WHEN PROMOTER Chris Alba sought to kickstart a career as a DJ six years ago, rather than head out to the clubs, he stayed home. Alba staged his own parties in the downtown Los Angeles warehouse that he shared with five other artists. He called himself Whiiite. And in that DIY music scene, he met Sonny Moore, an EDM producer living in another warehouse nearby. The two DJs instantly clicked.
Moore was working on his second EP, one that would—unbeknownst to him and Alba at the time—go double platinum, earn a Grammy and a few years later help to eventually land him on the cover of Rolling Stone. Most people know Moore by his stage name, Skrillex.
“He showed me some production techniques, and explained some music philosophies that I still use with every production,” Alba says. “He taught how to make my own drums and synth sounds, and not just use a loop out of a sample pack.”
Alba, who is half Filipino and half Norwegian, grew up all over the United States, from LA to Louisiana. His wide-ranging sound reflects his diverse upbringing, with a repertoire that runs from electro house to sample-heavy trap.
The full range of his talents will be on display at Pure Lounge in Sunnyvale on June 6.
So why “Whiiite?” His branding acumen led him to choose the highly conspicuous name (it’s simply pronounced “White”) for SEO purposes, so people could easily find him online.
“I wanted to have a super-recognizable name like MSTRKRFT,” Alba says. “When I first got into Justice, I couldn’t find anything on them. I would google ‘Justice France’ and end up on some government website.”
After moving numerous times in his childhood, Alba graduated from high school in Pennsylvania, then ended up back on the West Coast for college at Cal State University, Fullerton.
There he studied film, with an emphasis in anime and graphic novels. To make some money on the side he promoted parties and DJed. When he realized he could survive off music alone he dropped out of school, just a handful of credits shy of graduation.
That was 2005. By 2008, Alba was living in downtown Los Angeles, rising through the ranks as a local DJ and promoter. He and his best friend, manager and business partner, Ryan Jaso, threw a Sunday night party at a club called Play, where local EDM acts, including Dim Mak label head Steve Aoki, would play to tiny crowds for little money.
“We’d be happy if 40 people showed up,” Alba says. “I think Aoki’s booking fee was only like $500 back then.”
Before hiring Aoki to play at his parties, Alba frequented Aoki’s scene in Hollywood, which drew big names to play intimate shows. Aoki’s parties, however, quickly became mainstream. Alba and Jaso stepped in to revive the original scene, in which up-and-coming producers played for audiences more attracted to music than glamour.
Alba has the look of both Skrillex and Aoki. All three are skinny and have long, straight, silky black hair and a bevy of tattoos (Alba’s most prominent one, on his forearm, is the face of Harry Houdini).
“We come from rock,” Alba says of himself, Aoki and Skrillex. “Our first CDs were Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe, and that informs our music and style. You could see the division back then, between hip-hop and techno and rock, and we were rock flavored.”
While growing as a promoter, Alba bought Ableton software and began tinkering with remixes and original songs. Sometimes he remixed songs by the acts in the shows he was promoting, like Rusko, whom Alba discovered early in the dubstep producer’s career.
By October 2012, Alba had enough original music to release his first EP, Whiiite Begins, a broad mix of electro, drumstep and dubstep. Incorporating his passion for film and graphic storytelling, a 10-minute anime film, titled The Birth of Whiiite, written and directed by Alba and scored with songs from the album, accompanied the EP’s release. It tells the story of mild-mannered Chris, who is abducted by mysterious forces and given super-human musical powers.
Alba uses his music as inspiration for his anime filmmaking, and vice versa.
“Sometimes, when I’m making music it’s almost like I’m scoring a movie,” Alba says. “‘Houdini,’ [the title track on Whiiite Begins] sounds like a chase scene, because that’s where it fit into the film.”
Alba plans to release a new anime short film with each of his first five EPs, the second of which (so far unnamed) will be released late this summer. Unlike the Skrillex-like, high-spirited, playful sound of Whiiite Begins, his next project will be more trap-based—hip-hop samples infused with the headbanging rock vibes of his childhood.
“I want to inject dance into hip-hop” Alba says, “Whatever I make, the energy of Guns N’ Roses and Mötley has to come through. I like it when it’s rowdy. I like when it feels right on the edge, like there’s about to be a riot.”
June 6, 10pm
Pure Lounge, Sunnyvale
Guest list free before 10:30pm; $10 between 10:30 and 11pm
Register at purelounge408.com