One of the lines from “On and On” — the first single from the Shut It Down EP by Ethan Conner, aka DJ Audio — is, “A vote for the team is a vote for the dream.” The phrase could almost be a motto for the project, which Conner is rolling out with multiple single drops, video debuts and a release party at The Altamont Theatre on Saturday, May 20.
The project comes in part from Conner’s various passions and skills, and in part from the fact that, as he’s progressed in his career, he’s had to learn everything from production to graphic design. “All that came when I couldn’t find anyone to do it for a reasonable price,” he explains. Conner designed the cover for Shut It Down, “made the beat, produced it, mixed and mastered it, everything top to bottom.”
He also featured several artists with whom he’d been working, including locals Mayer Black (hip-hop) and Siren XO (R&B). They’ve “shown me that they’re worth pushing, and they want it just as badly as I do,” says Conner. He’s currently mixing Siren XO’s next album and promises it will be incredible. But that’s the caliber Conner expects of all his projects.
Originally from Roosevelt, N.Y., Conner moved to Asheville about four years ago. His parents and sister now live here, too, but “when I came in just to visit, I liked the place, the idea that there’s no set way to do anything. Whoever wants to make their own way can play,” he says. “It’s strange but good. All the tools are spread out on the ground. You can pick them up and go wherever you want.”
Before relocating to Western North Carolina, Conner had been an engineer, working in studios — a career he came to through film school. “I keep going with sound and design, then got into doing studio work, then production, promotion and the whole party and entertainment side of it,” he says. As Conner’s stage name attests, he’s also a DJ, though that has taken a back seat to readying and promoting Shut It Down.
“I spin on a maybe biweekly basis. On the off-weeks I have shows,” he says. But it’s through DJing that Conner has encountered people from all walks of life. In Asheville, he has friends and acquaintances in every area of the city — an accomplishment in a town that’s known for being segregated.
“Hopefully, that can change. Hopefully, those divides are no longer an issue,” he says. “I’m a DJ, so everyone wants to party. I love a mixed room.”
Conner continues, “My music is for everyone. It’s for anybody who likes hip-hop, trap, R&B. … There are elements from everywhere.” He describes his sound as “trap body, pop soul” and adds that when he’s asked other music aficionados for a genre, they can never come up with a descriptive other than “it’s dope.”
“I like to mix things that can’t usually mix,” he says. “I like to have the softest of melodies with the hardest of beats and drums. That mixture is like sweet and sour sauce.”
So when it came to picking a location for his EP release show, Conner didn’t think about a stage that would specifically attract a black or white or even (hopefully) diverse audience. “I don’t ever depend on the venue for anything but the venue,” he explains. “Your crowd is a mirror image of what image you’re putting out there. I’m putting out, ‘Hey, come out, dance, drink, eat, have a good time.’”
Conner adds, “I’m more concerned about what the music will sound like when it’s being performed.” In The Altamont Theatre, “I love the basement with the bar. I feel like I’m in The Great Gatsby when I’m in there.”
While the musician does seem to be at home in Asheville, he says that parts of his New York upbringing still influence his work. “It shows in my grind, in me not stopping,” he says. In New York, even shows that aren’t major productions are promoted with oversized fliers covering entire city blocks. “Just that level of creativity and passion — I try to make that my standard.”
In person, Conner is as energized and kinetic as one would have to be to juggle such a workload with ambitions of world domination. On the eve of his EP launch, he’s talking about his plan of action along with ways he can use his platform to inform other artists. “On Facebook and Instagram I try to teach people [with] little clips,” he says. “Sometimes it just takes one little word to put somebody on the right track.”
He adds, “Consistency is what I’ve learned to be the biggest killer of new artists — not following up, not having that next thing ready.” But, with a video shot by Lucky Lefty Media just out and another seven singles in the chamber, Conner — DJ Audio — isn’t making that mistake.
WHO: DJ Audio EP release party for Shut it Down
WHERE: The Altamont Theatre, 18 Church St., thealtamonttheatre.com; after-party at Room Nine, 124 College St., roomnineasheville.com
WHO: Saturday, May 20, 8 p.m. $20