New and emerging talent is a dime a dozen these days, especially when it comes to electronic dance music. It seems just about everyone and their grandmother claims to be a “DJ,” creating this interminable barrier of false hope and clichéd mockups that cloud the industry’s front doorstep like a ghost of gnats on a humid summer day. Every once in a while, however, new light shines through the cracks and proves itself worthy of recognition. Known for its eclectic family of skillful musicians, Skrillex’s OWSLA has illuminated the EDM scene with the genii of names like Dillon Francis, Kill Paris and Hundred Waters. In 2012 OWSLA announced the launch of its new subscription program, The Nest, pioneering a new medium for the label to share its favorite releases to its fans.
Last month, The Nest steered the spotlight over to its seventh featured artist, Durante, with the exclusive release of his debut EP, Challenger. Born in Florence, Italy, the 20-year-old University of Florida advertising major has worked diligently towards achieving his goal of becoming a recognized electronic music producer. Beginning as an intern for Grooveshark, a Gainesville-based online music streaming service, he worked under the guidance of current OWSLA label manager Blaise James.
“Before he [Blaise] was label manager at OWSLA he was head of artist relations at Grooveshark. I was lucky enough to intern in his artist relations team there, so after he moved to OWSLA, I asked him of any internship opportunities in the industry. A few days later he called me and told me that I could start interning for OWSLA the first week of school in 2013 if I wanted to. I was enthralled.” — Kevin Durante
I became aware of the young producer while living in Gainesville and had the pleasure of witnessing a few of his sets at Neon Liger, Gainesville’s esteemed EDM party host. Always impressed with his performances, I was eager to check out his debut EP when news came about of its release on The Nest. Not long after its release, I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Durante about his recent accomplishments and what initiatives he took to get to where he is today. Without further adieu, I am pleased to introduce to you one of OWSLA’s newest up-and-coming prodigies —This is Durante. He makes music.
You’re a young guy, with all of life and the world ahead of you. How and why did you choose to get into producing music?
“Music's the one thing I've always gone back to and it's always been there for me. I started playing piano at the age of 6 and that's a whole 'nother story, but I was also really good with computers growing up. When I heard of Fruity Loops in middle school, I was blown away. Like, ‘You mean I can use the computer and make music at the same time!?’ From then on I saw the entire world of recorded music differently and I haven't been able to listen to music the same.”
Do you see yourself continuing to pursue this path or do you have other plans for yourself?
“This is THE path. I really can't see myself doing anything else in life except for making music. I was originally taking really hard classes in school because my family wanted me to get a degree in something that would pay a lot, but I had to sit them down and tell them that I'm taking the easiest classes that I can so that I can spend my free time really focusing on what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Are they supportive of you making music?
“Definitely, they're probably my biggest fans [Laughs]...I'm definitely lucky to have a great support team in that area of life. At first they were really skeptic but I think I've proven myself thus far.”
So what is it that you do as an intern for OWSLA?
“I do a lot of different stuff for OWSLA. I helped set up and manage their internal file sharing system. I also set up the new demo submissions process, and I'm the one that they trust to listen to the demos. I also do a lot of graphic design work —I made the cover for Challenger, NAPT's EP [The Dockers] and even [David] Heartbreak's new EP coming out May 14 [The Foundation]. I also manage the media channels such as YouTube and Soundcloud, and pretty much anything that needs to get done! I love the vibe at OWSLA so I'll do anything to make them look good to a public audience.”
A lot of successful acts have grown out of the college scene. How have you found a balance between focusing on your studies and producing new material?
“The list of priorities goes like this — 1. Label interning 2. Producing music 3. DJing 4. Producing more music 5. School
The way I see it all I need to do is pass my classes, I firmly believe that everything else will fall in place.”
You play around with several genres/styles in this EP. Which do you most associate with yourself and your own personal taste in music?
“I wasn't trying to fall into one genre… My personal taste in music isn't anything specific, I'm a huge fan of intelligent production value and clever music theory. Those were the two driving forces of the EP.”
Which of the four tracks speaks to you the most then?
“Man, that's really hard to say [Laughs]. They're all like my little babies. I think if I had to choose one to listen to for the rest of eternity I'd pick “Crash.”
What were some of the hardest challenges you faced while making this EP?
“I think it's hard to make tracks that are different from the norm. The hardest part was finding the medium between something that's different and something that people can relate to. I was sort of worried about how it would go over but it seems like a lot of people have been enjoying it so that's definitely something to be proud of.”
Give us a breakdown of each track off the EP and what each track means to you.
“So first, there was “Challenger.” I saw a lot of new music coming out at 100 bpm like Breakbot’s remix of “Defiant Order” by Birdy Nam Nam. I had been sort of in a rut and hadn't produced music for a while but I thought I'd try my go at the tempo. “Challenger” is what came out. It was the contender track and the track that set the whole thing in motion.
Next I made “Radio,” which was my interpretation of modern techno, with a little bit of 80s and electro influence. I didn't have a vocal on it for a really long time, so it felt sort of empty. I liked it a lot, but when I found the right vocal it brought everything together.
“Take A Look” probably has the funniest story. After a long night of djing Neon Liger and hanging with my friends in Vass, I came home to a blank slate in Ableton. I wanted to make a deep house track, so I made the bass sound first. After playing around a bit I came up with the main melody and bassline of the track— all while inebriated. I still have no idea how I did that.
Lastly, “Crash” was my closing, artistic piece. It's about this near death experience I had in high school. I was driving a car, looking at oncoming traffic (attention deficit life) and when I looked forward there was a giant, black Ford F150. I was able to hit the brakes in time and come out relatively unscathed. If I had hit them any later I'd be under that truck. The weirdest part of the story is a week before I had a dream it would happen— same black truck, same instance and everything. It was just a normal car crash but it's something that's stuck with me over the years.
…The craziest part is that all of Challenger was made in 2013, except for some of the melody lines in “Crash.”
Has OWSLA given you the freedom to produce music to your liking or is there some sort of standard they expect you to meet?
“I started producing the album when I was working for them, being around the music really helped me come into my own as a musician… I made Challenger and we played it in the office, Tim (Sonny's manager) was like, "Who's this? It's got a good groove." That's when I knew I was onto something.
Even so, there's always a standard in music, especially nowadays. That being said, I’m the one at OWSLA who's trusted to listen to demo submissions. I know what they're looking for, but that's because our tastes are very aligned. With that knowledge I was able to make an EP that not only tailored to my tastes, but theirs as well. It was natural though; It wasn't something that I had to force. I always knew OWSLA was my favorite label, our tastes are very similar.”
That's great that you've found yourself to be centered there. Are you going to continue releasing through them or are you interested in scoping other labels at hopes of targeting a different crowd?
“I really love those guys. It's like a family over there and everyone involved are all just really good people. I can't say exactly what's in store for the future as there's no contracts signed or anything, but I'll just keep making music and see what happens!”
How has it been so far with the release? How has partnering with OWSLA helped boost your image as a newcomer into the EDM scene?
“The release has been amazing! I'm so glad that there are people that really like the music. I definitely wouldn't have been able to reach as wide of an audience without OWSLA at my back. They're support has helped me so many times over again in getting noticed by bigger key players in the industry. That being said, I feel that the music has to drive itself as well. It's a trade off of sorts. The label wants to put out music that will grow their audience while you want the label to put out your music that will grow your personal audience. If it's not a win/win situation for both parties then it's not the move that should be made.”
How do you hope to revolutionize the EDM industry with your music?
“I don't think that's a good way to look at it. I'm just some 20 year old that's learning every day and making music that I like to make. If that revolutionizes the industry, good for me I guess. I don't think Daft Punk knew that they would change the world and I don't think Sonny felt the same way either. They were just people making music that they liked to make and I think that's the important part.”
Now that you’re rubbing elbows with OWSLA and their massive roster of producers, with whom do you hope to collaborate in the future?
“Man, there's so many people I'd love to collaborate with! Absolutely everyone I've gotten to be in contact with is so talented. I haven't actually collaborated with anyone before so it'll be an interesting experience; I want it to be something that comes out naturally. We'll see!”
Tell us about Neon Liger and how it contributed to your growth as a producer, as a person or just in general?
“If there's one piece of advice I can give to a producer that's really serious about making music, find your niche's club scene and become best friends with all those people. I was talking about this the other day with Vi (Neon Liger show runner). DJing at a place where electronic music thrives has been one of the key influences to finding myself as not only a producer, but as a person as well. It's really awesome because we push each other every week to be better djs and find better and newer music to play out. It's a really great time… It's like a jungle in there. So much fun, so many good vibes.
So, what’s up next for Durante?
“Working on a remix for my homies in Vass [Vi and Shaan Saigol] right now. Maybe some more bootlegs after that. I may start a new EP soon but it's all got to flow organically. No rushing creativity.”
Can we expect your next major release to be just as diverse or will we see a move towards a more signature sound?
“I can't really tell what's in store for me. I keep making music and learning new things. I hope to maybe one day have a recognizable sound that people can be like, "Hey that's a Durante track," but that's just something that comes naturally with time. I like the idea of making tracks at different tempos so I think I'll at least try to do as many different ones as possible for my next EP (nothing in the works as of yet though).
…It's definitely tough for me to be like, "Okay, I want to make music that sounds like this for the rest of my life," but if that happens and people like it, then I guess that's where I'll go.”