January 27, 2019

Milestones Part II: DJ Dark Flow


After I put my radio show on an indefinite hiatus in 2015, I was fully committed to developing myself musically, having now more free time to focus my energies on original music production instead of planning for 4 hours of radio programming every week. As I explained in my first chapter of Milestones, music was ingrained in me from a very early age, since being exposed to various rock n roll by my father, and I quickly forged my own path in musical discovery. I always had the desire to be a musician, and was influenced by groups in high school such as Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Mars Volta (all of which reinforced my interest in musical experimentation and drawing outside the lines of "mainstream music"), and Nine Inch Nails (a group known for being a one-man act who had an enormous influence on my motivation to make music all on my own) among others. When moving to Connecticut with my family, I quickly tried to make friends and form a band. I was able to form a 3 piece rock group, which eventually became a 4 piece with the addition of a keyboardist, and we donned the name Breathe, named after the Pink Floyd track off Dark Side of The Moon.

During this same period, I was gifted a Fostex 16-track recorder by my father after probably nagging him and asking him enough about it. I will always be grateful for my father for encouraging me to keep up with the music, taking me to trumpet lessons, making sure I was practicing with my guitar, and enrolling me in guitar classes and jazz band in school. He was later supportive of me getting into college radio, after I found out that there was no formal schooling on studio recording engineering (as it turns out, I ended up becoming a self-taught music producer on my own).

With Breathe, I was able to take my music practice and skills to the next level, getting my first taste of making my own recordings, both with the band and as a solo artist in my bedroom studio (monitors, mic stands, keyboards, electronic effects boards, and electric and acoustic guitars were all neatly set up there). From this time period between 2004 and 2007, I created a small body of recordings with the band, as well as a number of solo tracks, which sounded heavily electronic, experimental, and industrial in nature. I had to pick a name to differentiate my recordings from my group, and so I settled on the moniker Satellite Beats, giving a nod to my love for space rock and electronic music. These recordings I've made still do impress me, and they have been released here and there in the ether of the internet. They were my first forays into electronic music making using multitrack hardware. 

After my group had disbanded when some of us left for college and others still had yet to graduate high school, I took a break from music production and put all of my creative time into building my brand as a radio host and electronic DJ. I occasionally put in some time creating some minor remixes (when I would come across song stems and acapellas), but mostly, I was interested in creating exciting radio mixes and featuring musical guests. In the beginning of 2011, my graduation year, I started creating dubstep mixes and electronic mashups under my DJ name. These are some of my first releases. I was aware that my time with UConn's radio station was coming to a close, but I wanted to keep being creative and stay relevant, so I called and asked around and booked a few live DJ shows. I was inspired by a couple of my DJ friends, DJ Daysix and DJ Slav, who I met and spent some time with, and I wanted to get into the scene of live DJing at popular hangouts in CT.

After a number of live shows at some popular places and people's houses and my continued releasing of mashups and DJ mixes, I started to become uninterested with mixing for a live audience, since I had no original music to work into a live set. I felt like this made my persona almost a bit hollow and still not fully formed. Sure, I could mix electronic tunes together and string together a flow of fun, danceable beats, but I didn't have anything I could truly call my own. I decided to stop my ventures of playing out, and around this time, I was actually granted an extension on my radio program through WPKN in Bridgeport, CT, which I started volunteering at in September of 2011.

As a musical persona, I felt like I needed some visual branding as well. I had a clear vision of what I wanted for DJ Dark Flow, but I didn't necessarily have the expertise to pull off the images that were in my mind's eye. I enlisted a couple people along the way to help me realize my logos and designs. One of them was a buddy of mine from San Diego, Dan Morris. At the time, he was a vocalist in a black metal band called Gravespell, which I thought had a very cool and heavy vibe. My interest in electronic music and dubstep in particular had elements of dark sonic landscapes and gritty, hardcore production, and sometimes some songs in the genre even sounded like the chaotic grinding and riffage of heavy metal music. This was something about the genre that interested me greatly, as I was always a fan of the heavy, hard hitting sounds of metal or industrial music growing up, listening to bands like System of A Down, Ozzy Osbourne, Tool, or Nine Inch Nails. This sound was very much an influence on me musically as well as visually, so I felt confident in my collaboration with Dan to create my very first logo.
The end result was a great accomplishment for us, and I felt like it was something wholly unique and made a statement. I didn't care that it might appear difficult to read for the uninitiated, but instead, wanted to put it out there for all to see. It was all the elements that I felt like defined my alias: ideas and music flowing smoothly like a river, organic and ancient looking medallions rising out from the depths, and ultimately chained together by heavy metal links. It was my first real visual branding for myself, and I quickly ordered limited prints of posters and shirts, which I promoted at some live events and while on my radio show. Beyond my main river logo and various other designs, my visual branding took a backseat to single and cover artwork as my original music began to take form.

Leaving WPKN left me with all the time I needed to re-focus. I just had to figure out how to use a digital audio workstation, or DAW. Growing up, and while in high school, I was persistent with my Fostex 18 track, and my parents had enrolled me into a summer camp for learning Pro Tools. It was an interesting, yet highly complex computer software, but with trial and error, I was able to compose my very first electronic song using this program, for my alias Satellite Beats, called Anything and Everything. It was a basic heavily effected guitar track, with a repetitive house beat. I was amazed with my creation. Following this summertime retreat, I attained a copy of the software for my first macbook, but sessions using the program proved highly frustrating. Getting myself started took the longest time, and sometimes, the sound would just mute or create a horrible feedback loop, and I felt completely at a loss for solving these problems within the program. Ultimately, I had to walk away from using Pro Tools, since it created more headaches than music. 

This exploration of music software programs continued, but was left on the back burner while I ran my radio show. In the late summer or early fall of 2014, several months before my final broadcast, I linked up with a buddy of mine who I had on the show several times, and worked his music into my setlists. His stage name was Ancient Origin, who made music in the genres of 8-bit, electronic, IDM, jungle, and breakcore tunes. As we worked together, or rather, on our own tracks at his house, something in my head clicked while I was working with a new DAW, Apple's Logic Pro. This epiphany I had jumpstarted production on my first original release as DJ Dark Flow, my debut self-titled EP, in the summer of 2015.

My first release was an exploration of several different genres: electronic, dubstep, jungle/IDM, dark trap, and hip-hop. The goal was to filter all of my musical influences into my music, but not pigeonhole my producer persona into any one style. This release saw the help of a couple of my good friends and collaborators with my radio show, Ancient Origin, once again, and B. Dvine, who laid down an awesome verse on my final bonus track. I chose these two for being inspirations to me, witnessing their musical production and talent during Adrift In The Airwaves. They paid me back with amazing support and collaborations. The artwork itself was a gift from a co-worker of mine when he was up listening to my late night show, and was inspired to give me a cool graphic of my name over an up-close shot he took of tree bark. I knew upon my first glance that it was going to be the cover art of my first EP.

Giovanni Piris worked with me again on my follow up single artwork, delivering a high quality scan of a gigantic Buddha statue being taken down by soldiers, for my two track release, SO)L, in October of that year. After several more small releases over the next few years, releases which saw me experimenting with even more genres, such as jazz, drum n' bass, and witch house, I was feeling ready with my musical development to start forming a full length album.

Going through all of my previously incomplete musical projects in Logic, I was able to see some of my forgotten ideas in a new light. One of the many great benefits of creating music in a computer program is always being able to build on ideas which you have left on the cutting room floor from previous sessions. Some of these snippets of music started to create new inspiration, when before they didn't seem to go anywhere. One of my arhythmic drum beats that I had created eventually formed into the first single which will also appear on my debut album, Cracking the Code. It became a pretty neat dubstep track, and I was surprised with how it formed out of a previously abandoned beat. The spring of 2018 was also the year I was able to get all of my music onto streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. I was ready for a full, worldwide musical presence, since my sound had evolved and grown, and I wanted to be available to listen to, anywhere and anytime.

I promoted my new single with the promise and expectation that my EP, titled Crystallize, was going to be released by the summertime. That never happened though. I felt stuck on several of the songs, and ended up taking a break. In the meantime, my interests shifted during the summer period to an unfinished work from years ago, a horror story I was writing, called Crimson Sky. I had several book ideas, and I wanted to release one as a special "multi-genre" work, which incorporated music. As a shift to take my music production skills in a different creative direction, I decided to put all of my attention into completing Crimson Sky.

I set myself a personal deadline to release in it time for Halloween, and I had the most of the story outlined, I just had to finish writing it and compose an entire full length score which would match the mood of each chapter and scene in the story. It was a challenging, but very gratifying project, seeing my writing and music come together under one title. I ended up releasing my work in paperback and digital formats on Amazon, and my original soundtrack on all music platforms, simultaneously on October 20th. I had a piece written about it in the local newspaper, and I had a moderate amount of book sales since then. I still haven't had the chance to take my book out to live readings with a compact speaker to play alongside, but that's something I have been meaning to do to continue to promote its release. This was another aspect of my musical capabilities that I wanted the world to see: to show that DJ Dark Flow is not just one genre, or even medium. It was my tribute to horror movies and film soundtracks, and I hope to one day be hired as DJ Dark Flow to compose a full length score for a television show or film.

All of this growth brings me to where I am today: on the eve of my latest release, Crystallize, upgraded from EP to full length debut electronic album. Since the end of the year, I have felt tremendous creativity with several songs where I was previously stuck, with some of them becoming complete within just a couple of weeks. I am still constantly surprised by how fast and agile I have gotten with using Logic Pro, and I believe that I will only become more skilled, as it is with anything. I would highly recommend the program to any aspiring artists, as it has brought me much joy and music that I am proud to present to listeners today. My album Crystallize, I plan on releasing by March, if not April or May at the latest. I have just a couple more songs, out of the 8 that will be on it, to finish forming and putting the finishing touches on, but ultimately, I will be very satisfied with the final product, and achieving this great milestone in my professional and musical career.