Student majors in EDM DJing

By Kristin LaFratta

Courtesy of Shannon Masada-Rodriguez/Facebook

Sweat drips from his jet-black hair past his temples as his fingers glide over the controllers to crossfade into the last song of the night. After a night of playing for over 200 people at Diva’s Nightclub, a venue in Northampton, the lights turn on. He wears headphones and a beaming smile as he shouts, “Thank you for having me tonight, I’m Hybrid Vigor, and I hope you guys enjoyed my set.”

An aspiring artist, Shannon Masada-Rodriguez needs no more than a rowdy crowd and electronic music equipment to execute his work. The 22-year-old Hawaii native has created a major at the University of Massachusetts that should help him reach his goal to become a professional electronic dance music disc jockey. While some DJs enjoy mashing up different tracks as a hobby, Masada-Rodriguez has taken the music to a new academic platform. He studies electronic music production with the goal of creating an art form that portrays “strong emotions in a way only music can.”

Masada-Rodriguez is from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He said that he came to UMass because he wanted to get out of his comfort zone. Originally, he wanted to study engineering, and the program at UMass seemed like a perfect fit. Moving across the U.S. was no problem for Masada-Rodriguez, who had been living an independent lifestyle from an early age.

When Masada-Rodriguez was young, his parents separated. His mother is Japanese and his father is Spanish. Strong connections with both of his parents inspired him to keep both of their last names. As an only child, Masada-Rodriguez often travelled with his mother and grandmother to Japan, where he learned Japanese. Despite a perhaps risky career choice, his parents love and support him, as long as he makes “enough to get by.”

The DJ, who goes by the stage name Hybrid Vigor, first found his passion for electronic dance music when he attended the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, an international boarding school. There, he heard new kinds of music from countries all over the world, including electronic dance music. When he graduated from boarding school, Masada-Rodriguez travelled to Europe where he was exposed to a lot of EDM at different clubs. EDM DJing began as a hobby at the start of his college career before it became his main focus.

Masada-Rodriguez likes to incorporate a variety of EDM genres into his shows, including electro house, trap, moombahton and a little dubstep. His musical inspirations include EDM artists Dada Life and Dillon Francis.

“I love Dada Life. They are amazing artists and their tracks have so much energy,” he said. He added that Producer and DJ Dillon Francis is “one of the funniest out there” as well as a pioneer of moombahton.

The controversy over EDM’s relation to drug use is an issue Masada-Rodriguez addresses on his official “Hybrid Vigor” Facebook page. In a post after the recent cancelation of three UMass EDM concerts, Masada-Rodriguez writes to fans, asking them to “DO SOMETHING! Write emails, call your department heads, do a stand out, call the local news.” He goes on to write that complaining on Facebook statuses will not help change the recent stigma of EDM.

Masada-Rodriguez said there is a complicated relationship between drugs and EDM, though the same connection exists in many music genres. The drug Molly, a purer form of ecstasy, is often associated with EDM. Masada-Rodriguez said it’s mainstream music that draws attention to the drug, making it seem “cool.” He said he found it ironic that UMass would sign rapper Trinidad James to perform at the Mullins Center, whose famous lyrics include a reference to Molly.

“People hear this and there is a reaction. Young kids want to imitate it when they don’t understand the risks or consequences,” he said. “Adults hear this and want to ban EDM.”

Masada-Rodriguez is upset over the shows’ cancellations because he finds it unjust to dismiss a form of musical expression due to misunderstanding and stereotyping. Changing the misconception of EDM will be an uphill battle, Masada-Rodriguez says, though, it will not stop him from academically pursuing what he loves.

Masada-Rodriguez is part of the Bachelor’s Degree with an Individual Concentration at UMass. In the BDIC program, advisors help students create their own majors by handpicking classes that fit the interconnecting areas of study. Masada-Rodriguez’s major is in “electronic music production.”

Masada-Rodriguez takes classes that focus on performance, marketing and production. These include business classes such as marketing and management, online music courses specific to music production and BDIC classes that teach networking and leadership. In these classes, he learns the different business skills that he hopes will help him reach his ultimate goal of producing large shows and creating a record label.

Masada-Rodriguez found many benefits in constructing his own major, but there were also difficulties.

“The challenge of a BDIC major is creating your own path. While other majors have a clear roadmap of requirements and classes, a BDIC forces the students to develop their own plan,” he said. “You have to think about how it will apply to life outside of school, but the great part is that I enjoy all the classes I chose.”

On campus, Masada-Rodriguez stays involved by participating in MASS EDMC, a grassroots electronic dance music community that works to promote EDM and unite fans around the Northeast. He is also a member of the Oxford Group, an event promotion group, and used to work as the house DJ for the University Programming Council.

Already Masada-Rodriguez has performed for numerous house and beach parties, clubs, events on campus and a few UMass clubs. Events on the beach are most challenging to set up for, he said. Masada-Rodriguez added that one of his favorite DJing memories occurred when he played at a warehouse party. At the end of his set, he shot silly string and unleashed tons of balloons on the partygoers, as his booth overlooked the venue.

“It was amazing,” he said.

Masada-Rodriguez draws a lot of support from his friends.

“I think it is really unique and cool what he is doing,” said his friend Vivian Nguyen, a sophomore.

Masada-Rodriguez enjoys listening to dubstep, reggae, rock and hip-hop. Country music is the only genre he does not like. In addition to music, Masada-Rodriguez enjoys cooking and baking. His specialties include cooking chicken parmesan and breakfast foods, as well as baking cookies, brownies and cakes.

The combination of booming EDM popularity and a tough music industry sets up a challenge for Masada-Rodriguez, but he is confident. He knows he can always improve on his skills and remains hopeful.

“I think if I work hard, always keep learning and stay flexible, I know I can make it to the top,” he said.

Masada-Rodriguez’s music can be found on his Hybrid Vigor webpage, as well as his SoundCloud profile.

Kristin LaFratta can be reached at [email protected]