By Danielle Kraft
Craig Williams is a producer/ DJ who’s just starting to get serious festival slots. But he started his music career playing bass guitar in what he describes as a ‘shitty’ high school band. We asked Craig: how did you get from there to here?
Craig Williams isn’t a household name. He’s not a global superstar producing Bieber tracks. But he does have Lollapalooza, EDC, Beyond Wonderland, and other large festival performances under his belt, not to mention label-backed releases. And maybe — just maybe — he’s building the foundation for a long-term, sustainable career as a DJ.
We sat down with Craig at Beyond Wonderland in San Bernardino last month to get an idea of what he’s doing right. And, where he’s going.
Are you truly playing the music you love?
“My style is more embedded in the roots of house and techno with some hints of old school electro. Definitely the overarching theme throughout tends to lean towards the darker side of the musical spectrum.”
If you’re not truly dialed into your musical passions, then you might just be cutting-and-pasting someone else’s. For Craig, the first giant step towards success was making a commitment to his true musical passions, and staying resolutely focused on that. “As I grew older, I began to feel fraudulent about playing other people’s music,” Williams noted. “So I started to make my own.”
That meant transitioning from band jockey to disc jockey. And basically, forgetting about the slew of mediocre bands he was playing in, and jumping into something new, different, even scary.
Craig Williams’ first introduction to underground music came while working night shifts at a bakery. A fellow co-worker would play everything from techno, 90’s rave, drum n’ bass, house, and more. That quickly sparked a deep interest in the techno world, and Craig decided to jump in.
There’s not a direct recipe for making it in the music industry. But what works for Craig is his desire to be absolutely original and dialed into his passions, while maintaining a diligent work ethic and positive attitude throughout.
The ‘shitty’ high school band days
It was high school where all this began. Mediocre, crappy high school, a place where dreams frequently get crushed.
Growing up, Williams played the bass in a traditional rock band that ‘was not so impressive’. It was a decidedly ‘shitty band’ that attracted a scant following, but actually planted some incredibly powerful seeds. While the band’s legacy quickly vanished, the love Craig gained for music and performing remained.
Perhaps he has this band to thank for that passions and where he is now. But there’s another thing that pit of mediocrity birthed. One of his band buddies just happens to be Rufus Du Sol’s current sound guy and tour manager. The pair recently had a fun time reminiscing about the old days when Rufus Du Sol was in town.
It’s funny. You never know who’s going to come back later and play a huge role in your future career.
Next step: signing up for the Army?
Of course, life is full of plenty of zigs and zags. But the military isn’t the typical path for a would-be DJ. For Craig Williams, it was just what he needed to get his ass in gear.
And soon after his formative high school and bakery days, Craig enrolled in the Australian Army. But this wasn’t just a stint at boot camp. Craig was deployed for years as a Black Hawk helicopter crewman, with action in Pakistan and East Timor. Heavy stuff, and serious detour from his original path towards DJing.
But it was there that he started to adopt habits of scheduling, discipline and toughness that further enhanced his creativity. “What transferred from the military to music is I’m very regimented with how I make music,” Williams said.
“And the time frame I give myself. Having set hours helps me stay focused. There are many artists who make great music, but not everyone knows how to push it forward.”
Perhaps his dedication to the army is also connected to his pleasant attitude, generosity, and approachable personality. That was certainly in abundance during our interview.
Now back to the music.
Craig prefers to use synthesizers as his main instrument to generate sounds for his tracks. He particularly enjoys this method because it connects him to his guitar days, which takes him back. “As an artist it’s important to use what you feel connected to, Williams stated. “It doesn’t matter how you make your music, as long people dance and have fun, that’s what matters.”
Welcome to Lollapalooza
“Lolla was my first remix contest. I honestly didn’t think I would get through the first round. The first rounds were based on votes and I kept getting though the rounds as the wild card entry.”
Sometimes we hear stories of artists who land a performance at huge festivals without any representation. Well, this is one of those stories.
But before landing Lollapalooza, Craig’s first big performances as a DJ took place at Queensland, Australia’s Full Moon Party. That’s where Williams had a short-term residency, joining other artists who represented the full spectrum of dance music. But his next stage was where things started seriously accelerating.
Lollapalooza was Craig’s very first US performance. And it started on a relative whim. Back in 2010, Williams entered a remix contest. Voters kept picking his track, until the last round. As a result, he won the contest, and performed at the Chicago’s legendary summer festival. “This was an absolutely phenomenal, mind-blowing experience,” Williams recalls.
And here’s a little pro tip:”Festivals that include all genres are a wonderful way to build your fan base. Someone may walk by someone who is not into EDM. But, if they dig your music, they’ll stick around”.
But the benefits didn’t end there. Lolla started introducing Craig Williams to other big DJs. That included a connection with White Shadow, Lady Gaga’s DJ and producer.
Post Lolla momentum
Since that point, the story has steadily grown. In recent years, Craig has worked with notable labels such as Dim Mak, Motorik, Relief, Perfect Driver, and more. He has released multiple EPs. One with Bromance starlet Louisahhh!!!, as well as “Paradise,” a Beatport-charting collaboration with Chicago luminary Green Velvet.
You can find this on his album, Unshakable. And his music is all over streaming services like Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music and more.
In addition to releasing music, Craig has continued to play at distinguished festivals, including Beyond Wonderland (where we caught up with him).
For the uninitiated, Beyond is an electronic dance festival that covers a wide spectrum of dance music. Beats, Bass, and rhythm permeate from every direction. Dancers take the stage in bright funky costumes, with light shows and confetti exploding over the audience non-stop. It’s a complete sensory overload, and exactly what you’d expect.
It was awesome to be a part of Craig’s crowd. He destroyed his set with his contagious energy as the sun slowly set in the dry, Southern California sky. Williams couldn’t have looked more comfortable and in his element while on stage. And as the hour went by, more and more ‘ravers’ gathered to dance around and get down to his beats.
That experience is hard to duplicated, but you find the Wonderland set on his Soundcloud page.
So what’s next?
Craig plans on keeping the momentum alive. He’s currently meeting with more labels, and hopes to release music throughout the year. (If you want to reach out to Craig, contact his manager Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org).
As far as performing, two festivals on the wishlist are Coachella (I could just picture him going off in the DO Lab) and Germany’s Melt Festival (which includes everything the man loves; a mix of bands and DJs). In the meantime, we can hopefully find him again at EDC. Be on the lookout for upcoming releases.
This isn’t the flashiest story. But stories like these remind us that people can make major moves for themselves. Here’s a guy who isn’t waiting for someone else to give him the okay. My takeaways from meeting Craig? Do what you love, be proactive, take chances, and never give up. Who knows where you may end up.
“You just have to keep creating the mindset that you’re making something that you love and you’re proud of. If it gets picked up by the label you’re aiming at, that’s a double win.”