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Alumnus Focus: Rising Electronic Music Artist “Phuse” Stirs Buzz

by Robert Abare '13
Jarel Hill aka Phuse
Under the stage name Phuse, Jarel Hill ’12 debuted original music at the Electric Daisy Carnival, one of the largest musical festivals in the world.

As a former DJ who's played music for large crowds, Jarel Hill '12 doesn't normally get stage fright. When he saw the giant stage prepared for his live performance at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, however, the butterflies finally found him.

"When I looked at the stage and heard the crowd, it hit me," he said. "It was crazy to think that the last time I had played music, I was in a small side room."

The Electric Daisy Carnival, commonly referred to as "EDC," is one of the largest live music festivals in the world. In 2012, the Las Vegas event drew more than 300,000 people in three days. This year it featured headliners Calvin Harris, Tiesto and Avicii. In short, Hill had every excuse to feel nervous.

Hill earned the privilege to perform at EDC by winning the Discovery Project DJ/producer competition, an avenue for rising artists to bask in a very bright spotlight and potentially boost their careers. Under the stage name "Phuse," Hill submitted an original track and a 30 minute mix to the competition. The judges liked what they heard, and Hill joined a group of 15 winners who played one-hour shows over the festival's three days.

Ivory to Electronic

Hill has long been involved in music. He began playing piano at age two and continued until high school, when he became more interested in making mix tapes for his friends.

A psychology major at Davidson, Hill nourished his musical talent by working as a DJ for parties on Patterson Court. When he studied abroad in Australia his junior year, he began seriously considering a career as a music producer.

After graduating from Davidson, Hill enrolled in the music production school Icon Collective in Los Angeles, Calif. At Icon, Hill learned arranging, music theory, equipment, computer software and how to avoid writer's block. To support himself, he supplemented his weekly 10 hours of studying with 40 hours of full time work at a mortgage office.

Though the transition from psychology major to electronic music artist may seem an unlikely one, Hill is thankful for skills gained at Davidson. "Above all, I thank Davidson for my work ethic," Hill said. "I don't think I could have handled the stress of juggling school and a full time job if I hadn't already experienced the rigor of a Davidson course load. The values you learn at Davidson-hard work, focus, time management-are applicable to any career. It's also great to build relationships with so many down-to-earth, driven people."

Lighting the Phuse

Hill takes a focused and personal approach to his music. "When I sit down to make music, I clear my head and make whatever comes to mind," he said. "I make music that I want to hear, without worrying about what's popular or marketable."

Hill explained that his creative process leads to some unusual results. "I've produced many tracks saved on my computer that I will probably keep private forever," he said. "When I create music for myself, sometimes I end up making something that I don't consider ready to be heard."

Hill's performance on EDC's Discovery Stage in front of thousands of people was also the first time he had played his original tracks for the public. "The crowd really seemed to enjoy it," he said. "People approached me after I'd finished and said my set sounded great."

As Hill's star continues to rise, he may soon devote all of his time to his musical career. Hill's first EP, titled "Throwbacks," will be published later this month. The EP samples older songs and twists them into pulsing, modern incarnations.

Hill recently collaborated with classmate Evan Carter '12 to produce a music video for the EP's first single, and will share a link to the video on Phuse's social media accounts once the EP is released.

"We're both very excited to share the final product with everyone," Hill said. "To take something old and transform it into something new using your own style is a very fun process." 

He added, "To make people happy by playing them something you created is the best feeling in the world."

Listen to Hill's EDC Las Vegas set on Soundcloud. For more information, check him out on Facebook and Twitter.