Erik Dale is a quiet guy by day. He's admittedly shy, and has literally made a career out of staying behind the scenes. As the Historic Holmes Theatre's new Event and Local Productions Manager, Dale takes care of the offstage prepwork involved with events at the theatre, completely avoiding the spotlight himself.
But that all changes at night. Dale becomes a different guy, both in name and nature, when he hits the club and takes over the stage under his DJ name, Wissota. He starts playing his unique brand of pulsating electronic dance music and Things. Get. Loud. His shows are high energy, with lots of lighting, visuals, sound and dancing.
"It feels amazing," he says of DJing in front of a crowd. "When I'm on stage I'm expressing myself through my music, and the connection that you feel with the audience's energy is unreal."
For Dale, being a DJ is all about sharing the experience of sound with his listeners. He likes showing familiar music in a different light, and watching how people react to styles of music they've never heard before.
"I really like the journey," he says.
Dale's own personal journey with music began back when he was still in diapers, sitting on his parents' kitchen floor banging pots and pans with a spoon. It was loud, and he was proud.
From there, he grew into a kid who was obsessed with his radio toy, and then a teenager who made mix tapes and CDs. He played the tuba with his hometown high school band in Eau Claire, Wis., and also with the Wisconsin state honors band.
Now 26 years old, Dale is still exploring his love for sound. He's graduated from pots and pans, and even tubas, to multiple sophisticated and versatile instruments including the guitar, bass guitar, piano, synthesizers, drum machine and others. He's educated himself on music and music history. And he's refined his tastes and carved out his own niche in the musical world.
That niche is a very specific one, found within the somewhat underground realm of electronic dance music, or EDM. Dale focuses on a few different styles of EDM, including bassline, dubstep, grime and UK garage.
As the name of that last genre suggests, the music is especially popular in the United Kingdom - and Dale has made a name for himself, or more accurately, for Wissota, in the UK's EDM scene. He's had tracks on two chart-topping EDM compilation albums in the UK, and two of his singles have reached into the Top 50 there.
The latest of those albums, "Keep It Par, Volume 1," is currently in the No. 1 spot on the UK Garage Album chart. It's a top seller on JunoDownload.com, an online British retailer that's among the largest independent dance music stores in the world. Wissota's track on the album, "Be (Leave) Me," is one of 40 songs featured by a variety of international DJs, some of whom have been role models to Dale.
"It's really amazing to see my name on the label with some of the other artists that I would consider my heroes or my influences of the genre," he says.
The appeal of Wissota's music is catching on closer to home, too. He's been performing all over the region since he first took up an interest in DJing six years ago, and audiences as well as other DJs are growing keen to his talents. From the Winter Warmer music festival in Milwaukee to the Skyway Theatre in Minneapolis, Wissota has shared the stage with some well-known DJs like Diplo and Snbrn. He finds his gigs purely by networking, mostly at other EDM events.
In Fargo, where he most recently lived until moving into a Detroit Lakes apartment just last week, he plays regular gigs and also helped start a weekly EDM showcase event at a local club. Called Sub:Culture, the showcase highlights different underground and unique EDM styles and artists from all over the world. It's become a popular Wednesday night feature at The Aquarium.
Dale's own style is "very bass-centric," as he describes it. He takes a lot of his sounds from older UK garage music and gives it an American spin. He was introduced to garage music in college, by friends of his in Fargo.
"The style is something I just kind of fell upon," he says.
He got really into the genre, learning all he could about it and listening to as much of it as he could find. His research eventually led him to the UK record label Project Allout Records, which took an interest in his music, and he's been working with the label ever since.
"There aren't a lot of producers from the U.S. who have had releases in the UK," Dale says. "It's a very niche genre, very area specific - although it has been gaining some more popularity over here recently."
A longtime songwriter, Dale has written hundreds of songs spanning multiple genres, including funk, Jersey Club, trance and more. Another ongoing project of his, called Wishful Venture, focuses on atmospheric indie dance music heavily influenced by his other favorite hobby - traveling.
Dale has been all over the American West, parts of Canada, and other places. He likes to hike and just get out into the great outdoors, and he and his father have a goal of visiting as many National Parks as they can. It's a lifestyle that doesn't always allow much time for sleep, as Dale will often follow a late night show with an early morning hike at a local park, but it's what he loves.
Dale left his native state of Wisconsin shortly after high school, to get a degree in advertising from Minnesota State University in Moorhead. He followed that up with a certification in event management from the University of Minnesota, and has also studied entertainment business and music technology.
Before taking on his new role at the Holmes in May, he worked for more than two years as an event specialist at Livewire Entertainment in Fargo, doing lighting, audio, projection mapping and a lot of technical work for things like concerts and corporate events. When he heard about the opening at the Holmes, he was interested. The work was right up his alley, he says, and he was ready for a change of pace.
At the Holmes, Dale handles contracts and bookings for facility rentals as well as technical riders for touring acts. He helps with the set up for bigger events, and for smaller ones he takes care of any lighting and audio needs himself. He also does some production work at community events like Tuesdays In The Park and Lakes Area Community Concert Band shows.
"I like it," he says. "It's a lot of fun. The work varies and has different challenges depending on the day."
Though he's officially a Detroit Lakes resident now, he'll still get over to Fargo at least once a week for the Sub:Culture events, where he's not only an organizer but a frequent performer, and on weekends he'll sometimes be on the road for out-of-town gigs. He performs about two or three times a month in Fargo, plus two or three times a month in other cities around the Midwest.
He works on his music "every chance I get," he says. "I just love it."
Dale plans to keep DJing around the region for the foreseeable future, and hopes to get over to the UK one day to play some gigs there. He also wants to continue to travel (he has a goal to summit a mountain at some point), and to get more involved in the Detroit Lakes community.
Listen to some of his music here: www.soundcloud.com/wissotamusic
Erik Dale's DJ stage name comes from Lake Wissota, a lake near his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It's also a play on words, combining the names of two states he's lived in, Wisconsin and Minnesota (Wis-sota). "So it's kind of the idea that I'm from Wisconsin, turning Minnesotan," Dale says.