Let’s start with your DJ origin story. How did you first get into DJing and what motivated you to pursue it over other forms of musical expression?
I was really into jungle, dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass as a kid. Pendulum, The Prodigy and Chase & Status were my idols back then, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I tried making my own stuff. I downloaded FL Studio and tried all summer to produce something. I ended up making a 30 second track that was complete shit. I tried playing the guitar instead but it was pointless because all my favourite songs were electronic. So I was like, “Okay, I guess I’m not musical.” I knew I was creative, but I just never found the right outlet for it until I went to university. I went to Bristol – and like any good Bristol student, I decided to learn to DJ. On nights out, it was great seeing DJs creating this incredible flow of energy throughout the night with music. I loved that they could so skilfully translate their love for music into a set that would make someone’s night.
That’s a really interesting way to describe it. So does it feel like you’re in control of the crowd when you’re behind the decks?
Definitely. I know a lot of DJs will feel the same – there’s some tunes where I’m like, “When I play this, it’s gonna go off.” Like you wait for the right moment; you start teasing it in and then when you finally drop that tune, you just know what’s gonna happen.
When you play a set, are you doing it on the go, based on how the crowd are reacting?
There’s a little bit of that. It depends on the night, the club and who else is on the line-up. I can kind of get sense of what people will like based on that. A lot of the time, I don’t think too much about the genre – I think about the flow of energy I want to create in the room and then choose tracks that suit that vibe. As I’m playing, I’ll kind of guage based on people’s reactions what direction I should go in next. If people are vibing to one track, I’ll stick with that genre for a bit longer. If I don’t get the reaction that I was expecting, I’ll switch it up.
What’s your favourite part about playing with other people?
I love bouncing off each other. You’ll play something and can really feel the other person react strongly to it. I love that excitement. It’s great when someone surprises you with a tune, and you’re like “Woah, that’s sick. I’ve got something for you!” You get lost in it, showing each other tracks. Or someone might play something and create an opportunity to take the set in a new direction. It’s kinda like steering a car where one person is in charge of the wheel and the other is in charge of the pedals and you’re both just working together. You’re so in sync; it’s weirdly intimate.
Do you ever get nervous on stage or beforehand?
When I played Boomtown last year I was pretty nervous. I’ve always loved that festival. I remember during lockdown, telling my cousin that I would love to play Boomtown, and then a year later, I actually did and she was there and it was such a full circle moment. We were both so excited. It was really special, but standing in front of the crowd and looking at everyone’s faces, I was like, “Oh my God… I’m actually playing Boomtown.” I had to take a second to step away from everyone and just sit down and remember to breathe. It was a bit like that with Glastonbury as well. My mum performed there as a dancer back in the 80s, so that was another full circle moment that I needed a moment to process…
It’s kind of become your brand to introduce new music with memes. Is there a particular reason you promote your music in such a quirky way?
Even my DJ name is a meme reference. I never really had a social media presence – I had Facebook and Snapchat, but that was it. My friends kept getting onto me to make an Instagram account, so eventually I did but I didn’t really take it seriously. Initially I was datboikiran, after that meme of the unicycle-riding frog, then eventually it changed to yourboykiran. When I played my first gig, someone asked if that was my DJ name. It was supposed to be a placeholder, but then it just stuck.
My initial Instagram posts were shitposts – like me photoshopping my head onto some ripped dude with a six pack with captions like “If you work hard enough, you can have a body like mine!” That’s how I liked using social media. But when I started DJing, I felt a lot of pressure to be professional. Every time I had to post something, I felt really anxious because my social media presence was so disconnected from who I am. It got to a point where I just hated it. I felt awful being online. I hated that I had to post to promote my music.
With DJing and production, it’s important to promote yourself. You’ve got no choice but to post on social media, so I talked to my therapist about it. I remember her asking me, “Is there a way that you could still get something out of using social media without feeling awful about it?” I figured, if I wanted to have fun with it, I could go back to my shitposting days when I actually enjoyed social media.
Is it more fun now?
It’s definitely way more fun (and healthier for me)! Now people are like “can’t wait to see what you post next”, so I feel like shit has to keep getting sillier which I kinda love.
How do you decide which genres to incorporate into a track?
I take inspiration from everywhere. I’ll be on a night out and record random bits of a set that I really like, or I’ll hear a drum beat or a synth and want to incorporate that into a track. I just compile everything into my notes and recordings and eventually I’ll sit down, go through it all and take inspiration from all of the stuff I’ve been listening to recently and try to bring that energy it into my own tracks.
How do you make sure that when you are combining all of these different genres that it sounds cohesive rather than like a disjointed clashing of genres?
For me learning to produce wasn’t really about getting good – it’s about getting less shit. Up until a few months ago, I’d still be making tracks that I’d listen back to and think, “This is so shit…” It’s disheartening sometimes because your brain is limitless; you can create something spectacular in your head, but you’re limited by your actual skill set, knowledge, and experience to get it down..
Usually I really dive deep into the genres I make, and that helps me understand and build connections between them. It can be a lot of trial and error sometimes and you have to be quite self-critical and just cut ideas.
Written by: Tim Hopkins