- Dilee D on embracing new technology to create a unique sound
As with most musicians, Dilee D realised that music was his calling at a very young age. His mom would always start her day by putting on the radio, so the household was quite lively. His journey into making music began when he was in kindergarten and he started tinkering around with instruments; by second grade he was learning to play the melodica for the school band.
He came of age during the war, so music brought his family together during those difficult times. He moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2010 to further his career and pursue a computer science degree, after which he toured Asia for almost 10 years before returning to Sri Lanka in 2018.
Brunch had a chat with him about his journey of breaking into the music industry and more. Here’s what he had to say.
What inspired you to get into music?
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I wanted to pursue music as a career. When the first DJ software, PC DJ, came out, I was mesmerised. My friend showed me how to mix two songs together and I thought it was so cool. I was already in a band, but I didn’t see a future with it, so naturally, I gravitated toward DJing.
Musically, Carl Cox’s Global Underground radio show was a big influence on how I looked at and experienced electronic dance music.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career?
The biggest challenge has been and continues to be getting exposure out of Sri Lanka and Asia. Networking is a big part of making it in the music industry, but when you can’t get a visa to the US or Europe, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. To connect with people in the industry, you need to get out of Asia to get a fair chance; not to mention Sri Lanka doesn’t have many laws or protections for musicians and their art, so it’s incredibly difficult to capitalise on music.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
When living in Kuala Lumpur, I had an opportunity to help build an underground club from scratch. I was the resident DJ, but also the music director. It became an incredibly successful club, and I’m forever proud of the work we did there and the life lessons it taught me. I was able to grow my network and connect with amazing artists and promoters from around the world.
You have a new EP (extended play) coming out. Tell us what the inspiration behind it was, and what we can expect.
I collaborated with my brilliant friend, Doshpot, from Melbourne on this newest EP. The track Chase and Devour came from a feeling of chasing something that is unattainable. We’ve both been chasing our careers for more than a decade, so this track resembles the chase that it’s been. The idea started from a single arpeggiator synth line.
This EP has a deeper storyline and feels immersive. It also features two amazing remixes by Tantra from Indonesia and Mathias Winnfield from Turkey. The most exciting part is that the EP is coming out on my label, Idyllik Records.
What is the procedure behind your production/composition process?
Well, I naturally wake up around three or four in the morning, so that’s when I get to work in the studio. I feel the universe wakes me at that time to explore my creativity while the rest of the world is still. I always start with a blank canvas, no presets. I build a foundation with a kick drum and bass line. This helps me find a groove. Then I create a chord progression that allows me to imagine what the melody will sound like. I play live in the studio to find the right arrangement and finalise the project.
I do all my own sound design, so listeners are always experiencing something new from my music. I use a variety of analogue synthesisers rather than plug-ins; it’s unlike any other music you’ll find in the island.
What’s your perspective on the relationship and balance between technological advances, music, and the art of DJing? How have particular technologies changed your style of DJing?
If you don’t embrace technological advances, you won’t make it as a DJ or music producer. Technology is advancing so fast, that if you disregard it, someone else will be more innovative than you and be more successful. Electronic dance music is just as much about innovation as it is about creativity. Personally, I love modular synthesisers and anyone who listens to my music will recognise their unique sounds.
Technology is also creating more accessibility for music producers. Instead of needing to buy a lot of expensive equipment to make music, producers can access software, which comes at a lower price. There are even some excellent free software programmes for up-and-coming producers.
When I started DJing, I used PC software, then moved to using a DJ console. Now, the technology allows me to play live using CDJs (specialised music players for DJing). Without needing a computer, I can perform a hybrid or live set because I can play samples from the CDJs. When you think about it, the advancements are incredible for DJs. We can be more creative on the fly.
How do you stay up to date with the latest music trends?
I’m regularly on Beatport and Soundcloud listening to new music. I receive a lot of promos from other artists and record labels too.
What is your opinion of the electronic music industry in Sri Lanka?
The industry in Sri Lanka is underdeveloped and lacks education. There’s no understanding of the skill level it takes to create and perform electronic dance music, and thus patrons don’t receive a quality experience. While technology makes it very easy to become a DJ, being a skilled and successful DJ is entirely different.
As mentioned before, the industry needs better policies and protections for artists. To even access the technology in Sri Lanka is next to impossible.
Since coming back, I’ve met so many young, talented artists who are ready to take over the industry. If they have better access to the global market, technology, and artists’ protections, they can make the local industry better for future generations. If the market is able to grow, we can actually invest in festivals and bring world-renowned acts to the country. Not only would it lift up Sri Lankan artists, but it would also contribute greatly to tourism.
In terms of the current situation, how do you think this will affect the music industry, and do you have any suggestions or plans on how to keep it alive?
Things are really bad for the industry, and I think it will take years to recover. Unfortunately, without significant policy changes, the industry will not even have a chance to grow for the next five years. Even basic infrastructure, like fibre-optic internet, goes a long way for the industry.
The reality is that at the present moment, we need to focus on getting the economy back on track before we can have a discussion about the industry. When people can’t afford to feed their families, they aren’t thinking about attending an event.
What is 2022 looking like for you? Any future plans?
I’ll be relocating to Berlin in the fall. This move has been years in the making, so I’m really excited to finally have a go at it and start the next chapter of my career.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I hope that we can come together to rebuild our country and see real progress in the future.