Desyn Masiello is part of the millennial generation of DJs – James Zabiela and Gabriel & Dresden included – that helped the sport transition from vinyl to CD and beyond. More than that, however, London-bred Masiello quickly found respect among DJs' DJs such as John Digweed (who tapped him as an opener). Masiello's sound is a sublime, always-bubbly blend of house and electronic flavors.
He hit the scene in 1999 with a promotional mix-CD that spread like wildfire after he offered up on Internet message boards. Soon he was compiling and mixing top dance-label compilations, including Yoshitoshi's In House We Trust 3, Bedrock's OS1, and EQ's Balance 008. If you've heard any of them, then you know Masiello has floated above the decades trends – from electroclash to minimal to nu electro – with his own brand of melodic, groovy, heavy-bottomed bliss.
As part of SOS (with Demi and Omid 16B) he'll do it to you again in January with a new mix due on the Ministry of Sound label. In the meantime he's stopping at Giant at Vanguard in Hollywood Saturday. We recently asked him a few questions.
LA Weekly: You once said that you aren't much of a name DJ in the states. Do you still feel that way?
Masiello: America is now a place with one of the strongest followings of what I do – from the CDs I released to the reactions to the contact I have with the listeners at gigs. I have a really strong connection with Miami, obviously. WMC every year is a special event but I frequently play there outside of the conference and have been slowly building up a good connection with the people there over the last 10 years. Clubs like Space, Cameo, Shine, Mokai and lots of others that have changed names and ownerships have the best sound – something that is great about the music scene there. In general, in big cities in the U.S., I notice the promoters really care about the sound and usually always get it right – and it's not like this everywhere else in the world. I have also had memorable gigs and keep in contact with a lot of people in cities like New York, San Fran, Chicago and LA. I think when I said before I don't consider myself a known DJ, it was because I was so strongly focused on the music. Now with the Internet and websites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, I'm in constant contact with the world and I can really feel the connection to the listeners.
You've said that you only choose about one in 100 tracks you get to include in your sets. What distinguishes a track to you? Do you know if it's a keeper in the first few bars, at the first bridge, or do you listen to the whole thing?
Some records are about the tiny intricacies or a subtle change that might happen just a few times in a track, and you really need to hear the whole thing to appreciate it. Some are just about the groove or the vibe and you can know in two seconds or less. It's all about the energy and feel the music gives you. Also recently, I noticed I could listen to around 1,000 record samples of all genres and only find about one real, long-lasting track that I might play. That's because the last few years the digital scene has exploded, and this scene has relatively little quality control. Before you had record labels, record distributors and record shops, all checking the music before it gets to you. Now, in many cases people can sell direct to the digital stores.
Your sound — melodic, techy, crunchy, funky — seems to have been ahead of the curve, yet you were never caught up in the trendiness of “minimal.” How would you describe your sound? What are your thoughts about the rise and fall of minimal?
Minimal music means to me not huge string lines, or melodies, but more restrained compositions and a lot more spaces between the sounds. It's about making what's there sound as good as possible, and concentrating more on the percussion side of things: We still need to dance to it. I think everything new becomes a fashion to some extent, and you get a lot of people cloning the sound like sheep, but the pioneers of it and a few others will probably continue evolving. There is a lot of trumpet sounding tracks and Chilean goat farmer chanting going on at the moment in some of the more minimal tracks, and this stuff is absolutely awful: Anything taking minimal in that direction will be its downfall.
You surround yourself with progressive brethren, but people don't really use that word anymore. Any thoughts on the state of progressive?
There are very few good progressive records around these days. For me the whole sound needs to be reborn in a way. Progressive has been around since 1990, mainly from 1992 onwards, which is a long time for any genre in dance music. I think a lot of it got diluted and as new generations have come in and many of the originals have dropped out.The essence of what it was about has been forgotten a little, resulting in a lot of plastic sounding music that doesn't really do much for most people. I try put the spirit of what it was always about across in my music though being eclectic and diverse. Great tracks are getting increasingly more difficult to find with all the new trends and sounds around — and that's my job as a DJ to work even harder to keep pushing what I believe in.
Does the return of electronic dance music (from P. Diddy to Lady GaGa, Daft Punk to Justice) to the popular fore help the global-circuit spinners like yourself?
Where dance music has succeeded in the past is in a more religious way where people of a nation or a society embraced it as something genuine and honest in their lives. It operated within society but outside the boundaries — gatherings at times of night when the rest of nation is asleep. The music was different to that on the TV and the radio. It was more underground, and it touched a different part of us. It was more about how the music made you feel over the whole night than just hit after hit to appease the pleasure-seeking ego. It gave a feeling of a being part of something that was not so much about making money but a natural expression of music. Now with this mass-marketed music hitting people – I think that feeling is lost a little. Before it wasn't so much about who was playing. When I started to go out I didn't care about the DJ or the act, only about the event and the vibe. I think that's what is important to get back to one day.
Your sound, as I recall it from your mix-CDs, consists of fairly tingly, feel-good electronic music. Has that changed with the global economic downturn. Do you ever play dark and banging? Or does it depend on the venue and vibe?
I do play dark and banging if part of myself is feeling that and people love it too. It moves certain parts of us, but it has to be warm dark, not cold dark. And yes, it all depends on the venue and vibe. Music is very contextual and so is DJing. That's our job — to feel the atmosphere of the room and the people, and play accordingly.
You've toured with John Digweed as his warmup. I always felt that DJs who had experience warming up made the best spinners (Digweed was one of them) because they understand better the arc of the night and don't just bang it straight away. What are your feelings about the lessons of being an opening DJ?
Again it depends on the night, sometimes you can keep the night on one level all night and if the tunes are interesting enough it doesn't matter. But in the main room, yes it's better to keep it minimal with less energy to begin with if you have a someone who's really a quality DJ coming later. That way people's ears are not deafened by too much noise before hand and they can appreciate more of what is to come. It helps build anticipation for what's to come and allows the next DJ to build his set. If I were the opening DJ again, I would find out who the next guy is and what his styles are and try to play a set suited to that. Do your research is my tip for any opening DJs. If you haven't got a main slot and you are there just to build the night then do that, and don't go banging it out too early, as it might upset the flow of the whole evening.
You started seeing success based on one mixtape in 1999. Do you think it's possible today for a DJ to make it based on a single mix? How have things changed in those 10 years in terms of making it in the DJ game?
Definitely: I think one mix can still launch someone's career. The music does all the speaking, and if I heard someone's mix that blew my head off, I would tell the world about it. Today though, the amount of music is so much more and the quality control so much less, it might be more difficult to make something that really stands out. I do know numerous up-and-coming DJs though, and they are slowly but surely getting a name. It took me 10 years to get out of my bedroom, and some of these new guys are doing things a lot faster as they have the wonder of the Internet to help them now. So in some ways people have more opportunities.
Do you use CD decks o software or both?
I still use CDs. I buy lots of vinyl, but I always copy them to CDs. Since I lost my records two years in Mexico, I swore never to take vinyl as luggage anymore. I am strongly thinking of moving to a computer-based system soon as I think it gives more creative control.
How's the SOS crew doing?
We are working on a new mix album as we speak for January release on Ministry of Sound. We will tour a few dates for the album, and then the group feeling in general is that we need to get original material done. So you might see us holding back on DJing a bit more to spend more time in the studio. I think this is the next logical and natural progression for us. We need to do it, and the people want us to do it. They want something more from us.
Masiello spins Saturday at Giant at Vanguard, 6021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 21+. Doors at 9:30 p.m. Tickets $10 in advance. Info: giantclub.com.
Download a summer mix from Masiello here.