When speaking with Chicago based electronic producer and DJ Different Sleep I was instantly struck by just how advanced and business savvy he is for his age and am pretty sure that my jaw dropped when I found out that he is signed to the well-known Friends of Friends label at only 21. Still a student at Columbia College Chicago, Rafa Alvarez seems to already have a clear picture of exactly who he is as an artist and where he wants to go, which is something that many only begin to put together in their mid twenties. It seems that SXSW came just in time for the young producer, as his second EP “Conflict” is officially available for purchase on iTunes today, fresh off of a compliment from a member of Kanye West’s creative team and is already creating a buzz in the blogosphere. Based on what I heard, I think that the young producer has a lot in store for him “after graduation,” as they would say… and most likely even before.
EM: So how was your experience at SXSW overall this year?
DS: SXSW went really well, it was my second time going and what was cool about it is that there was definitely an improvement from last year. I could just tell the difference from the first time that I went two years ago now when I first went I had only played one show. This year I played about four shows, which really told me the work that I had done throughout the year and taken some steps forward. It was really fun; I went down there with some friends and also other producers and DJs so it was great to do that from an artist’s standpoint. There were some really cool shows, I met a lot of new people and made some really good new connections. What was funny is that I happened to make connections with people who were from Chicago but I had to go all the way to Texas to make those connections.
EM: I know exactly how that is. I’ve felt the same way sometimes, that you only connect with people in different circumstances or after the fact.
DS: I know it’s funny how you have to go to a completely different city to meet the people in your city sometimes.
EM: SXSW seemed like such a special festival to me, not what you’d necessarily think of. For the people involved, it’s a real professional type and networking event.
DS: Exactly, that’s what I like about it, it has multiple purpose and people go down there for a lot of different reasons. There are people who go there to see shows, but you can also meet a lot of good people and see some cool events. Overall, it was a really great experience for me.
EM: I definitely get that, it seems like a lot of people really go there to work. I’m sure people have fun too, but the agenda behind that festival seems different. It’s pretty unique actually.
DS: It’s great because my school fully supports this. I study music business at Columbia College Chicago and a lot of students there skip a week to go down to SXSW. So all of my teachers basically expect me to go, and when I told them that I was going they really wanted to know about my experiences there. It’s a really cool way to handle an event. They really know that everyone in school has their own lives and are working on their own independent art. They allow time for it.
EM: It’s one of the biggest art-focused schools in the US right?
DS: Yes, it definitely is the biggest. About 15,000 students go there.
EM: What year are you in school?
DS: I’m a junior.
EM: You’re already on a label as a junior in undergrad? I’m impressed (laughs).
DS: (Laughs) thank you, it’s a lot to balance with school, work, and music. I’m basically on a schedule most of the time. I just turned 21 not too long ago so I’m finally able to get into my own shows. Once I'm done with school I'd like to be able to dedicate my time fully to music. It's been difficult to set up tours because I can only put aside a few days on the weekends.
EM: (Laughs) I love when I meet people who are younger but have a business mindset. I think that’s been happening more because of the way that the industry has changed and people are learning the business younger from what I can see.
DS: Definitely, and it is easier to put your art out there now with the Internet. You can put a track out on Soundcloud and get write-ups on blogs without having to have a label representing you. I think that I got a head start in that sense because I started putting up music on the Internet and then it started to get reception on some blogs here and there. But I’ve always had a business sense for sure because I started in that major at Columbia and do art on my own time. But when I came to college I really wanted to have a degree that I could actually do something with instead of just having a music degree. I feel like in a music business major I learn a lot of the aspects of the industry that a lot of musicians don’t. It gives me a lot of awareness of the business end that a manager would usually handle for you. I really like to be aware of that stuff.
EM: Definitely, and the genres that you work in it is very easy to just sit down and teach yourself. People underestimate the power of that I think.
DS: Yeah for sure. I also think that it’s been great for me to be here in Chicago as an up and coming artist. I really love the Chicago hip-hop scene and all of the raw talent that is in this city and the desire to make music simply because it is a part of your culture.
EM: So what are your plans for the future?
DS: After I finish school I’d really like to move to New York of LA, I think that a lot of artists tend to jump the gun and go to either of those places once they feel that they have grown.
EM: Realistically too, in the genres that you’re working with they would be the best places to be.
DS: Definitely, there isn’t as big of a market in my scene here and people don’t keep up with underground electronic music as much although there is a great musical aspect to this city.
EM: I think that you would do really well in New York based on what I’ve heard of your music. They have a great underground electronic scene there with all of the artist loft spaces. It’s a great way to build a loyal fan base.
DS: Definitely, New Yorkers are always hungry for new artists and constantly on the lookout for them. That’s what I love about that city; people are constantly on the look out for what’s next. Chicago is definitely instrumental to who I am as an artist though.
EM: So your new EP is about to come out, how do you feel that SXSW geared you up for that?
DS: SXSW was definitely great for that and I really enjoyed it. I played the Friends of Friends showcase and it was really great to go down there and meet other people on the label, sit down and have lunch with Jerome LOL which was great to meet him in person. It was really great in terms of getting my name out there and a few of the shows that I played were live streamed. It was great to go down there and meet up with those guys and play with them. Definitely great ways to get some hype around the EP and also have some personal connections with people, to put a face to the same and the music. A lot of the music scene is often based off of Twitter and Soundcloud on the Internet and you don’t always get to meet them in person. It really was great to be able to put a face to everything.
EM: I totally get that, it’s a new age and you’re not always able to meet people in person because the current state of the industry is so Internet focused.
DS: Definitely. And I love that aspect of it but that’s what great about SXSW, you actually get to make those personal connections not just other producers and artists, also journalists and media personnel. Everyone’s down there so it’s like a hot-spot for publications, blogs and magazines as well as musicians so it’s easy to link up with people down there using the Internet. I got an onsite interview with a podcast out of Chicago called Dynasty Podcast through Twitter even. Things like that make SXSW really worthwhile I think.
EM: Things really just happen there because there are so many people from so many different walks of the industry and are amazed at whom you just talked to. I’m assuming you had some of those experiences?
DS: For sure, I think that the best moment that I had down there was when a manager approached me after a show and said, “Someone really liked your performance and wants to talk to you.” So I look and it was Virgil Abloh who’s on Kanye West’s creative team, his stylist and works with all the creative business aspects. It was great to talk with him, because he is actually from Chicago and really enjoyed the hip-hop from the area that I included in my set. It felt really awesome to hear that he loved the set and then have the possibility of linking up in Chicago. So that was the moment that you were describing for me and I later connected with the art director of RCP in Chicago because of it.
EM: So that was your ultimate… “Woah what just happened moment?”
DS: Definitely, afterwards we were all just talking about crazy it was. I took it as a huge compliment that I made an impression. I actually had a really great experience with everyone that I met. People come to SXSW with an open mind and genuinely want to make connections with the people around them. It’s a really positive atmosphere in general with a lot of great conversations and opportunities to link up afterwards, almost like the spring break for the music industry.
EM: Yes, the spring break that you’re “working” for the music industry.
DS: (Laughs) exactly, it’s kind of the equivalent.
EM: It’s awesome to hear that though, really sounds like you did your homework before SXSW.
DS: Exactly (laughs) all is well.
EM: So what are your hopes for the release of your new EP?