Southern California is full of transplants seeking reinvention–particularly musicians. When a calm, low-key DJ/producer named Dreamlyfe came to us from Michigan, his goal was to push the limits of complex earphone EDM, making him right at home in OC's burgeoning underground beat scene. He hits air drums and taps an imaginary midi controller while recounting his musical background–his fascination with sound is obvious. The 24-year-old's eyes light up whenever he mentions playing live, and it's apparent he has no regrets about leaving his hometown to head west and test his limits.
After spending his childhood behind a drum kit, Justin Olsen applied his affinity for percussion into what he considered a larger concept. "Electronic music is very percussive and syncopated," he says. "It had a rhythm that just drew me in. I was in bands for a while, but it was difficult to get everyone together under a common idea. When I started producing music on my own, I felt like I could put all my ideas into one place. It really opened up what I could do."
Dreamlyfe recently teamed up with collaborator ST4RFOX (née Kevin Bernard) to create the EP Galaktik, due out in mid-February. Bernard's background in classical and orchestral sounds coupled with Olsen's vision of dirty grooves gives the EP the potential to offer a fresh sound–no easy feat given EDM's endless catalog of remixes and influences.
Over the past four years, Olsen has kept his head down and his ears open, but he recently earned gigs on lineups with Borgore and Excision and most notably nabbed a slot at last year's Lightning In a Bottle festival.
Now in Huntington Beach, his electro hinges on bass lines, hip-hop and funk. The midtempo sound gives Olsen's tracks room to breathe. Like many transplants who spontaneously head west, Olsen was heavy on aspirations and light on funds.
Unwilling to allow hardships to hold up his creative process, the multi-instrumentalist opted to be resourceful instead of artistically stagnant. He used home instruments to form backbeats, formulated a midi controller out of an old keyboard and jumped into his career as a DJ/producer. After acclimating and adjusting to find his sound, he moved on to bigger and better equipment, but he never lost his fascination with experimentation.
"I'm going more toward funk electro right now. My new music is more centered on old-school funk from the '60s and '70s. I've been digging deep into artists along the lines of James Brown or Ohio Players, and then I build on those samples. I try to find something that has a lot of soul and heart already, that way, when I transfer it into electro, the music has warmth," Olsen says. "We have tracks that lean toward dubstep where it's actually me playing my keyboard on pieces of the song. That helps it feel raw and layered. Other tracks, I'll use a turntable to chop vocals or play the drums while ST4RFOX plays the trumpet and saxophone."
Considering he has held a job since he was 14 and a Midwestern upbringing that encourages perseverance, Olsen's natural work ethic could definitely mean big things down the road for the young DJ. Chances are he'll continue to find his way into the wild world of underground electro.