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Pittsburgh’s small music community allowed EDM DJ Buku to flourish

Would Buku still be Buku without the 'Burgh?

Pittsburgh’s small music community allowed EDM DJ Buku to flourish
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Robert Balotsky

If Buku hadn't grown up in Pittsburgh, the electronic trap artist would likely still go by Robert Balotsky. It wasn’t his plan to be a DJ, but thanks to the small but encouraging music scene in the 'Burgh, Balotsky was able to become the festival-hopping musician he is today.

During his sophomore year at Duquesne University, Balotsky started getting into EDM through the YouTube channel of record label UKF. The channel shares “the best in bass music,” and features electronic sub-genres, garage, glitch hop, trap, and electro house. 

Balotsky decided to experiment by emulating the styles he heard on UKF. This wasn’t far-fetched, since he was already an active musician, having studied Music Technology at Duquesne and playing drums throughout his adolescence.

“I started to understand it more, and was making things that were totally terrible,” Balotsky laughs. He was just making music for the sake of making music. But as he started to improve, he realized that if he wanted to perform his creations, he would have to learn how to DJ. 

At the time that Balotsky was getting interested in electronic music, the Pittsburgh music community was nearing the end of the peak of its DIY rave scene. Venues like The Eagle on the North Side or the Lawrenceville Moose were hot spots for underground, and sometimes illegal, electronic shows. A friend of Balotsky’s brought him to a house party where he met some of the people who were running the DIY raves. Through those connections, Balotsky started getting opening slots at The Eagle. 

“Friends book friends,” says Balotsky. “[In major cities], people are like ringing each other’s necks to get an opening slot. [Pittsburgh’s] really not that big of a community, especially among artists and musicians, everyone knows each other – it allowed me to hone my craft a little bit more and have a community around that was interested.” 

The size of the music scene gave Balotsky the opportunity to practice, experiment, and get in front of crowds. Soon, his music began drawing national attention from big EDM names like Diplo, Datsik, Rusko, and Skrillex. 

Fast forward to 2018: Balostsky has now collaborated with Stylust, G Jones, Willy Joy, Minnesota, and many other big names in the genre. He spent the summer playing on the electronic-music festival circuit.  

Pittsburgh’s small music community allowed EDM DJ Buku to flourish
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Buku aka Robert Balotsky

“I [played] a bunch of my bucket-list festivals: Shambhala, Camp Bisco, and Electric Forest,” says Balotsky. “Those were absolutely the ones I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now.”

Electric Forest is a music festival in Rothbury, Mich. that focuses on electronic music and jam bands. This year, because of the event’s growth in popularity, the festival expanded to two weekends. Attendees can choose to purchase tickets for one or both weekends. While the lineups were similar, many of the acts only performed at one or the other. Balotsky was asked to play at both weekends at Electric Forest, and the first one brought a surprise. 

“They had some sort of scheduling conflict,” says Balotsky. “I was supposed to play sometime around 8 p.m. on one stage. They ended up asking if I wanted to play 12:30 -2 a.m. on another stage. So, I ended up getting to close out the entire festival. I still have people contacting me. That was my most special moment of the summer.”

Next year, Balotsky is set to travel with Space Jesus for his Temple of Noom tour across the U.S., hitting 40 cities between Jan. and April. But before he starts touring again, Balotsky is closing out 2018 in his hometown. 

“It’s going to be completely bananas,” says Balotsky of his headlining New Year’s Eve show at The Rex Theater.  

“I hope to continue growing this Pittsburgh support. I am almost stubborn [in how much] I want to represent Pittsburgh, and I refuse to move away. I want to become a name that could be synonymous with Pittsburgh.”

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By Mars Johnson