Photo by Lumen Naturale Photography
Wisconsin native Dustin Lenz isn’t afraid to get dirty, with music revolving around the unadulterated passion presented by sweating bodies in dark lit clubs. Djing under the name Von, Lenz has crafted a reputable reputation on the Wisconsin circuit in the span of six months, capturing the attention of two record labels. Considering performance a crucial component of the tracks he dishes out, Von’s live sets captivate unprepared rave-goers, abducting their bodies and luring their minds onto a spastic journey controlled by his macbook pro. As for the music, expect hard-hitting beats and unexpected glitches amidst colossal drops tied to the ingenuity worrying about your sound becoming “stale” in the expanding world of electronic music warrants. Oh, and don’t forget the filth.
Musebox recently sat down with Von to get his perspective on the current electronic scene — and in the process got a quick glimpse into how the new-coming producer thinks, creates his tracks and where the end of his first year as a DJ will take him.
Musebox: How did you get into music and how would you define your career to date?
Von: I got into music originally through the local scene in my hometown (of Delavan, Wisconsin). There was a huge punk and hardcore scene at the time. I started playing drums and toured in a smaller band (Doomsday on Broadway) up until I was 17. I decided I wanted to DJ not so long ago and had previously learned turn tablism from some friends at MC Audio (in Madison, Wisconsin).
MB: How does your experience in a prior band influence your current work?
Von: To be honest, I’m not certain that my previous experience in bands does necessarily effect the overall outcome of my current works. I did play drums, and a number of other instruments which obviously without I wouldn’t be able to put together a cohesive track, but I don’t think that my previous projects have influenced my most current.
MB: What ultimately led to your decision to become a DJ?
Von: I had listened to dubstep for the last four or so years, watching it build momentum as I played around with turntablism without aspiration during this time. There was some period where I realized I was crazy about the kind of energy this gave off and how I saw people enjoying it in such an erratic and completely unrestrained way. I played a house party randomly using an MPD18 set to various samples and Ableton, and it was phenomenal. I ended up leaving for Costa Rica two days later, however in the month I was there I conceived what would be the most enjoyable way to DJ for me, seeing as turntables were not giving me the right feeling I had wanted.
MB: Why dubstep?
Von: Dubstep is the first new genre I don’t believe is complete bullshit. It’s driven, like a lot of subgenres, off drum and bass music. It originally started with a mapped LFO and eventually grew with hip hop and metal influences, sort of lending itself into its own genre. Up until now, I didn’t really think that was possible.
MB: How would you explain the music to someone completely unfamiliar with any type of electronic?
Von: It’s a lot of gritty and screetchy synths along with a hip hop grounding.
MB: What about the experience of a live show?
Von: I definitely think a lot of it is performance based, at least with the dubstep I play. I DJ for a radio station in the UK (dropdeaddubstep.com), and while I do believe the music can hold its own ground, I don’t think my mixes are as well interpreted without the live aspect.
MB: You’re known for your electrifying live performances, tailored to each specific crowd. What mindset do you have coming into your sets?
Von: All of my sets are improvised, so to speak I do not use a specific set list of any sort. I have a very fluent system in which I run all of my DJ set, and I’ve become very attached to it. My performances’ electricity is purely based on the excitement I get deciding within the few moments I have what I, and the crowd, would like to hear. I also very much feed off of the crowd, exchanging my excitement and energy for theirs.
MB: Your DJ career started in Madison, Wisconsin. What’s your take on the city’s current music scene?
Von: Right now, it’s electronically based. The music scene here tends to revolve around electronic music, hardcore music and this sort of indie/blue grass scene. They all have their own facet here, but they rotate in popularity. There will be a huge spike in the folk scene or there will be a huge spike in the hardcore scene or the electronic one. Eventually, each will mellow out — or so it seems, at least it has in all of the past four years I’ve been here.
MB: How does the electronic scene compare to say the hardcore or indie?
Von: It tends to be a lot more cutthroat. I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t want to recede in any way from the positions they’ve upheld by helping someone else. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of really great guys in the scene who have helped me out — so I can’t say it’s all so bad.
MB: How would you describe your own filth?
Von: I like to add odd glitchy articulation to various melodies within my stuff while holding to the grounds of dubstep music — keeping it very gritty and wobbly — quote, unquote “filthy.”
MB: Any influences?
MB: If you could see anyone in concert, who would it be?
Von: I would want to see Gene Kelly because growing up he was the one performer I looked up to. Gene Kelly could sing. He could dance. He could juggle. It didn’t matter what he needed to do. He could always perform; he was the ultimate performer.
MB: What is your creative process?
Von: I usually don’t start with any basic idea. I just cut up some odd sample or something of my own, and it randomly becomes its own structure I eventually build off. The track I just started now (“Time“), I was joking around with my cousin and playing this synth line I thought sounded really epic, over the top and eccentric. It’s since grown substantially and turned into what it is now.
MB: How do you decide you want to remix a song?
Von: A lot of that decision is influenced by the people I hang out with as I don’t listen to a lot of popular music. I just remixed Ellie Goulding’s “Starry Eyed” which pretty much derived from a lot of people enjoying the song. I was looking to do something with female vocals so the two meshed together. A lot of times too, I play around with tracks without necessarily turning them into remixes. Depends on luck of the draw.
MB: What equipment do you use and why?
Von: I run Ableton and rewire Reason 5 through that, as well as load VSTs such asSylenth, Massive or Lounge Lizard — or anything by this company called Sugar Bytes. I do it mostly for ease of use. I’ve been using Ableton for about a year and half now. It’s what I use for production and to set up the template for my DJ set.
MB: What are you currently working on?
MB: Why these companies?
Von: They’re both very grounded by the artists they work with. I have a friend from Baltimore, 23, who is signed to Heavy Artillery Recordings. They give a great deal to the artists — such as 60/40 split, free mastering, et cetera. It’s also owned by DJ Faust, who is a large act in L.A.
Shogun is based by a few friends of mine in Cincinnati, actually. They’re sort of up and coming with a great head around them — which is part of why I might be signing with them soon.
MB: You’re a relatively new artist. What do you think would be your greatest area of improvement as such?
Von: Right. I’ve only actually been performing and producing dubstep music for the last six months. My greatest area of improvement would probably be in my production, my mastering. My mastering tends to go through stages of overly grainy and treble bass-ed or too much bass, and eventually they meet in the middle after three or four sessions.
MB: You’ve become fairly successful for only having DJed for six months. What has factored into that success? What has been most beneficial in reaching the point where you are today?
Von: A lot of hard work, dedication, the same things any one will tell you. However, I couldn’t have done it without the various great influences in the Madison DJ scene. They have helped me prune and pluck not only the ideas I have for DJing and production but also helped in my first shows. Especially Wyatt Agard who had faith in me in the first place to come back and play the Cardinal as my first experience. You’ve got to appreciate the help you get and reciprocate. I thank everyone who has thus far.
MB: Any advice for other aspiring dubstep producers?
Von: Don’t get caught up in a. what is “in” or what is going to get your rich and famous. There is no such thing as the rich and famous dubstep DJ no matter how much we all wish it were. What you need to do is determine why you are producing this, what sounds you want to work with, and be sure to do whatever in your power you can to get out there — whether it be simple blogging or handing out free CDs at shows. It doesn’t matter. If you love it, your fervor and relentlessness will push you to where you need to go. Or so I hope. Also, be sure to give thanks to those who help pave the way for you.
MB: What is the largest obstacle of being a dubstep producer?
Von: Keeping things fresh, like my style. I love to glitch which opens up a lot of areas for improvement and expansion. But I’m worried that my sound, like so many others, will become stale as has happened to other producers before.
MB: Where do you see yourself by the end of the year?
Von: I know I’m doing an event at the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee with Skrillex on New Year’s so I would prefer to have a summer tour set up through Shogun and have my EP out before doing a successful show there.
MB: Musebox has actually previously interviewed Skrillex. What do you think of his style?
Von: As far as a producer goes, I think he’s fantastic, and I don’t believe dubstep would be where it is without him. However, I don’t in any way idolize him. I think people either love or hate him — I appreciate him.
MB: Any advice for aspiring artists?
Von: Don’t allow anything to hinder what you do. Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons, and if you’re not, you should reconsider what you’re doing. If you’re not there strictly to play and have fun, I don’t think DJing, or music in general, is for you. If you’re looking to get successful, there’s no such thing as millionaire artists these days. It just doesn’t happen.