Late summer has been scorching in Southern California, and Sunday, Aug. 4, was particularly taxing. Temperature readings for the city of Fontana (about 60 miles east of Los Angeles) reached 101 degrees at 6 p.m. Over 170,000 people felt the blunt end of that heat walking across the asphalt of the city’s Auto Club Speedway—the only active NASCAR racetrack in SoCal—to enjoy the pulsating music at the 12th HARD Summer festival.
Through that stuffy congestion, thousands trekked to the east end of the Speedway to watch Yultron—a DJ and producer native to Los Angeles—deliver his heavy remixes and dynamic original productions, while Mount San Antonio gradually provided shelter from the sun.
The sunlight in his face made Yultron more vulnerable to the heat than the crowd, even though it complemented the gold of his custom Laker jersey. (The jersey features Kobe Bryant’s two numbers, 8 and 24, on the front and back respectively, with the word ‘Laker’ replaced with ‘Raver’ on the front.) The heat didn’t slow either party’s energy when he dropped his remix to Galantis’ “Runaway,” or teased Kendrick Lamar tracks, or re-amped the pace with his instant classic “Imma Be a Raver” a few minutes before walking off stage. It’s even more impressive when you realize he did the same thing Saturday, a day earlier, in front of the Chicago skyline on Lollapalooza’s Perry Stage.
When I meet him at a booth near the back of a bar in North Hollywood the next day, Monday, he’s grateful for the opportunity to play back-to-back festivals, a bit tired, and maybe a little relieved he survived the weekend. He jokes that he should have weighed himself before and after the set to see how many pounds he sweated off onstage. “I could only see parts of the crowd at times because of the sun,” he admits, “but it was worth it.”
This was the first time Yultron — who prefers not to disclose his real name — had performed at either festival, and ending the weekend with HARD Summer, a central event in Southern California’s dance music scene, helped his recent push to be more confident.
“Sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit, because I think I’m just a producer or I just make EDM,” he continues. “And then I run into people who tell me my music changed their life. I think part of those feelings comes from some people putting a hierarchy of worth on music. They do it with all kinds of art.”
A few musical transitions have brought Yultron to a present moment in which he’s packing crowds at back-to-back festivals. A son of poor Chinese immigrants, he picked up the guitar in his late teens and early 20s after taking piano lessons as a child, and formed a now defunct band after college at UC Riverside. They would follow the Warped Tour around the country, selling CDs to young fans so they could make gas for the next town.
Once the band fizzled out, he branched out on his own as a producer and started rapping over his own beats, even getting a YG feature in 2012 when the My Krazy Life rapper still had “400” attached to his name. Yultron no longer raps, and he credits DJ friends at the time with pulling him to electronic music. Once he felt comfortable manipulating sounds in this medium, Soundcloud loosies such as “Headbang and Chill” and projects like 2016’s Sushi, Friends, and Everything Awesome established his bass-heavy and hardstyle sound. In the last couple of years, Yultron has become a staple in festival billings and is now focused on “making timeless records” that crossover into the pop world.
On Aug. 30, he’s releasing his EP On Fire, a collaboration with Korean-American rapper-singer Jay Park, and an energetic start to that agenda. The two artists have known each other for a few years, with their work on 2015’s “BO$$” briefly charting at the number one position in Korea, but the way their strengths complement on On Fire suggests their creative well is far from tapped.
“West Coast,” the first single from the project, is airy and light. As Park himself says via email, “It goes with the sunset and a summer breeze.” One track doesn’t capture the breadth of their chemistry. “If you listen to the project,” Park continues, “I think it has a little bit of everything. Smooth vocals with subtle drops. Hard raps with head banger drops. Even the arrangements are unique … some songs only have one drop and no hook. It’s a roller coaster ride of a project I think the fans will enjoy.”
On Fire opens with Yultron flashing his chaotic tendencies on the title track, before transitioning into the subdued tones of “West Coast” and recklessness of “We Be Wildin.” It’s a treat for Yultron’s longtime fans and will likely bring some uninitiated into the fold.
Yultron maintains an aura of humility, positivity and gratitude while discussing his relationship with Park, the new project, heavy tolls for towing equipment in New York and trolling EDM crowds.
You grew up playing instruments. Was your family musical?
No, my family grew up super poor. My dad came here from China when he was 18, and then right after he got here and did a year of school, he was drafted for the Vietnam War. My mom came here when she was like, 30, but my dad had known her already and helped bring her over to Los Angeles. They weren’t musical; all they knew was work. I liked violin more at the time, so much so that I played in the orchestra in high school.
Was that your first experience playing live?
I had piano recitals that were terrifying. Once my parents got a little money, they put me in piano and violin lessons, which is almost universal for Asian parents. I think performing in front of an audience by yourself is a lot of pressure to put on a seven or eight year old. That might be why I didn’t like playing piano.
I enjoyed the violin though. Those recitals were fun, because I was older and had an appreciation for it. I started playing guitar in high school because some friends were into it and started my own band for a Battle of the Bands competition. Never took music that seriously though. It was never a dream when I was in high school.
What did you plan on doing?
I didn’t really have plans, to be honest. I went to college and studied political science. I was going to be a lawyer, so I took the LSAT, got into Loyola Marymount out here in L.A. I ended up not going because it was too expensive, and by that time I had decided to pursue music. So in college I started another band. We even got a van and went on the Warped Tour for a year, selling CDs at 7 am when people were waiting in line. We would walk around with iPods and have our music playing in the headphones, let people listen to it and then, if they liked it, sell our $5 EPs. That was basically just to make enough money for gas to the next city, scrape up a hotel to shower to in if we could and, if not, then maybe park at a Walmart to sleep for a bit.
What place stuck with you from that initial touring?
That was my first time in New York, and we were broke. I remember we had, like, $400 from selling CDs and felt rich. You go see all the typical tourist stuff, but what we didn’t know was all the tolls going in and out of the city add up, especially if you’re hauling a trailer like we were. Those extra axles ended up costing us around $200 over the whole trip to New York. That was half of all our money, but it’s that early band life. I did that kinda shit for like a couple years, and then I transitioned into my own thing just as Yultron. Initially, I was producing and rapping on beats. Not gangster stuff or anything like that, more in the vein of a Mac Miller or Wiz Khalifa who grew popular around that time.
Was it a gradual transition from rap to electronic music?
Yeah, I slowly moved away from rapping on my own stuff, because I feel like it’s hard to make it as an Asian rapper. Plus I’d become friends with some people who were already DJs in the electronic world. I heard the music they were making, loved it and wanted to move that direction. I already knew the ins and outs of a DAW (digital audio workstation). It was sort of a right place, right time, right kinda friends situation to move me to dance music.
Now I’ve moved away from working with strictly rappers to singers and pop crossover acts. I’m trying to do two different styles: a pop-EDM crossover and the fast-bpm hard bass style that people have known me for a few years now. A lot of my diehard fans love the latter kind of music, which is great. I want to keep making it, but I’m also drawn to slower, more melodic tracks that people can vibe to. Either way, I want to produce timeless music. My dance music right now might not age well. It could become old and dated the way dubstep sounds to us now.
Talk about the On Fire EP with Jay Park.
For starters, Jay Park is a phenomenal singer, dancer, rapper, just a boss. His personal story is crazy, and right now he’s one of the most popular artists in Korea. We met through my management team, Far East Movement. He had a show in LA about four years ago, and I met him right around the time I started to get into EDM. I told him I was going to be in Korea the following month, and he invited me to the studio. I had all these beats ready to play and he didn’t like any of them, except the last one that had an EDM drop. He cuts it, and that song ends up being “BO$$” which would eventually go number one on the Korean charts. Jay made me rap on it too. It’s cool now that it went number one, but at the time I wasn’t thrilled, since I’d moved away from that. It worked out though [laughs].
It beat out a lot of popular K-pop acts at the time and Jay realized there was sort of an untapped market for EDM in Korea. He asked me to help the drops on some of his harder songs, our relationship blossomed from there and, eventually, I signed to his label H1gher Music.
What was the creative process of the EP?
This EP took a while to get together, because we both tour a lot, but we got it done about two or three months ago when I visited Korea. I feel like it’s some of my best work in the pop/crossover world. It reminds me of what “Turn Down for What” was for DJ Snake, you know? I made four beats specifically for him, and we tracked them pretty much as soon as I got to Korea. We’ve had the “West Coast” song come out already and that has an obvious California influence.
Overall I feel like my production, and specifically the beat selection for this EP, highlights his abilities as a singer and rapper. They weren’t songs I would typically make in my area of touring music, hard drops and all that, but the type of songs he would sound good on. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about it.
How do you see yourself fitting into the evolving world of dance music in the next few years?
I don’t follow trends, so I’d imagine I’m still making the music that I want to make and not doing stuff just because of popularity. House music is getting popular again, but I’m not going to just start making house music, you know?
If what I make ends up hitting, then it hits, but I can’t see myself chasing the dance scene wherever it goes. It never works when I try to chase things. It only started working with me when I ignored what else was going on and just focused on what I’m passionate about. That’s when people gravitate towards my music.