Worthy- on San Francisco Super-rich, EDM and Dirtybird (interview)
“Let me just say that I love Dirtybird and our crew, and it will always be a part of who I am as an artist and I will always rep Dirtybird and continue to make tracks that I hope will be released on that label. But I have been working lately to create a place for my music outside of Dirtybird and a place in the scene that is all my own.”
Though he’s often cited as one of the founder members of Dirtybird, Worthy (aka Sean Worthington Williams) is quick to clarify his role in the uber-successful San Francisco dirty house label.
“The Dirtybird parties in a park started with Justin (Martin), Christian (Martin), Barclay (Claude Von Stroke) and myself: Barclay went on to start the label from there, which is his baby. He owns everything, from the label to all of the rights for Dirtybird as a brand.”
“People believe that since the four of us started Dirtybird as a party, that we all run it. The fact is that it is all Barclay at this point, as he owns and operates the label by himself, so every decision about Dirtybird as a brand is made by him.”
Instead he’s releasing his debut album ‘Disbehave’ on his own label Anabatic, a move he says has been liberating.
“Releasing the album myself has definitely been an undertaking but one that I feel confident in making. Giving myself a place to stand out of it is one that I am having fun doing,” he says.
“It means not having to conform to one type of image or sound, and having complete freedom in just being myself creatively with no restrictions and releasing my music on my terms.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How much has releasing the album outside the Dirtybird umbrella changed the way people have reacted to it so far- both listeners and media/ business/ club booker gatekeepers?
Worthy: “There has been so much positive feedback on the album, it’s been amazing. The challenge from having this come out on a smaller label like Anabatic is just getting the reach out to a broader audience. Anabatic does not have the large built-in audience that a label like Dirtybird or a Toolroom has. So I have had to work hard on the PR side to get this out and in front of people in new ways.
Fortunately, the media has been loving the album and we have gotten a lot of press from sites like Pitchfork to Resident Advisor to Beatport, as well as avid support from other artists like Annie Mac and Pete Tong. The clubs and promoters have been great too, and I have a nice tour lined up from now through the fall around this album. I am so grateful it has worked out the way that it has.”
Skrufff: 2 years is a long time in dance music with tastes changing super-rapidly: did you update all the album tracks close to release, or rather finish some two years ago and leave them unchanged?
Worthy: “The first track I wrote, Burned, I did not change at all after I completed it two years ago. Other tracks I worked on for months at different points, refining them into songs that I felt could be put on an album where the music could keep you interested and engaged without losing attention.
That is why this took so long, because tracks that work in the club and can kill in the club don’t necessarily work in the home listening experience. They can sound boring at home or when they aren’t mixed. But the songs that I made for this album I believe are timeless. They will hold up years down the line.”
Skrufff: You mentioned to DJ mag that some of the tracks are deliberately not intended to be dance floor bangers: how much harder is it to judge tracks when you remove the question of whether they rock a dance floor? (did you create many more tracks which you discarded from the final cut?)
Worthy: “I had to just let myself feel these songs out in a new way. I wanted every song to be really intricate and diverse on the album. I just let myself have fun with it and let myself go and experiment with new sounds and ideas I could not put into a dance floor track. Not every track that I initially made for the album made it onto the final release. There are some tracks I wrote that were good at the time but down the line I did not feel like they fit into the flow of the album.
To judge the songs, instead of playing them at the club, I ended up playing them for friends and getting their reaction to them at home instead. If everyone was into it I knew I had something good and it was not just me who liked them. I think there are about 5 or 6 tracks in the end that did not make the cut. Some of them were too hard for the album and others just did not work.”
Skrufff: going into your story: you were involved at the beginning of Dirtybird: What was it you all had in common that persuaded you to work together?
Worthy: “ At the start all of us joined forces because we had a love for making music and playing music out and we wanted to hear a different type of music that was not being represented in the clubs and parties in San Francisco. We all similarly wanted to create a platform where we could be in control and have the freedom to play the music that we wanted to play. That common vision is what got Dirtybird going and it has grown in so many ways from that starting point.
Skrufff: At what point did things start to take off significantly, when did you all first realise the label could be life/ career changing?
Worthy: “I think that seeing Barclay take off as an artist, was a huge inspiration for me to feel like I could do it as well if I really focused on it, and it became my sole passion and soon after my primary form of income. I can’t say that there was one point where it all changed or anything, but I knew that from the parties we were throwing that we all had something different that worked to make us all stand out. After I quit my job, there wasn’t an option – this had to work.”
Skrufff: How much did the explosion of EDM in LA change the game for you?
Worthy: “At first I was not super excited to see EDM go so mainstream. But now I think it is a good thing. It legitimized electronic music in the US and has made a platform from which electronic music artists can actually support themselves and sustain their livelihood. Back in the 90’s going to a rave was completely counter-culture and considered rebellious and had a fairly negative public perception, but now it accepted and seen as a positive place of musical and personal expression.”
Skrufff: How ambitious are you to take ‘Worthy’ to Vegas/ ‘superstar DJ’ level success?
Worthy: “I want to take my sound and image as an artist as far as I can, and to be able to make and play my music for as many people as possible. If it takes me to Vegas/superstar level then that would be fine for me. I can’t say that I have the Vegas/superstar sound that people want right now since I don’t play mainstream songs in my sets that people seem to want, but if tastes change and people wanted to hear Worthy on that level than I would be more than happy to do it. For as long as people want to hear my music, I will continue to play for them.”
Skrufff: San Francisco; there’s much talk in the media about super-rich tech incomers destroying the city’s alternative/ artistic ethos and subculture- how much have you-and Dirtybird – been affected by it personally?
Worthy: “I have personally been affected by it. I was forced to move out of SF to Oakland like so many people because of the absurd rental prices that keep on going up. Me and my girl where forced out of our place by a landlord who wanted to sell our flat. It was on the market for $800K and sold for well over a million dollars. We tried to find a place but the prices were so high that we decided to look across the bay in Oakland, which was actually a blessing in disguise, and now we actually own our amazing home.
But I can see the prices slowly crumbling away at some of the ethos of what San Francisco has been for artists. Many artists have been forced to move, and so that artistic culture isn’t so heavily present on the streets and in the air in general. Some clubs are losing their leases because the owners want to develop on the land and create new expensive units.
Where I think it has the worst impact is on that new musician or artist who would have moved here years ago and is not able to now. Or people may be forced to put their artistic passions on hold because they have to work so much to afford their living expenses. There will be less new talent coming into this city, and less of a chance for another Dirtybird-like crew to come out of the city. If prices were the way they are today when I was starting out I don’t think i would have moved to San Francisco, and even if I had, I definitely wouldn’t have quit my tech job.”
Skrufff: How has the club/ party/ music scene been affected? Is leaving San Francisco something you’ve seriously considered?
Worthy: “I thought about moving to LA with my girl for a while, but now we are home-owners and plan on staying in the Bay for many more years to come. I think that even though people have so many negative things to say about the current state of things due to this influx of the tech boom, that in many ways, it is improving the economy here, and there are people going out to the clubs and listening to music, and parties/clubs in general seem like they are doing better than they were a few years ago.
There is still a ton of great music and DJs coming out of SF, and there is always a platform to succeed if you put your mind to it. Because of the tech industry, there is an enormous amount of creative energy happening here, granted most of it tech-based, but it is still something that people can tap into and make big things happen artistically.”
Skrufff: Anything else to add?
Worthy: “You can catch me on tour this summer and watch for an EP on Trouble & Bass in the fall as well as remixes of the album too.”
Disbehave is out now on Anabatic Records.
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff