“It’s really easy for EDM artists to become super complacent,” said Justin Taylor Phillips, 25, known by his fans as Crywolf.
Complacency wasn’t an option for Justin. While all of his producer friends were swimming in success after a quick come-up thanks to a switchover from dubstep to trap, Justin was struggling to make rent, barely affording to eat. He was hungry, but just not hungry enough to drop dubstep and chase a trendier sound.
Before Justin launched his solo career, he played with his childhood best friend, John Luke Lewis. They had grown a healthy following in their hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, and after their first #1 on Hype Machine, agents were lining up. They came to the venue one night, paperwork in-hand, but the on-the-brink-of-a-breakthrough moment just faded away. Justin and John proceeded to play “a terrible show.”
“I was so mad… we just didn’t have our shit together at the time… we had all of these missed opportunities.”
Music production never came easy to Justin. It wasn’t something he was naturally gifted at. Justin actually had a lot of success early on with videography and had been offered scholarships to several film schools.
“I never had that with music. It was always a lot of work for a little success.
While his buddies were touring all over, getting paid and enjoying the good life in that first wave of trap producers to hit it big, Justin was in the studio, broke, frustrated and feeling like a complete failure.
“You have to sort of have that desperation. I feel like when you’re in that position, you are more likely to go all or nothing.”
If he had began touring at the time, Justin said, he would have become just as complacent as his trend-hopping friends who eventually stopped releasing tracks and began to fall off just as quickly as they came up.
“I never would have had to really dig down and really find my sound… that never would have happened if I had that feeling of success.”
Dubstep was fun to play out. And by this time, Justin had put the work in. He had reached a level of production where he could hang with the best of them and his music was hitting just as hard. But the more he reflected on where he was and what he was doing, the more dissatisfied he felt.
As he looked around, he saw producers “making the same drop [they] were making three years ago and [they] just realized it worked so [they] just make it over and over again.”
He was disheartened by the default producers pervading the EDM scene and their shallow music with its go-to formulas.
“[It’s] the same thing that everyone thinks, but producers don't say it - well, unless they are butthurt producers - but producers who are successful don't say it because some of these people are your peers. But everyone knows that a lot of the biggest electronic music sucks.”
Justin doesn’t claim to be a rebel minority fighting the matrix.
“I think the majority of musical producers think that, but you can’t really say that because people get so mad at you.”
I couldn’t help but agree with Justin, that there are a great number of producers who seem to be emulating more than innovating.
Dedicated dance music fans know this, and it seems that more and more fans in general are becoming numb to the cheap tricks and are instead gravitating towards more unique ideas and sounds.
Even with dubstep and trap right now, Justin says, the drops that are getting the most attention are the really strange ones.
“If you’re making art for yourself and you’re still making that really standard stuff, then I would ask like how well do you know yourself, how in touch are you with your wants and desires if the ultimate music for yourself is just a Skrillex knock-off…?”
“I love that because it encourages people to make stuff that’s different.”
Being different involves taking risks and fearlessly stepping into the unknown. Creativity isn’t something you just have. In some sense, it’s like any other skill where you have to practice it, Justin said, but then again, it’s not something you can really track like athletic abilities.
Check out Crywolf's debut album Cataclasm out now here