A person’s character is defined not by who they are, but what they do. If a big-time artist gifts some of their music, it’s apparent that they care deeply for their fans. Case in point, drum & bass icon Dieselboy.
Two weeks after his 90-minute release, The Destroyer, was made available on SoundCloud, it had already amassed an astounding 270,000+ plays. The 93 tracks take the listener on a thrill ride of heavyweight bass, weighing in at speaker blowout proportions. Dieselboy conjured up the name while touring with Downlink on the Blood, Sweat and Bass tour. He describes the mix as relating to the ’70s-themed Tarantino and Rodriguez movie collaboration, Grindhouse.
It’s all in a day’s work for the man who was honored a decade ago by the UK-based Drum & Bass Arena Top 10 DJs online poll. In the meantime, Dieselboy, born Damian Higgins, collaborates with those who inspire him to reach new heights as a producer, DJ, and record label pioneer. Projects in the works for Dieselboy include potential collabs with artists such as Phace, SPKTRM and Rekoil, as well as a new project with close friend Mark the Beast, called Faces of Def, which features 175-bpm bass music influenced by various genres. Other than mixing it up with those he admires, he also enjoys cooking and concocting new recipes, declaring himself “food-obsessed.”
We caught up with Dieselboy while he was cruising around his hometown of Brooklyn on foot, as he’s never owned a car.
Did you have a selection process with choosing the music for The Destroyer? Or is that just what you are listening to right now?
I just sat down and made a folder of about 150 tracks; music that I was already playing, some old stuff that I thought I could get little pops of energy out of. As I was working on it, I would get new tunes and try to incorporate them here and there. There are some new tracks I shoehorned in like a week before releasing this. There’s really no exact rhyme or reason to it. It’s just a collection of dope music.
When you do your live set, you use four decks?
Yes. My live sets usually don’t sound exactly like my mixes. Typically in a mix, I’ll put in some deeper tunes than I’d usually never play in a live set, and in a mix, I usually don’t put in super high-energy dance tracks. I just don’t feel like those stand the test of time when you listen to them repeatedly, year after year. When I play live, it’s similar to how a studio mix sounds, but I don’t plan my live sets. I’m always just winging it. This new mix is programmed precisely, because it is something that people will listen to over and over again. I try to bring in lots of detail. Programmed or not, I put about 40 hours into it. It was a pain in the ass.
That’s great because it’s best when it’s about that old-school mentality of judging what your crowd wants, monitoring what they are responding to, and adjusting your music to what they want. You know, instead of bringing a hard drive to a party.
It’s funny that you say that because that’s the way it is now. What you are describing is the way that people used to play. To me, that is what DJing should be. I didn’t spend all of these years trying to master a craft, only to just show up and play a preprogrammed set. I don’t get any personal satisfaction from that. I mean, I get paid to DJ, but I take pride in my work and have a serious passion for it. If I were to show up with a perfectly, meticulously planned-out set… Sure, I could crush it, but how could I take pride in that? It wouldn’t be fulfilling. I get satisfaction when I show up with maybe the few first tracks planned and nothing else. I then just roll with it. See where the night goes.
So, you use CDJs?
Yes, CDJs and USB drives. I started using USB drives in September [of 2013]. Up to that point I had been burning CDs, and it had just gotten out of control. I had way too many CDs in my CD books and was spending half of my set trying to find the music I wanted to play. I DJed with Loadstar at a party in Ukraine in August [of 2013], and he was using USB drives. I was inspired to make the switch.
Do you see drum & bass becoming mainstream?
No, not like trap or dubstep. People have been saying for years that drum & bass is “making a comeback.” I’ve always been playing drum & bass. There were a few years where I was playing, like, 15 minutes of different bass music near the end of my set, but the core of my set has always been drum & bass. There may be more of an interest in drum & bass now, but mainstream? No. It’s just too complex for some people. Too fast.
Right, right. They can’t figure out how to dance to it.
Yeah, unless you are going to ruin everything that makes drum & bass “drum & bass.” I just don’t think it’s going to happen. That’s how dubstep happened. To most people, it kind of just sounds like slow drum & bass. The groove is easier to understand, but 175 beats-per-minute is just not going to go mainstream. That’s just the way it is.
Are you still doing stuff for video games?
Not so much. At one point, I was working with a guy who had a lot of clout at Sony PlayStation, and he was throwing a lot of work my way. But typically in that business, it can be who you know—not what you make. I hear a lot of terrible EDM in commercials and video games now.
I know, it’s like someone’s brother or something.
Yeah. There are so many talented artists out there who should have their music featured but don’t.
So, you created something called the Blvck Celebration mix. Does that mean you are a big Depeche Mode fan?
Yes, that means that I was huge Depeche Mode fan, up until Violator. I signed off when their music became more rock, less synth. I liked the name and thought it would be fun to flex the reference.
What kind of music originally drew your interest?
I was really into R&B back in high school. Used to be a huge fan of Teddy Riley, the guy that created the new jack swing genre. He was also in Blackstreet and produced the first Bobby Brown record. I was also listening to Depeche Mode, New Order, and bands that sounded like them. Then I discovered Nitzer Ebb and Nine Inch Nails. Then I got into all the industrial stuff. Eventually I ended up at a Front 242 show, where some guy told me about a group called T99 and their track “Anasthasia.” That was my doorway into techno and dance music. That opened up a whole world for me.
When did you realize you wanted to be a DJ?
After I heard “Anasthasia.” I remember tracking it down at a dance music shop in Pittsburgh called Collectors 12". As soon as the track came out of the speakers, I was hooked. Instantly. Feel free to hit YouTube and look it up. The track still sounds sick. I had already randomly DJed dances at my high school. I don’t recall the moment I realized I was going to DJ for a living—probably back in 1997 when I quit my 9-to-5 at an internet company doing tech support and moved to Philadelphia to work at 611 Records.
Are you still writing for FirstWeFeast.com?
I am, but it is a struggle coming up with good angles and things to write about. I want my input to be more than, “Hey! I am DJ Dieselboy! I ate at this restaurant.” It sounds like I am just blowing myself.
And finally, if you could produce music with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Honestly, if I had the opportunity to go into the studio with anyone, it would be with the people who do the sound design for big summer blockbuster movies like Transformers. I would love to just sit in on a few sessions and see how the magic is made. I feel like I have a good ear and good ideas for coming up with my intros, but I am lacking the skill set to make those insane sounds.
By Lori Denman-Underhill
This article originally appeared on Insomniac.com.