“For the past nine years, Washington, D.C. transplant i_o has been acing a maze of acid techno production with some major career traction along the way. Under his binary-derived onstage handle i_o (Pronounced “eye-oh”), Lockhart is breathing new life into the old school with a fresh take on house and techno.” – LA WEEKLY
After i_o sat down to share his experiences with finding the freedom to follow the sound that resonated with him - we caught up for a quick interview with Editor-in-Chief, Ceskie.
How did the i_o project begin?
It was just making what I wanted to make. It got to the point of where I was just tired of trying to do something right. I was willing to accept the consequences of never making it, so I stopped making anything that was not authentically myself and started only making the things that I cared about. Luckily enough, for whatever reason, it was good. It was what people wanted to hear at the time, and it caught on… somehow, some way. I don’t really know. It just so happened that what I wanted to do and what people wanted to hear happened to be the same thing. If it didn’t, I would still be doing the same thing, but no one would care and I wouldn’t be doing this interview, and I’d probably be dead because you starve to death at some point.
Was there a particular moment that inspired you to start DJing?
I had a friend who took me to a deadmau5 show, and it was pretty lit. I didn’t think it was a real scene until I went to a show.
How did your career develop?
I was in college - it was sometime before I was 20. I took every avenue there is. I started making music, researching and listening to music on YouTube. I started to produce the music that I heard, because I wanted to hear certain things that I wasn’t hearing. Then I got booked to play a show, and I had no idea what I was doing, so I just played a show with no idea what I was doing!
From then I became a local DJ in the DC scene, so I just kept kind of playing shows and figuring the scene out. Eventually I moved to LA, and it took a long time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I had a bunch of projects where I would write music for trailers and commercials; the way I made money was not through doing what is my passion now. It was producing music, but for jingles, which surprisingly pay a lot. Then eventually it clicked where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. It took a long time to really figure it out, but then I met the people I needed to meet.
If you could go back into that journey and pick three main events that shaped where you’re going, what would they be?
The first show I played, for sure, was insane. It was the first time I’d been to a rave rave, and I was playing it, so that energy was insane. I was on at 3am, so it was really wicked in terms of having no idea what something is and being thrown into the heart of it. It was in an illegal warehouse in DC, and it was lit. That was probably the first moment where I was like “damn, this is what I’m doing.”
The next moment was probably the Deadmau5 Cube 2.1 tour, after I’d been in LA for a long time. The afterparty was pure techno, so Deadmau5 was playing techno music for two hours, and it was the best set I’d ever heard in my entire life. That crystallized what it was that I wanted to do.
And the third thing was getting booked to play Beyond Wonderland, a festival in San Bernardino, LA. I’ve played shows around the country and the world, and they’re all pretty club-based shows, but this was a massive festival. And I watched the crowd go from speckled to a completely stacked indoor festival venue. And that was when I realized this was real. People were really there for what I had to give and not just for the festival. It was tangible. Those were the three moments where I knew what I was doing, and it really refined everything into what it is now.
What are your tips for building a set and engaging with your audience?
You want to walk into the room and catch the vibe: are people feeling what’s happening now, or do they want a change? But at this point, when people come to my shows they’re there to see me, so I don’t have to match a vibe.
What was your process in finding branding that matched your sound, image and stories?
The music was there first; the brand came after the music. I had an idea for what story I wanted to tell, more or less, but the music was the product. My manager and I looked at a ton of my music and chose what kind of direction we wanted to go sonically. We were heavily bouncing stuff off of each other. And then the visual aspect of stuff was slower, but it was way easier to come up with after the music was already there, because what it sounded like and what it looked like were the same thing to me. It keeps developing and evolving, as there’s a lot of elements to the brand. There’s the digital stuff, the hacking stuff, the nihilism stuff, and all that kind of works together because it’s who I am generally, but the music matches it as well.
If you could go back to yourself as a teenager beginning your journey and give yourself advice, what would you say?
It’s gonna be okay. Just do it. Trust the process, I guess - as much as it sucks trusting in absolutely nothing. It might work out, it might not, but there’s only one way through it so you might as well keep going. Or stop and kill yourself. I don’t really know. Either is really an option, but you have to pick one!
How do you #getinthegroove?
Again, it’s finding who you are. Once you find out who you are, everything is so easy. You don't have to ask questions anymore - you just continue to be yourself. If you’re confident in being yourself, people will be confident around you, and when they’re confident around you, you’ll develop a group of people that you’re comfortable being in. And when you’re comfortable you can do anything. Be yourself, man!
The only thing that matters is integrity and authenticity. So when you go out and do something, do something that is entirely yourself. You can borrow from other people, be inspired and motivated by people and things, connected to people or things, and want to be a part of something - that’s how anything happens. But when it comes down to you putting what you want together, whether it’s the music, the brand, the venue, shows, touring, or whatever it is - it all needs to come from one specific place, and that can’t come from anyone else, ever. So listen to other people and like what they do, and maybe take a piece of it. Ask them “hey man, where’d you get your sample pack? What do you like about what you’re doing?” And then take what they have and make it your own. That’s the only thing that matters, whether that makes you famous, rich or noticed, or if that leaves you alone in your apartment when no one wants to tolerate you. That’s the price you have to pay, but you will never be anything other than yourself, so don’t try to be something else, because you’re just wasting your time.
Watch the mau5trap presents: the story of i_o (mini doc): https://youtu.be/6FJSSkQqAmM