How to create a local dance scene with DJ Osunlade

How to create a local dance scene with DJ Osunlade

Words by Jessica Over

St. Louis, Missouri is a melting pot of musical styles and genres. Since earning its reputation as a pioneer of jazz, ragtime and blues, the city has cemented itself as one of the leading music settings in the world. 

But as a composer, producer and DJ, Osunlade knows St. Louis has more music to offer than just that of the history books.

“St. Louis was and still is the nucleus to everything I know musically,” he says. “Yes, it is known for all of those things [blues, ragtime, jazz] but in eras prior to my birth. St. Louis was a hub for soul and funk more than anything during my childhood. Jazz is and will always be at the forefront, but it was a hub for funk specifically as we are central in the States, so we received a multitude of music that was regional to the Midwest that didn’t necessarily make it to the big cities or abroad.”

Osunlade’s label, Yoruba Records, champions such styles of music. Since its inaugural year in 1999, Yoruba has made a point to act as a forum for homegrown artists. 20 years later, the label is still going strong – an achievement Osunlade knows is no small feat.

“It’s surreal, to be honest,” he says. “It’s a great feeling knowing that I’ve accomplished [20 years] with such a great array of artists and supportive fans … I am grateful.”

Creating a voice and a home for the dance scene in St. Louis continues to be a driving force behind Yoruba Records. For those immersed in the scene, it’s easy to see why it’s a genre that continues to hold such an important place in the music landscape.

“I think it’s because it’s the one music that everyone can express and release whatever they need from life,” says Osunlade. “Many times I’ve seen that shy person break out on the dancefloor as there is no judgement whatsoever on what you feel in the moment. Also, and most importantly, is the fact that the 4/4 beat in house is similar to the 120 heartbeat we all have upon birth. It’s innate.”

Osunlade has responded to the constant change inherent in the music industry through the launch of Yoruba Soul Records, designed to showcase a different aspect of the St. Louis sound. At the same time, artists on the original Yoruba label, such as Mike Steva, continue to represent the kind of authenticity musicians strive for.

“Steva’s evolution has been an amazing one to see and challenging at the same time,” says Osunlade. “The attempt in creating dance music that incorporates this indigenous Macedonian music can be tricky … however, in the latest album project, Steva has been able to stay true to his roots as well as musically developing new sounds and incorporating more live instrumentation and stepping outside the box.”

Yoruba Records is set to commemorate 20 years in style, teaming up with Steva’s own Deeperoots Music to host a celebration like no other. The event will touch down in Melbourne this weekend, and Osunlade couldn’t be happier about it.

“Melbourne’s place in world music as a whole has become the most important, in my opinion. I’ve said it time and again that the bands and artists coming from Australia – Melbourne specifically – are kicking ass. There must be something in the water here. I’ve never been so inspired as much as when I’m here or discover a new talent from here, which is more often than not.

“You are definitely at the forefront of all types of music these days. Maybe the distance creates a sort of bubble that makes it all truly Aussie yet palatable to us, the rest of the world. Whatever it is, I am grateful for every bit of it.”

Catch Osunlade and Mike Steva at Deeperoots Music Warehouse Party on Saturday April 6 at Melbourne’s Rubix Warehouse. Tickets via Eventbrite.