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Tech entrepreneur Angelo Sotira created one of the first MP3 downloading sites while he was just a teenager. Now, he's the CEO and co-founder of deviantART.com, the largest online art community in the world. From the trance classic that got him hooked on digital music to the song that epitomizes his move to LA, Angelo takes us on a musical journey in his guest DJ set. deviantART hosts the work of more than 18 million artists and the site will be the official art sponsor of the OC Pacific Festival.
1 – Children - Robert Miles
2 – To Forgive - Smashing Pumpkins
3 – California - Phantom Planet
4 – Freestyle - Eminem
5 – Help I'm Alive (The Twelves Remix) - Metric
ERIC J. LAWRENCE: Hi, I'm Eric J Lawrence and I am here with Angelo Sotira, the CEO of DeviantART.com. He co-founded the online art community at the age of 19 and it now attracts about 45 million visitors each month. Today, we're going to talk about songs he's selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Angelo, thanks for coming down.
ANGELO SOTIRA: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
EJL: What's the first track you've got for us?
AS: I have Robert Miles' "Children," which is, I think, a great way to start – with some techno.
But for me, what was most interesting about this track is that it was the first track that I ever downloaded in the MP3 format in 1995. I was a really early adopter of MP3s and I started off with running a music community called Dimension Music, and I was really involved in the movement that transitioned a lot of the world toward digital distribution. So that's why I chose that.
Song: Robert Miles – Children
EJL: Did you first hear it as an mp3 or did you hear it as a CD?
AS: I first heard it as a MIDI file and my girlfriend at the time - who was really into music- just wouldn't respect MIDI as a format because she thought computer stuff was just stupid (laughs). So, I wanted to show her the same track and I played it for her in MP3 and she was like "Well, I guess this isn't so bad, this internet computer music stuff."
EJL: That was Robert Miles with trance classic, "Children," as selected by our guest Angelo Sotira. What's the next track you've got for us?
AS: The second track is the Smashing Pumpkins' "To Forgive."
When I first started dating my first girlfriend, we were together for four years during high school, and she would give me CDs. We weren't really dating yet, I was really working for it, you know? (laughs)
The requirements for being able to date this girl were that I build up my knowledge of music.
So, she started just literally giving me CDs on the bus, and the Smashing Pumpkins was one of the first – "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness." I think that kind of shaped the direction that I went into, at least through that relationship. I went through so many iterations of losing that girl and then getting her back and whatever, and so this track captured that emo-ness.
Song: Smashing Pumpkins – To Forgive
EJL: That was Smashing Pumpkins with the track "To Forgive," as selected by our guest Angelo Sotira. Well, what's the next track you've got for us?
AS: The next track is "California" by Phantom Planet. It's interesting, because I moved to California and it was a brand new horizon. I had sold my music site to Michael Ovitz, the super agent guy from CAA and Walt Disney and all that. And I was 18 years old, and I'm going to work in Hollywood and that song is on the radio – it's playing all the time. That was one of our bands, they were managed by Artists Management Group, and I was going to the Monday morning staff meetings and all these managers were far more intimidating and older. And Phantom Planet actually came in for like a private set - they wanted to know the management team better.
So they set up in front of the conference room and they played "California." Just an acoustic set – the lead singer and the guitarist. And that was pretty much the first experience that I ever had with really incredibly talented musicians just feet away from me, playing a song that all my friends knew. That was just sort of a really killer moment.
Song: Phantom Planet - California
AS: You know, every time I hear it I'm 18 again. I remember the sparkling lights of Hollywood and all of that glitter. And I think it's a song that captured that moment.
EJL: That was Phantom Planet with the track "California," as selected by our guest Angelo Sotira. So the next track you selected is a freestyle from Eminem that aired on BBC Radio 1. Why did you pick this one?
AS: Eminem is an incredible freestyle artist. I mean, I think we know him as a pop star almost, so, when you dive into a little bit of his freestyle work, this particular track I think is a real highlight of some of that work. Especially the last two flows, as he really gets into it. And what's coming out of him and how coherent and incredible it is, it's just deeply inspiring to see an artist at the top of their game able to perform like this on the fly. This is a real, real artist.
Song: Eminem – freestyle, Westwood Exclusive for BBC Radio 1
EJL: The height of Eminem's fame was around the same time your website launched. Did any of those albums have an influence on your work?
AS: The energy and the sort of really aggressive lyrics in The Eminem Show, I really absorbed those, I really related to those. I'm not sure what I'm admitting by saying that, but I definitely got really, really close to that album. I'm sure a lot of people did – it was a huge, huge album – but I was too ill, entrepreneurially, I was only focused on DeviantART, and this was kind of the one salvation that I had from that. It was the one, kind of, stress relief. And it was a great stress relief.
EJL: For folks that don't know, what exactly is DeviantART?
AS: Oh, sure. We're the world's largest art community. So we have 18 million artists. And the platform is really a place for artists to discuss their art. But for the average person out there, DeviantART is a place to go look at lots of really beautiful stuff.
EJL: That was Eminem freestyling, as selected by our guest Angelo Sotira. What's the last track you got for us?
AS: The last track I have is a lot more relevant to now. "Help I'm Alive" is a track on an album by Metric. And on this particular track, they have The Twelves doing a remix. I think it's part of the official album, but I've really fallen in love with it.
It's really important if you're going to use music for creative flow to use tracks that have very few lyrics, a lot of melody, a lot of, you know, I like more technical sounding stuff. I put this kind of stuff on with noise cancelling headphones and I start drawing or painting until I'm clear of consciousness. And I incorporate into my drawings any of the stuff that's in my mind at that moment, and ultimately find myself into a flow where I can draw or create interfaces or create new products, or whatever.
Song: Metric -- "Help I'm Alive" (The Twelves' remix)
EJL: Do think that there's a solid connection between music and visual art?
AS: Oh, absolutely. I think album covers are really, really important. There are a number of them on DeviantART -- some really top musicians, we've run contests with them.
At the same time, even visualization engines that have been around since Winamp and Sonique and those mp3 players, and then iTunes and all this stuff, those really can help you listen to the music differently and enlighten you on what's going on in the track, if you're more of a visual person.
I think that choices that artists make to include in and around their albums or on their web sites, I think those choices really paint a broader picture of where an artist was or how they're feeling as they're producing this album. So, I think art is a critical part of music.
EJL: That was Metric, with "Help I'm Alive," The Twelves' remix of that song, selected by our guest Angelo Sotira. Angelo, thanks so much for coming down and sharing your thoughts with us.
AS: Thanks so much for having me. This is a really great program. I love listening to it.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject.