Keaton Prescott, the multi-instrumentalist known as Sullivan King, retains one steel-toed boot in a facesplitting grind of chugging guitars and double-bass kick drums, and the other atop a DJ table. The producer’s music machetes a path between the clarity and precision of electronic music and the angst of heavy metal, making his live shows one of the few places where kandi-coated ravers and metalheads mingle.
His innovative sound required him to invent new ways of playing. With the help of modern technology, he’s able to write, arrange and perform every instrument found in a traditional four-piece band. Live, he does it all with just a guitar, a microphone and a pair of CDJs. He stands at the collision of two competing worlds. If DJs are today’s rock stars, then Sullivan King is forging his own rock galaxy.
On a Friday evening in North Hollywood, the long-haired 21-year-old sits in a friend’s studio, trying to remember how to play one of his guitar solos. His pale knees are busting through faded black skinny jeans, and the word “King” — with an upside-down cross for the "I" — is stitched on the back of his leather biker vest.
The solo no longer eludes him, and he cues up the backing track, a thick dubstep beat that fills the room. The song is dark and abusive, ricocheting between '80s rock nostalgia and an unsettling howl from the future.
“Growing up in L.A., the music scene was so diverse. I was just a sponge to everything that was out there,” says Prescott, who was home-schooled. “When I was 12, I had been playing guitar for about a year. And I remember one day I was playing on a little 8-inch amp in my bedroom, and my dad called me into his office and he said, ‘Have you ever listened to Van Halen?’ I locked myself in my room for three weeks, and I was like, this is it. I’m going to be a guitar player after hearing that.”
Prescott’s musical tastes were muddled by the 2012 EDM explosion, and soon guitar wasn’t the only noise emanating from his bedroom. He attended the Icon Collective music production school after turning 18, and soon found his stride blending his heavy-metal roots with contemporary dance arrangements.
“It’s like saying I do what Skrillex does. And also I play guitar along with it, and I also do vocals. So it’s kinda like saying, picture a band and a DJ in one person, and put them onstage. That’s kind of what it is." He laughs and jokes, "I’m secretly Limp Bizkit."
Being at the center of a one-man band gives Prescott unique liberties that contribute to his progressive playing style. His live performance is made possible by Livid Instruments’ Guitar Wing, a game console–like piece of hardware that marries live playing with prerecorded loops and sounds.
“I can actually DJ from it and launch songs and do all kinds of things with it. So this is definitely what’s kind of flipping the DJ realm on its head as far as what you’re able to do,” he explains, demonstrating by playing a piano melody on the Wing’s illuminated pads.
His vision has matured since the spark first ignited while sitting in production school, and he sees 2016 as his year to inspire others to build on his creation. He says it’s become challenging to find the right EDM tracks for his DJ sets because there aren’t many producers walking a similar path.
“It’s not something I can go onto SoundCloud and just dig through [and] find something that sounds the same. Whereas with deep house or dubstep, there are a million of those songs," he says. "With mine it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m the [only] one making that.’ I feel like I’m putting it out there for other people to go, 'Oh wait. That’s cool. I want to do that.'"
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Pioneering a new sound may be an arduous task, but Prescott finds it energizing to write music when there aren’t “five people fighting for the paintbrush.” Despite the creative isolation, he enjoys the collaborative nature of the EDM community.
“Electronic music was born out of a lot of people sitting in their rooms with their laptop and their synth because they didn’t have a band. They didn’t go out on weekends, and they didn’t want to party. And they weren’t getting drunk. They were home watching Entourage and working on music. ... We’re all nerds.”