Born Sean Williams, Worthy is best known as one of the founding members of the Dirtybird crew, but to not look beyond his pursuits outside of Dirtybird is to do a disservice to his exalted, decades-long career.
Growing up on the east coast, Williams was surrounded by different kinds of dance music in his early years. He got his start DJing in New York playing drum and bass, hip hop, and various other genres before migrating to the West Coast; specifically Northern California. That’s where he met Claude VonStroke and the rest of the OG Dirtybirds who were immediately taken with his original style and prowess behind the decks.
Now almost 20 years after that fateful meeting, Williams is a force unto his own. He just headlined our annual festival in Guam, Electric Island Festival. He continues to play all around the world every year, and he also heads his own label, Anabatic Records, for which he just put out his latest single, a damage-inducing house track entitled “Sweat.”
We spoke to Worthy recently about his time at EIF, his mission with Anabatic, and more. Read on for the full interview.
First of all thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. How was EIF? Was it your first time playing in Guam?
EIF was a great experience. It was my first time to Guam and I did not know what to expect from the island and the festival and I was blown away by both. The crowd I got to play for was so much fun and the whole EIF team took such great care of me. Props to Jason, Marat, and Ryley. I had a blast!
You just played Carl Cox’s Pure party in NYC. How was that? What’s it like playing in New York for you after getting your start in DJing there way back?
Playing with Carl Cox was pretty surreal. I mean he is The King of techno. I felt like I could hang it all up and be happy after performing with him. That was a check off my bucket list for sure. To top that off to play with Carl in the city where I first was introduced to dance music and started my music career was just the icing on the cake. It felt like a moment of appreciating when everything comes full circle.
You’ll be returning to Burning Man later this year. Everyone has a different relationship with that place. How would you describe yours?
I have loved my times at Burning Man even when it has been a hard year and things are not going the way I thought they would go. I always learn something new about myself when I put myself out in that environment. It is truly a test every time, although the lessons come in different forms. It’s about discovering music, art, love, self-reliance, endurance, friendships, technology, community. There really is no other social experiment quite like it. Even after 10+ years, I always yearn for me. I have a special connection with the playa, and always find I am most inspired as an artist musically after returning from the desert.
Your new release, “Sweat,” is about to come out. Tell us a little bit about the track. What was its inspiration?
Well, as the name implies, it’s a song that should get played when everything is really pumping and sweaty in the club. I came up with this vocal line “What makes you sweat? Is it House or is it Techno?” because there seems to be a bit of an alliance to either that people are vocalizing more than they did a few years back. I love seeing how the music scene evolves, so to me, the lyrics are really just about taking a poll on what’s cracking the most in terms of dance music genres. The whole track goes off a really grooving house bassline and the sound that really got me to write this out is this insane synth sound that comes in after the break and makes you turn your head. It has been working so well in my sets, and I can see a definitely strong crowd response, so I am beyond excited to release this one.
“Sweat” will be released on your own Anabatic Records. What is your primary goal of Anabatic? How is the mission behind Anabatic different than Dirtybird?
My primary goal with Anabatic has been to have it as a vehicle for releasing my own music and discovering new artists that need a platform to put their music out there. With some of the bigger labels, it’s really about fitting into their specific sound and there is quite a bit more politics involved, and the release schedules can fill up quick. I love focusing on putting out high quality house music that connects with people and can burn up a dancefloor. I have been lucky to discover a lot of rising artists over the years, and its really satisfying to see how many of those artists have gone on to have large, reputable names in the industry. Dirtybird is such a different animal compared to Anabatic, as it is massive and has so many elements to it – events, merch, releases, radio. I mean, I wouldn’t even want to compare them, as Anabatic is very boutique and really only about releasing music for the most part at this point. Where we align I think is that in the end there is a similarity of just wanting to put out great music, and as we all know Dirtybird always drives our scene with cutting-edge releases. For me, I just like to have the opportunity to curate releases and be in the driver’s seat with supporting artists and music that personally resonates with me.
Most people associate you most with Dirtybird. What’s it like building your brand as a solo artist when you have such a strong connection to such a prominent brand?
First off, I just want to say that for me, it has been quite a blessing to be part of Dirtybird from the very beginning and to see what it has become after all these years. So much recognition comes from my affiliation with Dirtybird, and I am continually proud to be on this label and repping them from the early days. It has really given me the platform for my career, and business aside, has been a really ongoing inspiration.
It is tough though at times to step outside of that box and do your own thing especially being connected to such a strong brand, and at times when my music wasn’t in perfect sync with the Dirtybird sound, it has felt hard to determine where I should go with my music or how I actually fit in. Sometimes it is a mind-fuck, and you really don’t know what to do, but I have always just gone back to my faith that I should make the music that wants to come out of me, and that being typecast into a particular brand or genre or crew, isn’t going to feel good if I am not being authentic. Fortunately, no matter how many years pass, I always come back to feeling in alignment with Dirtybird, and even when I am off on my own tangent musically, I love to get Dirty. I feel like I have been lucky to find other labels to release my tracks that perhaps don’t fit the DB vibe, like Defected, Exploited and others that I also have mad respect for. And Dirtybird supports that, and I always feel that family is there for me when it comes to navigating new inroads and gateways to musical expression.
Having started your career in drum and bass, what’s it like for you seeing that drum and bass is actually getting some attention in the US now? Could you ever see yourself start to spin DnB again?
It’s really awesome that DnB is getting some attention again, since it’s been since the late 90’s or early 2000’s that it was really shining in the states. I have had the opportunity to get to play some DnB the last couple of years and it has been fun to play that music again on some proper sound systems. I don’t know that I personally will ever produce it, but I guess you never know. I will give a shout out though to the Stamina crew in SF who has been holding down the DNB scene for us in the Bay for like a few decades. I mean, hats off, that is pure dedication. Also, if you love DNB def check out the Martin Brothers (Justin and Christian) do their DNB sunrise set at the Dirtybird Campout. It is legendary.
This will likely be the last year for The Mezzanine in SF. You’ve played at that club so many times over the years. What’s it like to lose another iconic club and what can we do as a community to prevent it from happening again?
It’s definitely really hard to see Mezzanine go. There is hope that it is not going to happen still but I think we should all prepare to say goodbye. The landscape of every city is always changing and clubs come and go. It sucks but that is the way it has always been. I’m not sure there is way to prevent it from happening. Of course, I have the most amazing memories at Mezzanine, and it’s really been a home for our crew. But, I think we all just need to be present in the moment and enjoy the times we have when an amazing venue is there, cuz likely it won’t be there forever.
In addition to being a DJ you are also a husband and a father. How do you find balance between being a family man and having a career in music. What would you say to your daughter if she told you she wanted to be a DJ?
It’s not easy I will say. After coming back from being out on the road and having a crazy travel schedule, it is hard to readjust to being a Dad again especially when I am tired. It usually only takes me one night after to get back on schedule and be back to my normal self. It’s really about finding a balance and making sure to have a good support network. Our family really steps in to support our daughter when I am on the road, and when I get back they understand I may need some rest. But I also try to take good care of myself and be healthy while I am away, so I can come home, recover from the sleep-deprivation, and be back on track ASAP. My daughter loves that I am a musician and she is very musically-talented as well, so at least she kind of gets it. If she wanted to be a DJ, I would tell her all of the dedication it takes and the pitfalls to watch out for, so she had a clear understanding of the lifestyle. I could see her following in my footsteps, seems to already be in her DNA!
Other than “Sweat” what do you have coming up in the future?
After Sweat I have a release on Box of Cats in August called “Work Me Boy” that’s a collab with the Lisbona Sisters. After that I have a release on Strange Love in September that’s a two track EP -name TBD. And later this year you will see another Ep coming out on Box of Cats, so stay tuned!