the line where we keep the parts that made it so special in the first place, then put a classy new twist on it. Other times, there’s a more current song, where we’re literally in the car listening to the radio, and “iSpy” by Kyle comes on, and we’re just like, “this song is so good — maybe we could do something cool.” Next thing you know, we start messing around, and we have our trumpet guy mess around with some melodies, and all of a sudden, we’re working on an “iSpy” remix. And sometimes people send us requests, and if it resonates for us, we’ll dive in.

Who is someone you admire in terms of their ability to collaborate and get the best out of artists?

Someone would be David Guetta, in terms of collaborating and making original songs. People like him, people like Zedd, people like Avicii, like Diplo and Major Lazer, what they did was completely, whether it was intentional or not, the barriers of genres over the past five years have really come down. People are not as concerned anymore or being like “I only listen to this subgenre of dance music.” And pop music used to be a little more predictable, and now there are all sorts of cool collaborations. I think that’s something that inspired us, and opened a lot of doors for us, where we could get exposed to huge new audiences that otherwise may not have been as open to exploring dance music.

IF YOU GO: Two Friends perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, irvingplaza.com, $24.

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