KILLIN’ IT: Carnage Goes from Bedroom Producer to Top EDM Draw
As I’m talking to Carnage, who’s in Miami for a quick one-off show, I can hear him move the phone away from his mouth mid-conversation… then order some nachos from his waiter.
It’s a revealing, unguarded moment because, unlike many dance-music producers, Carnage is not the jaded type, certainly not someone with a precious brand to fastidiously nurture or an image to tenaciously guard. He’s all about the music and he’s not going to strain his brain about ordering food in front of the media, even if there’s a 1,000 miles of separation. The man’s hungry.
But these days, life is that good for Carnage (aka Diamante Blackmon), a man whose professional musical leanings have veered from hip-hop and launched full bore into the EDM explosion. A successful production life has morphed into a heavy schedule of DJ dates—including a coveted residency at one of America’s top venues, Las Vegas’ Marquee Nightclub.
“This year we wanted something new and fresh added to our roster, and I felt that Carnage really stood out,” says Marquee music director Sol Shafer. “With his vast musical style and his amazing energy, this made it very appealing.”
High praise, indeed. During our conversation, it was apparent that he was excited about his new partnership with Marquee, in addition to almost everything in his evolving professional life. However, he did admit that he’s had to learn how to sleep on planes and deal with the constant fatigue of nonstop touring. While all of this almost sounds like a humble brag from the L.A.-based talent, we’ll forgive him.
Carnage’s story of how he fell in love with dance music is not much different from many of ours. While still living with his parents as a high-school student, he was taken by tough tracks from Dutch hardstylers like Alpha Twins and Headhunterz. Then, he was overwhelmed by his first massive festival experience at Electric Daisy Carnival. Sufficiently impressed, the teen hip-hop producer suddenly began to toy around with house and trap beats.
So, what appears to many to be a one-year catapult to the main stage actually came after years of under-the-radar production work. Carnage’s success became visible to the public around 2012 when his work for mainstream rappers such as A$AP Rocky and Theophilis London (“Big Spender”) got major play. But like many hip-hop tracks, it left many listeners unaware and mostly uninterested in who had produced the beat.
Transitioning to more underground work, he began beat-making for the likes of Bay Area rapper G-Eazy (“Loaded”), whose career has been progressing at the same warp speed, and Chicago-based Katie Got Bandz (“Kat!e”). His production for Bandz was released on Fool’s Gold Records, beginning his ties to the hip-hop side of electronic, an obvious platform for his “trap” tracks like his late-2012 smash, “Bang!”
Then in 2013 alone, he dropped big bombs like “Incredible” (with Borgore) and “Signal” (featuring New & Used)—both on Spinnin—plus “Michael Jordan” (with Tony Junior) on Dim Mak. He’s even been added to the list of Sirius XM Satellite Radio hosts with the “Carnage pres. #Incredible” show, which airs twice weekly on Electric Area.
By now, the road from opener to headliner has been well-paved for the leader of the Chipotle Gang—the name Carnage has given his loyal and growing fan base. (Yes, it’s named after the Mexican-grill chain of restaurants that he adores.) Keeping his love for stadium-style bangers in the forefront, Carnage’s natural path was to hit the ground running, touring any and everywhere. Whether he is playing for a small club or a mega festival, a Carnage set is characteristically fast, loud, vocal-heavy—and the crowd eats it up.
Back to the interview: When I tell Carnage that he’s going to be on the cover of DJ Times, I get an enthusiastic, “Hell, yeah!” Finally, it’s clear Carnage is starting to get used to his chaotic life. Pass the nachos.
DJ Times: How has your day-to-day life changed in the past year?
Carnage: My life used to be that I was home all day making music—now, I’m never home. I barely ever have time to make music because I’m on the road in a different city every day—eating horribly. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Traveling every day and playing music is the best thing ever—I love it. But the traveling component of the DJ life is the worst part ever. I never sleep and I’m always sitting on a plane.
DJ Times: So with all that travel and playing gigs and more travel, have you had time to work on music recently?
Carnage: The album I am releasing on Ultra has been in the making. I took some time off recently. I had been going really hard to finish the record. I’ve been working on a lot of collaborations. It’s going to be really awesome.
DJ Times: Your next album has a track with rap group Migos called “Brick.” How did you link up with them?
Carnage: I was randomly one day thinking, “What rapper that is poppin’ right now has been untouched by all of the dance guys?” And I came up with the Migos. They’re pretty hard to contact, but somehow my management and friends made it happen. And now we have a master record with the Migos coming out.
DJ Times: So, that means that Ultra—America’s biggest dance label—is releasing a hip-hop song.
Carnage: I’m giving Ultra a big facelift. It’s going to be cool. This is Carnage World.
DJ Times: I know you’re working on dance music now, but your background is in hip-hop music. Is this upcoming track and album going to be a throwback to your older style?
Carnage: I’m going to be making a lot more vocal records. I’m just going to be doing a bunch of random stuff. My album is going to be really random.
DJ Times: There are some tracks out there that you rap on yourself.
Carnage: I have a bunch of songs out there where I rap. I used to rap—I still rap. I’m actually going to have a rap song on my album.
DJ Times: Would you ever perform vocals live?
Carnage: I don’t know. The new song on my album, I probably will.
DJ Times: What kind of music got you into DJing?
Carnage: Above & Beyond’s OceanLab [vocal trance] project. I heard that and just thought, “Wow, this is so fucking good!” That, and a lot of hardstyle, early Headhunterz like “Scantraxx Roots” [from 2006] and Alpha Twins’ “Smack My Derb” [from 2005]. I was 18-years old, in high school.
DJ Times: How did you initially learn how to DJ?
Carnage: By hanging out with my friends who DJ. By watching people, just sitting there watching tutorial online and practicing. I would go to 12th Planet’s house [in Los Angeles] and practice over there. I even practice on the road. I have those rough nights, but at the end of the day it works.
DJ Times: What is your hardware and software set up?
Carnage: I used to use a Native Instruments S4 controller with Traktor, and now I’m more into using the Pioneer. I’m using the DJM-900NXS mixer and four CDJ-2000NXS players—pretty simple and standard.
DJ Times: Every year there seems to be a different trend in dance music and sometimes certain artists fade away if they stick to one trend. How do you feel about that?
Carnage: I honestly just make whatever is on my mind at the moment. I try to make a house song, then if I can’t make that, I’ll try to make a rap beat, and if I can’t make that, I’ll try to make a trap beat. It depends what I’m listening to at the moment and what my inspirations are.
DJ Times: What have you been listening to now, while you’re on the road?
Carnage: I listen to anything good. I listen to a lot of ghetto shit, whatever is good music. I don’t really say, “Hey, I listen to this.” The new Porter [Robinson] is amazing. The new Rick Ross album and the YG album are, too.
DJ Times: You live in L.A., where a lot of the current dance-music community calls home. What is that like these days?
Carnage: I live on the same block as 12th Planet, LA Riots, Dillon Francis—a bunch of people live in downtown L.A. We hang out, we collaborate a lot, we all hang out at 12th Planet’s house. If we go out in Hollywood, we’ll take the same cab back.
DJ Times: I know you have ties to the restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill. Can you tell me about that?
Carnage: They’re the homies. I just like Chipotle. Do you like Chipotle? I called my fans “The Chipotle Gang,” and Chipotle was like, “Whoa! We need to show love back to Carnage,” and they gave me a lifetime supply of Chipotle. Chipotle Gang is the best. It’s like a cult. My fans go really hard on the homemade gear.
DJ Times: One of the easiest ways for DJs to gain a fanbase is through an online presence. Has that been an influence for you?
Carnage: Hell, yeah! Social media is a big part of who I am. I think it’s helped me a lot. A lot of people live on that. It helps with everything—literally everything—holler at girls, get food, hit up your homies, collaborations.
DJ Times: You have a new residency at Marquee Nightclub and Dayclub in Las Vegas. How is that going?
Carnage: Marquee is awesome. They take care of me. I have a great night—Carnage: Black & White. It’s kind of one of those nights where you can do anything. If you want to do sexy-type shit, you can do that; if you want to get ratchet, you get ratchet. It’s on Monday nights, so it’s like an extra Saturday that Marquee has added to the week.
DJ Times: You’ve been playing a lot of big shows like Marquee, not to mention the festivals like Ultra. What is your favorite environment to play in?
Carnage: The first time I ever experienced dance music at a show, it was a festival. I went to EDC, and it was life-changing. That’s why a lot of the music I do and represent is festival music. The environment with thousands of people jumping is amazing. The energy that I bring and the energy that my fans bring could make a place with 100 people feel like a festival-size environment.
DJ Times: Right now, what is your priority? Producing or touring?
Carnage: Producing… and touring. But I’m really trying to get back into producing.
DJ Times: With touring, is it difficult to retain your focus on the production side?
Carnage: It is so hard—I never knew that. I thought it would be easy. When you get home from being on the road, you don’t want to make music—you want to sleep. Some people produce on the road and the guys who do that are lucky. I used to be able to produce on headphones when I lived at my parent’s house. I used to work on music at night there. After I moved to L.A. [from Maryland], I had so much time and got used to producing on speakers, and now I’m used to that.
DJ Times: People who don’t understand the DJ game often say that DJing is the easiest thing in the world. What is something that those people may not realize?
Carnage: What it is, is making the set your own. You have to cater to a crowd. If the crowd’s energy is up, switch it up. If they don’t like the record, switch it up—that’s the art of DJing, you know.
DJ Times: Just from the sound, how can a listener tell they’re listening to a Carnage track?
Carnage: I’m a pretty obnoxious DJ. I’m pretty fast. I like a similar style to Laidback Luke, Chuckie and Borgore. I use the microphone—I like to hype the crowd up. But I learned slowly not to talk too much.
DJ Times: What do you think was the turning point that shifted you from being an opening act to a headliner?
Carnage: Determination, and putting everything on the table. Going hard and saying, “I’m going to demand these slots; I’m going to let people know that I am the headliner.” That is just the beginning. That is a process that my agent helped me with a lot, and its worked out.