5 Questions with An Industry Professional: DJ and producer, El Dusty
Corpus Christi DJ and music producer El Dusty (aka Dusty Oliveira) has been working on the cutting edge of music production for more than a decade, incorporating Cumbia music, Tejano, EDM beats, and Texas' Dirty South polyrhythms into a thoroughly modern, innovative genre-hybrid...a new sound that is beloved in the streets and clubs around the world; he has also received the recognition of his industry peers via a recent Grammy nomination. Despite touring nonstop behind his recent Cumbia City LP release, the Universal Music Group recording artist generously made time to speak with the TMO for our recurring 5 Questions With An Industry Professional interview series.
Question #1: Your career seems to be a great example of an artist that has helped build up the local music community, by staying in Corpus Christi (instead of moving to NYC, Los Angeles, or Nashville...like some folks in the industry think artists must do to advance their careers). Did you ever have people in the music industry suggest that you consider moving? And if so, what made you decide to stay in Corpus?
El Dusty: “Well, I always thought that you've got to have some roots in your home base. And being that Corpus is coming up. And we're revitalizing our downtown, and those things mean a lot to me, especially since I've seen it have its ups and downs. And since I was here (based in Corpus), I've always tried to make the best of my situation. I've thrown my own events. And I have a turntable school...an after school program for girls called Chicas Rock."
TMO: When did that start up?
ED: “It's been like six years that we've been doing it. We try to start (with the music education) from the ground up. You plant (the seeds of music education) in the kid's minds, and then they kind of do what they will with it. You know what I mean? Some of them take it super serious when they're young, and they keep it going for a long time. And others, they start doing other things but they still kind of have this thing in the back of their head that's like, 'yo...this music industry is also a choice (of careers we can pursue).'
"I think kids are very influenced by their friends, and of course the majority of kids out here are playing football, or softball, or baseball, and there's not a lot of musical outlets for them. If there were more (outlets to learn music), I feel like we'd definitely have more musicians, music careers, and people that are interested in the music business. I just wanted to shed light on that for my city and show that there's a lot of talent here.
"The music business isn't so much here in Corpus, but there's a lot of talent coming out (of Corpus Christi), and we can shed light on that...
“I feel like one of the things that we're missing is awareness...and awareness of the people that are doing it. Also awareness that this industry even exists and that you can be successful and make money in it. Those are the kind of things that we try to show the kids, and show people in general.
"The turntable school wasn't just for kids; we also had adults. There are different deejays that started (in the school) where I had taught them...and now they're DJing in the clubs and are pretty successful!”
TMO: That's amazing! Is the Chicas Rock program still going?
ED: “Yeah! They're still doing it. They have summer camps every year. This summer they're going to have three summer camps. And the afterschool program is a year-round deal. And the girls learn to play. They start little bands with each other. They're switching instruments onstage between songs.
It's pretty fascinating to see...a little kid...they start them off at five or six years old. They learn how to play the guitar and they learn how to play the bass, and they learn how to play drums...it's pretty nuts. It's really inspiring."
TMO: Do you partner with a non-profit to do that...or is it put together by the community that you work with?
ED: “Well it's very community based. We do charge some of the kids. We work with the kids that can't afford it. But we're starting to work with a nonprofit called PATCH. They present our summer camps...so we can take donations, and stuff like that. We've talked about turning it into a non-profit. But for now, we're just working with PATCH.”
"...there was a whole generation that was skipped in the music game here in Corpus. And I feel like it's coming back to like the younger people here, right now, because of the internet, and the way that artists are making it on Soundcloud. I just met a good group of high school kids the other day that have a big rap group. When I was in school, and you thought about starting a rap group, there was a rapper and a DJ. But now it's like: a rapper, a guitar player, a drummer, and all these different people. And they look at it like they're just a rap group, right? For me, I see a collective…or a band. But they don't notice the difference because that's just the way it is nowadays.
"Kids can start to understand the power of their social media. Not just for being cool and popular, but also for turning it into a money-making business. They're the ones that are leading the charge on that. And I just want to be (a person) that knows about it, and someone that they can ask questions to, and just be there to mentor or help people in any way I can.
"I got involved with the Recording Academy this year. This year I'm an advisor. Next year, I will hopefully be (on the board). Just being in it, you know, just being chosen to be an advisor was really cool...because I don't think there's any other advisors in Texas. And there's definitely not any DJs in the Latin genre (volunteering in the role). So they're really excited to be working with me as well."
TMO: Something you said reminded me that it is no coincidence that all these things are happening in Corpus Christi. You mentioned the group of kids you just met, and their bigger rap group that you spoke with last week. That reminds me of the big rap collective Brockhampton, whose frontman/creator Kevin Abstract is also originally from Corpus Christi too...right?
ED: "Yeah, I actually signed him early on he was like 13 years old. I didn't hold him to any contract or anything. I was just helping him do his thing. He was a friend of mine. And we still talk and stuff like that too. But he is - even back then - he was super brilliant and I could tell early on. The things that he was into, the way he wanted to promote his music, and the way he wanted to set up his social media presence, and all that stuff was just like, very 'future.' You know what I mean?
"Even when they released their first album here in Corpus, (Kevin Abstract) did this thing where the website was his computer and you could go into his computer and look at his personal files...it was pretty dope!
"It was a crazy way to come out (and debut). And then he got his deal, and now they've got budgets to do all this crazy stuff and he's really going in on the videos and on all kinds of things you know. It's great. I'm happy to see him doing so much stuff!
"Brockhampton really started here. It's actually a street in Corpus that's called Brockhampton. There's a couple of the old members of the group that stayed behind. And they are still doing their thing and they're still rappin', and they're still involved in collectives and stuff like that here as well.
"And that's kind of like what my deal is with PRODUCE: we're kind of collective. I'm the only musical artist, but we have some DJs, we have some graphic designers, and videographers, producers, directors. All my videos and stuff have been done by my guys."
Question #2: How did PRODUCE come about? What inspired PRODUCE?
ED: "Well...I was already working like in recording studios. And I was literally getting fired from every job (laughs)."
"It was the work. There was not a lot of work for the engineer to do. A lot of people that hired me were interested in my personal projects, and then (hearing those), they hired me to be an engineer. And they weren't getting what they wanted from the artists...it just didn't work. You know a lot of times, their artists weren't getting it...and I'm talking about 10 years ago. I've been doing Cumbia music for forever. And it's always kind of flew over everybody's head here in town and so now it's starting to come around, and it feels pretty good!
"But with PRODUCE, I was working in studios, and I would go eat at this place across from the studios...a Vietnamese restaurant. And one of my buddies, one of my partners David Le was working there. And he would always tell me, 'I wanna start this sushi bar. And I want to do it like a place where people can go and network...and you could have DJs there and stuff like that.' And at that time I was like, 'Ain't no DJs gonna wanna be (performing) in no restaurant!' (laughs) This was a long time ago...
"And also, he's very optimistic and goal-oriented. So he was always like, 'Yo. This is gonna happen. This is gonna happen.' I'm thinking, 'Yeah...whatever dude.'
"...and then one day, I show up, and he's like, 'We're going to open the sushi bar.' And I was like (expletive). This dude's (expletive) serious.
"So I was out in Austin, and I was coming back, and he called me up and he's like, 'Yo man, you still have that big boombox?' I have one of those old school Lasonic boomboxes, the classics. He's like, 'We're doing a photo shoot for the sushi bar. Would you like to come out? And bring that boombox?'
"I was like, 'Yeah. I'll bring it over. I'll be there. I'll be there tonight.' So, I showed up, and he had handpicked all these people...photographers, and all these cool people that he was meeting at the restaurant, and invited them over and it was just like, Bam!
"They were all there in one place. People I've never met. People I didn't even know did stuff like that...that existed in our city. It was really cool.
"From there, the sushi bar kind of became the social gathering spot for all different kinds of creatives and young professionals...and so it really was like a cultural movement here in Corpus."
TMO: What year was that?
"I think it was in about 2007-2008? And it shifted a lot of things. You would walk into Sushi Bar and it was like you were in another city. And at the time everybody was like, "This feels like Austin. This feels like Austin."
"Now there's been another shift in culture, where everybody is going after experiences and traveling and stuff like that. That definitely has changed here. But at that time it was kind of like, low key. So people would see something like Sushi Bar, and feel like they're in a different city. And it was cool. It was cool for the city to experience these things. And then, David was doing these weird events...like YouTube battles. And he was having these Beat Battles, and all kinds of things that we've never done here (in Corpus) before. And so when he started doing Sushi Bar, we just started hanging out a lot. And I wanted to do a turntable school and a studio.
"And he wanted to have a retail space and a creative office for his graphic designer and photographers that he had on staff for Sushi Bar. Because a lot of the things that he was doing was trying to create awareness. He was blogging everything. And he had a professional photographer that was on hand taking photos of the place, and of the of the people that were chilling there all the time. And that was something new as well...nightlife coverage had never really been done here in Corpus either.
"And so he was kind of spearheaded a whole little cultural shift..."
Question #3: Do you enjoy DJing more intimate dance parties...or DJing the bigger festival shows?
ED: “The festival stuff is fun. But, man, I really like to like be right there in the crowd. When I DJ'ed at clubs and stuff, I'd like to be set up in the crowd somehow. It was always cool to be close.”
TMO: Instead of a raised DJ booth?
ED: “Yeah...I like being as close as possible. But the festival stuff is awesome too. You can't beat thousands of people out there going crazy, you know.”
TMO: And are you still doing your Tropicoso dance party residency in Corpus Christi at the House of Rock?
ED: “Yes. We do it every other month. The next one is on Saturday, June 15th.”
Question #4: Can you tell us about your Grammy nomination from last year, and how the collaboration came about?
ED: “The song was "Cumbia Anthem." I did it with Happy Colors out of Miami. And it was pretty much the first time we met. We had met one time at a gig. Then we stayed in contact over Facebook or whatever.
“Then one night, I was staying at DJ Milk's house in Miami, and I hadn't hung out with Happy yet. And Milk wasn't in town - I was just there (at his place) alone. And he had a studio there, and I called Happy over. And he showed up about two hours later - probably like 3:00 in the morning - and he shows up with like a full-on desktop computer with a monitor and everything. Like a PC. Like you know, that's how he used to roll (laughs).
“And we knocked out four beats that night. "Cumbia Anthem" was one of them. And then a couple of months later we put it out. And it freaking blew up! It did really well online and then it got the Grammy nomination. It was kind of crazy. We didn't really know anything about it. They don't tell you too much about the Grammy stuff.
"So one morning...we had stayed up super-late the night before. I remember, because we're kind of crashed out, pretty late. And one morning my phone started going off like crazy. All these text messages. And I was like, 'What's happenning?' I looked at my phone and somebody had made a screenshot from Twitter. It said, 'Congratulations El Dusty and Happy Colors on your Grammy nomination.' I was like, 'What the (expletive)?!' ...It was insane...that whole morning was just crazy.”
Question #5: When you are DJing in Miami, Houston, or various cities on tour...what does your live DJ set-up looks like? Do you use Serrato?
ED: “Yeah, I prefer to use Serrato. And I'll either have some kind of midi controller or, like, the S-9. I'm like really thorough on it. I like to use it as a sampler. And I and a lot of the songs that I do - my own stuff - I bounce out the different parts of the track, samples and everything, so I can kind of play with the song live. And I use sample pads, and all kinds of stuff. Sometimes I'll have a synth. And then I have a percussionist that plays with me, Camilo Quiñones. He's been touring with me pretty much since "Cumbia Anthem" came out. He plays timbales and congas. And he has an octo-pad. And a drum sampler. We trigger off all kinds of crazy (expletive). It's pretty fun. It's more of a performance...but it's also cut up like a band...but it's a DJ set. It's kind of crazy.”
DJ El Dusty returns to Corpus for his Tropicoso residency at House of Rock on Saturday, June 15th. Interview conducted by TMO Marketing Specialist, Marc Fort.