(Original Photo By: Adam Rindy)
Before there was Martin Garrix and Cole Plante, there was Tyson Illingworth aka tyDi. Twelve years ago, when the landscape of electronic music was narrow, Tyson began his path as a DJ. Dance music wasn’t nearly the billion dollar industry that we see today, especially not in Australia. Because of this, Tyson was always a bit of an outcast, especially in high school. Even though he was bullied for his love of music, often choosing to study piano during his lunch break, he was still drawn to DJing. Without the resources many have today…like social media, SoundCloud, or clubs in every major city, he had to figure out a way to break into the scene. Though Tyson called venues and promoters, being underage posed to be a major issue, and he couldn’t get booked to play.
Instead, he thought of another way to get people’s attention, and decided to enter DJing competitions instead. Since they took place in clubs, Tyson had to be escorted by his older sisters in order to compete, which ended up paying off big as he won his first competition at just 16. He used that momentum to get invited to another competition just six months later, which he would also go on to win. Suddenly, with more of a leg to stand on, he parlayed his success into a residency at the biggest club in Sydney. While he had the support of his mom and sisters, he never told his father what he was doing on the weekends, as Tyson knew he wouldn’t want him to pursue a crazy, and uncertain career like DJing.
As school ended and the real world loomed on the horizon, his parents refused to let him pursue his passion full-time, and forced him to get a degree. Instead of mildly complying and picking something easy, Tyson decided to apply for one of the hardest programs in Australia: a spot at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. In his eyes he couldn’t lose; if he got in, he’d study music amongst Australia’s elite musicians. If he didn’t, he’d still satisfy his parents’ request and would be free to keep DJing.
But this wouldn’t be Aspire to Inspire if we told you he didn’t get in.
Out of the 3,000 applicants, Tyson joined 29 other students that year and began his studies at The Con, all while maintaing his residency and building his name as a DJ. Still, he was an outcast for being interested in electronic music, but no one taunted or bullied him like they did in high school. In a way, he was home.
While studying theory and composition, Tyson evolved into a classically-trained musician, which immediately pushed him towards trance. He applied his ability to compose orchestral pieces and record music to his DJ career, and discovered that trance was the perfect marriage of electronic music and emotion. By this time, it was the mid 2000s, and giants like Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, and Markus Schulz were taking over the world. Tyson’s first signed tracks were to Armada and Coldharbour, and by proving his worth as both a DJ and producer, the 18-year old’s fan base rapidly expanded into the promised land: Europe.
Nowadays, taking such massive career leaps are unheard of. It would be impossible to think that a 16-year old could become Australia’s #1 DJ in just two years, without putting in his time as an opening DJ and slowly building an audience. Tyson was able to do just that, not only while continuing his education at The Con, but recording his first major album too. Look Closer (2009) went to #2 on the Australian Dance charts and was almost immediately followed up by Shooting Stars (2011) which was his first international #1 success. By 2011, there wasn’t a country Tyson hadn’t been to, as his status as a trance star led to an IDMA for Best Break-Through DJ (2010) and #48 on the DJ Mag Top 100 poll (2011).
Around that time, dance music was on the verge of something massive, and Shooting Stars was the beginning of Tyson’s departure from trance. Though he loved DJing, it was clear after finishing his degree that his passion was now producing and being seen as a songwriter; to fully be happy, he no longer wanted to be just a trance DJ, even though many of his fans held on to the notion. As he stopped playing ASOT stages and Sensation White events in Europe, he released more music, coming out with the experimental, ambient album Hotel Rooms in 2013.
At 26, Tyson made the difficult choice of leaving Australia. When EDM finally broke through to the US, he spent more and more time stateside, renting apartments in LA while on tour rather than flying home. It was clear that if he wanted his career to continue growing, he needed to move, even if it meant leaving his friends, family, and his girlfriend of three years behind.
“I had to let go of so many things. I remember that flight out of Australia like it was yesterday…it was emotional. I was leaving everything behind to chase something that felt so dumb. Moving to LA to chase a dream is so cliché. Everyone does that. But it made sense for me.”
In 2014, Tyson released his most successful album to date, Redefined. Unlike his previous bodies of work, Redefined was the longest labor of love, taking three years to complete. Using his experiences of losing love, being separated from his family while on tour, and rebranding himself as a songwriter, Tyson entered what seemed like a new phase of his career, but it wasn’t without its own setbacks. Stuck between EDM and the rest of the music industry, he became increasingly frustrated with the lack of originality in dance music, and frequently took to Twitter to voice his sentiments.
This struggle was also internal, as it became difficult for Tyson to produce a follow up to Redefined. The expectation from his fans and team to deliver another hit track only intensified his writer’s block and “tyDi” finally hit a creative wall. However, Tyson himself channeled his love of house and ambient into a new alias: WishIWas. Unlike tyDi, WishIWas was free from expectation and scrutiny; a hazy, imperfect creation at 3am when no one was listening.
“It was a stage where I was lost and I didn’t know what do about it and it was everything I wish I could be.”
Ironically, WishIWas gained popularity and as Tyson used his alias to vent and heal the places in his life that seemed broken, tyDi was ready to make a return. “Tear Me Up” with Nash Overstreet was finally the follow up his team was looking for, and helped him rediscover his identity. Now, with a renewed sense of purpose, Tyson is ready to continue his career, surrounded by singers and songwriters that many EDM artists wouldn’t even begin to know how to work with. In this next wave of dance music, EDM is taking a backseat and more DJs are leaning toward making actual songs to be respected as producers, a practice Tyson perfected years ago. Finally, after 28 years it seems that Tyson is no longer the outcast; he is the archetype.
Watch Aspire to Inspire Live featuring tyDi here: