Brandon Lugo’s grandmother watched him perform an electronic dance music set in Las Vegas in November.
Having grown up in the hippie era of the ’60s and ’70s, she was also in attendance at the Woodstock-inspired student music festival, Westwoodstock, just a month after her 70th birthday to watch Lugo play.
The aspiration to cater to a wide range of tastes and musical interests drives the duo EDM project, ANIMVLZ, comprised of Lugo and alumnus Andrew Feng, who graduated in winter.
“You have to connect with your audience and really be on the same page as them,” Feng said. “Connect with them and show them something new.”
The pair, who developed their individual styles of EDM during a four-year physical separation from each other after high school, fused their particular strengths and musical preferences in a collaborative project, which they debuted at Westwoodstock in June. They will also be performing July 6 in Las Vegas.
Feng received training in classical piano at the age of 5 and started playing guitar when he was 13, which he said exposed him to a variety of musical genres. He listened to EDM throughout high school, but it wasn’t until his friend began teaching him on a beginner DJ deck that he learned how to mix tracks and then produce original music under his individual brand, FVNGZ.
Lugo, on the other hand, taught himself how to play piano when he was 8 and later enrolled in lessons. He eventually quit, however, after realizing he didn’t like others instructing him on what to do – an indication of his desire to create his own music, he said. The 22-year-old moved to Las Vegas in 2014 and transitioned from being a promoter – sharing events, passing out fliers, selling tickets – to playing his own shows.
The pair, who met in the ninth grade, had been discussing ideas for a duo project since Feng’s second year of college. It was when Lugo moved back to Los Angeles this year that they began seriously working on ANIMVLZ, Feng said. In person, it became easier to bounce ideas off one another and learn each other’s creative processes, he said.
Lugo said he and Feng both produce a form of bass-oriented music, but while he focuses primarily on dubstep, Feng produces the more melodically driven genre of future bass. Dubstep encompasses futuristic, often inorganic sounds such as growls and synths, characteristic of artists like Skrillex, whom Lugo cites as an influence. The pair have combined elements of each to create a new genre, yet to be fully defined, Lugo said.
Despite their differences, both genres of EDM produce a high-energy response and have similar tempos, Lugo said. He said future bass and dubstep borrow rhythms from other genres such as gospel music or reggae, which compel people to move back and forth. The movement translates to headbanging in EDM.
“It’s like anger versus love basically, like future bass is to love as dubstep is to anger,” Lugo said. “But both of those emotions are both very powerful.”
Lugo said their sound consists of his own unorthodox ideas and Feng’s more structured approach to music. While layering a cappella vocals from Lil Pump’s “Esskeetit” over an instrumental track in their current project, Lugo had the idea to add a heavily distorted drop with an 808 drum machine, which Feng further refined.
Feng and Lugo also occupy different roles in the production process. Feng said he has accrued strengths in songwriting and composition because of his background with music theory. Lugo, on the other hand, excels in sound design – taking a simple sound wave and manipulating it into a new sound – as well as planning sets.
“(Lugo) knows how to put these stories together in the sets and it comes out amazing every time,” Feng said.
With Lugo’s experience in mixing tracks, the pair aims to facilitate an emotional and engaging experience for spectators. Feng said they take into consideration elements separate from song choice, such as tempo and breaks, to generate an ebb and flow, mimicking the natural response of the audience’s energy to play into their impulses.
“Any good performance should have a beginning, middle and end, and everything else in between that comes with that,” Lugo said. “You can’t just walk up there and start with your first song and end on your last song – there isn’t much thought that goes into that.”
Rafael Ferrer, a friend of the duo and a business economics alumnus, said Lugo and Feng effectively balance the mellow parts of their sets, combining familiar, sing-along friendly songs that allow crowd members to catch their breath, with the more intense drops. Ferrer said he is an avid consumer of EDM, especially future bass and dubstep; he was first introduced to the genre by the latter, specifically by Skrillex.
“I love innovative dubstep and future bass and the fusion of the two, which is what these guys are doing,” Ferrer said.
Although Lugo and Feng don’t have concrete plans for ANIMVLZ going forward, they plan to exclusively focus on their duo project, Feng said. He said they want to distinguish themselves as artists, as opposed to solely producers or DJs who create music for just themselves or others.
“A lot of DJs nowadays will just mix music and essentially just turn the knobs and whatnot,” Feng said. “I think we’re trying to do something greater than that – we’re trying to really create an entirely different experience.”