FROM FINALS TO FESTIVALS
May 13, 2019
On a Wednesday afternoon, Declan Williamson, known professionally as Declan James, rushes to the computer to greet me for our Skype session. Me, lounging in bed, bumping a SoundCloud mix of his on my speakers. Him, smiling and cheery, casually mentioning that he just got back from his last final of the school year. "How old are you again?" I ask. "Oh, I'm 19." Before I had time to question all my choices and have a quarter-life crisis, we got right to chatting. Soft-spoken, intelligent, humble, and disciplined, Declan is everything I wasn't at his age. Wise beyond his own years and talented beyond most peoples', this kid is going places, and fast. This week he will make his way to Vegas to play EDC and after that... the sky is the limit. And Declan James is ready to fly.
Early For The Afterparty: First of all congratulations are in order! You'll be playing EDC Las Vegas this coming weekend: How does that feel? Are you nervous?
Declan James: Oh yeah. Yeah. The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life for anything. You know I'm not nervous about being able to DJ well, it’s more like how will it be received by people. There’s a lot of pressure. I’m playing in front of all these really high-level artists who are already established and I wanna make a good impression.
EFTA: What's the biggest crowd you've played?
DJ: StereoLive in Dallas when I opened for BlackGummy. I had a group of like 100 people that came to see me and then a ton of people showed up early. There were like 1000 people because it was raining and there wasn’t really anything else to do. I was supposed to play a slow techno set but there were so many people that I just amped it up and started playing Anjuna-style trance. I was like, man Stereolive is gonna kill me… but they were happy with it.
EFTA: How does it feel to see a crowd vibing with your set?
DJ: It's like a crazy high. But that’s the trouble with it. It’s almost like a drug addiction like. I come to points in my life where I consider stopping music, because it does bring me a lot of stress. But it’s that high that keeps you going. Like it’s cool, because it’s one of the best feelings in the world. But there’s a downside to it. It’s hard when you’re not getting booked all the time, it’s tough.
EFTA: Do you take it personally when you don't get booked or a new track doesn't get much momentum?
DJ: I don’t take it personally. Reception from other people doesn’t really affect me that much, it’s more like how I feel about it myself, like my standards. If my set isn’t as good as I wanted it to be, that’s when I am hard on myself. I tend to be my own worst own critic.
EFTA: You're still a teenager and on your way to one of the biggest festivals in the world; when did you start producing?
DJ: In like 8th grade at 12 or 13, but just like really casually with friends.It was on-and-off and nothing serious, but when I turned 15, for my birthday I asked my parents to enroll me in the Jason Ross masterclass. I remember the day it came out I was like I have to do this! In the class I ended up meeting a lot of people in there who helped push me. When I was 16 I released my first track ‘Orion’ with a little trance label called Reboot.
EFTA: 16! You wasted no time.
DJ: Yeah, it was actually on my 16th birthday, while I was at summer camp, that Armin van Buuren ended up playing it on ASOT, and I didn’t even find out until a week later. I got really lucky on my first track.
EFTA: What is something you'd like aspiring artists to know, maybe something you wish you had known years ago?
DJ: Before anything else, focus on getting really good at producing and developing a clear sense of identity. When I was younger, I felt compelled to release whatever it took to get me on a label, without instead of working on something that felt right for me.
EFTA: Do you feel like you ever had to compromise your identity or what you stand for?
DJ: No, but it's something I worry about down the road. Not just with music. I have a very strong sense of self and I know what I'm about, so it's scary to think that someday I may be faced with a real dilemma where I have to pick success or stating true to myself.
EFTA: It looks like you would choose the right option, though. Can you reveal anything you've got coming up?
DJ: I'm really excited to get to work with Fatum again. We are putting something together but I can't say much about it yet. For now, though, I've got to focus on getting ready for EDC!