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Freshman Declan James | Facebook

Since freshman Declan Williamson turned 15, he has been signed to three independent music labels — navigating the music world by himself without management, legal, or any kind of representation.

Everything about Williamson — with his modernist haircut and minimalist, Asian-influenced wardrobe — suggests he is an electronic dance music artist but not the first-pumping, “everybody put your hands in the air,” Coachella-esque artist. He’s more subtle, more nuanced, and a bit darker than conventional, mainstream EDM artists.

He has the low-key personality of a rock ’n’ roll bassist and could easily be mistaken for a pop-punk musician, but his forward-looking, internet-obsessed edge sets him apart from the pack. He said he draws his style from a number of influences — Asian trance, metal bands, progressive rock groups such as Yes!, and new wave acts like the Cocteau Twins. His music is melodic, hypnotic, experimental, and surprisingly catchy.

“As soon I started listening to EDM, I would watch these guys perform on the internet, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that environment,” Williamson said.

Williamson, who goes by the stage name “Declan James,”  is articulate and sensible when describing his music, possessing a self-awareness and wisdom about his own work.

That “beyond-his-years” intuition has served him well. It is baffling how anyone of any age could manage themselves on their own, without any representation. But for Williamson, it’s apparently not too difficult. He’s signed deals and negotiated with SiriusXM and Spotify. He spent part of his summer touring clubs in Asia, making stops in Singapore, Tokyo, and Bangkok, to name a few spots.

He got involved with EDM around the age of 12, after having a “mind-shattering” experience hearing the dubstep artist Skrillex for the first time. Formerly a metal-head, Williamson said the exposure to darker elements of EDM offered a more natural transition into the electronic music arena.

“My mom would always blast EDM in the car, and I absolutely detested it up until I was about 12 years old,” he said. “I was in seventh grade, sitting in English class and someone played ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ by Skrillex. That completely just changed everything…I was addicted to EDM after that.”

“There is this weird energy at EDM shows that’s not like anything else, other than maybe metal concerts,” Williamson said. “When you go to these dance music concerts, it’s all about the crowd and going for the experience.”

Williamson began DJing around the age of 13. Realizing he needed to produce his own music in order to truly express himself, he said he decided to take a class with trance music producer Jason Ross, the man responsible for a number of house and trance hits.

“I was the youngest person there,” Williamson said. “I actually lied about my age to get into the class.”

The course, in addition to refining his technical skills, gave him access to a number of other talented musicians, who acted as a support group for him as he developed his sound.

“Very quickly, after that course, within about a year or two, I was signed with my first label,” Williamson said.

Having played piano since he was 3 and guitar since he was 6, Williamson has always been drawn to music. Both of his parents are musicians, and he feels as if he has inherited some of their talents. His mother is a classically trained violist. His father played in a series of metal bands as a teen and young adult. Their influence and vast musical tastes gave him a pool of inspiration from which to draw, he said.

“As a parent, you want nothing more than to see your child succeed at doing something they are passionate about,” his mother Mehgan Williamson said. “Declan is extremely young to have accomplished so much in the EDM world. It does make his dad and I a little nervous sometimes with him being successful at such a young age, but Declan is a great young man and has proven over the years to be very responsible and mature for his age.”

He has collaborated with other artists such as Lycii, one of Williamson’s contemporaries, whom he met through Soundcloud. Reaching out to the artist online and developing a kinship from their mutual Utah backgrounds, they decided to record music together. Lycii, who was signed to the London-based, independent label Enhanced Music, brought Declan onto the label with him.

Lycii, whose real name is Dakota Bradford, described his music as “appalling and euphoric.” He worked with Declan on the song “Dimensions” — the track that led to Williamson getting signed. It’s one of their most popular singles to date respectively, with more than 285,000 plays across all platforms, second only to Williamson’s single, “Orion,” which has 500,000 plays.

“Working with Declan, whenever we work together, there are two things I notice,” Lycii said. “It’s always organic. We made ‘Dimensions’ in about three or four hours. It was spontaneous, but it came together in such a natural way. Second, is that where I struggle in the process, he excels – and vice versa. We work so well together we’ve actually spoken about becoming a duo.”

After releasing a few EPs and well-received songs like “Lady” and “Sapphire” with Enhanced music, Williamson just signed with Monstercat, a larger independent label out of Toronto responsible for acts such as Marshmello, NERVO, and Krewella. According to Williamson, it’s one of the most recognizable labels in the genre. Moving forward, aside from touring, his ultimate goal with music is to score films, something he already has experience with

Despite his budding music career, Williamson decided to attend Hillsdale College this fall.

“I’ve always leaned somewhat towards the right politically, but I’ve never necessarily considered myself a traditional Republican,” he said. “I’ve always been independent in thought, and I saw how universities as a whole are moving so far left. I wanted to go somewhere where I could still speak out and stand up for what I thought.”

After stumbling upon Hillsdale through an email and deciding to interview with the school “for the sake of the experience,” Williamson said he quickly knew he wanted to attend the college. Williamson said he has had a positive experience at Hillsdale thus far and even performed at Wombstock his first weekend on campus.

“Ultimately, I want to make pretty things,” Williamson said. “The duality — balancing more classical elements that are shrouded by synthetic sounds — the contrast — that’s what I am interested in.”

Williamson is scheduled to release a new single with artist Notetaker in the next few weeks. It will be available on SirusXM and Spotify.

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Kayla Stetzel
Kayla Stetzel has been reporting for the Collegian since 2013. She is resident of Ft. Wayne Indiana. She is a Marketing Management major with a focus in Law. When’s she’s not writing or studying case files, she’s keeping up to date with music industry news or volunteering with animals. She plans on attending law school with the intent of becoming an entertainment attorney. email: kstetzel@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @KaylaStetzel