A heavy Latin beat echoes through the woods in Vineyard Haven. On the top floor of a garage a young man hunches over his flashing DJ controller. Colorful waveforms trawl across a computer screen and two powerful speakers fill the room with bone-shaking bass drum and silky smooth melodies. The musical tension builds and in a flurry of knob-twisting and button-smashing, 23-year-old Vaughn Russillo once again becomes DJ Euphony.
Mr. Russillo grew up on the Vineyard and got his start making hip hop beats with a pair of turntables and an extensive collection of vinyl records. He released his first vinyl EP on a Japanese label in 2007 but said he didn’t even get a copy of the release. He had already moved on to another style of music. He discovered electronic dance music (EDM) when he visited his friends at college and said he found EDM’s increasingly diverse selection of sub-genres to be a far more exciting than hip hop, which he felt was growing stagnant.
“It just got boring after a while,” Mr. Russillo said. “But EDM is constantly changing, there’s always so much new music. I fell in love with it.”
Mr. Russillo spent much of last year in San Francisco performing in clubs as DJ Euphony and honing his skills. And on Friday, August 9, he opens for DJ Shadow at Flatbread.
When it comes to making music, Mr. Russillo relies almost entirely on his computer. Programs such as Apple’s Logic Pro, called “digital audio workstations,” provide him with a seemingly infinite arsenal of drum machines, synthesizers, samples and effects with which to build a song. Built-in drum machines allow him to place each hit exactly where it belongs. A MIDI-enabled piano keyboard allows him more direct control over the computer’s synthesizers, and he performs live with his Native Instruments DJ controller — a modern take on the “turntables-and-mixer” setup on which Mr. Russillo first cut his teeth. He said that of all the tools at his disposal, he most enjoys the synthesizers.
“I think synth design is really where a producer can show his skill. But I have to admit, producing is a lot of trial-and-error.”
Island musicians have a way of looking out for each other and Mr. Russillo said Phil daRosa has helped him secure a number of local gigs.
“I don’t think [Mr. daRosa] listens to much electronic music but he respects the fact that I’m trying to make my own music, not play somebody else’s,” Mr. Russillo said.
This makes Mr. Russillo a perfect opener for DJ Shadow, known off-stage as Josh Davis, a legendary performer who often defies the audience’s expectations. Although he has over 20 years of DJ experience, DJ Shadow said that he always keeps his performances contemporary and exciting.
“I’d say that 95 per cent of the public thinks that a DJ’s job is to play the music that the audience wants to hear,” DJ Shadow said. “I rarely play the music that people expect me to play. It frustrates some people, but most are exhilarated by it. They are experiencing something new and fresh.”
Although he has remained true to his hip hop roots, DJ Shadow said that much of the new technology that gave birth to EDM has helped him improve his live performances. When vinyl turntables gave way to CDJ systems at the start of the new millennium, DJs gained the ability to burn brand-new releases to a disc and play it at a show the same day. The internet has only magnified this effect.
“The main improvement has been the ability to curate a set in your hotel room an hour before you go on,” DJ Shadow said. “The ability to get your hands on new music without going to a store has allowed for a lot of versatility and cutting-edge DJ sets.”
But whether he was performing with a turntable and vinyl records or the latest in DJ technology, DJ Shadow said that he always strives for originality.
“I never wanted to be like anybody else. I’ve been pretty clear about what my influences are, but I never wanted to be a carbon copy.”
DJ Euphony and DJ Shadow perform at Flatbread on Friday, August 9, beginning at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 day of show for this 21 and older show. Visit flatbreadcompany.com.