Welcome back to Uncharted, an Uproxx original series highlighting the best artists you haven’t heard of, yet. With the support of our friends at Honda, we are following some of the best emerging talent as they follow their dreams and make great music.
El Dusty’s origin story would get tossed out if you wrote it up as a script. It’s almost too on-the-nose to be real. The Texas-based DJ who mixes together traditional Latin music with the sounds of modern dance and trap music first got his hands on a set of turntables after his brother stole the DJ equipment from a quinceañera.
That’s right. A man who ended up making his living by scratching and mixing over music that can trace its lineage back hundreds of years… only got his start thanks to sticky fingers at a party that dates back 2,500 years. That’s a Marvel-level connection of catalyst to eventual end. The only thing more fitting would be if he was bitten by a radioactive member of La Sonora Dinamita while holding a copy of Flockaveli.
But we’ll get there. For an artist that finds inspiration in the well-placed throwback sample, it’s only fitting that we start his story way, way back.
Dusty Oliviera realized he wanted to be a DJ from very early on — we’re talking before the age of 10. He understood that he wanted to be a DJ from the very first moment he ever saw one — that is, at a going away party his older brother threw before leaving Miami for Corpus Christi, Texas.
“I guess the first time I saw a DJ live was in Miami.” he says. “He had a DJ and breakdancers. And cars with backs torn out. I was really drawn to that. Something attracted me to the cases and turntables and scratching…I knew then that I wanted to DJ, but I didn’t know it would be what it is now.”
Far from some passing childhood obsession, El Dusty stuck with it. Soon thereafter, he saw an ad for a DJ-in-a-box kit in the back of a magazine and he begged his father for it.
“I remember in like third grade, I saw this ad for an all-in-one DJ starter kit, and it was like $600,” he recalls.
In an inspirational movie, the music would swell and we’d cut to a montage of Dusty getting better as his father looked on, misty-eyed. But the real world response was… a bit more grounded.
“He said, ‘Hell no. I ain’t getting you that shit,'” Dusty remembers, laughing. “So, I taped the ad to the corner of our living room entertainment center. You know how you are when you’re a kid. Like ‘I’ll just leave this here to remind you.'”
But as you already know, Dusty didn’t have to wait long to get his hands on a rig. It wasn’t long thereafter that his brother came home with a turntable acquired by less savory means than ordering one from the back of a magazine.
“He was in a gang and he stole these turntables from a quinceanera in order to start a rap group,” Dusty says. “So, we set it all up and get it figured out and working. Then he goes to leave and says, ‘Don’t fuck with it.’ But he was always gone, so I’d practice when he wasn’t home.”
Eventually, Dusty got so good that his older brother didn’t seem to mind him touching his ill-gotten equipment. The brothers started to make money by playing teen club nights and skating rinks around town. And that might have been where his story ended, as a pretty decent 14-year-old, round-town DJ. But then El Dusty came into an unusual inheritance.
“My uncle passed away when I was 14. He was this radio DJ, this real flamboyant Mexican dude who was openly gay in South Texas at a time when no one was,” Dusty said. “He left me 20,000 records — a mix of everything — Cumbia, soul, funk, a real meticulous, choice collection.”
Dusty began to find many of his favorite samples in his uncle’s old records, eventually marking and pulling out his own favorites to mix with the styles he grew up on. To give you an idea of how deep the collection runs, Dusty has been going through it for over 15 years and says he’s nowhere near finished. Oliviera says he continues to find inspiration in the old records and the warmth and depth that analog samples provide.
“I’m inspired by what they were jamming to back in the day,” he confesses. “When you put an old sample into a new track, it sounds all 3-D. If you make a song entirely on a computer, it’s missing that frequency that the records provide.”
It’s fair to say that listeners are picking up on those frequencies as well. Dusty’s star is rising to the point that he can regularly tour, and even landed a slot at last year’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. He’s reached a point that he can ensure the next generation of kids in Corpus Christi won’t have to jack a set of turntables to learn how to make music. Along with his girlfriend Cecy Trevino, Oliviera has started a girl-focused after-school music program called Chicas Rock and a summer camp for budding selectors called Turntable Academy.
“We wanted to make a place where nobody’s judging anyone and the kids don’t have to feel intimidated,” he says. “Girls go and they can express themselves and realize that they can affect people with their music. It fucks your head up to realize that, in a good way, you know?”
Of course, Dusty is an artist first. And he’s hoping to reach out to the next generation outside of his philanthropy as well. He’s hoping that his nu-cumbia sounds will connect with American Latinos who feel connected to both their home and their ancestral roots.
“Some of us don’t speak Spanish or know how to make Mexican food. But we’re also proud of who we are. I want my music to represent these Latinos,” he reveals. “I’m keeping [the culture] alive. I want to keep it going. Stuff we’re doing now, in 30 years, will be classic.”
And Dusty is hoping that in the future, kids like him who are looking to the past for inspiration will reach for something he’s made and feel a connection across a century of Latin music.
“I don’t want to make something trendy,” he professes. “I want to make something that will stay.”