Mystic resident Nate Rathbun nominated for Grammy Award
By any December measuring stick - Santa or presents or mistletoe or partridges in pear trees - it was a pretty incredible month.
Over the course of seven short days, Stonington native and Mystic resident Nate Rathbun - a 22-year-old electronic dance music artist/producer/DJ known professionally as Audien - signed a major contract with the prestigious Astralwerks record label, was nominated for a Grammy, sold out several dates in advance on his first headlining tour, and inked a performance residency deal for later this year in Las Vegas' prestigious Marquee Nightclub and Dayclub in the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
"Yeah, it was a pretty nice week," said Audien, who, in conversation, is soft-spoken and very polite. While the label, touring and residency deals were all in play, the Grammy nomination was a decided surprise. Audien is nominated in the "Best Remixed Recording, Non Classical" category for his remix of "Pompeii," the hit song by rock band Bastille.
"I was actually on a solo tour when I heard," he explains. "I was on a train from Philly to Boston with my girlfriend Katy and another friend, and I was checking Twitter and just found out. I wasn't expecting it. We kind of had a spontaneous celebration, which was strange because no one else on the train knew what was going on."
Audien, a 2010 graduate of Stonington High School, leads a decidedly jet-set lifestyle - and his travels frequently take him to shows in exotic locales like Berlin, London, Amsterdam and Paris; in the U.S. he's performed in Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York City. On his current headlining tour, sold-out shows included performances at New York City's Irving Plaza, the Fillmore in San Francisco, and the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Usually, Audien travels and performs two or three weekend gigs before returning to the Mystic apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Colorado native Katy Redell.
"We really like being in Mystic," he says. "I like the quiet and I like the town. It's so nice to come back here and chill."
Though he tours as a DJ, wherein he'll typically play about 80 percent of his own tracks during a set, he's also in demand as a producer because of his hooky ability to remix existing songs to more readily fit a dance club format. In addition to Bastille, Audien has remixed tunes for such stars as Michael Jackson ("Slave to the Rhythm" from Jackson's second posthumous album, "Xscape") and Justin Bieber ("As Long as You Love Me").
"The way a remix happens is that a label with a pop hit will send the song out to a few producers to see what they might do," Audien says. "For 'Pompeii,' I was flattered because they said they specifically reached out for my sound. It took me three days and I only used their original vocals. I did my own melodies behind them and that makes it more interesting. I think Bastille liked it because there's very little of the original mix and it seemed to get a good reaction."
Indeed. Billboard called Audien's "Pompeii" remix "the song that ruled festival season" and noted that, by September, it had scored more than five million hits on SoundCloud and YouTube.
Audien will be in attendance at the 57th Grammy awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 8 - though, given that there are more than 100 categories and only so much prime time television space available, his category probably won't be aired nationally.
"I'm just excited to be there because I certainly never expected anything like this," Audien says. "I plan to put on a suit and go and just have fun no matter who wins."
While younger audiences are intimately acquainted with electronic dance music, it's an art form that only in the past decade or so has emerged from raves, dance clubs and festivals and moved into the musical mainstream with multi-platinum force. Utilizing turntables and computers, EDM artists rely on pulsing, generated percussion and beats as a sonic anchor over which they sculpt extended, frequently instrumental soundscapes with layered and separate sound effects, samples and melodies.
Many of the DJs behind electronic dance music have become superstars, and Audien is rapidly gaining the sort of reputation enjoyed by the biggest names in the business, folks like Skrillex, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Knife Party, Diplo, Calvin Harris, Aphex Twin and Swedish House Mafia.
"There are probably hundreds of types (of EDM)," Audien says, "but I don't really like using genres. It's all just music to me, whether it's rock or hip hop or house music or whatever. I try to emphasize melody in everything I do, and I think I've definitely developed a recognizable sound. That's not always easy to do."
"He's my little star," says Audien's mother, M.J. Urso. "I'm pretty biased, but I don't think I ever had any doubt he would make it. I'm a jazz aficionado and there was a lot of music in the house growing up. He always had an ear, and I thought he liked music maybe more than the average teenager. I wasn't a huge fan of electronic dance music at first, then producers started calling from all over." She laughs. "My iPod's full of it now - and I've actually grown to like it a lot."
Electronic dance music first resonated with Audien in 2008. He and a few friends had discovered trance through video game soundtracks, and the whole sustained energy and layering of the pieces were fascinating to him.
"It was very melodic and washed-out and interesting because it was like nothing I'd ever heard," Audien says. "But instead of just listening, I wanted to know how to do it. I've always been very curious about how stuff works, so I started reading up on it and listening to (Dutch DJ/producer Armin Van Buuren's) 'State of Trance' podcast. I figured out anyone can do it in their bedroom, and I started trying to recreate songs from those podcasts."
Audien mastered a lot of the technology and acquired a lot of the turntable-and-synthesizer technique fairly easily. He also figured out that EMD evolved so rapidly that mistakes could actually be as valuable as mastering the existing technology.
"You never know if you're processing things the right way or doing the right thing," he says, "and part of my upbringing as a producer was doing things the wrong way - and having it come out right."
As he grew more confident with his ability and emerging compositional style - he describes his early efforts as "progressive house" - Audien began sending his tunes to various producers. When he was 17, Audien's "Rise and Shine" caught the ear of DJ/producer Ferry Corsten, who released it on his Flashover Recordings label. The tune, with its escalating hooks and arpeggiated keyboard lines, caught on and Audien was on his way.
Over the past five years, Audien released numerous singles and remixes for various labels. "Eventide," "Sup," "Palmetto" and "Hindsight" are just a few of his bigger dance tracks, and he's also entered the pop music world through a variety of tunes featuring guest vocalists. "These Are The Days" and "Circles," both featuring Ruby Prophet, and "Leaving You" with Michael S are all hits that doubtless helped lead to the contract with Astralwerks - and, yes, Audien thinks an album will definitely happen in the near future. His tunes are absolutely melodic, and he speculates that, at some point, he might actually take a band on the road.
"I'm writing ballads all the time, and those aren't usually part of a dance show," Audien says. "I'll always have the DJ aspect and it's fun and easy to travel as a solo artist. But if I have a few hits with ballads, I think it would also be cool to have a band."
The quick Tao of electronic dance music
For all of its current popularity, EDM has been around in increasingly sophisticated forms since the mid-'70s - chiefly through the efforts of the German experimental band Kraftwerk - and into the '80s when disco producer Giorgio Moroder transformed Donna Summer's disco tunes into dance floor epics.
With the rise of hip hop, DJs and turntables played an increasingly large part in dance music, and the fusion of synthesizers into the mix created an explosion in the form. DJs and producers like David Guetta, Frankie Knuckles, Afrika Bambaataa and Pete Tong then took the music to the next level and the form started to fracture into perhaps a hundred sub-calibrations including house, dubstep, drum and bass, hardcore, ambient, techno and on and on. If it doesn't yet exist, by tomorrow some producer/DJ will have invented it - and folks will be dancing to it.
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