In an era where access to technology has allowed many musicians lacking significant knowledge of the technical aspects of audio engineering to become top producers, stories like those of 28-year-old punk rock guitarist and tattoo artist Billy Bennett are becoming increasingly commonplace. Boasting critically acclaimed releases covering the heavily percussive and floor-filling sounds of dubstep, hip-hop favoring trap and DC-area invented moombahton on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, as well as a frequent national touring schedule, 28-year-old Washington, DC resident Bennett, aka dance producer Billy the Gent, is on the cusp of top-level stardom.
Billy’s blend of life, work and music creates easily one of the most intriguing success stories of recent memory in the local area. Along with causing mass hysteria on dance floors and at festivals worldwide, he’s a father to his one-year-old daughter, Mya, as well as a well-respected tattoo artist at Washington’s Tattoo Paradise shop, located in Adams Morgan. The dichotomous blend of responsibilities creates the space for passion in his life, which becomes readily apparent on tracks like pop-leaning hits “Vibrate,” “Holler” and “Butter’s Theme”. 2012 has been his breakout year, and those tracks, alongside a slew of major artist remixes, when blended with a young child and a full-time job, demonstrate his high level of focus and dedication and a sheer love of everything he’s doing.
The Fullerton, California native is uniquely wired for such a hectic life in music. He first lived in Richmond, Virginia before settling with his wife, Maggie, in the Nation’s Capital. “I was in a lot of shoegaze and punk bands in Richmond,” Bennett told On Tap in a recent interview. “I toured a lot and did well, but I moved to DC when my wife had job opportunities in the area.” Moving from the southern Virginia live-band capital to dance-heavy DC was initially a difficult adjustment, but one that he’s made with triumph.
“I met folks like [moombahton inventor] Dave Nada, [his production partner in Nadastrom] Matt Nordstrom and [U Street Music Hall co-owner, top hard electro DJ/producer and now Los Angeles resident, Jesse] Tittsworth, and they were all so helpful and influential in my development as a DJ and producer. They even chipped in and purchased monitors for my home studio to aid in my progress.” Other familiarity-based notions have eased the migration from band life to dance production as well. “It definitely feels like I’m back on stage when I’m DJing,” says Bennett, his DJ sets and musical style often inciting passionate displays of dancing and moshing, and on occasion even Billy himself will leave the booth and crowd surf amongst those enjoying the rebellious energy and wild revelry associated with his live sets.
Billy the Gent’s production career is now centered on his work with Richmond producer Long Phung, aka Long Jawns. The Gent and Jawns tandem has quickly become a renowned international production team, gaining incredible worldwide support. “We knew we were on to something when [veteran DJ/producer and top festival headliner] Laidback Luke kept playing “Vibrate” in his sets. That song’s been out for almost two years now, and we still get requests for it.” The key to their success is telling. “We are having a lot of fun doing this. Moombahton’s growing consistently, and we love hip-hop, so being able to make trap music that fits in our dance sets is great.”
“There’s so many people making great music in DC right now. We’re all supporting each other, listening to each other’s music and supporting each other’s nights. That’s important.” In mixing a supportive young family with the ethos of unity from punk rock and marrying it with powerful pop sounds, at dance’s time in the global spotlight, Billy the Gent’s rise is the strangest and possibly best feel-good story of the year.