At a Guitar Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ray Volpe is scoping out equipment that he wants (a mini keyboard) and the items he’d rather skip (speakers with insufficient bass). Traditionally, Guitar Center is a prime location to witness wannabe guitar heroes flex their control over 16th notes. But the dubstep producer skips past the stringed instruments; he’s listening for the electronic crunches made by kids using the store’s equipment to stretch their production muscles. Volpe is only 19, but is already seven years deep as a producer—years beyond messing with a Guitar Center demo kiosk. Eventually, he makes his way over to a trio of younger teens he finds working on a demo, their beats far more rap-influenced than the emotional dubstep that is Volpe’s specialty. He plays them some of his own music and strikes up a conversation, trying to assess how serious these kids are about production. As it turns out, they’re serious enough to agree to exchange some beats with him.
Earlier in the day, Volpe explained what brought him to producing. “I used to edit Call of Duty montages,” he says. “Which is really lame, thinking back—but that was my shit.” It was through those YouTube gameplay compilations that Volpe discovered the music of dubstep producers like Big Chocolate, Dirtyphonics, and Skrillex. Eventually, the soundtracks began to speak to him more than the game.