But this is the case for Los Angeles-based DJ and producer, Kris Barman, better known in the electronic dance music world as Wuki. He’s nominated at this year’s Grammy Awards for his sultry remix of Miley Cyrus’ “Mother’s Daughter.” Influenced by the sounds of Detroit ghettotech, Chicago footwork, and EDM, Barman’s prowess resides in his blend of electro, bass music, and house. This ability to mix is his signature—and it’s ultimately what caught the attention of management and label executives to enlist him as an official remixer for “Mother’s Daughter.”
Since then, he’s gained 45 million streams across Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud combined; caught the attention of fellow producers like Diplo, who brought him on as a guest for his BBC Radio 1 show Diplo & Friends, and collaborated with Skrillex, Valentino Khan, and Anna Lunoe. Today, he releases a collaborative EP titled Ro Sham Bo with Latin Grammy Award-winning DJ/producer Nitti Gritti. Both artists are also on a joint nationwide tour through the end of March. Plus, Wuki’s got an album release of his own slated for sometime this year.
But the 35-year-old’s career in music didn’t begin this way. Barman grew up playing guitar in metal bands, and wasn’t accustomed to listening to the expansive world of electronic dance music at that time. That is, until he heard Justice’s Cross album. “I was always a rock kid. When I heard Cross, I didn’t realize dance music could sound like that. It just opened my mind to so many different sounds,” he says. “That’s when Steve Aoki and Bloody Beetroots were coming up on the scene. That really got me into that world.” (For electro heads, this connection makes sense—Aoki and Bloody Beetroots’s song Warp combined the rawness of punk rock with dance music, for a track that defined the genre in the late 2000s.).
From 2007 to 2011, Barman played keys and guitar for the electronic rock band, Innerpartysystem. The band broke up in the end, but this subsequently served as the catalyst in Barman’s decision to go solo. “ I was falling in love with electronic music at that time,” he explains. “Being in a band is really hard these days because you have so many egos. It’s so hard to make money. We got frustrated.”
He had to start over. In 2011, he moved back in with his parents at the age of 26 and began pursuing a career as a DJ/producer. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned from transitioning out of the band into the DJ world as my own entity is everything relies on you. You drive the ship. If you want to be successful, there’s no easy way. There’s no booking agent that will book you forever and no management that will get you every hook-up forever. There’s no artist that’s going to give you a shout out. You have to get it yourself,” he says.
After arriving on the scene nearly a decade ago as Wuki, he launched his own record label, Wukileaks, in 2018. “What I really look for when I sign records are things that break the norm,” he says of the types of artists he brings into Wukileaks. “I think a lot of the dance labels are moving toward pop-y sounds and just more commercial—the stuff that can get Spotify numbers up. There still needs to be a place for really good club music. I think that’s getting left behind.
“Not every track I make is going to be the perfect crossover pop hit,” he adds. “I try not to think too much about catering to people because then it just comes out contrived. The real trick is consistency.”
“It’s all about your work ethic and not getting blinded by the low-hanging fruit of something being right in your face. Basically, there’s no easy way out,” he adds.“You have to fucking grind. That’s been my motto for the last six years.”
When asked what he wants his legacy to be—what he strives to be known and respected for ten years down the road—Barman says his Wuki project should be remembered as bringing “a new perspective to dance music that maybe included some styles of music that were forgotten from the good old club music days; someone that goes back to the roots of dance music and tries to bring it to where it is today.”