The advent of low-cost, do-it-yourself recording technology has put the power to create music in the hands of a wider group of creative musicians. Knocking down barriers to entry has meant that the virtual stranglehold the corporate music industry has exerted is now far less absolute. But alongside those advances, these seismic changes in the way music is created have paradoxically made it more difficult to get noticed: If everybody can make an album, how do you rise above the crowd and deliver your music to potentially receptive ears?
For a start, make that music broadly accessible. And on that score, Asheville-based DJ Audio has already succeeded. DJ Audio — born Ethan Conner — is a well-rounded talent, with notable skills in writing lyrics, vocals (both sung and rapped) and keyboards. That last is especially notable, as DJ Audio’s facility on keys allows him to create and fully develop musical ideas alongside his rhymes and beats.
Don’t be misled by this artist’s nondescript moniker: DJ Audio’s wide-encompassing musical vision draws from many musical traditions: hip-hop and reggae are the most obvious, but there’s an undercurrent of r&b, blues, soul and even East Indian rhythms in his tracks. Audio’s latest release is the Shut it Down EP. The requisite earth-shaking bass bombs are in good supply, but it’s the hypnotic beats and intriguing rhymes that make Shut it Down stand out.
Three of the Shut it Down tracks feature guests — Mayor Black, B-Rad and Siren XO — but the most compelling track on the 7-cut EP is “ON + ON,” a track that’s all DJ Audio. With the set’s most inviting melody, even the spoken parts of “ON + ON” fit into a kind of melodic groove, and DJ Audio’s lead vocal is especially inviting. At under three minutes, the track begs for an extended remix.
The stuttering beats and electronic foundation of “Work it Out” come together to make an effective track even before DJ Audio’s vocals are layered on top. And the EP’s closing number — the title track — delivers realism and hopefulness in equal doses while a throbbing sub-bass line moves things forward.
DJ Audio clearly favors quality over quantity, as not a single one of the tracks extends to the four-minute mark. There’s no danger of a cut wearing out its welcome with the listeners. Still, at around 22 minutes total, Shut it Down feels a bit like a half-measure. The optimistic take on that fact is that — again, thanks to the ready availability of recording gear and his well of creativity — DJ Audio will most likely return with more beats and rhymes in the very near future.