Skyler "Shruggs" Strickland-King is no stranger to the DJ booth inside YR Media’s sprawling three-story building in Downtown Oakland. It's where Shruggs, a YR alum, learned a myriad of media skills. Nowadays, he DJs on behalf of Left-N-Right Records, a label Shruggs co-founded with longtime friend Wallah Umoja.
Although Shruggs finds himself walking in and out of the building as a DJ on a weekly basis, not much is found online about the Richmond native. In doing research for this interview, I came to find that information on him was scarce, so when it was time for me to sit down with him, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I soon realized there wasn’t any purpose in having predetermined expectations of him, as Shruggs doesn’t seek to be figured out. He doesn’t take on the task of defining himself but lets his music, and his interactions with others, speak for him. His easy-going, relaxed nature set the tone for our conversation, and the invasiveness and formality of a typical interview disappeared. It quickly became just a discussion between two people regarding music, individuality, and diverging from the cliché.
In an era where most promising musicians and artists are desperate to be seen, DJ Shruggs is indifferent towards the idea of fame, and that’s the reason it makes him stand out amongst the crowd. He doesn’t care about how many followers he has or how much his music gets played. He isn’t even worried about how other people perceive and interpret him or his artistry. Shruggs possesses a refreshing candor when compared to his peers, and it’s his casual demeanor that outlines who he is, as both a DJ and a human being.
Where did your love of music first come from and how did it begin to translate to DJing?
One of my first memories with music was trying to play two CDs at once in one stereo at my mom's house. I had a Janet Jackson CD and "Dangerous" by Michael Jackson, trying to put them together and play "Scream" because I saw the video and I was hella juiced. I broke the stereo, so that was that. I think that's one of the only memories I have that correlates to me DJing. After that, it's been just being on the internet and watching old videos of Daft Punk and a lot of old house DJs. That's been mainly how I got into it in the first place.
How did it lead to producing?
Just about the same. Just watching them [music producers] press buttons and do a whole bunch of stuff and dance and be crazy in like, 1996. It all just came together because of what I've seen them do. So I always like to study things. Before that though, I was playing guitar and drums, and going through all the instruments. I had a whole little rocker phase when I wanted to be Korn and be in a little cover band with my cousin. It just came in different phases.
How did you come up with your DJ name?
[My friends and I] were on BART and I was working for All Day Play at the time; we were all trying to figure out what to call each other because there were two Skylers. It was me and there was a white guy named Skyler, and we didn't want to call me Black Skyler because that's kind of bad. So they were like, we're just gonna call you Shruggs because you're always indifferent with everything and I accepted it. I didn't care for it but here it is, it stuck.
What are some of your influences?
Just listening to everything. At first, it was listening to the radio and listening to KMEL back in the day and watching MTV all day as a kid. That was pretty much how I got into everything.
Are there any specific artists as well?
It was Ed Banger, Dim Mak Records (before the whole cake thing Steve Aoki does), and Boysnoize Records. I basically got my chops off watching the whole electro wave right when David Guetta popped off internationally. Besides that, it’s been Three 6 Mafia and whatever music I remember hearing as a kid.
How would you describe your sound?
Noise. It's just noise. I don't really take time to describe what I do, I just let others describe it because that's how I really get that definition, I guess.
I've noticed you're pretty nonchalant about your music. Most people promote their stuff but you're kind of just like, 'Here, it's out.'
I mean, it's cause I see everybody putting on a whole fake thing and going, 'Yo, check this out! Look at this, look at my fit!' and all that other stuff. I'm just like, 'Here, you'll look at it. It's gonna pop up eventually.' I'm not trying to gather your attention all at once, you'll find it eventually. That's how I am with just, life in general.
What does your creative process look like?
A whole bunch of downloads from SoundCloud. Just a whole bunch of internet surfing and figuring out different tempos and which songs I could fit into other instrumentals. Or whatever song I could try to blend in. It's always been about bending genres and mixing everything up.
Do you like to take genres that people think won't normally mesh well together and then try to make it fit?
What example of that can you give?
I play a lot of grime beats and mix it with whatever ratchet trap music I can find. Honestly, that has pretty much been my whole thing for the past couple years. Before that, it was trying to mix in electronic music or house music with whatever fits that tempo. For me, it's always about keeping that same consistent energy throughout the whole mix.
When listening to your SoundCloud, I noticed it was predominantly remixes. Do you have a preference when creating music?
I like producing my own songs. In fact, most of my remixes are my own songs, I just throw an acapella over it, just cause. I like making my own stuff, I really have a lot of fun doing that. Once you have your mind set on making a remix it's like, 'Alright, I have to make it this type of way.'
How important is it to interact with a crowd when you're playing a set?
It's really important, honestly. You have to at least take note of it. That's something I kind of cat off on a lot because I like having fun. Usually, even if I do pay attention and try to interact with them, I just talk sh*t and cuss them out because that's what they know me for. Just being the guy that doesn't care, just being me.
After a show, what are you hoping the audience leaves with?
I never really think of that. I just be like, 'Yo, I'm off? Cool.' I'll see everybody in the crowd and we'll talk, or whatever. Don't get me wrong, I like having people come up to me like, 'Yo, your set was good,' and all that stuff. It's pretty fun, it's pretty nice to feel that way. I don't really like having any expectations for it. I just do what I do and just live.
So you're not seeking to invoke a feeling of any kind?
In a way, yeah. At the same time I know, for the most part, people come in for their own different reasons. I would like to respect those reasons. Because I ain't trying to steal the show, I'm just trying to kick it.
What is a special quality that you have as a DJ that you think highlights your individuality?
The main one is that I love the music that I play. It's that and also that I'm really selfish about what I play too. Like you're not gonna get me to play anything you want me to play. Maybe if you get me a drink but, even at that I just do what I want, really. I think that's like, my whole thing. Just doing what I want.
Because you care about your craft.
Pretty much. You gotta care for it somehow. You gotta get personal with the stuff. With playing music and rocking crowds, you gotta get personal with it. You gotta take things and take it to heart. For me, it's always to be the same person that I was in the house, when I hear this music and just translating that wherever I go. It's to always translate who you are when you're by yourself in your own space, to wherever you go and whichever venue you would like to display that.