Sam Dorko is pretty adept with a set of turntables, a laptop, and a few dozen tracks. Catch the 25-year-old when he performs either as DJ T.A.I. (shorthand for his mixmaster identity "The Asian Invasion") or with his longtime partner Andrew Hood their local EDM band Pastries With Teeth, and we're certain you'd agree. It turns out, however, he's even better with a violin.
Dorko has been playing the stringed instrument since childhood, when he started receiving classical training, and frequently incorporates it into both his DJs sets and Pastries With Teeth performances. He'll also be wielding the violin tomorrow afternoon and evening at the Herberger Theatre Center when he plays the role of DJ during the Phoenix Contemporary Dance Company's fall showcase.
It won't be the first time that Dorko has expressed his penchant for mixing the fine arts with frenetic EDM, as he frequently mixes classical and chamber music with electronica tracks during his sets, resulting in an enticing soundscapes. The DJ and instrumentalists recently spoke with us about the combination of EDM and classical music, as well as other topics.
Name: Sam Dorko
AKA: T.A.I. (The Asian Invasion)
Genres: When I DJ, I really like playing anything with a broken beat, and I've been digging mid tempo breaks and house lately
Current gigs: I've been DJing more infrequently cause I've been working real hard on an album and rehearsing a show with Phoenix Contemporary Dance Company at the Herberger. But after Saturday, I'm gonna get back to DJing more.
How did you get into the DJ game? I went to a rave when I first moved here. I watched Substation play a live trance set on all hardware and was just blown away. I was pretty much hooked from there on. It's funny cause I ended up getting to work with him every weekend when I was a resident with FUSE Fridays.
What will you be doing with the Phoenix Contemporary Dance Company? I'm DJing some original experimental electronica I wrote for them with Andrew. I'm playing violin and guitar and Andrew's on drums during that set, too. It's a mix of classical violin/strings with a bit of glitch-hop and house influence. It definitely has a different feel to it, but I love the way the dancer's choreography highlights sections and vice versa.
How do you go about picking music for something like that? I listened to a lot of really out there music. Some indie/electro bands like Black Moth Super Rainbow and Glitch Mob/Pretty Lights influenced what I put together. I didn't want to do mashups though, so I ended up writing original music instead. I have an extensive background in classical music so it wasn't too hard to write the violin and string parts
What's your background in classical music? My mom is a piano major and used to teach lessons at home. That's what got me hooked I think. I begged my mom to let me play violin. I started lessons at age three after listening to my mom play classical piano. I've just kept on playing. In high school, I played with a few county- and city-related orchestras outside of school. I was a lot of fun
Have you used the violin during DJ gigs in the past? Yeah before I became part of Pastries With Teeth, I was just DJing and playing a live instrument. It started out with guitar, but then I was gifted an electronic violin. I think the violin really hits home with audiences, and it's great to get back to playing my main instrument I never thought I would be playing violin in a dance club though.
How do you use it during your performances? As a controller or purely as an instrumental accompaniment? Just as an electric violin. I run it through a few Boss effect pedals and Ableton.
How often do you use the violin? During DJ sets when I am playing other people's music I might only use it a few times in a set, but when I play live with PWT there is almost always a live instrument being played. I try to use my violin as much as I can, but I won't play if I don't think it'd sound good, or fit well.
Where have you used it? My favorite gig that comes to mind is playing the Orpheum Theatre in Flagstaff. The crowd was so responsive. It was great to see their reactions. It was for an electro night called MELT. I don't think it's still happening since the main guys moved to LA. I've done it at a few raves like The Lovebug Returns, and at SideBar. Oh, I also played violin during a PWT DJ set at Identity Festival this year. I played guitar at Myst with matty spangler a few years back, and have done sets with live guitar at Axis Radius. The Violin really only started being used in the last year or two
What sort of EDM have you used a violin with? Breakbeat and glitch-hop mainly, although it works real well with melodic electro-house.
How does the violin or other instruments compliment those genres? I think that a lot of tracks don't have a lot of room for "extra" instruments, but on the songs that have enough space for 'em, it can really highlight certain parts of the song. New harmony lines can really bring a played-out song new life, or just make a tune more exciting for an audience to [hear]. It gets me doing something other than DJing while I'm on stage
Do classical music and EDM mesh well together? It really depends on the track. Some tunes sound absolutely horrible with guitar or violin in them. It was really tough at first to figure out when it was appropriate to add an instrument. I find the best places to play are during breakdowns where you can harmonize with the melody and really pump up the excitement before the next drop.
Does adding a violin bring a certain elegance to EDM? In some ways I guess it makes it elegant, but with all the effects available out there it's easy to make a violin sound pretty gnarly. I like to distort my violin to get more aggressive sounds out of it. Expression pedals can also make it have a real synth feel, too.
With all the crazy bass lines in today's electro and dubstep it's gotten harder to work in, and I guess that's what really drove me to start writing my own tunes. I do think that there's a place for classical influence in EDM though.
Were you inspired by DJ Radar's "Concerto for Turntables"? Yes, actually. I thought that was really cool. I also really love swing house and electro swing. Those genres really made me think about what I could do with music
What's is the difference between one of your DJ sets and a Pastries With Teeth performance? We're an EDM band. We both DJ, too, but we really prefer to play live. When I DJ, I play a lot of bouncy or aggressive tunes but everything is pretty club-friendly. With Pastries With Teeth, the set is more dynamic and less mainstream electro. We play some club hits we've remixed, but since we have live drums, guitar, and violin we get to jam a bit and play some things on the more experimental side.
What do each of you do in the band? I write a lot of the lead lines for the tunes, and produce. Andrew helps me a lot with tweaking the lines and really holds it down writing drum beats. When we play live I will mix, play violin and guitar. Andrew's on the drums, and also uses samplers.
What's your current favorite track of the moment? I'm really diggin' Riva Starr and DOP's tune "All Over the Place." The title is really indicative of my musical tastes, too.
What's the craziest shit you've seen at a gig? I once DJ'd a Noah's Ark theme party. When I dropped a breaks remix of House of Pain's Jump, they made the floor collapse in one spot. Luckily nobody was hurt! It was really funny though to watch all these animals fall down though.
Sam Dorko is scheduled to perform with the Phoenix Contemporary Dance Company at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Herberger Theatre Center. Tickets $20.
Pastries With Teeth will perform at Sean Watson's Halloween Costume Ball on Wednesday, October 31, at Crescent Ballroom. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is free with costume, $10 without.
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