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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.
The influence of the Internet on Fagin's expansive musical knowledge cannot be overstated. Ask Fagin where he first discovered Moombahton, baile, or the Portuguese Kuduro, and his answer is always the same — the Internet. It explains how he can talk so easily about DJs and artists when he can't get into clubs and will be restricted to all-ages shows until his 18th birthday in July. "The Internet has made a lot of things really easy," he says with a laugh. "I like doing my research, so I look at what all the other DJs are doing. If they have mixes online, that's how I check them out." Fagin thinks St. Louis DJs are kicking a dead horse when it comes to dubstep but admits he wasn't a fan of the womp-womp genre to begin with. 18andCounting and DJ Cor(e)ography's styles are more his speed; they play around with styles instead of churning out the tired four-on-the-floor electro bangers most DJs rely on nightly.
"Being the same DJ as everyone else with a different name is just tiring. Ultimately people just want to dance, and if they want to dance to dubstep that's fine, but I just like bringing new music to people," says Fagin. "Being from the Midwest, you're not seeing a complete wealth of culture like you would see in Chicago or New York, so my goal is to bring a lot of different sounds and expose people to music outside of the Midwest."
Fagin thinks one thing holding St. Louis back from re-staking its former status as a music mecca is the "St. Louis-known" mentality. Bands gain notoriety and fans in St. Louis, but many never break nationally because they don't tour or get complacent simply because in this town, they're already famous.
"You need your city to support you, then it's easier to branch out, but if you don't, it just becomes, 'Oh, just another So and So show.' That's how you lose fans," Fagin says, likening the microcosmic phenomenon to "being in the friend zone with a girl."
"You have to support the local scene. People get mad if you don't, but you don't have to like bands that are shitty just because they're local."
Fagin is intent on getting an audience beyond St. Louis. He's in the process of planning a mini-tour to New Orleans, Chicago and LA with his manager/BFF. He's looking forward to the summer, which is already filling up with performances and DJ sets.
Fagin is an articulate, wiry kid who views school as a necessary evil. He's maintained a 3.5 GPA throughout high school, and he works on music during his study halls. Fagin looks wistful when he talks about all the time he'd have for music if he wasn't cooped up in class five days a week. "It gets a little hard, especially when it comes to making music," he says. "It's such a time-intensive project, and going to school seven hours a day is a big chunk of that. But honestly, I've been able to work it out, and everything has just come together. That's what's made this year really easy."
He heads to Mizzou next fall to study convergence journalism. He chose Mizzou over DePaul University in Chicago because he wants to be closer to St. Louis. "There are definitely a lot of movements beginning that are really, really, really going to change this town. Even with the acts that are being brought to St. Louis, it's like people are becoming more aware. I think that's really cool, and I absolutely don't want to leave that right now."
He thought about majoring in music business, but, he says, "I don't want to be a jazz musician, I don't want to play in the symphony, and I don't want to teach, so there wasn't really a point." If music doesn't work out, he'll have journalism to fall back on.
College is still a few months off, but Fagin is going to be a big fish in the CoMo pond — he's already played all the major venues in Columbia. He's resigned himself to an inevitable stint as a frat-party DJ because they pay "good money" but says he won't be playing Tool and Ke$ha.
"If you can convince people to like what you're playing and not what they want to hear, I think that's greater than trying to fit to a crowd. If they like me, cool, if they don't, I have St. Louis. I'm not too worried." Fagin pauses. "But I'm excited."
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!