The legacy of house music in Dallas goes back decades, but part of what keeps it alive is the constant introduction of fresh, young talent. Tony Ellis, who performs under the alias Little Human, is a producer, DJ and artists and repertoire executive for Dallas-based house label Flunked Records, and he's part of that new school.
Along with Audiophile, Grin Trax and Dolfin, Flunked Records has given a voice to Dallas house producers. What sets Flunked apart from its local label peers is its singular focus on house music. This week's mixtape from Little Human comes just a few weeks ahead of his upcoming single "Talking with Louis," which drops Jan. 29.
For the Q&A, Ellis relates his journey from a young emo kid to a modern house-head.
How did you get started deejaying? What drew you to it?
When I was younger, I was always making CDs for my friends. I had to have the newest songs, the most recent albums, the rare B-sides. Then one ex-girlfriend said, “You love sharing music with people. Why don’t you start deejaying?” I eventually got a cheap Numark controller and taught myself.
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What drew me into the electronic music life goes all the way back to 2009 when I was in junior high. I was at a school dance, and the DJ there played “Castles in the Sky,” and my mind was blown. I reached out to my friend's older brother and asked what he could tell me about that song because I knew he went out and partied, and he handed me a mixed CD of Dieselboy and AK1200. I was blown away. I had never heard anything like it and was drawn to the crazy sounds and hypnotic rhythms.
What is your relationship to house music?
My relationship with house music is very personal. It’s not about the “sweet drop.” It’s about the groove. It’s about the soul. It’s something you feel deep in your bones, and that resonates with me personally.
How was this mix made? Is there a theme?
I’m terrible with recording mixes. I’m a perfectionist, and making something that will be around forever puts a ton of pressure on me. Also, there is no feedback from the crowd, so it’s hard to judge how I’m doing. All of that being said, I wanted to make a mix that would really express my love for house — something I could hang my hat on and that would have a good groove from start to finish.
How did you begin doing A&R for Flunked Records?
Ryan and I have been friends for years. We have such similar taste in music that most tracks we show to each other are usually followed with, “I already have that one.” When Ryan approached me about joining Flunked, we had a long talk about all the logistics. I hate the politics than come along with the business side, and he said he would rather focus on that, and I said I would rather work with the artists. So I guess you could kind of say it was meant to be, and everything fell into place. We both take Flunked very seriously, so I take it as a compliment that he entrusts me with the duties that come with my role.
How did you begin producing music? Have you ever made any original music other than dance?
I’ve been producing off and on for about eight years now, but in 2017, I told myself that if I want to do anything with this, then I need to make my own music. That year, I got out off the perpetual gig search and buckled down to make my own music.
I actually was a bass player and lead vocalist for a farce band in the sixth grade. We were Captain Lunchbox and the Sandwiches — a little three-piece pop punk wannabe band. We had one gig at our drummer's church, and we played "Lean on Me."
What has been your most significant musical experience in the last year?
The musical experience that had the most influence on me had to be Dirtybird Campout. It was amazing. Nonstop house music meets summer camp. There was an amazing sense of community with great tunes and tons of laughs. The tracks on my next two EPs were directly inspired by my time there. I came up with the hooks and basslines while walking to and from our campsite.
Which producers and DJs have your attention right now?
There are a few that have caught my eye. Mason Maynard has made me do a double-take when digging around for tracks. Josh Brown's track "Saturated Static" is definitely in my rotation. Dennis Cruz has been putting out some really heavy stuff as well.
Where do you like to dig for tracks? Online or in stores?
I go almost exclusively digital when it comes to tracks. There’s something about going to a DJ pool I subscribe to and having page upon page to dig through. I feel like a kid in a candy store.
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What local DJ nights or gigs do you frequent?
Hug Life at It’ll Do is always a solid choice. That is by far my favorite club in Dallas. I also really enjoy what Dee Empty and Sammy have put together with Drum Djam. I’ve seen that grow into something amazing.
What music gets your attention outside of dance music?
To be completely honest, there are a few genres that pique my interest. Most of them take me back to when I was younger, like emo/screamo bands, Southern rap and hip-hop, and indie bands. As far as current music goes, I’m drawn toward hip-hop. The whole mumble-rap thing drives me insane, so it’s hard to find a good lyricist who can tell a story, but if they can manipulate words to paint a picture in a clever way, I’ll give them a listen.
What gigs or releases do you have coming up?
I actually have a release coming out on Flunked on the 29th called "Talking With Louis" that I’m proud of. I spent a lot of time on it, but once I heard the vocals I used, I knew I had to sample it for a track.
Riva Starr and Green Velvet — "I Feel Good (Original Mix)"
Matthias Tanzmann — "Elrow (Original Mix)"
Rich Pinder — "Don't Want You (Electronic Youth Remix)"
CamelPhat — "Magic Stick (Original Mix)"
Lurlo — "Street Talk (Original Mix)"
Dead Space, Dateless — "Psychedelic World (Fancy Inc and Hippocoon Remix)"
Solardo — "Fall Down (Original Mix)"
Gordon John — "Zoo Rave (Original Mix)"
Beni — "Drop The Pressure (NatNoiz Remix)"
Raumakustik — "My Spirit (Original Mix)"