Supernovas is a recurring Dancing Astronaut feature dedicated to vocalists in the dance space who, with their own idiosyncratic vocal signatures and unique lyrical perspectives, have played pivotal roles in bringing electronic records to life. Each installment in the monthly series spotlights one vocalist. The serial launches with Supernovas 001: Dylan Matthew.
It started with a cold email.
“I got thrown in very randomly,” Dylan Matthew said of his initial stride into the dance scene. But he was the one doing the throwing.
Though he’d “never been in the electronic industry or done anything like it,” the early lack of direct experience within this sector didn’t dissuade the Southern Californian from composing and sending an email to Kayzo, a producer he didn’t even know at the time. Would Kayzo want “any vocal work?” That was precisely the question on Matthew’s mind—along with, presumably, would he respond?
“I was just throwing an email out, hoping for the best,” Matthew told Dancing Astronaut. “I found his email on SoundCloud—it might have actually been his manager’s—and I was just like ‘hey man, I’m a singer, here’s some of my music, let me know if you’d like to work on something.”
Many cold emails fall upon deaf ears, but Matthew’s was not one of them. “He responded and said ‘yeah sure, send us over some toplines,’ and I was like…I don’t know what a topline is,” Matthew recalled with a laugh.
Needless to say, he does now, and his catalog looks a lot different today than it did then, though this is no surprise. At present, Matthew is arguably one of the most immediately recognizable and sought-after voices in contemporary dance circles. And, at the rate he’s going, the same will not only be able to be said of the here and now, but of Matthew’s mark in electronic music years later down the line.
On his dance resume now: collaborations with SLANDER, Seven Lions, Excision, Wooli, Tritonal, Kai Wachi…the list goes on, and merely by reading the names “SLANDER” and “Seven Lions,” the piano notes of “Love Is Gone – Acoustic” and the synths of “First Time” have already begun to play in readers’ minds. The singles would not be what they are if not for the lyrics that Matthew put on paper, or, of course, his vocals—ask any listener. At the time of this Supernovas feature, the singles account for a staggering 35,584,934 and 27,973,951 Spotify streams, respectively. Clearly, Matthew has come a long way from the cold email, sent when he had “zero collaborations” to his name.
“It was the very beginning of my career. I was still releasing Ed Sheeran-esque acoustic music,” Matthew said.
Kayzo went on to produce the first song that Matthew sent over, though it presently sits “somewhere deep in the vault,” according to the singer-songwriter. But that was just the beginning; Matthew’s name would go on to appear on two of Kayzo’s Black & White EP inclusions, “Avalanche” and “Horizon.”
The EP, released on November 18, 2016, was a prelude to another Matthew/Kayzo matchup, one for which SLANDER notably came along, “Without You” (September 2017).
“From there, it just kind of snowballed where I sung for Kayzo and then somebody else heard it and hit me up, and then somebody else heard another song I did and hit me up. It was just kind of like a chain reaction,” Matthew reflected when asked what’s kept him in the dance space since that fateful email.
The other facet of his not-so-newfound residency in electronic music? The type of songwriting that this genre embraces. “A lot of it is that I like writing this style of music. I really enjoy writing big, anthemic, crowd-singing songs. That’s just my style; I’ve always wanted to have people scream lyrics back at me, and I’ve never experienced it as much as I have in this dance-style music,” he said.
By his own admission, Matthew has “seen some success in this style of song.” “Some success” is a humble way of putting it. The Dancing Astronaut Supernova is widely recognized within the industry not only for his vocal talents, but also for his accomplished songwriting, such that calls for Matthew to write another “First Time” have become their own sort of refrain.
“For me, especially where I’ve been in the past little while, even people who want to collaborate and send me instrumentals and things like that, it’s like ‘something really like ‘First Time’ would be great, you know?’” Matthew said. But he doesn’t want to write another “First Time.” Though, for a while, he tried to.
“When you start to write music for other people and for what you think other people will like, it takes away the love and creativity of it. And so I had to stop trying to write another ‘First Time,’” Matthew said.
“I had to stop trying to write a song that I thought everybody else was going to love, that was going to do so well, because the thing about being an artist and songwriter is you don’t want a formula for songwriting. If you’re an artist who people love and respect and they want to hear what you have to say, then you have to say what you want to say, not what you think they want you to say, because that’s part of your artistry.”
His piece of advice to aspiring singer-songwriters: “don’t try to write music for other people.” He’s thoughtful as he adds, “write what you like and edit from there, but make sure that you’re not leaving out parts of yourself to try to fit in the mainstream style.”
It’s important to note that Matthew’s own “artistry”—to borrow his term—is not isolated to dance music. The self-taught singer stands behind “acoustic-style ballads…R&B music…ambient pop music,” but he’s intent on not being “put in a box.”
“I just think artists shouldn’t have to be stuck inside of ‘oh you make this style of music, you make this style of music.’ An artist is an artist in any standpoint,” Matthew said.
Kalopsia, Matthew’s most recent solo long-form, released on June 19, 2020, offers a fuller portrait of his art and creativity, both of which resist such “box”-constructing categorization with originality and personality.
Notably, Matthew produced half of Kalopsia and wrote all of it. He calls it “the most intensive project” that he’s worked on to date, and “Drown,” Kalopsia‘s opening tracklisting, “probably [his] favorite released song [of his] right now.”
“It’s very different, very long, ambient, and I’m proud of it,” he said of “Drown,” with which the below playlist, curated by Matthew himself, opens. The accompanying playlist, intended to spotlight 10 songs of Matthew’s own choosing, also includes Kalopsia‘s other three inclusions, “Don’t Forget,” “Fall,” and “Midnight in Tokyo.”
Though listeners can expect to hear Matthew make more noise in the dance space this year, they too can anticipate more solo releases from him:
“I didn’t release a lot of music last year. I released a lot of collaborations, but not a lot of solo music, so this year, I’m really focusing on getting my solo music out there and pushing my solo career out as far as I can. There will definitely be a lot of music coming out this year, including several songs that I’ve been holding on to for a time, because I was too scared to release my favorite music, but this year I’m doing it; that’s the plan for 2021.”
Needless to say, we’ll be listening.
Featured image: Emma Paige