“Those tracks legitimately send shivers down my spine”: Flashback to 2008 with tyDi
Six years can pass in the blink of an eye, but in the rapidly evolving world of dance music it can feel like several lifetimes. Some of 2008’s biggest hype acts have long since sunk back into obscurity; some emerging stars, meanwhile, have well and truly risen. Take Tyson Illingworth, known across the world for his work as tyDi. In 2008, the then 21-year-old progressive trance DJ/producer was anointed Australia’s favourite DJ at the inthemix Awards, thanks largely to his residency at Brisbane superclub Family. While working towards his 2009 debut album Look Closer, he was signed to Armin van Buuren’s Armada label after being hand-picked by Markus Schulz, Armin’s right-hand man.
He’s now living in Los Angeles and celebrating the release of third LP Redefined, an ambitious two-disc set which dropped on Global Soundsystem Records at the end of September. The record was written across three years, whittled from 300 songs in varying stages of completion down to the final 20. And although Illingworth can afford better speakers and acoustic treatment in 2014, the biggest change since 2008 is his songwriting approach – and having enough clout to call childhood heroes like emo figurehead Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional into the studio in the process.
“The main point of difference is I’ve written this album from the stance of how a band would do it, instead of how a DJ would,” Illingworth says from his adopted LA home. “It’s less about beats and drops and more about songwriting – it’s more about stories and feelings and emotions.” Less than a year into his LA story (the move necessitated by touring commitments and proximity to the EDM industry), we chatted with Illingworth about those heady days of 2008, and where he’s headed now that Redefined is out.
In 2008 yourself and Baby Gee were at the top of the inthemix Awards, so I guess Fridays at Family must’ve been pretty much at the peak of its popularity.
Family’s where it all kind of kicked off for me. I grew up on the Sunshine Coast, which is an hour up the road, and back then my biggest starry-eyed dream was to play in a big club. I was 16 and entering DJ competitions. All I could ever imagine was playing to a couple of hundred people, and Family was the closest, biggest club – an amazing venue – so when I finally got the residency there and was playing there it was a dream come true. So I was definitely one excited person back then – and still am.
It must’ve been pretty cool to play in that room from very close to the start of your career. Like you said, for most DJs in Brisbane getting to play there just once was the pinnacle, whereas you were playing there regularly from the start.
Subconsciously that taught me, even though I didn’t realise it, that if I set my eyes on a goal and if I honed in hard on it I could achieve it. I wanted to DJ regularly at a major club and DJ regularly to a big crowd and really hone in on my DJ skills. You can always learn to mix at home and you can always find good records, but you’ll never learn how to read a crowd unless you play to a crowd. Family is what taught me that. Everything that I do in my career today, the ability to read a crowd and play to an audience, all that training came from being a resident at Family for those years.
Over the past few weeks you’ve been playing some of the big clubs around the States, like Pacha NYC: how does Fridays at Family 2008 compare in terms of the vibe, the energy, the standard of music and the DJs that came through?
It’s really hard to compare. Obviously with the big EDM burst in America right now, the shows are huge – I just did a show last week to about 10,000 people at Nocturnal Wonderland on the main stage, and it was insane. They have pyrotechnics, the fireworks going off nearly every drop. It wasn’t really something that happened back then, the festivals in Australia, the fireworks might go off for the main act and only once. Now, every third song fireworks are going off, explosions, confetti cannons – they really go hard on the production. In comparison things are much bigger now.
Playing at Family back then was the time I was playing mostly other people’s records, figuring out what tracks to play when in a set, and playing a three-hour set, how you structure the flow. All that kind of stuff, it sounds dumb when you explain it to people these days, because a lot of DJs have the idea that you can play a 45-minute set or an hour set of just bangers. That’s the mentality sometimes, and that makes me a little bit sad because the art of DJing gets a little bit lost these days and I do miss that – getting to do the three-hour sets like I used to do at my Family residency back then. I’m kind of going back to that, doing extended sets around America at my own shows.
The Flashback set you’ve put together for inthemix has artists like Max Graham and Markus Schulz in there, and it does very much have that progressive mentality – you start at one point and work through a lot of different ideas before getting to your tracks ‘You Walk Away’ and the new one ‘Somebody For Me’ at the end.
That set was very nostalgic for me. I had to put myself in the mindset of what I would’ve been playing at Family back then in 2008, and those were the tracks that legitimately sent shivers down my spine. When I hear those records now it takes me right back to when I first heard those records. The set was inspired by what I was playing at the time, and believe it or not I still play a lot of those tracks today.