Dylan Ragland, known by most as Party Favor, has cultivated an edgy, exhilarating and thrilling style that has helped pioneer the festival trap genre. With anthems such as “Bap U,” “Booty Loose,” and his latest release, “Caskets,” the young artist has garnered support for his signature trap style that infuses different musical elements in each release, creating a diverse lineup of tracks in his arsenal of original music. The Mad Decent regular delivers an energetic, innately danceable sound, and his high-energy live performances, are exhilarating and unforgettable.
This Sunday, July 23, Party Favor will deliver a headlining set at Hakkasan Nightclub in Las Vegas where he is rumored to drop several IDs that have been in the works. The Los Angeles producer has numerous upcoming shows planned, including appearances at HARD Summer Music Festival and Electric Zoo. Party Favor will undoubtably bring passion into his set, moving the crowd with his eclectic song selection and seamless transitions. In an exclusive interview, Party Favor sheds light onto some of the projects he is currently working on, and mentions who should be on our radar in 2017.
Your new song “Caskets” has that radio crossover appeal. You deviate from your traditional sound but keep your signature elements in the track. What was your inspiration for the piece?
For me I’ve always been trying to evolve my sound and everything that I’m doing in terms of music, and what’s fun for me is that I’m able to make a song like WAWA a couple months ago which is kind of a crazy big festival trap banger and then I can make something like this which is really fun for me, and is more of like a song, and I’m trying to build my songwriting abilities and different production for other people and other producers and pop stars and it was really fun for me to make a summer song, it was a challenge for me to make a fun summer vibe song that made me feel good, and hopefully people can still hear me in the song, I don’t think I sold out at all.
FKI first, who you collaborated with on “Caskets” is a producer from Atlanta known for his trap infused melodic instrumentation. What was your experience like working with him?
It was great, he and I have been working on a lot of stuff, so it was really cool to work and get with someone who sits more on the other side of things of the isle on the hip hop world. I actually mainly worked with him and he originally recorded the vocal for it, so I took the acapella and made the song my own, and then I kind of brought him in last minute and he added a couple of things and that’s what became the track, for me I wanted everyone who had a hand in the song to get credit for it.
You starred in the HARD Summer Music Festival trailer which was the center of some controversy. It is true, that 97% of producers in DJ Mag’s top 100 are men. How do you think we can achieve equal representation of men and women at big festivals?
I think creating a place where women feel more comfortable, where women can get out there and make their voices heard in terms of what their making music wise. There’s a lot of talented female producers out there, but a lot of times they aren’t heard or get chosen over by a man. A lot of times women get discouraged because if you look out it’s kind of man’s game, in a lot of music genres as well, its not just a problem in Electronic music, I think creating a dialogue and creating more opportunities for women to be able to showcase their skill, because obviously they have just as much talent as men do, I think the trailer is what they were trying to push, and it pushed some buttons but that’s what the directed (who was a female)’s goal was to get the conversation started. And Its never going to be an easy cakewalk.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you before?
Hectic, in a good way. I like to say that just because I love stuff that has a lot of energy, I love dance music because it makes me feel a certain way and it makes me feel happy and energized, you don’t even need coffee or a Redbull when you have those heavy beats. I think for me I like when people can come and they can get a little bit of twerk, get some trap vibes, some house, some poppier throwback elements all in one, and for me I try to mash everything up together.
After you graduated college, you worked at NBC and you originally aspired to be an actor. What changed that led you in the direction of making music?
I kind of stop going after the actor thing when I was a freshman in college because I was like there is no way I’m going to make it because its really hard to make it in that industry, so I gave up on the actor thing. I had always loved making my own films and went to film school and graduated and worked in the film industry and i still love it, I’d love to go back and work there again, but I’ve always wanted to do music as well and I hadn’t found the outlet that was right for me. It turns out I really fell in love with dance music in the end of high school and through college and started kind of dabbling and making my own, and after a long time of making bad music, here I am now.
What’s your favorite thing about the Mad Decent label?
Diversity in the music and how they are always pushing forward sounds and vibes and styles. You look at all the guys and girls on the label and they are always on the forefront of whats next. For me, its an honor to be a part of a group of people that are always pushing me to be better.
What is the craziest thing a fan has done at your show?
There have been people that have climbed on the rafters and jumped off into the crowd. Two girls took off their underwear mid-set and threw them onstage, and one actually hit me in the face. I saw a girl who was sitting on top of a subwoofer at this ratchet warehouse party in New York and just orgasming. Things have definitely calmed down once I began to play more legitimate events. One time a couple was having sex in the crowd during one of my sets, if they had a kid I hope they name it after me.
You’ve worked with a number of artists in the past including Dillon Francis, Sean Kingston, Gucci Mane, and Rich the Kid to name a few… Any future collaborations you may be doing?
I’m doing some stuff in the hip hop world making some hip hop beats with some really big names such as 2 Chainz and Lil Jon among others, so it’s really exciting for me to not just put my name on it but being the producer and trying to branch out and do a lot of different stuff. I have a lot of bigger collabs coming out later this year but I’m keeping tight lipped for now. Kendrick if you’re reading this, shoutout, I’d love to collab with you
Who are you currently listening to, and who, in your opinion should be on our radar?
I was actually listening to Tom Petty on the plane ride over here… but someone on the radar who I’m listening to is Awoltalk who is based out of San Diego and is making some crazy stuff. He’s an awesome dude who’s done a remix of “Caskets” for me which is going to be really cool. There is a lot of talent out there, I make the mistake of not paying attention to up-comers because I’m so focused on my own stuff. But I love hearing new songs from people because it makes me work even harder.
Beneath the linear framework of time, life often operates on a more complex scale where one’s evolution is driven by cycles of self discovery and reinvention. This pattern is unquestionably the case with Dubfire, or Ali Shirazinia, who is amidst a transition into his next artistic manifestation. Ali has had nothing short of a storied development over his twenty-six years of playing an active role in the electronic music scene.
After reaching commercial success during his years with collaborator Sharam under Deep Dish, he needed more than to answer his innate calling toward the darker and more minimal side of dance music. His strong work ethic and passion for his craft led to a good deal of prestigious nominations, as well as global recognition for his overall precision and drive in using technological innovation in his sets. His SCI+TEC label is recognized today as a reputable force in helping recruit the next generation of technically-inclined producers.
Now, it’s time for Dubfire to explore new territory. He’s slowly ending his HYBRID live shows and bowing his head down to focus on his new album, which will introduce the new direction he’ll go creatively as well as in a live setting. After commemorating his career thus far with the release of his Above Ground Level documentary and retrospective album HYBRID: A Decade Of Dubfire, he opens up about his journey as a solo artist, the gastronomy of techno cuisine, and what his “third life” as an electronic musician will bring.
Photo via High Fidelity Dance Club.
Growing into Dubfire
Ali’s creativity at a young age catalyzed his traveling down the path he’s still on now. He spent his youth teaching himself bits of guitar and piano, eventually finding his way into the artsy, “alternative” community of his school. It was here that his love affair with electronic began. “All of them [“the alternatives”] exposed me to the music – a lot of them were bedroom producers or played in bands, so I started out by playing in bands. Then, I started getting more and more into electronic music and playing around with drum machines, synthesizers, sequencers, etc,” he recalled with an air of nostalgia in his tone.
To him, getting into the electronic scene was “was a very natural progression.” He attended shows at underground clubs at the time, closely observing their habits and incorporating it into his own. “Over the years I learned how to program – I learned from a very young age, typically playing open-to-close sets. I understood how important flow is in setting the right vibe for the night,” he described. He held these tools closely throughout his career’s progression, and continues to abide by the philosophy of flow being a cornerstone in piecing together a set.
Photo courtesy of Dubfire.
Outsiders often look at iconic artists and think of them as having achieved an ultimate state of bliss – they’re successful, well-known, and are living a rockstar-esque lifestyle doing what they love. However, many of these artists are not without internal struggles of their own. Shirazinia had been carrying an empty feeling inside for quite sometime – he was in a creative rut, and tired of the repetition he experienced in his situation at Deep Dish. So, in 2006, he made the leap of faith into rebuilding himself as an independent artist, and his Dubfire alter ego became his full-time persona.
“I was looking for inspiration…”
His first task was to find somewhere to begin anew; a clean slate of sorts. “I think I made the move because as I was reaching the end of that creative cycle with Deep Dish and going solo as an artist, I really wanted to escape not only Deep Dish, but the states,” he thoughtfully explains of his desire find himself abroad.
He divulges further: “I was looking for inspiration, specifically in Ibiza, and there were a few summers where I completely submerged myself into all the different techno parties on the island. I was going to as many of these events as possible and taking it in.”
Through heavy participation in the island’s thriving and transformative club scene, Shirazinia had found what he sought. “It was like the friend I needed, that I felt I didn’t have anymore when I was in Deep Dish toward the end,” he reflected fondly.
Photo via Peter Liu.
Dubfire exudes a humble force of determination and has displayed his immense work ethic time and time again. These traits served him well at the beginning of his tenure as a solo artist, where he had to keep his head down and deal with a good deal skeptics within his new world who doubted the intention of a commercial artist re-entering the underground.
Luckily, he was embraced by many artists that did matter: “A lot of these guys mentored me, like Chris Liebing, Richie, Sven Vath, Loco Dice, etc,” he notes. “They all really supported me when I needed it, and that helped to give me the right motivations to pursue this music and why I fell in love with it in the first place.”
However, while Shirazinia had many key mentors, he acknowledges that his shift toward commercial success in techno was cause for suspicion in some:
“A lot of people were cautious about what my motivations were because I was someone they looked up to in the older days when making initially deep house and techno stuff. And then we reached all this commercial success and the music, and everything, kind of changed and then here I was again going to these techno parties, so they were a little cautious about my intentions.”
By 2007, he’d established his Science+Technology imprint, known now as SCI+TEC as an outlet for his swiftly growing collection of releases. Soon thereafter, Shirazinia had earned nominations for the best Techno & Minimal Artist of the Year for his efforts in pioneering a brand new “jet black, polished chrome” version of techno, as DJ Mag lovingly dubbed it. Dubfire had officially made it as a well-respected artist of his own, hailed for his forward-thinking take on sound design and track production.
Photo via WARDA.
Like haute cuisine, electronic music is always reforming and refining itself…
Many know that Shirazinia is as much a gastronome as he is an electronic artist, and as such, he likes to draw parallels between the arts of fine cuisine and electronic music. Modern cuisine often involves the futuristic fusion, deconstruction, and re-envisioning of pre-existing dishes, much like technological advancements in gear are slowly giving way to a new approach in DJing and production. One thing that will always remain consistent for Dubfire is his eagerness to try new technologies as they’re coming out, if he believes in them. He and his like-minded peers like Richie Hawtin are always looking for “something that inspires us and our creativity in the DJ booth,” after all.
Take his progression through the years in terms of equipment: after starting on vinyl, Ali “graduated to CD technology, and even before that I had a portable DAT player that I was playing unreleased music on.” After that, he “jumped onto laptop technology, which allowed me to carry my entire music library and at a moment’s notice play a total classic record that I just have in my library, or be able to manipulate that or contemporary records in a unique way.” Dubfire’s setup now is intricate as ever; he combines four different decks uploaded through production software that give him the free rein he craves to essentially create music on the spot as he weaves his sets together.
Photo via Ryan Muir, courtesy of Coachella 2016.
Much like chefs today are aiming to break new boundaries in their food experimentation, Shirazinia is always keen on breaking out of his comfort zone and being as receptive as he can to new influences and sources of inspiration. Creating an “organic feeling” is his ultimate creative intention for his shows and productions. He uses back-to-back sets, for example, “as a challenge to see how far the other person can take me outside my comfort zone.” He and his partner “are conscious of how we begin, how we build, how we peak, how we break down, and how we end,” he stated, because people want to feel “like there’s only one DJ playing.”
Through this process, one can “discover new comfort zones within,” Dubfire asserted. Especially when working closely with artists on a similar plane as him, such as the aforementioned Chris Liebing and Richie Hawtin, he observed that, “we absorb a musical perspective that we can then take into the studio, or when we play solo sets after that.It serves as a great tool for inspiring us to go down uncharted roads.”
Additionally, learning from others during back-to-back can help enhance their quest in “creating the right atmosphere” as a DJ during a show. Like a 10-course meal, believes Dubfire, a true DJ follows a logical progression for their night that tells a shamanic story by way of percussion and synthesizer.
“You can go to a nice restaurant and sit down, but they’re not going to give you the main course right away,” Shirazina quips. “If they know what they’re doing, maybe they’ll give you a glass of champagne or another cocktail.”
“Then,” he elaborates, “they’ll follow with an amuse-bouche – you know, little tiny things that are sent out of the kitchen to open up your palate a bit. Then, they’ll continue with the appetizers and main course, then bring it down with a desert, and later coffee at the end. So there is a very logical, natural type of progression within DJing and how you create the right atmosphere and how you tell that story from the beginning to end of your set in a logical sequence.”
Photo via Felix Hohagen Photography, courtesy of Time Warp.
The Next Chapter
Much of the future remains uncertain for Dubfire. “To be honest with you, I’m still trying to figure that out,” he admitted when questioned about his new trajectory. His new album will be dictating a significant portion of it though, or so it sounded as he animatedly illustrated his thoughts and his creative process. “What I did a little bit last year and a little bit this year was go into the studio with a blank slate, turn on the machines, and focus on what came out of me creatively,” he began. He then carefully tracked the elements of everything he came up with.
Some works he finished and felt proud of, but “felt like they weren’t necessarily ready for my new album – even though I don’t know what my new album is supposed to sound like.” Other concoctions of his intrigued him, like a piece he wrote that has a “classic techno” vibe to it.
“But I’m not trying to be classic or nostalgic,” he advises. His mind is open, nonetheless – of this odd turn toward the past, the artist comments, “I’m not sure how that’s going to trigger the direction of the rest of the album, but once I’m done with the summer, I’ll be coming back to that material and seeing how I can further it.”
“When I’m producing this new material, I’m envisioning it as being performed by me during the next live show.”
However the finished and cohesive body of work turns out, he wants to make sure that it is built for his vision of the future. One emerging technology, 3D sound, is something his keen eye has fixated on recently, as well as production using different stems of songs that can help enhance the surround sound experience.
“I’ve already met with different people, a couple people here in Barcelona actually,” he affirms when discussing his research into utilizing this new advancement. One of the people he met runs a software company whose product “creates a really unique way of performing your music in a surround sound kind of setting, creating an immersive experience.” He continues, ”I think that it’s something the team and I are going to be focused on, and that I’m thinking about as I’m producing this new artist album.”
The way his new album turns out will directly influence whatever his new live incarnation will be like, says Shirazinia. “Now there’s an added layer with the live show in terms of how I re-worked the old material and how I mixed it and sequenced it into a DJ set or a live concert type of show,” he notes of his current performance methodology. “When I’m producing this new material, I’m envisioning it as being performed by me during the next live show.”
This is a new approach, he says, and one which he’s “still feeling my way around,” but is “definitely there in the background whether I’m discussing what I want to do with engineers or something else. It’s part of my thinking process when I’m in the studio.”
Photo courtesy of Movement.
Ultimately, he wants to be able to take what he’s learned over his first decade as Dubfire and use it in a refreshing, brand new way, which he said he “wasn’t thinking about before in that initial decade of being a solo artist and making all that music.” Shirazinia used to not be too keen on the idea of an artist album given the singles-dominated market climate, but he now looks at things differently and from an angle where this new project will serve as a concrete launching point for his next artistic iteration. “I’m really excited about that prospect,” he agrees.
“[Techno] is a religion. It’s something we pour our blood, sweat, and tears in, and we don’t want to see it fade into the background.”
The conversation wraps up with some sage optimism on the scene itself. A hot-button topic that has virtually plagued the electronic scene since its foundation is the issue of over-commercialization, especially now, in a climate where DJs are achieving superstar levels of fame and VIP culture is infiltrating clubland.
However, Dubfire has always maintained that things “right themselves out.” He asserts that artistry in DJing is here to stay, and “you only have to look at how big techno and underground, and credible artists and labels have gotten overall as part of the scene,” he quips when drawing attention to the fact a revolution is clearly underway as “a reaction to ‘EDM.’”
His points ring true: “Fans are supporting it, and you’re seeing [this in the] numbers of events and quality around the world with events like EDC… all of them are investing so much into techno.”
The reason for this, Shirazinia posits, is because the genre attracts “so many people, and to all of us, this is a religion.”
“It’s something we pour our blood, sweat, and tears in,” he continues, “and we don’t want to see it fade into the background. We want it to be as successful as possible.” Indeed, true passion always has a distinct way of shining through in the industry, and it has successfully gotten electronic music through threats of commercial corruption in the past.
Photo via Felix Hohagen, courtesy of Time Warp.
As he continues to pour his soul into keeping such a raw, organic spirit alive while also pioneering the path to a more refined future, Dubfire’s transition into his next incarnation will undoubtedly be one to watch. His enthusiasm for being part of the scene and reinventing himself artistically after a decade of learning his way as a solo act is infectious, and his track record thus far points to future excellence and clever arrangement. It’s more than evident that electronic music will only continue to relentlessly progress as long as people like Ali Shirazinia are staples in the scene – artists who are thankful for what they do, and committed to paving the way technologically and spiritually for those that will eventually take their place.
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It’s 2008, and the Deadmau5 remix of “The Longest Road” has just been nominated for a Grammy. Legends like Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, and Above & Beyond are leading the European fervor for Trance, but the dance scene in the United States is still very much a niche interest. Ultra isn’t a three day festival yet, and the US music tastes are at a crossroads.
Britney Spears is being awarded “Best Dance Track” nominations, and rap, pop, and punk rock are all at a stand still with no clear vector to the forefront of the millennial generation’s ever multiplying interests. Meanwhile, a 27 year old from Vermont named Morgan Page is navigating a hit single that will be the beginning of a long, career—hard won through persistence, talent, and the impending explosion of electronic music in the US.
If you ask Morgan Page when his career started, he would tell you that it was in the back room of the University of Vermont’s student run radio station, all the way back in ’96.
At 16, he’d discovered the channel thumbing through the jam bands, classic rock, and hip hop that cluttered the FM dial in his hometown, a suburb of Burlington, Vermont. Before long, Page was filling in as a host and DJ for students too hungover to make their shifts. After a stint managing a channel in Boston, Page scored a summer internship at a hot New York record label where his job duties included taking out executives’ garbage.
It wasn’t until Page released “The Longest Road” in 2008 that Page had his ‘breakthrough moment’ as an artist. After years of effort behind getting a club residency, he enlisted Deadmau5 to do a remix for his new single, hiring the superstar producer outright. This decision would earn Deadmau5’s first Grammy nomination, and produced the song that could be heard in every club and radio station nationwide.
“That was before [Deadmau5] had the mousehead and was at the earlier stages in his career arc. His stuff was just starting to blow up on Beatport, and Beatport was a real outlet and a real tastemaker then. I remember that remix being played when you went to any club in Miami. Every shop that you walked into, even the pizza store, was playing that song. But that was a different time where one song would really just plaster the continent.”
But the world in which Page first became a household name in the electronic community is so starkly different than the landscape of electronic music in the US now. Ultra has careened into a 3-day two weekend event, superstar DJs are filling arenas on the merit of their own productions, and the electronic music industry was valued at approximately $7.1 billion. It’s an evolution that hasn’t escaped Page’s scrutiny.
“My first reaction is what took so long? (For EDM to explode). There were three waves, and a lot of politics got in the way of that. There was this rave act that took all of these huge festivals that were happening and squashed them. No one could be a part of these for several years. That was like this false start for a lot of festivals, and I wasn’t DJing at that point, but I was starting to get into music then in the late 90s and early 2000s.
“It took several tries, and then major labels started putting in a lot of money and investment into Daft Punk,The Prodigy, Crystal Method, and all of these sort of electronica artists. It’s really humbling and great to see that it blew up. I think now it is all about maintaining that, and now it has matured and it is still doing great, but now we look into where does it evolve now? Does it just turn into hip hop? Where does it go next? That’s what it feels a little bit like now- that it is reverting to hip hop.”
Unlike other artists in the industry, Page has found a way to experiment with his sound as electronic has turned commercial without compromising the core of what makes him unique as a producer. He has not caved to the trends, pivoting to pop/rap collaborations that are sure fire radio hits. Instead, he’s has managed to stay not only relevant, but popular, despite a staunch disinterest in infusing hip hop into his music.
“As you have heard, my music has been been pretty diverse. ‘Other Girl‘ was a little more tropical focused, and “Fight My Way” is a little more my usual style of Progressive House. I think this is the time to really try different BPM’s, so that is the biggest difference you will see with future releases. To me, it’s not so much about teaming up with 2 Chainz. I like to surprise people, and I’m talking to guys like Kaskade about teaming up for a song, but for me it’s more about changing the framework rather than just famous guest appearances. There won’t be any DJ Khaled on there, and making songs that have strong vocals that last is the backbone of songs that will stick around a little longer.”
Another dynamic of the evolving music industry that has affected Page’s decision making not stylistically, but strategically, is the evolution of how to successfully release music to fans. Page has shifted his focus from album releases to singles, with the acknowledgement that singles can be missed when stand alone. Contrastingly, releasing a full album all at once puts the songs at risk for having one hit single on the album overshadow other great releases that may have made more of an impact if not released alongside other songs.
Despite changing his release strategy, Page has remained consistent in his approach to making his music. He discusses at length how he has managed to diversify his production process through collaborations as well as what goes into making a hit in the world of modern day dance music.
“My main criteria when I make music in the studio is goosebumps. How do you get that serotonin rush and the endorphins from making the music? And when that wears off from hearing the song too many times, is it still a good song? That’s the challenge- still staying objective with a song after you have heard it a lot. A big thing about what I am doing now is teaming up with a lot of younger producers to have that extra ear in the studio. I would just be very stubborn and work by myself, but you can see like the remix with Deadmau5, the collaboration adds so much. It just pushes you because you can’t work in your own vacuum.
“I think the hardest part is that I think every song is going to be amazing and be a hit record. Sometimes that is not the case, and other times some songs have done better than I thought it would. When you release a song, you’re hoping that all of the variables line up because a hit record is a million things going right. The bar for a platinum record is so high now- it is 150 million streams, and that’s crazy. Success depends on things like the good placement on a playlist because not everyone has access to the music. That’s something that has been really nice with Armada. They are important and really come through in these situations in an oversaturated market through making you a priority when it needs to be and pulling back where it’s good to do that.”
Page was unique in that he remained on a smaller label for years before joining electronic giant Armada in November of 2016. Armada was not his first run in with big record labels, however. Page and his team had a slight mishap with Atlantic when the label created electronic imprint Big Beat Records and tried to get him on board as the first artist to join.
“I was going to be the first artist with [the] new electronic label. A lot of people don’t know that, but creatively it just didn’t pan out with what we wanted to do. But it was funny, Craig Kallman, one of the heads of Atlantic, was all excited and we actually flew to this hotel and had a big meeting. This was before ‘In the Air,’ and they didn’t even know ‘The Longest Road,’ which was funny. It was just one of those things where you were like, that doesn’t add up- that’s a red flag. They liked “Call My Name.” It’s strange if they don’t know your body of work.”
As Morgan has navigated record labels, an evolving production and release process, and staying popular amidst changing fan desires and genre popularity, he attributes his success to a variety of factors. He also has definitive opinions on his place in the electronic community. He wraps up our conversation by talking about the challenges that many artists don’t publicly confront, along with how he has been able to not only survive, but thrive in the ever-changing journey of being an electronic producer in this day and age.
“It is very easy to get lost. I see a lot of guys do a 2-year thing where they blow up and then disappear. It’s a lot of work. I’ve never been an artist who has done that hockey stick exponential growth thing and been like the hot current artist of the moment. It has always been a slow burn, and I feel as if my strength is in my consistency. I think it’s good for people to have perspective because there are some artists who have never worked a day job before. I hope they don’t take this life for granted. The hard part isn’t blowing up. The hard part is sustaining it, and keeping that fire going.”