Despite the name, Dirty South isn't a filthy rapper from Macon with a mouth full of purple sizzurp and $30,000 diamond-studded platinum grillz. He's actually a skinny, clean-cut white guy from Australia who spends his spare time pounding out big-room bangers in his home studio and pulling all-nighters at mega-clubs from Auckland to Ibiza to Los Angeles.
Born Dragan Roganovic in Belgrade, Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia), during the late '70s, he immigrated to Melbourne at the age of 13 with his family, found house music by way of radio, and adopted a new moniker. With nothing more than a stack of audiocassettes and some very primitive hardware, he taught himself how to start a party as a teenager. And now, a decade and a half later, he's hanging out with Swedish House Mafia, kicking ass on the charts with electro-house hits such as "Phazing," and even launching his own record label.
Last week, New Times sat down with Dirty South to talk homemade mixtapes, house hits, Harry Nilsson, Led Zeppelin, and learning to DJ.
New Times: Did you choose Dirty South as your DJ name because you're a huge hip-hop fan or something?
Dirty South: When I chose that name I didn't even know that the term existed in the hip-hop land. I live in Australia and we're probably the most southern part of the world, so it kind of made sense. And then later on I found out that there is a hip-hop style called dirty south. But it was too late to change it, so I kept it.
Do people anywhere besides the U.S. assume your name is linked to that particular rap movement?
No. I think people who know my stuff and my music don't normally mix the two. The only time that I had people wonder about it was when I played Atlanta. I think that's the core of the dirty south.
Talking genres, what is your music's DNA? Is there a little bit of everything in there? House? Rock? Rap?
Yeah, definitely. I like old-school rock: Led Zeppelin and the Doors. I like a bunch of stuff: hip-hop, dubstep, reggae. I like everything, so I'm sure it all influences me in a way.
Is the influence literal or is it more of an abstract thing?
I think it's subliminal. When I make house music I don't really think about it. You know, I'm not like, I think I'm going to make an urban record. I just make records and I think these songs are already in my head. You know, the old-school rock is always in my head. So when thinking about lyrics and melodies, that's where it's coming from.
You've been known to remix or sample uncommon sources. One example is Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin' " for your track "Phazing."
Yeah. Normally, if I do a remix, it's official. You know — the label will ask me to do it. But every now and then, if I hear a song on the radio that I like, whether it's old or not, I go and remix it. There's nothing right now that I think I should be doing. But I'm sure if I go down to the supermarket, I'll hear something on the radio, playing in the background. That's how "Phazing" came about. I was shopping for groceries and I heard "Everybody's Talkin' " over the radio. And I was thinking, Hmm, that could be something.
The supermarket? I assumed "Phazing" came out of digging through old records. Do you have a vinyl collection?
No, actually, I don't. I kind of wish I did. I was just in LA now. There's a cool store called Amoeba and that's like a huge collectors' store. It's full of vinyl and it's one of those places where you can just go to listen to all kinds of rare records. So that's sort of like a substitute for me.
Do you collect music digitally?
I have a pretty large iTunes library collection. I have everything from Kanye West to the Doors to Snoop Dogg. I have the Beethoven symphonies. And maybe I used to have it all on CD five or ten years ago. But obviously, now, there's really no more CDs and no more vinyl, so I have it all digitally collected.
OK. You dig all kinds of music. But was there an early house music experience that converted you?
I'll never forget... the first record was Stardust's "Music Sounds Better With You." If you remember that record, it was a big hit and it was the thing that turned me on to house music. After that it was just a snowball effect.
When did you first start making music?
That started happening when I came to Australia. I think I was about 16, 17, or maybe even 18. And I just started getting into music more and more. So I thought, I've got to get this right. I should be doing this on a computer. I bought some keyboards and some proper software. I set up my studio, got serious about it, and learned the technique behind producing and DJing.
It was all just being around music and everything was self-taught. I didn't take classes. I'd teach myself guitar. I'd teach myself keys. I'd teach myself how to make music through computer programs. It's probably the slowest way. But it's also the best way, because you find your own little techniques.
How soon did the DJ gigs come flooding in?
You know, it's pretty hard to get a real DJ gig. So I started DJing in little bars and clubs where you'd play Top 40 and commercial stuff and old '80s music. But it was really good because that was what taught me how to read the crowd.
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So before real gear and real gigs, what kind of setup did you work with? I've heard a strange story about twin cassette decks.
That's how I learned to DJ — you know, the basics of how you put two tracks together and how you sync them. I used to have this old cassette player that could play both tapes at the same time. So I would plan my whole set in advance and there would be individual tapes for each track. I would mix them live.
And I used to have a second hi-fi stereo connected. So whatever I was mixing on the first player, I would record on the second. I would have all these mixtapes, bring them to school, and listen with my friends while we just giggled and didn't do any of our work.
It was crazy. It was pretty bizarre. It was like a caveman's way of DJing. But that's how I learned.