The rise of electronic music globally has created a new class of superstar DJs who are able to tour the world, play in front of tens of thousands of people and be the face of multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. But this has ignored the singers, songwriters and engineers who work tirelessly to create the songs that get radio play, played in clubs and at festivals and charted worldwide. British singer, songwriter, producer and DJ Harrison is one of those people who make the wheels dance in electronic music, but he is not nearly satisfied with that.
Speaking on this imbalance in a musical genre that paradoxically has coined the catchphrase PLUR -- Peace, Love, Unity, Respect -- Harrison tells a somewhat different tale of how getting a start as a dance music vocalist is not so easy.
"It is hard as a vocalist in the beginning to get your feet under the table because DJs are always going to want it to be about them and that is, it's a horrible situation to be in because you feel like you're just as much part of the track," says Harrison.
He emphasizes the importance of vocals and how they create added value to an instrumental: "As a vocalist and as a writer, you're the interpreter of what it is. Beats are beats at the end of the day, even I make them, but at the same time, what makes a really good song is the story behind it, the lyrics and the way that people relate."
He provides the example of his track with David Guetta & Glowinthedark's "Ain't a Party," which became a festival favorite in 2013 and one of the most popular EDM tracks of the year.
"I was never really added in to the Facebook posts and when they were tweeting it out and posting it, it was always David Guetta and Glowinthedark 'Ain't a Party' even though the party without me and the concept behind the record was coming from me, because really that's what kind of made the song," he says.
The track became a gateway to bigger and better things for Harrison. It was his first taste of the big time where he was getting jetted off to Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam on a few day's notice to meet Chuckie and the artists at his Dirty Dutch Show that night. That was the night he met Glowinthedark and the track was born, with Harrison drawing inspiration from a partying friend. According to Harrison, his friend came home in a daze, proclaiming, "I had the best weekend ever man," and the U.K. singer replied what was to become the vocals for "Ain't a Party": "Yeah, but it's not a party without me."
This is how hits are made.
Not all is bad, however. In fact, his career is taking off and things could not be better for Harrison. He just collaborated with the No. 1 DJ in the world, according to DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs popularity poll, to release the controversial single "Sally." The experience was an "Amazing opportunity," and Hardwell was "actually enjoyable to work with," unlike some less humble characters.
True to Harrison's mission of drawing more attention to the lyrics, "Sally" has been criticized by fellow ivory tower types in the media, fans and even fellow DJs like the always-quotable deadmau5, saying "at least it wasn't Nickleback" -- ouch -- not for the somewhat generic drop, but the vocals. The lyrics have been derided as crude and, according to Harrison, it was their plan the whole time.
The vocals center around a "fictional" character named Sally, with whom Harrison or Hardwell was having a perfidious relationship where he is engaging in carnal relations with a woman despite her already being in a relationship and her father objecting.
The real inspiration for the song will never be revealed, but there is some truth to the story. Harrison describes the idea behind it as a tune for "When you're with your mates and your friends and you're dancing on the table and everything is going wrong and then you hear the song and say, 'Oh, this is my jam!'"
The song shot up to No. 1 in the charts in the Netherlands, landed them a gig on the popular Dutch talk show RTL Late Night and has been a frequent topic of conversation around the industry since it was released. If they wanted press, Hardwell and Harrison got it with this track.
What made "Sally" different was not the vocals, but the infusion of rock into an otherwise forgettable EDM track. He says he has another 20 waiting on the sideline ready to go that can now be unleashed because of the "Sally's" success. Before pairing the record with Hardwell, he had attempted to shop the record around to some unnamed American labels who initially signed it, but then got cold feet and dropped the song last minute. With the new cross-over track, Harrison believes he will be breaking barriers, notably in the U.S., to get more rock-EDM songs signed.
Life does not stop at Sally for Harrison. His list of upcoming projects is exhaustive, and as I rattled off collaborations with the likes of Chocolate Puma, named "Monsters," his collaboration with Steve Aoki, "Holding Up the World," which just made the next Aoki album Neon Future II, and one with Laidback Luke titled "Never End Again," he was brimming with anticipation for these tracks to come out.
He will be returning to Revealed Recordings with "Mayday" alongside Lucky Date and Dannic, while also releasing records with Thomas Gold & HIIO, "Feed Me," which draws inspiration from his grandmother and another with Gold, Mars TV and himself.
According to Harrison, 2015 is about getting these collaborations out to the world, and then in 2016 Harrison will be ready to take the next step to releasing music on his own.
It has not been easy getting to this point, but the talented U.K. singer, songwriter, producer and DJ is getting his chance to shine on the biggest stage.