Electronic-music producer Nghtmre is known for extremely fast-paced sets — he usually cycles through a song a minute — as well as absolutely insane light displays and wholesale exploitation of the build-drop, build-drop dynamic. He's clearly taken some cues from Skrillex, the messiah of wobbly, party-forward dance music who helped launch Nghtmre's career during a Miami music festival a few years ago.
Speaking to New Times amid his 11-date Nghtmre Before Christmas Tour, the friendly and laid-back Nghtmre — known to friends and family as Tyler Marenyi — explains how he became a venerable dubstep and trap DJ in his own right. Marenyi's parents signed him up for piano lessons when he was about 8 years old, and he ended up sticking with it for several years. In high school, he transitioned to playing drums and began messing around with music production software on his friend’s computer. Making beats became a hobby in college as he worked toward earning a degree in finance, and he was close to taking a path that would have led him away from music entirely.
“About four or five months before graduation, I was like, OK, do I start applying for finance jobs, or what do I do?” he says. Instead, he chose to enroll at Icon Collective, a digital music production school in Los Angeles. As a student there, he learned about music theory, the business side of the industry, and the finer points of programming songs on one's laptop.
"Every once in a while, I'll jam out and find a cool chord progression," he says, "but a lot of times, it's a lot more calculated for me."
His big break came during 2015’s Ultra Music Festival, which was coheadlined by EDM megastar Skrillex. Marenyi had previously sent a few tracks to his friend Fred Snails — a fellow DJ who compiles an annual mix of unreleased music from various artists — but had no idea one of his songs was about to debut before a massive festival audience.
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“I saw Fred maybe 20 minutes before Skrillex’s set, and he was like, ‘Oh, by the way, I gave a song to Skrillex, and he said he might play it tonight,’” Marenyi recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ We ran over to the stage and sat in the sound booth and had this amazing view, and I was actually taking a video of one of my favorite songs when Skrillex transitioned into my song. It was definitely a big moment for me.”
The feature resulted in a wave of interest in the Nghtmre project, he says. “[Skrillex] is such a tastemaker, and it was the only song in his set people didn’t know, so it kind of generated all this buzz. That was the first thing that put me on the map.”
After that came collaborations with dance-music monsters Flosstradamus and Dillon Francis, and now he's reached main-stage status at many of the biggest EDM festivals in the nation. Turns out the whole DJ thing was a better choice than getting a 9-to-5 job in finance. Sometimes it must feel like Nghtmre is dreaming.