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How does one go from just another high schooler with a hobby to opening for Steve Aoki and getting international press? In Jay Fay's case, it has nothing to do with some rock star fairy tale — he cannot claim an indigent upbringing or puritanical parental units. Fay (whose real name is Josh Fagin) has found a different path to success: the Internet. Oh, and Diplo.
In February, seventeen-year-old Fagin dropped a self-titled EP, and the very next week, one of his remixes appeared on super-producer Diplo's blog Mad Decent. On May 9, Fay got another virtual backslap from Diplo and Mad Decent for another remix, "Run Up Get Dun Up," by Da Banggaz.
There are few things better for a young electronic artist's career than a Diplo shout-out; he is arguably the top arbiter of taste in the genre, and his picks trickle down through the blogs and the Hype Machine wringer and end up on hard drives and iPods the world over. Since that EP, Fay has earned opening slots for icons like Drake, the Hood Internet and the aforementioned Steve Aoki, and his music was lauded on MTV Iggy in the United Kingdom.
The admiration is mutual. "Everything he did to bring baile funk and different types of music to a wider audience. He's helped me discover music I never would have found if it weren't for him and Mad Decent," says Fagin of his No. 1 influence and "biggest mancrush" Diplo. "Mad Decent is my dream label; if I could release something on that, that would be my dream. They're one of the few labels that listens to all the tracks submitted. He's responded to every e-mail I've ever sent him."
Fagin first pursued music seriously two years ago. Inspired by the innovation and success of Greg Gillis, better known as Pittsburgh sample surgeon Girl Talk, Fagin started out making mashups. "That went on from, like, sophomore year to junior year," says Fagin. "I was kinda like, 'I don't want to do this forever.' It's original to some degree, but it's not your own, and I always wanted to make my own music."
So he gave up mashup for production. Fagin's parents are uber-supportive of his blossoming career. They understand if he's out until 3 a.m. and gladly excuse him from school for shows. Fagin's best friend since third grade, Dustin Kessler, acts as his manager and photographer. Friend and fellow electronic artist Anthony Engelhardt, another youngin with a mind for music who plays around town as Ra Cailum, schooled him on the ins and outs of producing and popular sequencing software Ableton. "I owe a lot to him. He really, really helped me," Fagin says of Engelhardt. "My love for drumming and percussion was totally replaced by my love for DJing and producing." Another once-local influence is fellow Clayton High alum and next-big-thing producer Phaseone, who relocated to Brooklyn earlier this year. He was also given the Diplo Bump — Diplo pimped one of his tracks, and Pitchfork soon followed suit. Now, the two producers are friends. Wisely, Fagin remixed Phaseone's aural crack track "Being With You" on his second self-titled EP, the one that got Diplo's attention in the first place.
"Considering the fact that I didn't even know what music production was as a senior in high school, I'd say he's on the right track," Phaseone says. "He knows his way around a beat. He's got a lot to look forward to."
Fagin credits his nine years as a drummer and percussionist for his beat-heavy style. He blends baile sounds and dance-hall devices to create soaring, manicured tracks that are grounded by terrestrial percussion. "I have a ton of stuff I haven't put out yet, and it's crazy because I haven't been doing this that long," says Fagin. "I've just been working really hard." Fagin says it can take anywhere from three to eight hours to make a new track from start to finish.
"Depending on how picky I end up getting, it could take up to eight hours to get it where I feel like it's right. That's the exciting thing, there's always something new to work on. I don't like putting deadlines on my work. I just do it until it feels right."
It's a testament to his generation that Fagin has been noticed by so many people at such a tender age, but he certainly isn't alone. Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom of indie-rock band Yuck were only fifteen when they started Cajun Dance Party and seventeen when they signed to XL. This year, the '90s-obsessed twenty-year-olds are playing every festival from Glastonbury to Chicago. Cloud Nothings' Dylan Baldi was just a year older than Fagin when his lo-fi tape sound started bouncing around the blogosphere. And dare we bring up rap sensation Odd Future: Those venom spitters are barely old enough to buy their own blunt wrappers. These kids were raised on the Internet, observing the death of emo, the rise of indie music, the drum-machine renaissance, the hipster plateau. They've analyzed YouTube hype and mastered the delicate art of self-promotion and are hell-bent on finding a place on the capricious iTunes totem pole, one Bandcamp download at a time.
note: There's an unfortunate typo in the third paragraph, the third line should read: "There are few things better for a young electronic artist's career than a Diplo shout-out; *DIPLO* is arguably the top arbiter of taste in the genre..." No offense Jay Fay! He'll get there some day, but is not the arbiter of taste quite yet. Sorry about that!