It’s been said that success is not the key to happiness, rather happiness is the key to success. But how does one measure success? Some in the music biz quantify sold-out shows, album sales, chart placement or ranking in the top slots of Internet DJ lists as winning. Some measure it in terms of money earned or product quality. Maybe even personal contentment or the level of happiness brought to others. Success can be achieving goals or simply doing what you love. But normally success requires work. Hard work. Darin Epsilon’s rise has been anything but overnight; he’s paid his dues as both a producer and touring DJ, a label boss, a musician and a marketer. In the meantime he’s built a musical brand; hosts a popular podcast; and has worked hard to earn each and every fan he’s won over the years. Yet despite that success, he remains accessible.
Big Shot decided it was time to catch up with the Perspectives Digital don for a few words of wisdom about his brand of progressive/tech-house, the scene and the direction he thinks dance music is heading.
Let’s start with the obvious question: How has the past year been for Darin Epsilon? Any milestones to brag about?
Darin Epsilon: 2015 was my biggest year yet! I never believed I can top the year before but somehow it always happens. Some of my favorite moments include playing South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Ministry of Sound London and Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) with Hernan Cattaneo and Nick Warren. I also launched my first Beatport remix contest and released music on Sudbeat, Perfecto, Selador and my very own Perspectives Digital.
Impressive! You’ve had a great year. What about dance music as a whole?
Well, a lot of people have been saying the EDM bubble has finally burst, [but] I’m still seeing a lot of growth and interest in that style of music so don’t expect it to be going away anytime soon. On a positive note, the amount of interest in underground dance music has been dramatically increasing. Particularly in Los Angeles, the number of quality events going on each month is staggering!
Let’s talk about the distinction between “mainstream” and “underground.” Do you think the rift between the two is just superficial or does it run deeper? Can the EDM and underground cultures each stay healthy on their own or do they need to come together?
These days it seems like you either have to belong to the mainstream or underground if you want to be a successful DJ. Genres that sit in between are just not a priority for promoters or clubs. It’s difficult to convince me that the two can co-exist when the main reason underground music is thriving is because it’s anti-mainstream.
So how will this musical dichotomy be embraced by the club culture?
I think in the near future you’ll see an increasing number of genre-specific events (i.e. festivals like Time Warp, BPM and Awakenings).
“I gravitate toward music that tells a story and has a timeless quality. It’s got to be able to stand the test of time. I dislike the majority of tracks being dumped on Beatport because they’re completely forgettable and disposable.”
In a recent podcast Sander Kleinenberg said that he doesn’t play like he did in 2001 “because that doesn’t work on the floor anymore [and] if you want to make [huge crowds at big venues and bigger festivals] move you’ve got to play some music that’s gonna wake people up.” I agree to a point, but…
In a way, he makes a valid argument. Dance music trends come and go all the time, and remaining relevant is perhaps one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge, for any person trying to make a decent living in music.
So where do you draw the line between “changing with the times” to stay relevant by giving the people what they want and just simply “selling out”? What role does the fickle nature of the music play in all this?
For me personally, I’m always concerned about juggling between my artistic integrity and what I know is happening out there in the market. It’s always about finding that perfect intersection between art and commerce and feeling comfortable with yourself.
Music is a lot less valuable and easily disposable now that we’ve entered the digital age. People are a lot less patient these days, so it may be more difficult for new acts to break through. Instead, we are seeing the same lineups and same ten DJs year after year.
And what are the fans looking for today?
What hasn’t changed is that listeners are still craving an emotional connection. For modern-day musicians, music and merchandise are no longer the only tools in the arsenal. Social media has become increasingly important in establishing and maintaining that connection.
Ah, yes. Social media. I understand it’s essential for marketing, but some people seem to have their priorities backwards.
If you’re a full-time musician (or aspiring to be one), it’s important to remember that your music should always be the first priority. Social media of course plays an important role in getting your music heard by more people, but there needs to be a good product to begin with.
The rise of social media is only one of the big changes you and I have witnessed since we got into the game. What’s something else we’re seeing today that you never would have predicted ten or twenty years ago?
I don’t think anyone could have predicted that MP3s would become the dominant format and erase the need for CDs, or that vinyl sales would crash only to gain popularity again a decade or so later.
Music hubs like iTunes, Spotify and YouTube will never have the same glorious feeling as being in an actual physical music store.
You win some and you lose some, I guess.
Staying with music: How much time do you give a track to hook you before you give it a thumbs-up for club play? Do you ever listen to an entire song before making a decision?
In most cases, I’ll know if a track is right for me or not within the first few seconds. Out of respect for the artist and the painstaking effort it takes to write a track, however, I’ll listen to a decent chunk before deciding whether or not to scrap it!
Let’s talk about your label, Perspectives Digital. The sound is generally deep and melodic but style-wise is pretty diverse, hitting everything from house to progressive to tech-driven tuneage. How do you decide what to run with?
The label doesn’t follow any rules; it’s another way for me to share whatever I’m feeling at the moment. If a specific record does really well and resonates deeply with everyone, then of course I keep a note of it. My hope is that people will be able to appreciate the label’s wide variety of sounds and what we have to offer. Releasing one genre all the time is like an artist painting in one color.
And what about demo submissions? What do you look for in potential artists that want to hook up?
I gravitate toward music that tells a story and has a timeless quality. It’s got to be able to stand the test of time. I dislike the majority of tracks being dumped on Beatport because they’re completely forgettable and disposable. The track should also sound great both at home and at the club.
What have you had to learn the hard way when it comes to juggling your roles as a world-touring DJ, a producer and a label boss?
Time management and self-discipline are absolutely critical, and you have to spend a lot of your own money before you can actually begin making some!
Looking forward, what direction do you see dance music going in the future?
Hopefully more song-based productions with substance and soul. It would be great if the next generation of producers could write music that takes us on a “journey” again. Most of the music today seems so flat and uninteresting to me.
And which DJs and/or producers will be leading the charge?
These guys aren’t exactly new but they’re young artists that deserve praise and recognition: Jos & Eli, Michael A and Dmitry Molosh.
Finally, what’s next for Darin Epsilon?
I’ve got five new original tracks on the way including collaborations with Cid Inc, Solid Stone and Mat Caspi. [This month] I’ll be touring North America, and in May I’ll be touring South America to perform in Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina.
To me, that sounds like success. But ever the humble one, Darin isn’t interested in discussing whether or not he feels he’s been successful; instead he lets his music speak for itself. And the testimony of his fans doesn’t hurt, either.