Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom goes from DJ to Silicon Valley billionaire and back again

Not gonna lie—when we heard Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom would be DJing at Rain Nightclub with Zen Freeman on Sept. 29, we raised our eyebrows. High. But then we talked with Systrom, and, for lack of better words, this guy knows his shit. He spent his teen days in Boston selling vinyl to the likes of Paul Oakenfold, Tiësto and Paul van Dyk. He later progressed to sneaking into clubs to hear superstar spinners, and even got to open for a few of them. In all, he has a deep and true passion for electronic music. We chatted with Systrom about his influences and, of course, Instagram. Follow him there @Kevin—starting a company has its username advantages.

As someone who recently sold Instagram to Facebook for practically a billion dollars in cash and stock, why do the DJ thing now? Lots of free time?

Paul Oakenfold was playing here in San Francisco [where I live], and I hung out with him and Zen [Freeman], and got to talking that I used to DJ pretty actively. It’s been great to build a relationship with Paul and Zen, talking about music and the evolution of things, and understand the way the whole scene is developing. This is a fun chance to get in front of a lot of people and convince them that maybe my day job is doing technology, but music is something I’m very passionate about. We have a huge contingent coming from San Francisco; over 100 people are coming and flying in. We’re going to have a big party and a great time together.

Will this be your largest gig to date?

Oh, yeah, for sure. Vegas is much larger than anything in Boston, but the good news is I feel most prepared. It’s been a long time practicing over the last 10 years—even if it’s just casually. Some of the most fun times I had are in Vegas, and I hope I can create the same feeling and night for other people as well.

What do you prefer to spin, and who are your inspirations?

Back then, there was this label called Hope Recordings—I don’t know if many people know about it now—but it had guys like Max Graham, Starecase and Satoshi Tomiie back in the day. Basically really dark, progressive house stuff that was coming out of New York at the time, that was my inspiration for getting into it. Lately it’s been moving toward more melodic stuff, but still in the progressive-house realm. These days I watch people like Calvin Harris, Madeon—the list could go on. But they’re all really interesting examples of how far electronic music has come in the last five to 10 years.

How does Instagram and other social networking affect the DJ culture?

It’s created more transparency. I follow @Kaskade, @Deadmau5 and a bunch of folks on Instagram, and I get to see the nights that they have overseas. I particularly love following the clubs in Vegas, and it’s always funny to wake up in the morning and see a photo from two hours ago as I’m going to work [laughs]. I’m thinking to myself, “God, people party hard in that city!” People are able to see more what’s going on in the clubs, experience things even though they’re not there. I love that I know certain people played last weekend in Vegas and had an amazing show. And I see it from all different perspectives, whether it was my friends there, the DJs, or, frankly, just the club promoting it, it’s fun to feel like you can experience events without not necessarily being there. And it’s helping DJs and promoters get the word out about what’s going on wherever they are.

Since you have an insight into to both worlds, why are DJs obsessed with snapping Instagram pictures of whatever they are eating?

I have no idea, but what I can say is that they eat very well, and sometimes people love to document great meals. There’s no end to the great meals, whether it’s on the road or in Vegas. When you have great food, you like to show it off.

Originally published in Vegas Seven.

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