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From Darwin To Deutschland, CYRIL Eyes A Bright Future: ‘There's A Lot Of New Music Coming’

4 July 2024 | 2:28 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Darwin-based DJ and producer Cyril Riley is living his best life. After going viral last year, he’s setting his sights on a new EP (or two) and massive world touring plans.

CYRIL

CYRIL (Credit: Michelle Grace Hunder)

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Darwin (Garramilla)-based DJ and producer Cyril Riley (better known simply as CYRIL) is living his best life, going viral in 2023 with a momentous house remix of the 1978 Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman duet Stumblin' In. He's currently Spotify's 289th most streamed artist in the world with 22.3 million monthly streams.

The charismatic Cyril – instantly recognisable with his signature bucket hat – is also a social media phenom: his reels show him remixing classic tunes, swivelling in a chair and drinking from a celebratory goblet. “It's usually water or Coke Zero,” he chuckles. “I'm pretty boring at home. But if I do hit a benchmark, sometimes I put a little bit of whisky in there, just to make people think about it.”

However, Australia's newest dance music superstar isn't an overnight sensation – nor has he had an easy ride. Battling personal turmoil in 2018, Cyril resolved to turn his life around, and hasn't looked back since.

A bright-eyed Cyril is Zooming on a Monday morning, having just returned from New Zealand (Aotearoa). He's decked out in all-black with his bucket hat and gleaming white AirPods. “I don't know what day it is, to be honest,” Cyril admits. In Auckland he played Rave Train. “Oh, it was so much fun! I actually finished the set and I had a few shots of tequila and I ended up falling to sleep. I was so tired.”

Aside from headlining his first shows in Sydney (Eora) and Melbourne (Naarm) in recent months, Cyril has been jetsetting, with several dates in Europe thanks to a newly-minted passport. The 26-year-old could be the next Dom Dolla. On social media, Cyril comes across as an accidental star – wide-eyed, animated and funny – but while self-made, authentic and relatable, he's approached his career studiously. Indeed, Cyril's story is about strategy as much as serendipity, and perseverance as much as talent.

Cyril grew up among farmers in the “outback” town of Lake Cargelligo, on Wiradjuri Country in central New South Wales. He has First Nations heritage – “I'm very proud to be an Aboriginal man,” he says – but is wary of the music industry's cultural tokenism, pointing out that no one uses the terms “white artist” or “Caucasian artist”. Cyril's preferred descriptor is his mononym. “It's just ‘Cyril’,” he smiles. “It's not ‘DJ Cyril’, it's just ‘Cyril’.” Fans have also nicknamed him ‘Ciz’.

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Country music was pervasive in the rural community. “In 2010 I was still listening to Slim Dusty,” Cyril quips. He was exposed to “old classics” by the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. “We didn't listen to Pitbull or Rihanna or Katy Perry when that was a big thing,” Cyril reveals. “I didn't really get around the new music.”

Yet Cyril was precocious musically, picking up guitar, piano and drums. Then in his late teens, the aspiring DJ discovered house and began dabbling in production. Eventually, Cyril relocated to the regional city of Townsville (Gurambilbarra) to DJ – “a culture shock,” he says.”Trying to learn house music was a whole different ballgame.”

Entering adulthood, Cyril struggled with substance abuse. “I went through a period of being homeless and a drug addict and whatnot,” he confides. “[So] I went back home and I started working on the farm and did some fencing and cattle work and mustering. [But] I knew that wasn't for me because I was still wanting to produce music.”

As he “got a bit better”, Cyril completed high school and applied for university scholarships to study music. He was accepted into Charles Darwin University and transplanted to the Northern Territory. Thriving, Cyril attended for two years with the expectation he’d become a teacher, but was restless. “I felt like I was giving up, in some sense,” he remembers. “I was like, ‘Yeah, it'd be really nice to teach people how to make music, and how to enjoy music, but I wanted to still have my career in performing.’”

Cyril then switched to a Bachelor Of Business, explaining: “I learnt some of the foundations of what it takes to sell a product and what it takes to make people get invested into your product.” He soon landed jobs in marketing and managing local venues while DJing. “I was having to prove myself once again – no one knew me as a DJ up there,” he says. “Once I proved myself in one place, I wanted to prove myself in the next place. Being clean and drug-free, and feeling like my mind was set, I was ready to go.”

The Territorian scene is rarely chronicled by national music media, but Cyril describes a vibrant culture. “I'm not trying to sell people to go to Darwin,” he laughs, “but it's a good starting point for people that want a a fresh start, because you don't get judged up there. It doesn't matter who you are – if you want to do something, usually there's an area you can do it in.

“The music scene is actually pretty good – like through the dry season, you have a lot of tourists going up there from all over the world; you have a lot of [US] Marines. So you get to sort of have to DJ for people from other places in the world – so learning what they like to hear.”

Above all, Cyril found a reliable support base. “I had a great team around me to teach me how to perform better – and do better,” he says. “When I did shit, people told me I did shit. So it was a good learning curve.” He's especially enthusiastic about heading the infamous Sandbar beach party that happens every Spring during low tides, DJing to 3,000.

Still, Cyril had big goals. “I didn't want to stay in Darwin – I didn't want to just be a Darwin DJ.” He realised that breaking out of the Top End would be “super hard” due to its relative isolation: “Not only is it right out of the music scene that helps people get to a next level, [but] you've gotta do so much more extra to make a career.”

Cyril utilised his branding acumen – sharing remixes online, but considering the process artfully as a content creator. “I was like, ‘All right, I need to think of a concept to basically get more of a reach around people – like I need to go viral, I need to make it super watchable.’ I'm always myself in the videos. I think that's what's so easy about it. I don't have to try to act as someone else... It's just me turning around in a chair and in the most comfortable space that I'm in – in my studio.”

Cyril launched himself on Instagram, but found building a following to be a slow endeavour. “It didn't really stop me,” he says. “I was like, ‘I'll just keep going – it doesn't matter.’” That shifted with the advent of Facebook Reels globally in 2022. His posts were “getting 200,000 views and a few thousand likes”. Cyril felt validated: “It just put a big fire in my heart.” Even engagement on other platforms like SoundCloud increased.

As that traction eased, Cyril decided to retreat to “refresh the brand” – and himself. “I'd just met my now-fiancée, so I was like, ‘Alright, I need to take a break and just enjoy life a little bit; learn how to produce better,’” he explains. “I really, just for six months, grinded on how to produce good house music – and good music – and how to change it up when things get boring.”

Moving into a new pad in the satellite city of Palmerston, Cyril shopped at Kmart to kit out a studio with lights and plants. His prospective mother-in-law gave him the goblet. “Before on Facebook Reels, I was using a mug that had kittens on it or it had a weird quote or something like that; it had bears on it,” he recalls. “[But] I wanted a quirky cup and I wanted to be able to turn around in the chair and I wanted the space to look nice for the videos.” Additionally, Cyril started sporting his iconic bucket hat.

Last year Cyril uploaded his deep house remix of Stumblin' In – originally a fluke transatlantic hit for glam rocker Suzi Quatro and Smokie frontman Chris Norman. It blew up on TikTok, where Cyril now incidentally has 641,000 followers. Germany's Bayern Munich Football Club used it in a video. “It just took off from there,” he says. “It just went nuts – and it hasn't stopped.” Cyril's Stumblin' In remix has since been streamed 200 million times on Spotify alone.

Cyril was familiar with Stumblin' In as a golden oldie from childhood: “I grew up listening to it and playing it on guitar from an age of ten-years-old or whatever.  So I heard it [again] on the radio and I was like, ‘Far out – I haven't heard this in ages.’ It gave me that nostalgic feeling. I think it's an all-around good song – the composition of it and the way it was made... It's just a really nice feeling, nostalgic sort of song.”

The virality of Stumblin' In saw Cyril sign to the hallowed Dutch dance and electronic label Spinnin’ Records, which Warner acquired in 2017 – and Amsterdam is now his “second home”. He says: “I have a particular hotel that I go to and then I'm in their studio – they have a studio for me.”

Months later, Stumblin' In remains popular with Spinnin' notably releasing a banging EDM remix by Steve Aoki and Aussie hard-dance stalwart Dimatik (featuring Timmy Trumpet). In the meantime, Cyril remixed Disturbed's 2015 cover of Simon & Garfunkel's ‘60s folk-rock hit The Sound Of Silence – giving the Chicago heavy metal band an implausible US dance hit and a Forbes article – and he has another remix scheduled, this time re-doing America's 1971 track A Horse With No Name.

The DJ’s role has long been that of a curator – and with his flips, Cyril is carrying on that tradition. His intuitive ethos is unusually cross-generational as he reinvents classic and occasionally forgotten songs – simultaneously tapping into the nostalgia trend and introducing bygone music to Gens Z and Alpha. “Every song I've done I know – like I know a lot of old music – and I know all the new music as well,” he stresses. “And I love the new music.”

Combining old and new elements “just felt natural”, Cyril continues. “I do feel that I sort of teach a lot of people what the old music can do. Being able to revamp that into the new music and seeing how the composition of 1970s and '60s and '80s can still work in today's top hits – it's just crazy.”

In fact, Cyril has hung out with the veteran acts whose music he's revived on their recent Australian tours. The DJ is particularly effusive about Quatro – the Detroiter is evidently open to contemporary music, having herself covered Rihanna. “She's so nice,” Cyril says. “She's the most lovely woman I've ever met in my life. She loves what I was doing. The first thing she said to me was, ‘You're the boy that thieved my song!’ But obviously she was joking. She's very happy in how the new music is going.”

Nevertheless, Cyril's conversations with old-timers have often centred on the way promotion, and music discovery, has changed in the digital era – Disturbed told him that early on, they toured albums for “two years straight”.

Cyril also has fresh music in the pipeline. This month he'll drop a remake of Crowded House's 1991 song Fall At Your Feet featuring Dean Lewis, the latter pop singer initially venturing into dance with Martin Garrix. “We discussed a few songs and we both agreed that [the] Crowded House [one] was just such an old classic that not many people know,” Cyril says, “and if we can break that to the world, that'd be our job done. Obviously, Dean's got a very powerful vocal that really matched what Crowded House did with the original.”

Fall At Your Feet is the first taste of an EP. “There may or may not be just a Part One and there may or may not be Part Two as well,” Cyril hints. “Who knows? I don't know. I can't say anything. But there's a lot of new music coming. I don't think people realise how much new music is coming!”

Chatting to The Jimmy & Nath Show in April, Cyril teased a collaboration with Tiësto after the Dutch super-DJ DMed him – and, though coy on details, he lets slip, “I think we've made something very nice.” On the wishlist for other collabs are David Guetta and Dom Dolla – Cyril is in awe of the latter's ascent, as he adds, “I feel like I need to get a little bit better before I hit up old Dommy Boy.”

The future legend is generous in offering advice to peers trying to cut through the noise: Be consistent. Make sure your reels aren't three minutes long. Try to do half-a-minute reels, if that's the route you're going. But there's always other routes. You don't have to do social media all the time. It's very important to do social media if you want to become a global superstar and do all this great stuff. But I think it's also [about] being consistent on your producing or consistent on your singing or whatever your art is.

“Just be consistent on whatever your art is and make sure it's something that you really love releasing – because the thing is, once you release that song, if it takes the world by storm, that's the song that you're gonna be playing. I'm lucky enough to like the music that I'm releasing. [But] I do know a lot of artists don't like the stuff they release. So it's important to make sure that you're happy with the brand that you're making. Yeah, just enjoy the process and be consistent.”

Canny, Cyril is also planning his own line of branded hats and goblets, “We're gonna do a heap of merch,” he promises.

Above all, Cyril's focus is on maintaining momentum. Shortly he'll tour the US and return to Europe, joking that one of his challenges is “keeping up with the jetlag.” More seriously? Cyril is determined to evolve as an artist – and demonstrate his range. “I think my next challenge is taking it to the next level, making some original music,” he declares. “I've made original music, and it's coming on the EP, [but] just trying to break that through. Hopefully people enjoy that as much as they enjoy Stumblin' In.”