CREATIVITY ONLY THRIVES WHEN IT IS SUPPORTED BY A COMMUNITY OF FELLOW VISIONARIES. NO ONE PERSON CAN EXIST IN A CREATIVE SPACE ALL ON THEIR OWN. DJ SYLO HAS BEEN CRUCIAL IN FOSTERING A STRONG CREATIVE COMMUNITY IN PHILADELPHIA. HE DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS “AN ORGANIZER IN ALL THE SENSES”. AS A DJ, PRODUCER, AND EVENT PLANNER, A LOT OF WHAT SYLO DOES COMES DOWN TO ORGANIZATION, BUT WHAT TRULY SETS HIM APART IS THE INTENTION WITH WHICH HE ORGANIZES AND CREATES. THE FOCUS OF HIS WORK IS ALWAYS TO CREATE A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE FOR THE CONSUMER OF THAT WORK “IN A WAY THAT MAKES SENSE AND THAT MAKES PEOPLE FEEL SOMETHING”. WHETHER IT’S HIS EXTENSIVE INVOLVEMENT WITH THE PARTY SCENE IN PHILLY, HIS WORK AS A PRODUCER, OR HIS OWN DJ’ING EFFORTS, THIS INTENTION AND FOCUS SHINES THROUGH.
How would you describe who you are and what you do?
I’m a DJ first, you know. That’s like an organizer in all the senses. So for my whole… I guess the past eight years of my life I’ve just been organizing events and DJ’ing them, and organizing music all in a way that makes sense and that makes people feel something. So yeah, I’m an organizer, DJ, and a producer.
How did you come to do everything that you’re doing now? How did you get started?
In high school I had a group of friends who were into hip-hop shit. We were doing graffiti, dancing, just into whatever. And we kind of did all of that before DJ’ing was a thing, but it was always an interest. Then, my friend Gabe got turntables and we used to mess around with them at his crib. And we would go to this spot called DJ Hut in DC, in Washington, and watch Scratch and I just wanted to scratch really bad. That’s sort of what attracts everyone at first. You just get to geek out, just like [makes scratching noises] and mess with the different pitches and whatever. So eventually, with my parents help, Gabe actually gave me those turntables for a very cheap price with his records and I just started going in. I DJ’d stuff at my high school, like dance competitions and Freestyle Fridays at lunch and stuff. Eventually, my friend Tim asked me to DJ his house party. I didn’t even like parties, but it sounded cool so I got the stuff ready and tried my best and I killed it. I ended up DJ’ing some other shit in DC and from right then everything was just like, it was always just popping. I was just like, ‘I really want to do this.’ Then I came to Philly for Temple and it took me a little bit, but I ended up linking up with a crew and we started doing parties together.
After coming to Philadelphia for Temple, Sylo found himself begin to garner more and more attention on the local scene, even opening up for acts like Kid Cudi. Despite this growing success, the real reason that he chose to stay in Philly after graduating is his feeling about the environment that the city offers to artists and creatives. He describes it as “a hometown, neighborhood vibe.”
What do you love about Philadelphia? What inspires you about the city?
My group of friends, my family here. You know what I mean? So many people that are just strong, genuine, talented people. And that sort of group keeps growing. It’s also… there’s a realness and as far as cities go there’s sort of like a hometown, neighborhood vibe. Philly is a city of neighborhoods so whenever I’m come back from somewhere I’m walking around running into people I know. It’s a good feeling.
Speaking of that feeling that you get from the city, as a DJ how do you respond to the vibes and feelings that radiate from the crowd while you are performing?
That’s where the magic is. So when I’m preparing for stuff I’m putting things in different categories for different vibes and sort of feelings. And I have an idea of how I think a night’s going to go. For example, when I did The Dolphin, I had an idea of how I wanted to take people up and then crash, and whatever. But then it comes down to it and people are ready to go in at like 10:30 and I’m like, “God Damn! Alright, here we go.” I started playing songs and in my head I’m thinking that I was going to save it until like midnight, but I’m playing it at 10:30 and they’re going off and it’s what I kinda have to play back and forth with. And I definitely… that’s sort of the art of DJ’ing, how you can build with the crowd and almost be in the crowd and out of the crowd at the same time. Someone a while ago told me to pretend like I’m dancing with a girl in the crowd and to not do something sudden that would mess that up. So you kind of have to let people know, like, “Hey, here we go. We’re about to switch it up, ohhh!” And at the same time you’re playing off of people. Everyone has that sort of, ‘now, now, more, more’ so you can go quicker. I’m definitely getting better at the art of DJ’ing and selecting and telling a story. There are so many levels to it so I look forward to getting better forever, you know what I mean. Even at the last Dolphin thing, which was probably the most fun I’ve had DJ’ing, even though I was proud of myself I could already see ways I can improve and add more layers to it and bring everything together.
Have you had any experiences where the crowd really isn’t vibing with your set? How do you react to that?
Yeah. There’s also moments like that in nights, where it’s like all of a sudden, “Damn. Did I just lose everybody? Did I push it too hard? Did I just mess up and do something?” And it’s this moment where you’re like, “Man, I’m not really feeling anything from the people.” So there are two things, you can try to look a little harder and find one person and try to DJ for them until it kind of spreads, or one group. Or you just kind of DJ for yourself one time and just try to throw it out like, “Come on! Stay with me!” Say a little something on the mic, you know. Yeah so that happens, definitely.
The connection that Sylo makes with the crowds that he performs for carries on past the night of the party. DJ Sylo is an all around brand. He aims to not only create a pleasurable party experience for those in attendance, but to also allow people to listen to and think about music and their lifestyle in a different way. In his own words, his range of influence spans the broad space of “just how to be a human on earth… I think DJs and musicians in general have the responsibility to just broadcast their signal and bring people together.. with something that feels good.”
I wanted to ask you about your record collection. Where did that start out from and what is your view on the contrast between vinyl and digital?
They all have different stories. It all started with Gabe’s collection, which is just a bunch of dope shit for real, it’s all kind of scattered around now, but it’s just different hip-hop records and classic soul joints. Then I got… some people would just give me their collection and then it was sort of up to me to sift through what’s good and what’s trash and whatever. I used work at a record store in Silver Spring, Maryland called City Game Exchange and so I got a bunch of shit there, working there, like dollar bin records for the low-low.
Some people have brought me back records. My friend Lucas brought me back some records from Brazil that are just like, you know, have crazy percussion and they’re all crackly and messed up but they’re awesome. And, you know, sometimes I’ll go out with friends to different record spots around here and look for shit. Just randomly I’ll think, “Oh I should look for records” if I’m thrifting or just whenever. Yeah, so records are a really holy thing and I encourage everyone that likes music to get into records because it’s just like a… It’s more of a tangible experience. You get more of the past. But, you know, when you listen to a record it’s like a whole process. You have to take out the record… then you’re holding it and it’s this big and you’re like, “Dang. Alright, word…” and you might read about it… and you’re like “okay.” Then you got to take it out and you have to be careful with it and the needle. And, you know, most people listen to music nowadays while they’re doing something else, which is almost like a “duh’ thing. But then when you think about it, people used to sit around the record player and just listen, and you’ll hear a lot more. You’ll hear a lot more, and you’ll like your music better, it’s cool. Every so often I’ll just spend a day chillin’ and there’s just all this… you know there are plenty of records in here that I don’t know so well so I can kind of dig through my own collection.
Now that a DJ has the ability to just go online and download all of their music I feel that some of the personality that comes with a DJ having their record collection is gone. What are your thoughts about that phenomenon?
Yeah, but it’s still… that’s what I’m sort of saying, like, it’s a lot easier and less expensive to get all the hot records because those are really easy to download. Like you said, almost all music is out there, you know, but I’m pretty sure these records from Brazil aren’t online anywhere, except maybe what.cd which is just a crazy thing. Then my friend Frosty just has a crazy record collection and he’ll just pull something out like, “Oh, this is from Columbia. You don’t know this?” You know, just all this… and he’ll just rattle off all these music that I don’t know and I’m just like, “Wow, yo.” So the thing is that there is an ocean of music on the internet but you’re only one little kayak, so you only have but so much time to focus on one type. So maybe you’re going to be the sickest Grime DJ and you’re going to have all the Grime hits and you’re going to know all the joints or whatever, or you’re going to do dance hall or whatever.
There’s still… this is what I’ve been doing for years, researching music and getting music, there’s so much that I don’t have. There’s even whole genres, like Bachata. When someone requests Bachata, I’m like, “Oh shit”. I want to have Bachata hits and then the deep hits that when they ask for Bachata I can play a song and they’ll be like, “Damn, how do you even have this!” And I have that in other things and it’s always cool. Like when we did 2nd Street Festival on Sunday I played this Kiki Gyan record, who is like Ghana’s answer to Stevie Wonder. But this guy came up to me and dapped me up, like “Props for playing this”. It’s just cool, because people now… it’s a lot easier to research that stuff. Then the flip side, and you kind of touched on this a little bit, is that the way I’m transitioning now is towards playing more of my own records and also my friends’ records. I’m sort of in this family where we’re all making hot shit, you know what I’m saying. It’s just about getting to that level where I might play a remix of a song and people are like, “Damn!” and they go home and try to find it on Soundcloud but they can’t because it’s my friend’s remix and they haven’t put it out on Soundcloud or whatever. So, that’s part of the allure when people go to see Flying Lotus live. I remember when I went to see him at the Towers and he’s dropping this shit you haven’t heard yet and you’re like, “Yo, that jawn was crazy. Did you film that jawn?” All that shit, so I think that spirit of just like, “Wow, what is this DJ gonna play?” is still a thing.
In addition to his work as an event organizer and a DJ, Sylo also produces and engineers music. He takes just as unique of an approach to this aspect of his career as he does to the DJ’ing aspect. Sylo reflects upon the process of creating music from start to finish rather than solely focusing on the deliverance of the music as with DJ’ing and also his plans for the future.
What’s coming from Sylo in the future months and years?
What I’m looking forward to the most is just, like, the ultimate DJ experience. And it’s just sort of bridging the gap between these sort of farm, hippy festival type things with the city and just bigger events and more good vibes, you know. And more music, making sure that there’s more good music coming from me and the camp, you know. Just building a place for music lovers.
Advice for the kids?
It’s a lot, but to make it simple, just believe in yourself. Once you envision something in your head it’s already real, you just got to build a bridge to it.