Party Favor, who's set to perform at Florida International University this Thursday for SummerFest, the school’s annual EDM concert, is a South Florida regular. The DJ/producer has what he calls "more or less a residency" at E11even, one of Miami’s premier dens of debauchery. Having just made an appearance in the club’s main room last Friday, he’s well acquainted with the city.
"Miami is definitely one of my favorite places to play and also be in," he says. "I feel like the energy — in terms of a city that has so much musical history, with all of the Latin influence as well — is great."
That makes sense. Enthusiasm defines Party Favor's sound and approach. Born Dylan Ragland, he was brought into the electronic music fold through the electro-house and mashup boom that dominated U.S. dance music in the mid-2000s. Despite his lack of formal musical training, his passion for the sounds pushed him to pursue DJ'ing, and eventually producing, as a hobby.
"I got started by teaching myself and sampling," he recounts. "I sampled old songs and records or sounds... and chopped them up and created new sounds out of those the only way that I knew how, which kind of came from my editing background in film."
Ragland studied film editing in college but upon graduation decided to take a chance on his newfound passion. It wasn’t that long ago that EDM was not only a foreign concept but also "wasn’t a word that anyone had ever said in their life."
“I took a leap and I quit my job, and I literally was just taking odd jobs — small film jobs or I’d just film nightclubs, things like that — to hopefully pay rent. I used up all my savings on some equipment,” he recalls. “It was just something that I felt called to do, and cheesy as that sounds... this is something that truly makes me happy."
Several years, millions of streams, and a number of releases on Diplo’s Mad Decent label later, it seems Ragland’s gamble had paid off. This year marked his third time performing at Ultra, an opportunity the ever-rising artist says he relishes.
When he takes the decks Thursday, he has every intention of offering an experience listeners wouldn’t otherwise get in their bedrooms or with other DJs.
“I’m kind of taking the approach of how DJ'ing used to be," he says. "Part of the desire to go see a DJ was that they might only have four copies of this song ever made, right? And then when you see them, you’re seeing a piece of history.”
He says he’s trying to bring back an element of dance music that the internet era and the time of Shazam have all but wiped up away: a sense of mystery.
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“In this day and age, we have access to everything, so for me it’s always fun to kind of leave the audience being like, Wow, I really liked that song or that remix or that edit,” he says. “I probably have 20 to 30 songs that will probably never come out, but they’re just for that reason.”
Even though his career is long past the point of toiling in anonymity, he remains grateful for having pursued a hobby that has proven daunting and intimidating for so many others.
“Everyone’s story is different, and that’s what’s so cool about how people find music, because there’s not one right way to do it. It’s all subjective; it’s however it moves you, however you’re able to make it. If you were to go to a classical musician or a composer and show them how you make music, they might go, ‘Well, that’s not how you do that.’ But in terms of everyday music-making, there are no rules.”
FIU SummerFest. With Party Favor, Valentino Khan, Ookay, and Bonnie X Clyde. 7 p.m. Thursday, July 13, at Florida International University Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 11200 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-348-2000; fiu.edu. Tickets cost $30 via tickets.completeticketsolutions.com or $35 at the gate; FIU students get in free.