Q&A: DJ Royal Highnuss Talks Silent Disco's Quiet Phenomenon

This year's Electric Daisy Carnival, which packed over 20,000 people into Fair Park, proved that electronic dance music hasn't waned in popularity over the years.

Dallas is rife with performers who are breaking new ground in the EDM world. One prime example of innovation in EDM is the Silent Disco phenomenon, where audience members listen to what the DJs are spinning through headphones. Silent disco shows have been popping up around the world for a few years now, and Dallas' own dubstep duo AFK have helped spearhead the movement in DFW. AFK tops the roster at the Silent Disco show at the Green Elephant on Friday, which will provide an answer to the age-old question: what does silence sound like?

We sat down with AFK DJ Royal Highnuss (government name: Kyle Nuss), who gave us insight on dubstep and the evolution of EDM, as well as telling us a little about what it's like to spin records in a silent room.

Hit the jump for the Q&A.

For the record, what do the letters AFK stand for?

I didn't really know what it was -- the dude I produced with picked out the name. It stands for "Away From Keyboard." The guy I produce with, Jimmy Blythe, he's a fairly active gamer, and he's ranked pretty high in the world of Halo, so that's how we got the name. Pretty much anyone who's in the world of music constantly, or producing, are some sort of nerd.

How long has AFK been together?

We started tag-teaming about a year ago, during DJ sets with Dub Assembly. Throughout hanging out, we just started producing music -- I think we prouduced, I want to say November, December of last year, we started producing together. Our first tune together, "Boom Stick," came out pretty well -- it got some support from major artists, and the momentum started going from there. Now we have an EP coming out sometime soon on Jackknife Records, which is pretty awesome. That'll be good exposure for us.

Describe dubstep for someone who is not familiar with the genre.

Dubstep's a form of music out of the UK that evolved out of the darker, two-step garage and took on more of a dub-y, bass-y sound. It's developed and changed over the years -- there's different types, but it's kind of all in one genre.

How does it relate to drum 'n' bass?

There are similar production aspects to it -- a lot of the producers bounce back and forth between producing drum 'n' bass and dubstep these days. There's a subgenre that has come out of that called drumstep, which is kinda a half-time drum 'n' bass, with heavier sub. It's become more prevalent -- you hear that more in people's sets in these days.

What originally got you into the dubstep genre?

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In the early 2000s, I used to go to Grooveology at the Home Bar every Sunday. Dallas has always liked darker music, so the music that ended up playing at Grooveology towards the end [of that time period] was the first darker, two-step stuff -- that was actually dubstep back then. The first dubstep tunes started coming out in '02, '03, '04, around then, but it didn't really have a name - it was just kinda like dark garage. So you heard a lot of that, and it was also influenced by dub reggae artists, such as Augustus Pablo, King Tubby, Flying Robbie, stuff like that. Those kinds of sounds merged together, and I got into it that way.

Dubstep beats are working their way into mainstream music -- Rihanna and Britney Spears have recently released tracks that are influenced by dubstep. How do you feel about the genre going mainstream? Do you think that's going to change the genre at all?

Various aspects, yes. I think a lot of people will try and jump on it, try to make a quick buck or get some quick fame. But, to be honest with you, none of that bothers me. I believe the Rihanna tune -- the people who produced that are actually some old drum 'n' bass artists. I think it's Chase and Status, I can't remember who it is, but they actually produced that Rihanna beat under a different alias to make some extra money. I think that's cool -- it definitely brings more people into the music. A good example of that would be EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival], where they had over 20,000 people show up.

A lot of critics right now are saying that drum 'n' bass is kind of going downhill, that it had its zenith. Do you think the same thing is going to happen to dubstep, or do you think dubstep will have a more lasting impact?

I think everything kinda works in cycles. I know a lot of my friends that were really active early in the dubstep scene have gone back and started producing more drum 'n' bass, especially the funk kind of stuff. As far as dubstep goes, there's definitely been a lasting influence as far as production goes. I think you'll see a lot of bassier tunes, and a lot of collaborations between different artists, like that "Look At Me Now," that Lil Wayne and Chris Brown tune -- that was produced by Diplo and Afrojack, a house producer and another prevalent producer in underground music.

You were saying that people jump between dubstep and drum 'n' bass, as well as other genres. Do you see more of that intermixing of genres now, as opposed to a few years back?

Yeah, most definitely! Years ago, you'd go to a party, and there would be one genre of music -- it'd all sound the same. Now, it's like, with people's attention spans being so short due to social media and all the advertising these days, everything's up in your face. People want to hear a different tune real quick, so, to me, during the whole set, like an hour, I wanna hear several different genres of music, and I wanna hear the tempo change.

Describe the Silent Disco for someone who's never heard of this phenomenon.

Silent Disco is actually one of the coolest parties I've played, as far as artist-audience interaction. There's two different DJs playing on the same stage, and each audience is given a headphone set with two different channels that can switch between each DJ. You don't know sometimes who you're playing to, and who you're not, depending on who's nodding their heads. It's definitely weird walking into a club and everything being silent except for the buzz of music in people's headphones.

Do you ever take your headphones off during a set and watch people dance in silence?

I did that a couple times at the last party just to make sure I was doing everything right. It's kinda different -- when you're mixing at the Silent Disco party, it's weird because normally when you're mixing, there are monitors-- you're in front of a mixer, but there are monitors that you can reference as far as your output level. Mixing at the Silent Disco, there are no monitors -- you can't really take your headphones off, 'cause you're doing all the mixing internally, between the channel you're mixing into and the master volume.

Does that change your approach to the music, without the monitors there?

It doesn't change a thing. We've all been bedroom DJs before.

Does your audience change when you play a show at Trees, for instance, as opposed to the Silent Disco?

It'll definitely be a different performance, for me at least, because it'll be a wider audience. When I do something at the Dub Assembly, people know what they're coming to hear, and the tunes I've made; at the Silent Disco, I get to play a little bit of everything.

Silent Disco happens at Green Elephant tomorrow night.

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