SIM: Welcome Chris! To start, can you tell us what drew you to start producing, and how long you’ve been producing for?
Chris: I’ve always been a big fan of electronic music, since I first discovered it traveling to Amsterdam when I was 16. Flash forward 10 years to when I moved to Minneapolis in 2006, being truly blessed by such a rich music scene and after attending countless events, hearing the music was no longer enough – I needed to experience what it was like to be behind the decks, orchestrating the music and energy. Being around a number of phenomenal local artists that were willing to show me the ropes, in April 2015 I was able to get behind the decks and start learning how to drive so to speak.
SIM: How did you learn music production Chris? Were you self-taught, or did you take up a few courses?
Chris: I’ve been around computers all of my life, and in the last 2 decades of my IT career everything has been self taught. Some people learn thru reading books, others thru taking classes, but for me it’s the hands on experience that really creates the knowledge and makes it sink in. I’ve taken this same approach on my personal journey in DJing, from learning the club standard Pioneer gear, to music production in Ableton, to even building out a vinyl collection and truly testing my beat matching skills by ear. There’s nothing like the warm sound of vinyl, experiencing Trance the way many of the legends of today mastered the genre. Some of the best classics still can only be found on vinyl, so about a year ago I decided to dive into another expensive hobby!
SIM: Is your interest in producing music solely in Trance? Or do you have a few other genres you enjoy producing?
Chris: The trip I took to Amsterdam when I was 16 first exposed me to Trance, and since then it has been my first love. Trance has introduced me to so many amazing people around the world, and has opened countless doors for my next career when I retire from IT. I am from Memphis, TN, which had a heavy Hip Hop/R&B influence, and growing up, artists like Brian McKnight – who my wife & I annually go see when he comes to Minneapolis – and all the way to Memphis’ home town artist Three 6 Mafia – helped build an appreciation for all genres of music. Thus, my motto has been, the best artists are not siloed into one genre, and the best can pull from all of them. So while one night I can be playing a Trance event, then the next day I can be in the studio producing some dub/electro sounds as Ragebeards and that night be playing Dubstep/Trap at a college show.
SIM: So walk us through “Ragebeards”- what’s the story with your other up-and-coming moniker?
Chris: So I get the question a lot around how Ragebeards came about. It honestly all started thru connecting with someone at a show. Continuing to attend events together, seeing the same faces and learning their stories, you become friends with people, and slowly we started spending time with Johanna and future to-be-married-at-EDC husband Sam, with the earliest recorded time being Audien in 2013 at what is now a familiar stomping ground, Rev Ultra Lounge. A year later, it was Tritonal and early in 2015 we did a week long cruise together. Since then we’ve played family Memorial and Labor day parties, but at one of the first we talked about starting the project together. The hardest part being the name, Sam’s personal project is RaptorRage, and somehow I picked up the nickname Blackbeard, thus the paring of [Raptor]Rage & [Black]beard(s) was born. Since then we’ve played up the name with long hair and thick beards, and on Groove Cruise Miami 2017 even dressed in Jesus costumes.
SIM: That sounds like an incredibly fun time. Besides dressing like Jesus, do you have any other hidden talents? Such as a background knowledge of instruments?
Chris: This is definitely a sore spot for me, as when I was growing up I was never taught music theory and wasn’t given the opportunity to learn an instrument. My wife Jennifer played Flute/piccolo from elementary school up thru high school and that landed her a scholarship to help with college. So while I’m now having to learn more about theory and design well into my 30s, it’s helped enforce us being a very pro-music household. We see its many values, and because of that our oldest son is going into his 4th year of trumpet and middle son his 2nd year of percussion. Our youngest is just starting kindergarten and while a little young to dig into music theory he has grown up seeing me DJ, and my favorite comment has been “Can you play some Trance music?”
SIM: And how much support did you have from our local scene when you started producing? Have that levels of interaction changed the longer you’ve been producing?
Chris: Another shout out to the community here in Minneapolis for being encouraging and supportive of new talent and artists: from lending gear to get better acquainted to other more established artists being willing to spend the time to show the ropes. Being an infant on the production side, they were fair yet blunt in how to proceed down the DJ path. I think it’s part of the “Minnesota Nice” you can’t find anywhere else. And even to this day with more and more events behind me, the family has grown and definitely come out to support their own.
SIM: It sounds like our local scene has helped make the process much less painful. Yet, what have been some of your biggest obstacles to overcome as a local?
Chris: Really it’s been the time aspect of it. Having a busy family and a busy IT career, production has been more of a hobby. But going further down the path of playing shows and festivals, the next big career step is creating that unique sound that sets you apart, and that entails music production. I’m working to get better in setting aside dedicated time in the studio and in front of Ableton to continue to build out that sound across my different projects, because it’s not going to grow without dedicating the entirety of my attention to it. Sometimes that means being up to 1-2am and up at 7-8am.
SIM: It seems like you’ve got a foot in both the Minneapolis scene, and the international scene. How has networking in both of these spheres helped mold your perspective of progressing in the music industry?
Chris: Every artist dreams of being able to do nothing but create music and tour, but success is a long road and a tough journey in this industry. Having smaller yet more realistic goals are the stepping stones to achieving your dreams, and even more so having experience and exposure to what happens behind the scenes of the industry can be just as invaluable as being front and center on a main stage. Starting locally and building your name as your brand is a huge step, and ensuring that your reputation precedes you is the other half of that coin.
SIM: Do you have any experiences you would like to share that shed light on your growth as a local?
Chris: The key to growing as a local is honestly all about connecting with other people, whether that be other artists, other fans, etc. When you show others you are genuinely interested in them as a person / them as an artist, you really build a relationship to where they are your champions even without trying.
SIM: It sounds like you strive to create a sense of community among fans and friends. Outside of producing and DJing, what else do you enjoy doing in our local scene and beyond?
Chris: I’m a huge advocate for local music and encouraging people to support their community. We’re so fortunate in 2017 to have social media and online streaming at our fingertips. When I first got into the scene the only way I was able to hear new artists was over satellite radio. Now just about everyone has a radio show so it can be overwhelming, but some of the brightest and up-and-coming artists are still trying to get their big break. Being connected to the global Trance communities, I try to share some of that knowledge to empower and grow our local Trance community.
Being an entrepreneur at heart and seeing what makes the scene “tick” is a passion of mine, and the love of Trance has opened the doors to meet countless artists and dive into the inner workings of event production as well as artist and label management. I did a 24 hour Trance party at my house last summer that had over 15 local artists play and I still get people asking all the time when I will throw another one, so you never know what impact an event can have on a person, or how it can open a door for them.
SIM: It’s great to hear that you are constantly pushing your experiences and expectations. As a result, what have been some of your most memorable moments to date as a local?
Chris: 2017 has been a big year for this still fairly new artist, and being involved in the scene from going to events, playing events, etc really came to a pinnacle moment when my beard buddy and partner in crime Sam Shacter achieved one of his 5 year goals when we played the festival stage at Summer Set as Ragebeards. I never would have imagined when I met his wife Johanna at a show at Epic in 2009 that we would be great friends today and working together.
SIM: Rolling with that momentum from Summer Set, what are some of the next big goals for Chris Blackburn?
Chris: I’d love to play some more festival stages for my solo project, “Chris Blackburn”, as well as my Ragebeards project, it’s such a surreal experience being up there in front of hundreds of people, and hopefully in 2018 extend that to the thousands. I was fortune enough to hit the international stage in 2017 and would love more opportunities to share the Minneapolis love with the world.
SIM: What is something you hope never changes about yourself as you become more successful?
Chris: I will always strive to be genuine and care about people that are all gathered for one reason: the music. I want to be able to use my experience and knowledge to help open the door for someone to realize their dreams or be a part of a community of people that genuinely care about each other.
Chris Blackburn is not far off from becoming one of Minneapolis’ very own, home-town heroes. Make sure to keep a look-out for both him and “Ragebeards” this fall; both monikers have some interesting surprises in store. From Chris Blackburn himself, “Check out my personal artist Facebook page “Chris Blackburn” and Ragebeards project Facebook page for some brand new mixes & tour dates, plus catch some Ragebeards original mashups at Demodrop. “
“Chris Blackburn” Personal Artist Socials
“Ragebeard” Project Socials