By Tom Charles
Asst. managing editor
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/58836506″ iframe=”true” /]
When The Crystal Method has something to say, there’s something people should listen to. So when the Grammy-nominated big beat innovators personally advised DJ Kayo to focus on staying inspired, he took it to heart.
Since starting to create hip-hop beats at the age of twelve, Kayo refuses to fall into complacency, constantly incorporating new influences into his sound. About four years ago, he found himself taken by dubstep – a genre still foreign to the mainstream at the time. As the market became oversaturated, Kayo (often billed by his birth name, J.J. Lazarus) shifted his focus once again, recently finding interest in trap music. Given his history in both rap and EDM, this new burgeoning genre makes perfect sense for the Syracuse-based producer.
Yet despite identifying as a producer first and a DJ second, Kayo acknowledges the state of the electronic music market, which is what motivates him to continue to book live shows. As he does so, he continues expand his impressive resume that already boasts opening performances for such nationally headlining DJs as Laidback Luke, Borgore, and Korn frontman Jonathan Davis. “When it comes down to it, playing live is the way to get out there,” he says. “There’s something about making people move that gets me off.”
Kayo got his first taste of this live adrenaline rush in December 2011. Mixing in front of a live crowd for the first time in his career, he was understandably nervous opening for such a well-known duo as Canadian progressive drum and bass masters Zeds Dead. But his pre-show jitters settled quickly once he saw he had a hold on the 500-person crowd. It was at this point he realized this was an option to pursue professionally.
Lazarus’s career is an anomaly, though. Deviating from standard practice, he intentionally underutilizes his social media platforms, often bordering on neglect. After spending months trying to craft the perfect Facebook biography, he settled on “Follow the music” – a mindfully uninformative description intended to spark organic interest. “I want my fans to focus on the music,” he said, “not me.” Embodying this sentiment since day one, he carries himself modestly on stage. The night of his Zeds Dead opening slot Lazarus wore a grey beanie and buttoned up grey cardigan, hiding the New York Yankees’ logo tattooed on his upper neck – all personal identifies seemed hidden.
Keeping personal and professional lives separate is a constant battle given the invasive nature of publicity in the digital world, and Kayo certainly isn’t the first EDM artist to struggle with it. But unlike some of the first of his contemporaries to mind – Daft Punk, SBTRKT – he doesn’t hide behind a mask: a trick that, in turn, ultimately draws more attention to an artist’s image. Producers like Deadmau5 even seems to instigate deliberate contradictions at times; this summer he gave fans a voyeuristic 24 hour-long glimpse into his life as he broadcast an entire studio session spent crafting a song from start to finish. When prompted, Lazarus was supportive of Deadmau5’s spectacle, but don’t hold your breath waiting for any similar gimmick from Kayo any time soon. His social platforms are often left unattended to for months at a time.
That’s not to say Kayo is stagnant during these stretches of time, but rather that his career values lie elsewhere. With a collaboration with fellow High Fives Worldwide member Direktor in the works, as well as some possible hip-hop collaborations, there’s no time to tweet. Even his forthcoming yet-unnamed debut EP is taking much longer than he ever expected, but as he’ll tell you, “you can’t force a masterpiece.”