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Interview: What Makes a DJ a Tastemaker? Ynfynyt Scroll Dishes on His Craft.

Ynfynyt Scroll doesn't think Dallasites know their dance music well enough. He wants to change that.

Rodrigo Diaz has a plan for everything. Prompt him about his future trips across the nation, and it’s like you’re plotting a takeover. Ask him about his upcoming EP, Drone Warfare—its bleeps and bloops, carefully orchestrated drums and cyber influences—and his voice lights up. His discussions about the Dallas DJ scene feel as if he’s laying a blueprint before your eyes. He’s calculated, analytical, and focused on what he sees. It’s not as if you’re just talking about music; you’re talking schemes and strategies with someone who is very much invested in what Dallas has to offer.

“I’m interested in making Dallas a potential venue for really good artists,” Diaz explains. “It’s something that needs some entity or somebody or some huge group of people who need to come along. I want to help push this along.”

At the base of this goal lies Ynfynyt Scroll, Diaz’s DJ/producer alter ego who both creates and spins an eclectic mix of rap, club, and world music for DJ crew Track Meet and a variety of tapes and locations, including “The Turn-Up,” his weekly residency at the Beauty Bar. It’s safe to say that something is working in Diaz’s favor. Hundreds of people show up every Thursday to listen to him work his way through a musical and cultural map. One moment you’re dancing to the gritty bass of a Southern rap staple, and in the next minute, the hard drums of a reggaeton hit filter through the speakers. It’s maybe just another good night for some, but to Diaz it’s transformative, one cumbia song at a time.

We sat down with him to discuss his career, the Dallas DJ scene, future plans, and more.

FrontRow: How did you become interested in DJing? How did you first begin?

Rodrigo Diaz: I think the way I got into it was [my friends and I] were just pretty much throwing parties and hitting the arrow key right on the PC just to go to the next song on Winamp. And then I started realizing, “Okay, there’s definitely some sort way to do this. There’s some sort of order you can do this in to achieve maximum hypeness,” or whatever. So it wasn’t like I set out to be a DJ or that I would save $700 up and bought mad equipment. It was very natural, like “Hmm, I’m pretty sure I should start doing this.” Before I started DJ-ing, I made a lot of rap and hip-hop stuff that was kind of for fun and electronic music. Started to learn how to sequence and synthesize music, and DJ-ing came last.

FR: What do you do during the day?

RD: I just have a normal ass job. I’m trying to get a job that’s more design or copywriting oriented.  I was a writer for a long time. I wrote for the [Dallas] Observer and tried to go down that path, but I think I don’t want to be a journalist.  It was kind of a jarring life change when I figured that out.

FR: Describe your past DJ residencies.

RD: There really hasn’t been many notable ones. There’s really been a lot of on-and-off ones, like the one I played at Fallout Lounge back in the day and that transformed into playing at the Cavern. I’ve had residencies at Rubber Gloves in Denton. The first Track Meet residency was somewhat notable. It was as at the Crown and Harp, and that’s where we started to define what Track Meet was. We would bring Ben Aqua and Prince Will and different stuff. We were thinking, “How do we package this for a Dallas audience?” Because if we were in Boston or New York, we would just play whatever we wanted, and people would understand it, but not in Dallas. You kind of have to frame everything properly for people to understand it.

FR: Why do you think that framing is necessary?

RD: In the generation that precedes us, people who were in their teens in the ’90s have a background in electronic music. They grew up in techno and house. They grew up with trance and even drum n’ bass. Younger people are getting back to that. I think that generation was very rock-based, like hardcore or punk or metal. So there’s a learning gap, and the only reference point those people have really is rap because rap is electronic music. People don’t really think about it that way, but you have to frame everything. That’s why Trap, as annoying as it was to a lot of people, is somewhat important because it’s like “Hey, let me use some of the rhythmic templates that you’re used to, but let me pair it with sounds you’re not used to, to get you accustomed.” For example, you would remix a popular track a cappella, so people know the words, but then you’d make the backing track into the kind of music you’re in to, to secretly sneak that in.

FR: So that would make Trap some kind of gateway drug.

RD: I feel like it’s not the best gateway drug, but it kind of helps. I feel like Jersey Club does that too, because there’s a lot of remixing of pop. Ballroom House does that too, even though that’s way harder to listen to for most people. There’s just a lot of genres bubbling, and that’s just what a lot of people are doing. They’re just mixing genres, mixing with pop.

FR: Explain Track Meet. Who you guys are, what you do, and how you got together?

RD: Track Meet started at a time when I was transitioning from being a live techno/electro-industrial artist and an all vinyl-DJ. Basically that scene has been established for years, and it’s kind of  an elitist place. I started realizing like, “You know what, this sh-t’s really good, but nobody really cares.” I started being exposed to music that had a lot of the same threads as the music I really liked, but it was updated. A lot of it was from the UK, like “Night Selects.” “Night Selects” was really huge for me. “Jam City” was huge for me because at the time I was really into industrial-influenced electro-music. If you listen to industrial music, a lot of it is trash and really not danceable. They were using that sound palette and those textures and making it dance appropriate . They called it “bass” at the time. “Future Bass.” I think that word has kind of lost meaning, but that’s where it started.

So Austin Shook, who’s Shooknite, and this guy Jamal, who’s Hypeheadz, they had been into the whole “B-more” scene and the whole bass scene that’s coming up, along with cumbia and footwork. They’d already had a bunch of directions for that, so we kind of fused ourselves together, me with my background in techno/electro/house and [Austin’s] background in hyper music. We started creating this symbiotic relationship where we could play really good music and could play the best of both sides. Eventually our friend Matte [Blaque] joined.

Austin, Matte, and I kept it going for a long time. We threw basement parties.  We were really into Immerse parties, where you take Internet sensibilities of visual art and music and you put it into reality, into a space. Our first commercial party was Slime Rave, where we had glow-in-the-dark slime, and we had toxic waste barrels and glowing fence, and everything glowed. We brought in Low Boys and Aqua. That was our staple party, and it was too far out. Some people were like, “This is too weird” and others were like, “This is way too cool,” and eventually we lost our space to do it in.

We need a warehouse space to do it. I don’t want that to be confused that Track Meet itself is slowing down or losing steam or whatever. We just don’t have a place to have a party. What we’re doing now is putting compilations. We’re working really hard on that and learning how to master.

FR: How do you prepare for “The Turn-Up?”

RD: I go through every song I’ve ever downloaded in my entire life and I look for all the rap songs. [Laughs] Luckily I have steadily listened to rap for years, so it’s not as hard. I also get on DatPiff and talk to my friends who are DJs, and we pass each other YouTube videos of the hottest stuff. You just kind of have this sense for it. I need to know what the best song is right now. I need to know what that is. Maybe I’ll play it this time, but then when it starts getting played on the radio, then people go, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard this song.” I want that to start happening. Instead of being based on “I know this song, I love this song,” I want people to be like, “I don’t know this song, but I love this song.” I think in general that’s the mentality, even if it’s not a rap-based night. That’s the mentality I want people to be able to have. “I don’t know this song, but I love this song, so I’m gonna dance to this song.”

FR: So are you interested in being a tastemaker?

RD: I think inherently and inadvertently, yes. I don’t set out to delegate what people should listen to, but I definitely have an interest to put out what I think is really badass music.

I think Dallas is a market that’s not well-informed about the DJ culture and the lifestyle—or at least the younger generation–I think one might get lazy as a DJ because one might hold one’s self to local standards. I hold myself to standards to anywhere. If I was playing in New York, if I was playing a show in front of people in London, I wouldn’t be ashamed of what I’m doing.

FR: With “The Turn-Up,” you mix hip-hop, club, and world music in ways that haven’t really attempted before. In result, you get this unique sound that broadens what Dallasites get to listen to. What’s your reasoning behind that mix?

RD: I think there’s a need for people in Dallas to be exposed to what I think is a really, really badass scene in Jersey, Philly, Baltimore, DC—just good club music. There’s a lot of room for remixes. There’s a lot of artists [like] DJ Slink; he’s the homie. He’s really good. I’ve developed relationships with these people, and not only do I want them to be able to play here, but I want people here to be interested in them. I’m interested in making Dallas a potential venue for really good artists. One way to do that is through Track Meet parties; another way would be slipping it in under the radar and get people accustomed to it. So, let’s say I play more Jersey Club and then a Jersey Club producer comes to DJ in Dallas, and people would be like “damn, this is really good” or “yeah, I know what this is,” instead of “I have no f-cking clue what this is.” So that’s the whole plan. And it’s not just Jersey Club, it’s reggaeton, dancehall, cumbia.

FR: It’s funny that you say that about broadening the DJ scene, because—and this is a really cliché example—the Mad Decent Block Party is coming here in late August. When the news broke, there was some confusion about it. We’re the only Texas stop on the list, aside from New Braunfels. It really shows that what we’re getting exposed to is changing.

RD: There could be a political reason behind it, like the person who booked them knew somebody. I think the problem too might be that there’s a lot of people who are really into bullsh-t DJs. There’s a lot of problems with the DJs or they might be to themselves or there might be a marketing problem. I want people who do know how to market themselves and play good sh-t and hold themselves to a higher standard every time they DJ. They don’t play the same set over and over and over again, and they’re ashamed if they play a song they played last week. That needs to be the culture.

FR: What’s next for you? Where do you want to expand?

DR: I’m doing the Drone Warfare EP right now. Its drum work is extremely concept driven. It’s very focused in scope and feel. The sounds I used were incredibly carefully chosen. When you hear “Drone Warfare” you think about drums and autonomous lethal robots spying and killing each other. I wanted you to get that feeling. Even with the remixes, you get that feeling.

I want to branch out more for DJ-ing, and I think I am. Track Meet, we’re gonna put out a mixtape and another one soon after that.  When I go to New York this week, something will end up coming out of that too. I’m trying to go to Los Angeles in August. I’m going to DC in October. I’m trying to be all over the place, really: booking gigs, meeting people. That’s where opportunities are. [Laughs] At least until I DJ at the Super Bowl.

Ynfynyt Scroll can be found at The Turn Up on Thursdays at The Beauty Bar. You can catch with him on Facebook, Twitter, or Soundcloud