Previously known as Sex Whales, Tal Rochman, now known as just Whales, is an electronic music producer based in Israel.
Since he began releasing under the Sex Whales moniker in 2013, he has become known for his diverse productions that cover the full spectrum of bass music, from melodic dubstep to tracks so heavy they risk injury, old school trap, anomalous glitch hop, drum & bass, chillstep, and just about everything in between. In short, the kid is extremely talented. And although his music alone stands as a testament to his abilities, what makes Whales’ success perhaps even more admirable is the struggles he’s had to overcome to get there.
Tal Rochman battles with Tourette’s syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by motor tics (involuntary sounds or movements). Onset in early childhood (but not before Tal discovered his love of music from the age of five), Tal’s struggle with Tourette’s have made not just his path to success, but his daily life, a lot more difficult than for most – and not just in obvious ways. Learning to make music digitally provided a unique escape for Tal, who struggled throughout school as a result of his disease and resulting complications.
Inspired by his story, and the growing importance of discussing mental health within our communities, we sat down with Whales for a rare (and incredibly moving) chat about his rise to fame, learning more about what he’s had to overcome and gaining an even deeper appreciation for his music.
“Essentially the more you know about life and art, the more you struggle with yourself. Everyone that is creative is gifted and cursed. And that’s beautiful.”
You began producing at the age of 8, then began Sex Whales at 13 – how did you first get into electronic music and production?
I always liked music. My parents used to listen to a lot of music. I always used to build dances, and little “shows” of me dancing and singing when I was like 5 or 6. Just doing kid stuff, lol. But I did have a great connection to sounds. Everyone that knows me from my childhood knows that music always been a part of me. It’s funny because no one in my family ever messed with arts.
When I was at school, we had a music class for a middle eastern instrument called Darbuka. It was a bit before my tics started at the age of 8. I was being really good with rhythm. They sent me out for as a part of school’s team in a musical competition and we had a 20 min show of pure rhythm. It was amazing, but at some point, my tics started to take over and once I played and broke my darbuka because I had some tics. I stopped since. I always wanted to play an instrument, many of them, and I couldn’t. That’s why I decided to ask in a game forum I was part of, if anyone knows a program to make tracks.
So, producing on a computer is a way you can make music without worrying about breaking anything – what did you start with?
One dude gave me FL Studio 8. which I’m still going with, but it’s FL Studio 20 now. Since then, I used to play with the software. It was really a game for me, discovering new stuff in the software, slowly building and developing. It took me probably two years to make an actual song. But I had fun, even before I made anything good.
For me, making music was extra hard. There were no forums, no such a thing as tutorials or pre-made preset sounds. I was going to Russian forums and looking at screen shots of VSTS and re-making the sounds by my own. A few years later, I found an Israeli forum for music production.
So where did the name Sex Whales come from?
I don’t know. I was sitting with a producer that I liked that was making dubstep, I personally was making electro-house stuff. Dubstep was really hard to make, sound design wise. I really wanted to start making bass music, and trap was also starting to rise, so I talk with him and we came up with the name Sex Whales. I didn’t even know what the word Whales meant, but I thought that it’ll be cool. After few months I released my first piece as Sex Whales, and since then I was releasing music weekly. I was having fun, trying combining genres and enjoying my time.
What was your first major break then?
I won’t forget the first time I got my music really heard, when EDM.com (Dubstep.net) took my submission after I sent them 40 tracks before that, in 2013. Them and UKF were the main source for dubstep music, and it really started to get me some fan base and one of my favourite producers EH!DE liked my track. I was a huge fan of the old melodic style he had with Panda Eyes and Spag Heddy. After he liked my track, I was so happy that I made and released another track the day later. He reposted this one and followed on SoundCloud. Two months later we released a collab together. Which really was the first boost for my career. It opened a lot of doors for me, they were small, but I was doing my best to keep save them.
What about your viral SpongeBob release?
I made that when I was 15. I couldn’t believe it got over one million plays. Because of that, I got my first international booking in Paris for a show with artists like Megalodon, Midnight Tyrannosaurus, EH!DE, D-jahsta, and also Squnto, Ivory and Samplifire which was in their beginning as well back in time. It was an amazing experience, I don’t think I even realized how crazy it was until I was like 17 and had more shows around the world.
So, what happened after that?
At September 2015, I was supposed to start my 9th grade on school. But my health didn’t allow me to keep it going. It was do or die, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even eat alone. I was having tics 24\7, I got crazy minded about my life. I couldn’t see reality. I freaked out for real. I was given so many pills that fucked my head up. I decided that I can’t keep school. My parents were there for me, and together with some hard work we got me out of school. You legally can’t leave school here, so we had to get a special release. I never left school because of music. Music saved my life. I couldn’t be anything without music. But I never left because of that.
After I left, I went to the best electronic music college in my country, and short time after that I started to work with them on stuff. It was a great experience of seeing creative people, learning about the industry. Seeing some adult people that know what they love, and not empty kids like those from School that used to bully me my whole life for basically being special and wanting more than an office job for the rest of my life. I’m glad for that I became independent at a really young age. It was hard but it made my life easier long term.
You’ve remained independent ever since. How has this impacted your career so far?
It was pain in the ass. I was a loner, I could not even communicate. No promotion budgets, all I had was bunch of friends and I was stupid enough to beg people on Facebook to help me. A lot of stuff happened because I was dumb enough to spam some people. It was the worst thing I did, but in some way, it made me worlds. All the channel promoters, show promoters, labels, artists that ever gave me a chance. It’s something I’ll appreciate forever. No matter how young, how bad I was or wasn’t. People believed in me and gave me chances. And I’m glad that I grew from that to who I am now. A lot of mistakes was made, shows without agents, no contracts, no manager to take care of pro stuff. I lost a lot because of that. But I never look back. The experience I had helped me to grow x9999 times bigger than I could ever be. And I’m thankful for every second. I was the hardest thing.
Is there a Whales Record Label in the works?
Maybe in the future, right now I want to focus on my own audience and power to be able to showcase new talent in the right way, but I am always trying to help smaller independent artists. I am very empathetic and didn’t get a lot of help getting to where I am, I grew up 100% independently so if I can help some people overcome some of those hardships, I will.
You’ve toured extensively over Europe, Canada, and China – how do the scenes there compare to the scene in your home country, Israel?
The scene here is probably the most special scene I’ve ever seen. In Israel the people are really not up for new stuff. We did have a scene in 2010-2012 when Borgore blew up, many huge acts and even Zomboy, Skism, and Flux Pavilion came here. But it stopped for a bunch of good years until guys that go by the name Bass.camp started to bring it back. They started with 50 people parties at basements for two years prob. Then I started to play with them and some other Israeli bass artists started to support and slowly they built a decent amazing community. Now? There’s more bass than we ever had in Israel. Just in the last year we had Borgore, Jauz, NGHTMARE, Barely Alive & Virtual Riot. They booked Dubloadz for October and there’s even more fun to come. I seen those guys building a scene from 0. I was there, and I also took a part. It wasn’t easy, but now it’s BOOMIN.
Last year, you were featured in a documentary on Israel TV that talked a little bit about your Tourette’s – can you tell us a little bit about this for those who aren’t familiar?
Many people think that Tourette’s is just swearing, but it’s not like that. When someone swears, he says that because he’s not used to hearing that word as much as other words.
When I met my best friend on an online forum, we managed to take my tics, like ‘fish’, for example, and he started to repeat the word a lot to make it more familiar so it stops being a tic. We make fun of it because I can’t stop saying it, he’s not making fun of me, we are both making fun of it and then I don’t notice it as much, it feels okay.
It’s not physiological, you can’t just take a pill for it. I haven’t taken a pill in 2 years but in the past I took 25 different pills for anxiety, depression, and it fucked me over, I was at 160 kg and now I’m at 90kg. I was sad, I was depressed with no reason to wake up in the morning. It isn’t something that has disappeared, but when I wake up, it’s like booting up a new PC, installing the software all over again.
When I’m not working on music, it’s really easy to get to a depressive time again, that’s why for me my music and my career distracts my mind from everything that’s bad. It’s way more than just making music, it’s about doing something that’s not the bad thing. My fight made me who I am, I had to start it all over to get better. I never imagined to be like that. Strong, happy, comfortable with myself.
What are some of the hardest things to deal with with Tourette’s?
It sucks when something tries to pull you back. I achieved so much, and sometimes I can’t even see it. People don’t even realize for how long I’ve been here. I was going on bus alone to different cities to play basements for free in my country. When I showed my management the videos, everyone freaked out. I was messing with music from such a young age, and because I’m 18 and been doing good with my career- some people think it was easy. So instead of being a 21 year old guy trying to make it and being stuck, I was uploading tons of tracks from the ages of 9-13 until I started the Sex Whales thing, and nobody gave a shit. Sex Whales was stuck as well in the first two years. Nothing comes easy, and I’m glad for that.
Also, I don’t want a career out of my Tourette’s. I don’t think people care how hard it is to make what I make, they just want the final result. It’s a market, music at the end of the day is a product. There are a lot of people who appreciate music and those are the people who care about me who will look up this interview. I don’t want to just say “aye I’m the Tourette’s dude”. But “You see? I shouldn’t be able to make it. I had all the reasons to fail. And I did manage to do some stuff. And I am willing to do way more.”
I want people to know me because of my music, not because of my story. I make every type of music because I love so many different things. I can relate to any kind of music. That’s why I think I got to be kinda known. There are many scenes that I hit. I just like my freedom, to do stuff my way. As I like it. I might be crazy sometimes, but many people like it as well.
We’re starting to see mental health issues talked about a lot more openly within the music scene, something that is hugely important – is there any advice you would give to those struggling with mental illness in our community?
We are all gifted in this community, we are all sensitive and creative and you need always to sacrifice something to have something else. I do believe that when you do music or art, you always have to give something from yourself, and that’s okay- people who are willing to reach out and express themselves in music or books or art, they are powerful enough to know that they can do more than keep themselves to themselves. All artists are just trying to be the best they can and most of the artists have some positive goals to make other people happy. Someone messing with something like art usually struggles with communication problems or anxiety or depression themselves…. But essentially the more you know about life and art, the more you struggle with yourself. Everyone that is creative is gifted and cursed. And that’s beautiful.
Amen. Anyone specific you want to give a shout out to?
I just want to thank my family, and everyone that knows they’ve helped me – you know who you are. I will never take anything for granted. Everyone that ever supported me, any fan, any friend. I appreciate it all more than you can imagine.
Also lately, after five years of being independent I joined the management of Zyon that has a killer roaster including Savant, Soltan, FWLR, Jool, HU$H and more. We are working on taking everything to the next level, with the agent Leo Corson from APA Agency. Shout out to them, too.
And finally, what can we expect to see in the future from you?
A lot of music, more label releases, getting into the bass culture.
Collabs with great acts, probably my best works of art. Crazy plans. Seriously. As well, we are working on my work visa for the US. After three years of getting probably hundreds of offers we are finally planning to get me in the US. As well, I look up for moving to the US next year alone. But honestly? I just wanna keep going. The future will do its thing. I enjoy music, I love music. I wanna keep having fun with it forever. Express myself, my emotion, my crazy. That’s who I am. I’m blessed and I’m cursed. I’m an artist.