He's Got the Beat

Julian Scanlan, 17, listens to music he's working on at "the Beat Lab" in his Mount Laurel home's garage. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Julian Scanlan, 17, listens to music he's working on at "the Beat Lab" in his Mount Laurel home's garage. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer

Mt. Laurel teen emerges on dance music scene.

Posted: August 06, 2014

Julian Scanlan, a.k.a. DJ Swoon, is too young to go clubbing - unless he brings his party tunes.

The Mount Laurel resident, 17, is a rising Electronic Dance Music (EDM) artist. His composing, remixing, producing, and performing skills have landed him DJ gigs in Philly and Orlando, as well as residencies last year and again this week at Grammy Camp.

"Camp is amazing," says Scanlan, who's attending the Grammy Foundation's competitive summer workshop program in Manhattan until Sunday. "There are all these other people who do what you do, and understand it."

I'm a longtime EDM fan - Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder soundtracked my club era - but getting one's groove on and understanding how the music is created involve different data sets.

So last week I visited Scanlan's home studio, a.k.a. "The Beat Lab," a tiny, tidy room in the rear of his family's townhouse garage. The decor features the sort of eclectic paraphernalia (a Sugar Hill 12-inch vinyl single, a homemade figurine of EDM superstar Skrillex, a Goonies movie poster) that attest to a decades-mashing pop cultural literacy.

The work station, where he uses a music production program called FL Studio, holds a MacBook Pro and an Alesis electronic keyboard. These enable Scanlan to digitally translate and ultimately express the music he hears in his head.

"I love a really well-built-up song with either a huge chorus or a huge [beat] drop," Scanlan says. "When a song all comes together at one moment and just explodes, I find that's, like, the most amazing thing."

A bright and personable fellow who in September will start his senior year at Lenape High School, Scanlan sports a hairdo with green tufts on top. It's the work of his mother, salon stylist Wendy, who's also his manager - and whom he can thank for an in-utero introduction to making music.

"He started going into the studio with me when he was in the belly," says Wendy, 37, a songwriter and vocalist who sang freestyle club music in the 1990s.

"I was doing shows until I was seven months pregnant," she recalls. "When he was little I had rehearsals in my house, with my dancers. There was always something musical going on, and he loved it."

By age 10, Scanlan had taught himself to play guitar, keyboard, and drums, and at 13 he began using the Rhapsody program to create music on a PC. He got interested in EDM's dubstep genre a couple years ago and learned to make tracks by studying how-to videos on YouTube.

"Julian is a very, very talented young man," says Leonard Nicholas, who's taught music at Lenape for 34 years. A trombone player who can appreciate dubstep, Nicholas says that Scanlan listens to all sorts of music, including jazz.

In other words, he's keeping his ears open.

"What I listen to most is classical," says Scanlan, who also remains a major Beatles fan. "My sound is half-electronic, half-organic. I record live instruments into my songs. I love saturated [electronically distorted] bass, but I love live funk bass. I sing on my tracks, too."

So does his mother, whose vocals can be heard on a DJ Swoon track titled "Borrowed Time."

"It was very cool," he says. "We think alike musically and lyrically."

Scanlan enjoys the collaborative process at the heart of music production. And EDM is communal - on the dance floor, and online.

Producers swap files and build tracks together; they post collective or individual work on YouTube and elsewhere, attracting passionate feedback from listeners. A collection of Scanlan's tracks can be heard at soundcloud.com/officialswoon/.

Even within EDM's thunderous template - monster beats, pop music conventions, supersonic razzmatazz - Scanlan sees room to grow as an artist.

"A lot of people say, 'Everything has already been done,'" he says. "I don't believe that."

I don't either. So I'll be listening.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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