Meet John Hamilton – a 23 year-old DJ making his way through the ever-present dance music scene. He’s opened for the likes of Steve Aoki and TV Rock and most recently turned heads at The Belvedere Music Lounge at the W South Beach during Miami Music Week. Like most, I was there to check out the event and see the heavy hitter lineup that featured Sander Van Doorn, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano and Tiesto, among others. But it wasn’t Tiesto nor Sander that had everyone talking. Instead, it was Sacramento native John Hamilton that got everyone's attention. He has the stage presence that resembles some of the greats, a talented ear, an ambitious attitude, a humble personality and a great look - a lot of qualities that could potentially result in superstardom. I sat down with the NYU senior to find out how it all began and where it’s going.
Meryl Luzzi: How did you get into DJing?
John Hamilton: When I was 16 a buddy of mine and I purchased two turntables from a lady down the street. She only had about 20 pieces of vinyl. We started messing around with that, but quickly discovered Serato. From there, we started some 'Sweet 16's' and school dances. My parents wouldn’t let me bring my turntables to college, because they wanted me to focus on school. As soon as Thanksgiving came around though I got a side job and saved up to buy some equipment off Craigslist. I started spinning a bit early on as a freshman, but didn’t take it seriously until the end of junior year (about a year ago).
ML: How would you define your style?
JH: I really like a lot of melodic, vocal tracks. I love Kaskade. I’m just starting to produce my own stuff now, I haven’t put anything out yet, but he’s one of my biggest inspirations. I listen to a lot of Avicii, Jamie XX and Diplo mainly because he’s diverse; he’ll do 120 bmp track and then do a slower Moombahton track.
ML: Typically, you start off as a producer and then transition into a DJ. You’re doing this process in reverse. How has this transition been for you?
JH: I like having the experience of DJing on my back, because I feel like I’ve trial and errored a lot of the blending and crowd reading. You can’t get any bigger until you put out your own tracks and I understand that. I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from in NYC like David Berrie who have come up in the last year or so.
ML: All of the genre walls are slowly breaking down. Outside of dance music, what other genres do you listen to?
JH: I love Motown and I listen to a lot of hip-hop. When I started DJing I was spinning more hip-hop than electronic music. I’m from the Bay Area so we had the whole hyphy movement with Mac Dre and E-40. I do listen to a lot of house, but you have to balance yourself out by listening to non-house music may it be jazz or even classical.
ML: It makes you a better producer. You can incorporate great things from other genres into your own style.
JH: One of the main goals as a producer is to come up with your own sound. Something that people can hear in it that makes it a branded sounded. If you’re only listening to house producers, you’re only going to get the influence of their sound. You can pick out Kaskade, Diplo, even David Berrie’s sound and I think a lot of those influences come from other genres.
ML: Right now, your career is so young. What would you like your career to look like down the road? Who would you like it to resemble?
JH: I want to build a nice foundation. The one thing I like about this new generation is that the barrier of entry is so low. You no longer need thousands of dollars to produce in the studio. You’ve got people like Skrillex who started only recording stuff on his laptop. I really like the guys who do the entire business themselves. Madeon chose to put out his stuff on his own – it may not be this powerhouse of a label, but it’s his own. Whatever releases I have early on, I’ll probably want to start a label myself and put them out that way. I want to build this up organically. What’s great about the music business now is that everything is so simple to distribute. As long as you can get yourself in the hands of the right people, almost anyone can do it, whereas before you had to have the label backing of a Sony or Universal. It’s the same situation with technology; everyone can download Fruity Loops. It’s all fair game.
ML: It’s fair to say that it’s harder to sell an album than a single. Dance music releases are often single-based. Most people just buy the single off the album anyway.
JH: Yea, prior to that you had to buy the whole album and now you can pick which track you want. I’m a big supporter of people distributing things freely. I feel you should just get the music out there and make money in alternative ways. The taste you leave in your fans mouth if you release something for free (like Radiohead did with In Rainbows) will make them come to your live show and pay that higher ticket price. All the revenue streams are diverting to live shows now. It’s a completely changed game. A lot of people who made money the old way are now tightening up. We’re in this new generation that doesn’t even understand (or is used to) the old business models.
ML: Where can we see you spin?
JH: I hold down Santos Party House every three to four weeks. I was at Lavo pretty recently and I’ve been traveling a lot lately.
ML: You've got a pretty good following on Facebook, but your face is still unknown to many. What are three things you would like people to know about you?
JH: I train at the Five Points Muay Thai Academy (Chinatown, NY), the greatest gym in the world; I enjoy a woman who can score high in Tetris; My baby bro - Peter Minaesian Hodgson - owes me a bottle of 151 Rum.
Catch John Hamilton at the following locations next month:
Like him on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter
Listen to him on Soundcloud