With deep roots as a drummer and percussionist, it was only natural that Chicago native Erik Johnson was drawn to the beat of dance music at an early age. As Tsunami, he has graced the turntables at venues in the windy city and across the United States for more than a decade, all while releasing original music and remixes on iconic labels such as Moody Recordings, Toolroom, Trax Records and more, as well as co-finding the infamous Chicago party brand “Afterlife”. Tsunami’s 2017 Toolroom Records collaboration with Mike Vale entitled “Domina” received support from Mark Knight on Toolroom Radio and was a favorite off the Ibiza compilation that summer. As a DJ, 2019 has been Tsunami’s most monumental year yet, locking down coveted performances at festivals such as Spring Awakening, Electric Forest, and North Coast, as well as being selected as the winner of Insomniac’s Discovery Project for EDC Orlando 2019, securing him a slot at the fest. His original track “Green Light District” was featured on the legendary Trax Records’ 35 Years Of House Music compilation, and was supported internationally by some of dance music’s giants. You can currently find him holding down residencies at many of Chicago’s top nightclubs, and in the studio mastering his craft.
What genre would you describe yourself as? Why?
House, typically on the deeper side of the genre. Growing up a drummer I’ve always been a big fan of anything four on the floor. Just something about the beat drives me.
Who would you say are your biggest inspirations within the industry?
Anybody who is constantly taking risks and pushing boundaries. So much music sounds exactly the same now and it’s really refreshing when you hear something that doesn’t sound like everything else. This can also be applied not just to music, but also to throwing events; as it is always awesome to see fresh and original party concepts popping up among the same regurgitated club nights.
What was the moment you wanted to take the leap in this lifestyle?
Many people grow up with an idea of a certain career path that they’d ideally like to fall into, and I’ve always known since I was young that I would have to do something with music. I never wanted to be a teacher or a doctor or anything like that; music is the only thing I’ve ever been truly interested in. As far as a moment that made me go full time with the DJ thing, in 2010 I was given the chance to open up for Bad Boy Bill at The Rave in Milwaukee. I had only been DJing for about 2 years at the time, and this was the first big show I was ever given an opportunity to play. I remember being insanely nervous, but got up there and did my thing in front of like 2000 people. The energy in the room was unlike anything I had ever experienced and I knew I would constantly be chasing that exact moment for years to come. After that it was over for me, I quit my day job and started full time with music and haven’t looked back.
What do you usually start with when preparing for a set?
When it comes to prepping for a set, I always try to think of past experiences I’ve had at that venue (if I’ve played there before) and what tracks may/may not have gone over well in the past and try to take that into consideration. I usually like to make a playlist of tracks that I know I’d like to play at some point in my set that night, however I NEVER plan an entire set, as I really believe that is a great way to pigeonhole yourself into a disaster if the crowd is not vibing to what you’re playing. It’s always good to have an idea in your head of how your set is gonna go, but never fully plan anything, because I promise things will not go exactly as planned.
What are currently your main challenges as a DJ?
DJ’s face many challenges every day, and people don’t see what goes on behind the scenes of maintaining a successful career in the music business. We are constantly criticized by people saying that we have easy jobs, when in reality this lifestyle is anything but easy. I am extremely fortunate to have a family and friends that understand what I do for a living, the funky hours that I work, not being home for long periods at a time, etc.
What is your proudest moment so far (blogged/signed/etc..)
I am fortunate enough to have been doing this for a long time, and there are many proud moments that I have had over the years. A few recent things I am really proud of are signing original music with Toolroom Records, Insomniac, Trax, etc, Getting booked to play so many amazing festivals such as Electric Forest, Spring Awakening, North Coast, as well as most recently, winning Insomniac’s Discovery Project.
What was going through your head after winning Insomniac’s Discovery Project?
The rush of adrenaline was the biggest I’ve had in a long time. I was in Chicago for a gig on a Tuesday night, and got a call from a random number in Beverly Hills, and I ignored it (I have been getting an absolutely insane amount of spam calls as of late). The number left a voicemail saying “This is ______ from Insomniac, please give us a call”. Right then and there I knew exactly what the call was about, and probably came the closest to having a heart attack I ever have (kinda). It was one of the best moments of my entire career, mainly because I still have some doubts about myself as a producer and still don’t have my sound exactly to where I want it to be, but since they picked my original track out of over 6,000 other entries, this definitely gave me a huge boost of confidence to continue to push myself in the right direction.
What was it like playing not one but TWO sets at EDC Orlando?
It was a surreal experience. My set was on Saturday, so we went to EDC on Friday night to check everything out and get the lay of the land. It was raining all night on Friday night, which definitely puts a damper on being at an outdoor festival. When Saturday rolled around, the festival grounds were soaked and most of the stages except for the two main stages were temporarily closed due to the grounds being extremely muddy. As it turns out, the Stereo Bloom stage where my set was, was still closed down for the first 10 or so minutes of my set, but luckily was opened shortly after and it was very cool to be on stage and see the flood of people rushing towards the stage as I was playing. After my set, some of the Insomniac staff offered me a second set on one of the art cars since they felt bad my stage was closed down for the first few minutes of my set (Thanks guys!!) which was extremely generous of them.
What did you learn after both of your sets? Is there anything you would have done different?
I think both sets went very well. I played deeper on the second set than the first, so if you happen to hear both sets, you would have seen two different sides of me musically. I did record my set from the Stereo Bloom stage which is up on my Soundcloud now!
What are you top three tracks right now? Why?
It’s always so hard to pick a top 3 because i’m constantly finding new favorite tracks, but these three are all amazing in their own right and have been getting a lot of play in my sets as of late: Coldabank – Take Me Back (Jansons Remix), Raumakustik, Andrew Meller – Melodica (Original Mix), Danny Howells – Bring ‘Em Back (Gorge Remix)
If you had to do something else (outside of music), what would it be?
Something with event planning. I enjoy putting together events and seeing the look on people’s faces when they are having a blast at a well-executed event.
What is something that makes you stand out as an artist?
Sticking to what I like musically and not following trends. I will always gravitate towards the music that speaks to me and am pretty open about it if I don’t vibe with something. Also my ability to play anything under the sun. A lot of people view me as DJ, but I can play open format very well and do quite often.
What’s your favorite Chicago venue to play at? Why?
Hands down it would have to be Spybar. I’ve been fortunate enough to play there so many times over the years and it is a room and a feeling like no other in Chicago. I can play exactly what I want and people are truly there for the music. Huge shoutout to the Spybar staff.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
If we’re going fancy, Prime & Provisions. Best steakhouse in Chicago hands down. If more on the casual side, than I really like Union or Sunda for sushi.
What was your favorite show that you’ve played in Chicago?
Many memories stick out in this category as well, but one that I will always remember was getting to open direct support for Gorgon City at a sold-out Mamby afterparty at The Mid (RIP). The energy in that room was through the roof that night and everybody absolutely smashed it.
What’s your favorite thing about this city?
Summertime. I really believe it’s the only reason people continue to live in Chicago. A properly executed Chicago summer is absolutely unmatched.
What’s your current favorite show (tv/netflix/etc…) worth binging?
Just finished a series on Netflix called “Living With Yourself” that I thought was extremely original and would highly recommend. Also, The Office is still fantastic after the 900th time.
What is a quote or phrase that you try to live by? Why?
Treat others how you want to be treated. This is SO important in this industry where many people sadly have humongous egos and are trying to get ahead of everyone. I also feel helping out the younger generation is so important. Having someone who has been in the game for a while on your side, can speak volumes to a upcoming artist and is appreciated more than they know.
What advice do you have for producers trying to make it in the music industry?
Stop trying to sound like everyone else. Do your own thing and it will take you far! Also, if you’re a DJ and you haven’t started producing yet, you are severely limiting your potential…I wish I would have started way sooner, so take advantage now!
Tell us something that you’re doing now and are excited about.
Ever since coming back from playing EDC, my motivation has been at an all-time high. I’ve started and been making progress on so much new original music and am very excited to see how it turns out. I am also very amped to share that my winning track “Fly Butta” will be out on all platforms via Insomniac on December 6th.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Be nice to each other, and drink lots of water.
WRITTEN & CURATED BY MARIAH M. VAZQUEZ