DJ and producer Dieselboy is well known internationally, but when he was coming up — going to college at the University of Pittsburgh and leaning to DJ on WRCT at Carnegie Mellon — drum-and-bass was just getting its start. Now the electronic subgenre is a good 20 years old, and Dieselboy is a big name in the field, with plenty of feats under his belt — like DJing for 35,000 people in a hockey arena in Russia.
After spending his early years in small towns in Florida and Colorado, Dieselboy (real name: Damian Higgins) moved with his family to Oil City, Pa. After graduating from Oil City High School in 1990, he travelled about 90 minutes south to study information science at the University of Pittsburgh.
"I was a broke college student," he explains. "I DJed on WRCT with these guys I know called the Techno Terrorists. They had a show, so I would go on there every Friday and I would spin for an hour. I learned to pretty much DJ on-air, which is, like, trial by fire, 'cause I didn't know how to beat-match or anything. But a couple years after I started DJing, my mom bought me turntables, and that's when I started to be able to practice at home.
"I wanted to DJ as a hobby and it just got to the point where it became my job. Pittsburgh had a pretty small scene, it was kind of self-contained in a way. But, you know, we did our own thing. We had a drum-and-bass night called Steel City Jungle for a while, which had some good notoriety."
Steel City Jungle was Dieselboy's first weekly event series, which he co-DJed with friend and fellow local DJ Andy Sine. Before he relocated to Philadelphia in the late '90s, house parties and events at clubs like Metropol, in the Strip District, became common gigs for him as the EDM scene grew in popularity.
"There were raves that happened," he recalls. "One of them was inside the Corliss Tunnel, it was called Tunnel Vision." The event took place in June 1995.
"My friends who threw it convinced the city that they were shooting a video," he says. "They did video the show, but the city thought it was a music video, so they managed to shut down an entire traffic tunnel and have a rave in it, which was unreal. It was super loud, and they actually had cops directing traffic and helping out. The next day, the people that were hearing the music all night were so upset. And then when they found out it was a rave it got to, like, the number-one news story of the year. People were like, ‘How the fuck does this happen?' because it was a rave and the city felt like they were duped or whatever."
Pittsburgh's EDM scene grew and changed with the different sub-genres that gained popularity during the '80s and early '90s — techno and house in the '80s, then later drum-and-bass and jungle. Dieselboy still remembers some of his peers and the scene's early influences. "There was Soji Fu. Deadly Buddha and Controlled Weirdness were two guys that threw the original parties in Pittsburgh. 187 was a producer that produced drum-and-bass. There was another guy, Strobe, he had a couple big tracks back in '91-'92 and was traveling around and performing.
"When I first started getting into the rave scene, right before I started DJing, he had big hit tracks. Actually, the first club show I ever went to was at Metropol and he was performing at it, when I walked in the door he was DJing."
Strobe (a.k.a. Eric Cohen), who is currently the music director and resident DJ at Static Nightclub, began DJing in 1986 and in 1992 produced a popular techno song titled "I Like Noise." He later produced an official remix album by the Peter Malick Group featuring Norah Jones. He's seen Dieselboy's rise from a college student, building a record collection and learning the basics of being a DJ in Pittsburgh, to becoming one of the most prominent figures in drum-and-bass.
"I think a lot of it has to do with being persistent and consistent with what you're doing," Cohen says. "From the very beginning, he was into this particular style and never wavered from it. If you're devoted to it, people that are fans of this music and are very hardcore into it notice that kind of thing. They've always been respectful of his dedication to jungle and drum-and-bass.
"He was always a cool guy, very focused and very talented, but there's a lot of people that are like that but they waver in and out of different genres and don't stick to anything. He never did that. Once drum-and-bass hit, he was always at the forefront of it."