Over the last few years, Ryan Hemsworth has received praise from the likes of A-Trak and Diplo, met Skrillex backstage at an EDM festival, and played a New York Fashion Week runway show where Justin Bieber and Rihanna were in attendance. But one of the more surreal experiences of the Canadian DJ’s career came from an encounter with a diehard fan.
“I got this email from a girl asking very seriously if she could dance onstage in a Stormtrooper outfit,” the Canadian DJ/producer tells Rolling Stone over the phone from his hotel room in Washington, D.C. “Apparently it was her thing that she did. I was like ‘Uh. . . maybe I’ll pass on this one.'”
You can’t blame him for still feeling uneasy about the spotlight. In only two years, the 23-year-old Halifax-born, Toronto-based Hemsworth has quickly built a name for himself, thanks to a nonstop stream of guest mixes, remixes (both bootleg and official) of songs by Cat Power, Frank Ocean, Grimes, Lana Del Rey, and others, not to mention a handful of free online EPs of original music that deftly merges ambient beats with looped vocal samples.
These releases have culminated in Guilt Trips, Hemsworth’s debut full-length on Last Gang Records, which he recorded mostly on his laptop in airports and hotels while on the road. It features guest vocals from a variety of artists including L.A. electronic musician Baths, young rapper Kitty (née Pryde), and R&B singer Tinashe.
“I guess my sound jumps around a lot but I wanted it to be held together by a mood more than a genre,” he says. “They’re different vocalists who play different styles of music but I think they hold it together in a sort of melancholic way. Even though it’s ten tracks I wanted it to feel like a full body of work.”
His diverse tastes also translate to his live shows, where you can expect to hear everything from trap rap to video game soundtracks to A$AP Rocky mashed up with Britney Spears’ “Everytime.”
“When I’m standing up there and see people not moving I get an insecure feeling, like ‘Oh, I’m not doing something right’,” explains the producer, who describes his typical audience being a mix of “music nerds, people who are obsessed with video games and Pokemon, hot girls and gay dudes”. “But then I realize what people seem to enjoy is not necessarily the dancier moments but more of the melodies and the weird song choices. It’s about finding that balance and realizing people don’t need to be fully dancing and going crazy to have a good time.”
This laidback approach to performing suits the self-described “Shy Diplo” just fine, who unlike many of his contemporaries, prefers to unwind after a show by watching Netflix or interacting with fans and friends on Twitter than partying.
“The whole lifestyle can be weird and a bit exhausting sometimes,” he admits. “But I think I’m getting the hang of it.”