Sun-soaked rhythms, a slick command of warm slippery basslines, and interlocking grooves that bounce and softly tickle that spot in your heart that makes you want to move. Dillon Nathaniel has exhibited all of these throughout his career. He’s your favorite producer’s favorite producer. His repeat releases on venerated labels like Repopulate Mars, Glasgow Underground, Sola, Big Beat, and Insomniac have made him a sought-after sonic technician. Yet, more so, he's a passionate champion of dance music culture. Probably because his roots run so much deeper than his contemporaries, he started training for a career in dance music before he could even walk.
Not too many kids in the 90s grew up with Carl Cox mixes blasting from the speakers of the family car. And when your earliest musical memory is of listening to the Mortal Kombat theme song on repeat, it’s clear dance music is in your blood. However, Nathaniel says his older brother had a greater impact on his listening habits and development as a musician in his youth.
“My brother was the first person that really introduced me and music because he was so big into playing the guitar. He taught me how to play the guitar when I was eight and I was really into like classic rock for a long time. So, I used to think the stuff my dad listened to [was] lame.”
Nathaniel drifted through the popular music of the early ’00s moving from rock to West Coast hip hop, a natural fit for the LA-born artist. He didn’t even have a passing interest in dance music or DJing until at 16 he came across a DJ controller his dad bought but never used.
“It was just laying around and I was always interested in trying to learn every instrument that I can so I like picked it up one day.”
It was the first time he was interested in the music his dad was into. And as he learned this new instrument, a growing appreciation for dance music formed.
Mashing up his dad’s old school house and trance tracks with pop and hip hop, he started to understand the fundamentals of dance music. He had no idea what his dad's unlabeled relics of dance music history were, but his love for dance music was confirmed.
As he tinkered with the controller and a demo copy of Fruity Loops (yes the program before it FL) he found himself in a world of happy accidents and discovery. “Just pure joy of making weird sounds and throwing them together even though they don't make any sense," he explains.
At the time Nathaniel lived in Texas with his mother. He was defiant and unruly. After being kicked out of school, she was at her wit's end and sent him to live in LA with his dad.
The move ended up being a boon for the sixteen-year-old. And he got two life-altering gifts that year. A full copy of FL, and he went to his first rave.
“I was starting to get more into house music with all the DJing and producing stuff. And he was like, ‘you know, you're 16 this year, you're finally able to go to a rave.’ “ So, his dad brought him to EDC in 2010.
“It was like you're legitimately walking into a carnival. But lwith the nicest people ever, and the coolest music ever. I was like, there's no way this is real, it felt like a dream. Just to be there with my dad, but not only my dad, but my aunt, my uncle were there and like all of their friends. People that I've known my whole life. I felt safe.”
He was in the perfect environment to become a rave lifer. A new world of sound opened up to him. And as Deadmau5 performed Ghosts N Stuff he turned to his dad and said, “This is what I want to do dad. I want to be that person on the stage.“
“I just had this epiphany," he says about the transformational moment. "This is calling to me. I really feel like these are my people.”
After high school, he made the practical decision to enroll in a sound engineering program and got an internship at Atlantic Records. Five months into his internship, he was no closer to working in a studio, but he was an expert at taking people's coffee orders.
“That was the first sign that I realized the kind of work that I was getting into was still that nine to five. Tt was suppressing the artist that I actually am. It was all of this work but for other people's music.”
The second sign was getting the okay from his grandmother who he was always close to.
"She always wanted me to get a degree and go to college. Right before my grandma passed away I was just saying [that] I don't know if I'm going to be happy doing this. And she kind of gave me the thumbs up." She told him, "Whatever it is that you want. Go do what you want to do.”
On the advice of a fellow DJ at an Orange County nightclub, he enrolled at Icon Collective, LA's premier electronic music school. And he began to form many of the relationships that would bring him full circle.
In 2019, a wind storm in Las Vegas shut down many of the larger stages at EDC Vegas on Saturday night. StereoBLOOM, the Insomniac Records stronghold, stayed rocking all night. Dillon prayed that the wind wouldn't dash his chance to close out the festival. And around 5 am he DJed at the event that started it all for him. As the darkness faded and the sun peaked over the horizon, he shared an emotional moment with his dad, who was on stage with him.
“Since day one. I was like, 'I'm going to play at EDC' and I wrote it on my mirror when I was 16,” he explains joyfully. “Working my way up to that and doing EDC 2019 was probably the most rewarding part of my entire career.”
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