Before electronic dance music was the hot topic in Las Vegas nightlife, we had our own internationally known DJ/producer making waves with tracks such as “Discoteka” and, more recently, “Pressure” with Nadia Ali and Alex Kenji, “After Midnight” featuring Marcella Woods and “What Does Tomorrow Bring” with Richard Beynon featuring Natalie Peris (due out Oct. 1). But for Starkillers, a.k.a. Nick Terranova, whose résumé includes playing sold-out shows at the O2 arena in the U.K. and the Ministry of Sound World Tour in Korea, living in Las Vegas was actually hurting more than helping. So after four years in Sin City, he left. We asked Starkillers about his decision, the evolution of our local scene, and what he’s got in store studio-wise before he (temporarily) returns to Las Vegas to play the final Nectar Music Festival of the season Oct. 6 at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Las Vegas’ EDM scene is finally blowing up. Why relocate to L.A.?
It doesn’t really do me justice to live there and be considered a “local DJ.” A lot of the talent buyers think that because we live there, they can call you a local DJ, instead of really being an international DJ who just happens to live in Vegas. But in L.A., there’s a lot of DJs who live here, and they get the respect of being an international DJ. So my fees in L.A. are massive, and I don’t get this thing of “Oh, you live here so we don’t have to pay you as much.” … Scenes pop up all over the place. It’ll be hot in Miami for a while, and then it’ll be hot in L.A. for a while, and then it’ll be hot in Vegas for a while. And things change, and maybe it wasn’t my time to be embraced. And maybe in the future it’ll work out and be what I want it to be, but I can’t be mad at it.
Did living in Las Vegas influence the music you wanted to make?
I don’t really follow the trends of what’s going on in Vegas. I mean, Vegas is a cool place—there’s a lot of partying going on there, a lot of people say it’s the next Ibiza kind of thing—but it’s still super commercial. In Ibiza, you have the ultimate underground, like with [party brand] Circo Loco, and the trance guys and house guys. But I know most of the DJs they get to come and play in Vegas are absolutely 10 times more commercial than the way they would play if they were in Ibiza. But I do like the fact that Vegas has embraced it. When I first moved there, the only place to play was Empire [Ballroom, a defunct afterhours club]. As for affecting my sound, I don’t base my sound off a certain area. I base my sound off what I like and what I think is cool, and if you like it, cool. If it works in Vegas, cool. If it doesn’t, what can I do? I can only do what I like to do.
A version of your track “Pressure” was in heavy rotation last year, but is it fair to say most Las Vegas clubbers probably didn’t know the original was made by a one-time local?
Alesso did a really good remix—I originally produced the song to be a bit a more underground, a bit more classic. Everybody thought it was [an original by] Alesso, kind of like this Skrillex “Cinema” [remix] thing with Benny Benassi. But for the main portion of it, the people who can really make a difference understood who it was. Sometimes somebody does a great remix and they get the credit for it. I see it as a blessing that it got out there and actually did what it did, and the right people took notice, and the people who are uneducated, they’ll eventually find out if they want to.
Do you like playing L.A. better than Las Vegas? It seems like DJs can get away with a lot more there as far as underground track selection.
Yeah, in L.A. they embrace it a lot more, I don’t have the talent buyers breathing over my neck going “Hey man, you gotta play this, you gotta play that,” or “You gotta play more like this,” or whatever. If that happens, it’s not a place I want to be. I’m exclusive to Avalon, so I have a residency there and I get to play how I want. They love me for that, and I actually get to do what Starkillers is there. In Vegas I just do what Vegas does. It’s not really a good representation of what Starkillers is.
Is there more musical freedom playing at the Hard Rock Hotel venues than on-Strip megaclubs?
Yeah, there is. We can be a little more free and crazy over at Hard Rock, which I think is fun. And it’s not the same five DJs every weekend. I don’t know how long [repetition] can last before people are just like, “OK, whatever.”
Speaking of mixing things up, you’ve got a new dubstep side project called Torch?
This is my project with Dmitry KO, a Russian kid. Before I got into house music, I was doing big beat and breaks and stuff like that for commercials. I kind of embraced that, and I just said, “Let me take a stab at this dubstep thing.” The reaction has been really amazing. A lot of people say, “I don’t really like dubstep, but I like this stuff.” Especially girls—the girls are really into it.
I’m not trying to be Skrillex or jump on the bandwagon. I just really like the whole dubstep thing because it’s a lot of breaks. I have that in me so going into it, I just said, “Let me just go song-based.” I want to make it more melodic. The basslines are more melodic-type basslines, things that you can listen to in the car, you know, or if your girlfriend wants to dance for you—it’s sexy! We made it more cinematic because our main goal was to get it into movies.
Speaking of the movie thing, quite a few producers are going that route, such as Junkie XL working with film composer Hans Zimmer on The Dark Knight Rises. Is that a natural progression for producers?
For the guys like me or Richard Beynon, [it is]. He’s actually here working with me on a few things. Dimitri and my ultimate goal would be to have this DJ/producer, cinematic type of thing going on where, if we’re not out touring and stuff, we’re scoring the next Tron movie, or those kind of things.
When you’re working on something for a movie score, or perhaps a commercial, how does the creative process change?
Anytime I worked on a commercial, you’re always doing what the creative director wants. You can put your flair into it, but at the end of it, it’s whether or not they like what you’ve done. So, I call it a little bit like bitch work, because it’s like, “We like this one part, but we don’t like anything else, so can you change it?” You have to throw your own ego out of it. You’re never going to really get recognized doing commercials like, “Wow, who did the music for that commercial?” because a lot of times in a commercial, the music is so turned down you don’t even hear. Doing scores, that would be a completely different thing, obviously it would be “Starkillers scored so and so” or whatever. That’s a whole different situation, but as for commercials, you’re kind of limited to what the client wants.
You’re also working with singer Nadia Ali again on a new record?
Yeah, we have success, that’s the whole thing. She’s had three No. 1 records; two of them were mine. And hopefully this third one will play out. We just have a cool chemistry together. My records with her don’t sound like anything else she’s ever done. It’s been more edgy, and I take Nadia into that edginess. She’s a bit more romantic with everything else, and I bring out the edge in her. I’m actually the producer she’s worked with the most out of everybody.