Local music: Stepping out from dubstep

Metal drummer turned hitmaking DJ Vaski returns home to the Twin Cities to open a performance series.

Vaski, aka Alex Brouwer, uses his laptop to create music in airports and hotels.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The hi-fi recording facility Waterbury Studio in northeast Minneapolis seemed like a funny place to meet Minnesota's nearest thing to a dubstep star -- you know, since he actually prefers to create his music in airports and hotels using a laptop and headphones.

"When you're a DJ, you travel alone, which I really didn't like at first," said the electronic musicmaker known as Vaski. "Now, I find it kind of peaceful. It's a great environment to be introspective and creative."

Meet the most successful young Minnesota musician you probably have never heard of. His real name is Alex Brouwer, a 22-year-old average joe from Savage who put his studies at Normandale Community College on hold two years ago when his recordings started catching on via the Internet, alongside the then-budding subgenre known as dubstep. Since then, he has signed to a prominent electronic label and performed from Europe to Australia.

Next week, Vaski will get back to performing in the Twin Cities, where he said he has been lying low to "build up a little demand." He'll test his local fan base Thursday at the Varsity Theater when he hosts the first installment in his Skyline series, to be held every other month with DJ-ing pals he has met in his travels.

"Dubstep has gotten big worldwide, but it's still more of a niche thing" in Minnesota, said Vaski, who counts Denver, Los Angeles and Houston as top markets. "It's such an Internet-based art form that it really doesn't matter where you are."

He got into making electronic music when he was 12, using an Acid Pro sequencer and the family computer. His dad, Mark, was actually a fan of the classic EDM acts of the '90s -- "but he played guitar and liked groups like Van Halen," Vaski quickly pointed out. (Not sure if he was trying to raise or lower Dad's cool value.)

With a buff 6-foot frame, pointy noise and shave-sides haircut that together make him look like he could star in a European sports-car ad, Alex was a drummer in a metal band and the Prior Lake High School marching band before becoming Vaski. He dug the syncopated rhythmic patterns of dubstep when he first heard its whirring and grinding brand of sounds in 2008.

"I liked that it wasn't a regular 4/4 dance beat, and there was more space in the music," he recalled.

Vaski's own spin on the music caught the attention of Rottun Records, a label founded by Vancouver-area DJ Excision, who was a big hit at last month's Summer Set festival. Rottun released Vaski's second EP in 2009, "World on Fire." One track, "Get Down," went to No. 1 on Beatport.com's dubstep chart. There are also big expectations for his new single, "Insane," a radio-friendly cut featuring Ava, a singer on tracks by Lupe Fiasco and Bassnectar. The final mixing of "Insane" was done at Waterbury Studios.

Much more vital than song downloads, Vaski said, was his signing with Los Angeles-based booking agency Circle Talent in 2010, which boosted his gig schedule tenfold.

"The way the industry is now, you can't make any money off record sales of this music," Vaski explained. "I have made twice as much money off just one show than I have for my most successful release."

Enough that he is looking into buying a house in town. He also has a sports motorcycle that he races as a hobby. Because he's just one guy touring without a crew, he makes more money off fly-in gigs, such as a party Saturday at the zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich. However, he happily points out at least one similarity between himself and more traditional Twin Cities musicians who gig for a living.

"That's one thing that will never change in the music business. People will always want to see an artist perform."

From Dessa's lips

While Mike Mictlan looked resplendent with his leopard-spot pants at last weekend's Summit Backyard Bash, Dessa is still the only Doomtree rapper who can rock the lipstick. Now, she has her own brand of the stuff. Local cosmetics maker the Elixery recruited the local music star to create her own line as a fundraiser for women's education organization CARE. Dessa will host a "release party" on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Icehouse ($5), featuring performances by Aby Wolf and Ashley Gold and a makeup bar and cosmetics displays. This may be one Dessa event where she doesn't prove how well she can hang with the boys. She will be doing her usual thing at the Triple Rock on Friday opening for Saul Williams.

Randm mix

Just a week after Slug marked his 40th birthday in grand fashion at the Cabooze Plaza, drummer and one-man-band Martin Dosh will do the same at the Turf Club on Friday at a gig called the Minnesota Drum-Off. It will feature four of the busiest/best kit men in town -- Dave King, J.T. Bates, Tim Glenn and Dosh -- improvising their way to an all-star climax. Zebulon Pike, Jel and more also perform (9 p.m., $10). Dosh has been touring and recording with Andrew Bird but continues to drop his own lushly looped music, including a 7-inch charity single series for the Graveface label. ... Don't miss J.T.'s bassist brother Chris Bates' first album as a bandleader, "New Hope," which he's promoting Friday and Saturday at the Artists' Quarter (9 p.m., $10). ...

Minneapolis native and early Prince bandmate André Cymone released his first song in 27 years this week, "America," a song inspired by and benefiting the Obama campaign. Look for it at his Facebook or Bandcamp pages. ... Prince's latest backup singer and protégée, Sacramento-based beauty Andy Allo, will release her first album for NPG Records on Sept. 20, titled "Superconductor." Prince co-wrote three songs. ...

Willie Nelson isn't the only big shot playing the scenic amphitheater in Mankato's Riverfront Park this week. Trampled by Turtles have a show there Friday with Actual Wolf opening (7 p.m., $20). TBT hits the road for two steady months starting in early October. ... Mark Mallman's own audacious road trek, "Marathon IV," begins Saturday in New York and will wind up in Los Angeles a week later. The seven-day "performance" will stream literally nonstop at MarkMallman.com.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658 Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

  • SKYLINE

    With: Vaski, Jantsen, Nostalgia.

    When: 9 p.m. Thu.

    Where: Varsity Theater, Mpls.

    Tickets: $15-$20. 18 & older. Hydriveshows.com.

    HEARSAMPLES FROM VASKI AT soundcloud.com/vaski.

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