It’s a rainy Friday night in Central Square, but there’s a small, boisterous crowd outside of ZuZu. A couple of hyped-up partiers on the sidewalk are pounding in time on the windows to the beats pouring out onto the street. Inside the slowly building crowd is dancing to a mix of hip-hop, house, and R&B selected by Ryan Durkin, resident at the regular SOLID! party.
“It’s all left-field party music tonight,” Durkin explained a few hours earlier, ducking under his DJ rig, connecting cables and testing out the laptop-controlled turntables. “I have pretty much free rein to play whatever I want, that’s why I like this gig so much,” he said.
Later on, toward the end of the night, the crowd was building to its apex, with tracks from Robyn and Justin Timberlake mixed in with more obscure ones from the likes of Jeremih and Obey City. Durkin was getting into the groove, which was a good thing, because it was only his first gig of the night; he’d play a second set at after-hours club Rise starting at 3:30 a.m., where he’d spin a mix of house, bass music, and his own original productions.
A collection of those originals arrived in the form of last month's “sno.biz” EP, four eclectic hip-hop-leaning instrumentals in a style that the New Hampshire native, 26, refers to as “Dream Club.”
“I never stick to one tempo or anything,” the producer explained the next day after a scant few hours sleep “I thought probably calling it ‘Dream Club’ music would allow me to be all over the place in terms of rhythms and tempos. It’s definitely rooted as much in electronic music as the hip-hop stuff I like.”
Durkin’s prior releases came in the form of straight hip-hop, working together with the Boston rapper Black EL.
“Initially it was his drums that immediately drew me to his production,” EL, a.k.a. Blake Morrison, explained of their partnership. “Durk has always had an ear for great drums, which in hip-hop is like 85 percent of the production, and can make or break the beat. Over the years what I’ve always liked about Durkin’s approach to production is his constant experimentation, and how his music constantly evolves.”
“His solo stuff has really taken on its own unique style,” said another longtime friend and co-DJ at nights at ZuZu and the Good Life for years, Ryan Sciaino, a.k.a. Ghostdad, now of Brooklyn. “The hip-hop chops he has from producing with Black EL, and his dance music and remix skills have to come together. He’s got a great ear for flipping samples and combining synths with them in a not so obvious way.”
The melding of the two genres makes a lot of sense in the execution on “sno.biz.” Crisp snares and deep bass, scratching effects, and hand-clap beats blend with airy, twinkling synths that pull it out of the menacing realm that so much trap-style production leans on of late.
“It has that kind of twinkly positive vibe, but it’s still got plenty of bass, and when I play it in a club it gets a certain type of ecstatic hands-in-the-air reaction,” Durkin says. “I don't want it to be too dark, I want it to be positive uplifting music. I think a lot of electronic music pushes to be dark and scary or whatever. It can be anything from a 4-to-the-floor house track to a 70 bpm hip-hop beat, as long as it has a lot of bass, and a hip-hop core, twinkly sounds and chopped up vocals, that’s kind of my style.”
The EP was self-released, mostly, Durkin says, because he doesn’t have time to wait around for labels to respond. It’s a DIY approach he’s taken since he left his job in the finance world last year.
“I was at a point where I had to commit to more responsibility and another couple of years there,” he said. “They brought me into this meeting, unexpected, and I blurted out that I think I wanted to leave.”
All of the attention he’s gotten since then came from that decision to commit entirely to DJing and production. “I knew I had a window of time where I could focus on music before I had to start worrying about money again.”
“I feel like I get more out of making decisions myself, and cutting out the middle man,” he says. “At least on this level. I’ve seen so many people succeed handling things on their own, you have flexibility. That was my goal when I left the job. I started doing my own artwork, mixing and mastering things myself. Maybe it wasn’t the best, most professional approach, but at least I didn’t have to wait on anybody.”
The approach seems to be working. Aside from his regular gigs around Boston, Durkin is in the midst of planning a European tour, and his tracks are finding their way around the world, most notably into the broadcast of UK DJ Doorly’s show on Rinse.FM, who also commissioned a mix from Durkin, some of which later ended up on Boston's Evolution 101.7, an experience that he described as a big confidence booster, and a sign that leaving his steady job and throwing himself fully into his club dreams was a good decision.
Boston’s self-proclaimed and perhaps only known practitioners of “electronic ghost-wave dance-punk’’ Color Channel perform at Great Scott on Saturday. Any sort of implied suggestion about the significance of the date in question and the best way to enjoy their blend of live beats and swirling synth noise is purely accidental. Listen to their most recent release “Pyramid of Love” at www.colorchannel.bandcamp.com. . . . Another Boston outfit riding the electronic-dance-rock line, the Bynars, released a new single earlier this month, “All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun Tonight,” that fits squarely within the shouting-at-the-DJ, dancing-with-abandon tradition. Although, at 11 minutes plus, you’re going to be out on the floor for a long time. They perform at Great Scott on Wednesday. You can hear music at www.thebynars.bandcamp.com. . . . Daft Punk performs at the Paradise on Tuesday! Sort of. One More Time: A Tribute to Daft Punk perform the music of the beloved French dance pioneers. With no tour behind the new record announced from the real deal, this might be the closest we get for a while. Learn more at www.facebook.com/onemoretimeofficial.
Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.