Star Slinger finds sweet spot between headphones, dance floor

Boston Globe, May 6, 2012

Even by today’s accelerated standard of Internet-amplified music fame, this one happened pretty fast. Two years ago, the producer Star Slinger was just Darren Williams, age 24 at the time, another provincial British kid messing around making beats, albeit with a degree in music technology from a college in Leeds. He had moved to Manchester and was prowling that city’s secondhand record stores, digging for sounds and ideas.

Now Star Slinger is an international touring artist with an insane travel schedule and a plethora of beats, remixes, and collaborations of all sorts zooming around the Web. His absurdly eclectic list of remix targets extends from H-Town to Childish Gambino, Nicki Minaj to Cocteau Twins, Buraka Som Sistema to Broken Social Scene.

He’s made an album-length project, “Vol. 1,” a collection of atmospheric beats laced with samples from old soul and reggae, in the tradition of the late and much-lamented Detroit soundsmith J. Dilla.

And he has released two new singles that presage a more ambitious second album underway. One track features rappers Lil B and Stunnaman, the other a Kansas City experimental soul singer named Reggie B.

In the kind of gesture that signifies mutual recognition and approval in these circles, he’s seen his own work remixed by Diplo, the influential producer and DJ. But an even starker indication of Williams’s emergence is to be found in the calls he is now getting to work with current pop’s biggest names.

“I’ve been asked by Drake’s manager to submit some work,” Williams says. “I’ve been asked to do things with a few big producers. I’ve been working on my album first and foremost — but when people you respect call you. . .”

He is speaking by phone from Wellington, New Zealand, looking out at the marina from his hotel window while getting ready for a flight to the next gig, in Adelaide, Australia. A few days earlier was Singapore, where he played to a crowd that he was pleased to find well-versed in a wide range of dance music.

“I had people asking for Jersey club,” he says.

Williams hits Boston on Thursday, to play the Paradise. He emerged from the lone-wolf laptop beat scientist tradition, but it’s clubs that energize him. His sound is in the midst of a migration from the abstract, deconstructive approach common to J. Dilla’s inheritors to something more aggressive.

“It’s kind of dance floor-orientated,” Williams says, giving as example his most recent remix, of “Blueberry” by UK producer Darq E. Freaker and US rapper Danny Brown. (All of his tracks stream for free on the Star Slinger Soundcloud page.)

“The beats are more heavy. It’s designed for the club rather than your headphones. The melody is simple and catchy. There’s definitely a pop sensibility.”

Whatever the blend, Williams has found a sweet spot; he has managed thus far to assemble under one roof — or more accurately, in one laptop — a head-spinningly diverse library of sounds that he manipulates in an increasingly recognizable personal style.

And his body of work has seen him pass successfully through the early and middle stages of what has become an archetypal evolutionary path in pop music: first bedroom tinkerer, then samples addict, then remix guru.

Williams is adamant that he won’t stop there.

“I don’t want to be seen as a remix guy,” he says. “The reason I do so many remixes is that it’s a good way to keep people interested when you’re not coming out with something new yourself. And also because I DJ, and it’s good to have stuff that goes with your sound.”

Now at a crossroads where some producers add live instruments or singers to their performances, even picking up an instrument or two themselves, Williams says he respects that route. But he adds that it isn’t for him the way it is for some peers he appreciates, such as fellow UK sensations SBTRKT and Disclosure.

“They pull it off live, and it’s very classy and cool,” he says. “But I see myself more along the lines of a DJ, someone who curates other music. I was trained on guitar and keyboard, but I’m not going to go down the live route. I’m not someone who thinks of himself as a really good musician.”

His emphasis, in other words, is on throwing a good party and to share with the crowd the fun he’s had along the quick ride of his career ascent so far.

“It’s kind of a whirlwind, but I’ve never had any other goal in life than to make music,” he says. “I’d always wanted to have some exposure in music. I realized I had been putting in all this work without feeling like it was work.”

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