X Games Aspen: Louis the Child
Robby Hauldren and Freddy Kennett began making music together when they were barely teenagers. The Chicago-based duo started posting remixes and original EDM tracks on Soundcloud, and built some underground buzz around the city. Their 2015 breakout hit as Louis the Child, “It’s Strange,” came out when Hauldren was a freshman at the University of Southern California and Kennett was still in high school.
A few years later, they’re one of the hottest acts in pop music, riding on the success of last year’s EP “Kids at Play,” and headlining X Games Aspen this weekend before heading overseas on their second European tour.
The duo’s sunny, uplifting sound was born out of teenage angst. But rather than wallow in the darkness, Hauldren and Kennett sought to find light and hope in their genre-hopping style.
“A lot of the music I was making then was stress relief and healing for myself,” Kennett, 21, explained of those early days in a recent phone interview. “And then that helped to reach people, because they felt that healing.”
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The duo has built on that idea to form a community around their sound and their visually spectacular shows.
“It’s turned into more than ourselves — trying to connect people, create happy moments, make it not about me and Robby but about what kinds of connections we can make with other people,” Kennett added, “and how we can help them realize what is making them happy and what is making them sad.”
Their melodic signature is a bright, distorted synthesizer sound that they harness to uplifting effect, making feel-good music that rejects the aggressive strand of EDM that was dominating the genre until the relatively recent emergence of tropical house and more cheerful Generation Z producers like Hauldren and Kennett.
The duo will headline a sold-out show at the X Games outdoor venue at Buttermilk Ski Area on Saturday afternoon, followed by a concert at Belly Up Aspen on Sunday night. It’s the duo’s first time playing Aspen, though they’ve already played Denver, Boulder and last summer sold out Red Rocks Amphitheatre (they’ll return there July 11).
One testament to their soaring popularity: Saturday’s show marks the first time that X Games has sold out an afternoon show in its five years of concerts at the Buttermilk venue (a slot previously filled by the likes of Method Man & Redman, Anderson .Paak and Snoop Dogg).
“They embody the spirit and mentality of this young X Games crowd,” ESPN’s music host Hannah Rad said on the X Games preview show. “They cater to the college audience, to a young, athletic, nimbly minded digital-age kind of kid.”
The pair grew up watching X Games on TV as kids. Kennett was a skater who was glued to the summertime X Games competitions. Hauldren, 22, is also a lifetime fan.
“It’s always so much fun to watch. These guys are so talented.”
Louis the Child is coming off of an explosive 2018 that included the release of the nine-song EP “Kids at Play” and saw their “Better Not” collaboration with the vocalist Wafia become one of the biggest hits of the year. The track has racked up more than 86 million streams on Spotify, and seven other songs from the record have stream totals in the tens of millions.
“It feels wild,” “Hauldren said of their stratospheric ascent in pop music. “We’ve accomplished a lot of things we’ve dreamt of accomplishing. At the same time, we understand that this is another building block to getting where we want to be. … It’s really awesome, but we’re everyday grinding to make better music and keep delivering on that level.”
They’re still growing and learning as musicians.
“We want to keep making new stuff and keep doing instruments and keep adding new flavors,” Kennett said. “To keep doing what we’re doing and to expand on it.”
Hauldren and Kennett have a gift for wrapping their multi-layered productions around a diverse array of vocalists and styles, whether it’s collaborating with the rapper Joey Purp (“Shake Something”) or with singers like K.Flay (“It’s Strange”) and Wafia (“Better Not”) or Boulder’s own Big Gigantic with NoMBe (“Save Me From Myself’).
“We like to work with people where you listen to it and you feel that you’ve known them for your whole life,” Hauldren said.
Kennett said he’s recently been digging back into indie rock bands he listened to as a kid like Modest Mouse, Radiohead and the Postal Service, which has him working on new tracks in what he called an “indie/pretty vibe.”
Their next big goal is to make a full-length album, on which they’re planning to sing their own vocals on more tracks, while infusing yet more genres into their work.
Both members of Louis the Child have chops as musicians outside of the digital realm — as kids they trained in jazz and classical and between them learned guitar, drums and piano. They’re now aiming to make more jazz- and rock-based songs, melding them with the sounds of future bass and house.
“There are so many cool types of music that you can really make mixes of all of them,” Kennett said. “Like a jazz-house song, an indie-house song. … We get tired of doing the same thing over and over again. Every time we try something new that we’ve never tried before, something new ends up coming out of it.”
Saturday’s sell-out X Games crowd should expect to hear a lot of new Louis the Child material. Hauldren and Kennett, while preparing for the Aspen shows and the overseas tour, dug through their catalog of unreleased tracks and song ideas and drops and they prepared them for live performance.
“The show has a lot of new stuff that people have never heard,” Hauldren said. “We remixed a few songs that people have never heard. And it’s more Louis the Child music than we’ve ever played before in our shows.”
Other than just a few remixes of other artists’ songs, the set is all originals. The pair calls it the purest version of Louis the Child they’ve brought to the stage.
“It feels the most like us and what we want to represent as us to people,” Hauldren said.
They’ve also recently polished new video content and a fresh visual scheme for their Aspen shows, which they create out of a collaborative process with a team of filmmakers and designers.
For Sunday’s performance at Belly Up, they’re preparing a completely different set to match the downtown club’s intimate vibe.
“I’m really excited to play Belly Up, in a smaller room, on the Sunday of X Games when people are just going to go and have fun,” Hauldren said. “I’m excited to play two totally different shows in two totally different environments on back-to-back days.”
Louis the Child is on the X Games bill with Lil Wayne, The Chainsmokers and Kygo. They’ve shared festival stages with Kygo and have toured with The Chainsmokers. But the legend of Lil Wayne is looming over everyone this weekend.
“It’s crazy for me to be on the same bill as Lil Wayne,” Hauldren said. “I remember being in middle school, listening to ‘Tha Carter 3.’”
They played another festival with him last summer, which left Louis the Child uncharacteristically awed.
“I remember him walking off stage. It was the most star-struck I’ve been in like three years,” Hauldren added with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Holy s—, that’s Lil Wayne!’”
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