DJ BL3ND is landing in Macau with his fright mask this August. But underneath all that he’s a right softie.
Kitted out in his trademark scare-mask, DJ BL3ND makes my skin crawl slightly. It’s every childhood nightmare come to life, with the added bonus of legions of superfans (known as BL3NDERS) who are, to the say the least, an exuberant crowd. Yet, on the phone, the man behind the mask is softly-spoken and takes his job very seriously.
“For me, every show is energetic. My goal is to make the crowd happy, to make them have a great, happy and energetic night.”
It is a statement that is in keeping with the mania he exhibits on stage and on his infamously viral YouTube videos, which have racked up over 330 million hits since he first started recording them from his bedroom. In fact, he must currently be one of the most famous ‘bedroom DJs’ that have made it thanks to the internet. He explains that he started when he was still at school (which was still only about five years ago). “I got my own sound system when I was still at school and I first started off playing at family parties. From there, I took it as my hobby into my bedroom and that’s where I started making my videos.”
His first video on YouTube got over 80 million hits, which was a surprise even for him. “I never really expected [the reaction]. I mean, I was just doing it for fun. Really, even now the gigs I play I do it for fun. I’m pretty certain that my fans, the BL3NDERS know and appreciate that.”
While he’s now sought after around the world, and will in fact be playing at Club Cubic on August 2, it took him four years to get visas to even go on tour. “Everything happens for a reason. I mean, my first live gigs with the mask on, they definitely weren’t how I do my shows now. Those four years have really helped me refine my show. Now, the experience is great because now I’m able to express myself exactly the same way, with the same level of energy, as on my videos.”
In those four years, he’s learned to put on quite the show – just take a look at his YouTube channel. He is his own MC, producer, DJ and performer all rolled into one. “A lot of people wonder how I can play my mix, run to the crowd, get them worked up, then MC and get back to the decks. Well, it takes a lot of practice. I mean, when I’m on stage, I’m doing the work of two or three guys. Usually, you have duos so one guy’s the MC, maybe even have a performer on stage, but with me, I do everything. And with all the experience I’ve got now, my performances are just going to get even crazier.”
This ability to multi-task on stage, to put on a show, rather than just stand behind the decks awkwardly swaying to the music, is something that’s beginning to define this new era of DJs. It seems sometimes that it’s not enough just to play good music to earn the big bucks, although DJ BL3ND sees it differently. “DJs these days just have to be unique in their own way. A lot of DJs that are out there, they’re doing different things to attract their fans. They don’t necessarily have to go beyond [what they can do], but it’s everything as a whole. It’s the music, of course, it’s who you are as a DJ. I just keep doing what I’m doing just to make my fans happy. I don’t have a magic formula or anything. But these days, you have to give your fans the whole package.”
The whole package for DJ BL3ND of course includes his infamous mask. “You know, when I first started making those videos, I found the mask laying in my closet from three Hallowe’ens ago. That was the first mask, and well it’s evolved now into these different looks, like with the dreadlocks and the green hair.” When asked if the mask makes him DJ better, he’s forthright. “When I started making my videos, I just wanted to do something different. At the time, I was gonna show my face. In fact, I made one video showing my face, but then I realised that no, I get crazier with the mask on, the mask is what makes me crazier. You know, I can express myself better with the mask on. Underneath the mask, I don’t look crazy. It’s my mask that looks crazy and my fans wouldn’t take me the same way otherwise.”
In terms of marketing gimmicks, it’s one that’s worked very well for him. Of course, he’s by no means the first DJ to create a stage persona – just look at Daft Punk’s helmets and deadmau5’s Mickey Mouse ears – and some online detractors have accused him of aping these acts. But of course, just putting on a mask doesn’t turn you into an internet sensation overnight. It’s the dedication to what he’s doing that translates into the manic energy that infuses every one of his gigs, although he’s typically humble about it. “My stage presence, it’s something that came naturally to me, although it evolves each time I perform. When the energy of the crowd is crazy and wild, it gives me energy to do crazier things. The energy in my videos is because of the music. Really, it’s the music and the crowd that makes the show crazy.”
DJ BL3ND encapsulates the new era of DJing and electronic music. It’s a world that’s fan-based, interactive and young. It’s electronic music that isn’t pretentious (“I love all genres, but the energy of electronic music was really what struck me”), that challenges the line dividing DJs from rock stars. He’s yet to release a full album – just mixes and podcasts that are free to download from his website – and yet he’s also the record-holder on Billboard’s Uncharted Chart, a chart based on those online views, holding the top spot for a ridiculous 62 weeks. In other words, DJ BL3ND could not have happened at any other time in history.
Of course, the questions remains whether he’s able to turn his online success into commercial success and reach that coveted number one spot on the Billboard 100. It’s a paradigm that the music industry is racking its brains to exploit, but for now, DJ BL3ND is happy. From his Texan roots, the bedroom wunderkind is now, finally, taking the world by storm and for him, what he wants is clear. “My best gig? That happens in a lot of places. From Texas to New York, and now from Europe to Canada and Asia, every night I play I want to make it the best gig that I’ve ever played. I try to make every night as unforgettable for my fans as I can.”