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Get To Know: Dr. Ushūu

Dr Ushuu standing in front of a grey brick wall in a grey hoody with a red light effect on the left of the photo

Get acquainted with Dr. Ushūu, the Lisbon-born, Paris-based artist whose explosive, space-age beats are shaking up festivals and the official Fortnite soundtrack

Dany Cabral Roças speaks four languages: English, Portuguese, French, and Spanish — or five if you count beats, the vehicle for expression he turned to in his youth when words fell short. He was born in Lisbon, and first exposed to music classes and instruments like the flute there. Roças moved to France before high school, and now flips between vocabularies and conjugations with ease. In 2020, however, he lost the ability to utter even simple sentences — that’s when the producer better known as Dr. Ushūu found himself surrounded by real-life medical professionals, seemingly on the losing end of a battle with Covid-19.

“I was on the verge of dying,” he tells DJ Mag during a video call that takes place shortly after midnight in Europe. He resides in a suburb of Paris, but the visuals on our computer screen suggest otherwise. Dr. Ushūu is stationed in the cockpit of a digitised ship, alongside animated alien co-pilots who float gingerly overhead. It’s a comical scene despite the sombre subject matter, and it aligns perfectly with Dr. Ushūu’s galactical brand of colour bass that sparkles, expands, and crashes all at once, like the sounds that penetrate space when new stars are born.

“The chances of surviving were pretty bad and I’d been in a coma for a week,” he continues, elaborating upon his near-death experience. When he did “come back,” he was operating with a blank database. “I had to relearn how to walk again. I had a lot of problems, especially neurological ones,” Roças explains. “Imagine you’re just chillin’ and then you get this really bad sickness, and then your work — you just forget how to do it.” Instead of becoming discouraged by his run-in with a novel virus, he reflected on his craft throughout recovery.

“Even with the PTSD and the depression right after that, I said to myself, ‘Yo, it’s the time to go forward and chase my dreams, because if I almost died now,’” he says, weighing the hypothetical, “‘I need to do something, or I’ll just lose my life again.’” Determined to reconnect with his passion, he fired up tutorials and tinkered with unfinished files in FL Studio. “It’s a core story for my project,” Roças says in summation. “And you know, maybe I got better [at producing] because I forgot how to do so many things?” It’s true, his output has changed considerably since his days as D.C.R., the initial-touting, future bass alias he launched in 2013. 

The grooves Roças delivers now as Dr. Ushūu are high-intensity by comparison — perfect for well-attended bass events like Rampage, a two-day camping festival that takes place annually in Belgium (he’s on the line-up there again this summer.) He remembers witnessing one set in particular that reinforced his admiration for explosive bass. “There was Spag Heddy b2b Dubloadz b2b Herobust, and that changed my life,” he expresses with untempered enthusiasm. “I was like, ‘I want to go to a festival and go back-to-back with my friends and have fun like they do,’ and that’s what happened one or two years later. I was like, ‘Oh my God, we did it. Literally, did it.’”

Though festivals were put on hold for some time in the wake of his illness, this segue proved transformational nonetheless, and the proof is in Dr. Ushūu’s recent productions. February 2nd marked the arrival of ‘Love Me’ on Monstercat. While its soaring vocal sample lends a peculiar effervescence to the cut, it’s the pulsating builds and clanging, metallic drops that round out its thoughtfully discordant sound design. ‘Love Me’ is not to be confused with ‘Save Me’ — another Dr. Ushūu original, backed by the same label. Last summer, the melodic dubstep banger became part of the official soundtrack of Fortnite, an online Battle Royale game that remains an international phenomenon. His inclusion on the popular title made waves at his part-time job too, where he works at an elementary school.

“By the end of the year, I give the kids a lot of confidence to actually talk to me, and we talk a lot. And then they eventually discover, ‘What, Dany, he’s a DJ?’” he shares, imitating their surprised voices. “One was talking with me and said, ‘Yo, Dany, you know Fortnite?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I play sometimes, and actually, I have one song on Fortnite.’” The reveal made him wildly popular among a flock of tiny fans.

Roças admits he doesn’t worry too much about gaining social media followers or booking a set number of shows per year (“I’m just letting myself live,” he says), but he would like to eventually pursue music full- time. “There’s a really big contrast,” he explains of the duality of his careers. “You go out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and have the best weekend of your life, plenty of energy, and then you just want to rest. But you wake up Monday morning and think, ‘Yo, I gotta take care of kids.’” He lets out a laugh at the juxtaposition, reaffirming his appreciation for all facets of his life, which, after nearly losing once, he cherishes more than ever.

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Megan Venzin is DJ Mag North America's Contributing Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @Meggerzv