On a mild February afternoon in Virginia-Highland, the looming threat of snowstorm Pax shows on the faces of passersby as they make their way along the sidewalk outside of the coffee shop. Inside, Aireon Grimes, the DJ and self-described "vibe pusher" known as Ployd, slides up a chair, sips his black coffee, and lays three cigarettes on the table. He rolls them under his palm, each one poised for a break in the conversation.
But before he steps outside for a smoke, he relives an electronic odyssey. For the last eight years, Ployd has had a front row seat to the ever-changing face of Atlanta's electronic dance music scene. After first traversing realms of jungle and drum 'n' bass, he later helped usher in the changing tides of dubstep and trap music.
As a founding player in two of the city's original dubstep collectives, Atlanta Dubstep and Wobble House, Ployd has watched the music morph from a curious U.K. import into an aggressive American club phenomenon as trap, so-called brostep, and countless other subgenre permutations. Ployd always seems to be one step ahead of any trend.
"I tend to get a little bored of playing a certain style of music all the time," he says. "When I move on to another sound there are a lot of other DJs still playing that sound out, and plenty of people who are still new to it and want to hear it."
Ployd, 33, never plans his live sets. He makes up everything as he goes, drawing from the room's energy.
"I never know exactly what I'm going to play," he says. "Sometimes I'll grab the mic and warn everybody who's in the crowd that night: 'Hey, just so you guys know, I don't plan my sets, so if you see me up here staring at the ceiling, scratching my head, and looking kind of funny, that's just me trying to figure out what I'm going to play next. I'm not high, and I'm not on drugs or anything like that!"
Just a few nights earlier, Ployd performed a late-night set at the Iris, an electronic music club on Buford Highway. From behind the decks, he led a packed house through a rapid-fire sequence of rising and falling BPMs and stylistic musical shifts. His set was a patchwork of sludgy dubstep, more dubstep, and trap music, before he finally brought the night to a close with a dose of moombahton's swelling bass and robotic two-step beats.
"I like to say that I play what I want to hear, what you want to hear, and what you didn't know you wanted to hear yet," he says.
Over the years, Ployd has become one of Atlanta's most progressive DJs. He stresses the need for exploration and forward-thinking young minds to, as he puts it, "push the envelope rather than just follow the instructions on how to make an envelope." Still, he never saw the mainstream's co-opting of dubstep as a negative thing. He talks about massive regional music festivals such as TomorrowWorld and CounterPoint, which both take place right outside of Atlanta, as gateways for discovering new music.
"When we saw the music blowing up, a lot of people were turned off, but I never saw electronic music getting a lot attention as a bad thing," he says. "If anything it will draw out the kids who are lurking in their suburban homes and lead them to discover some house music or something else that they like."
Eight years after playing his first head-ringing DJ set in a Downtown Atlanta club, Ployd has become a fixture of the local EDM scene. Nearly a decade of headlining electronic music parties and amassing devotees with a Grateful Dead-like dedication has led him to make the move to producer. He's maintained a tight grasp on his original music, keeping every note miraculously off of the Internet and opting instead to earn fans by pummeling them live with blasts of bass. The official release this month of his first original track, as well as a new collaborative effort with the group dubbed Giant Skelly, mark a welcome new direction in Ployd's long, strange trip as an Atlanta EDM innovator.
Ployd first took to the stage in 2006 as a DJ at the now-defunct Downtown club the Mark Ultra Lounge for Anthony Rotella's "Transit" drum 'n' bass nights. He laughs while recalling how nervous he was about playing in a club for the first time. He remembers being so overwhelmed by the bass that he went cross-eyed twice during his set.
"It was one of those nights where the music was crazy," he says. "I had to take my headphones off and shake my head just to snap out of it."
Since then, his confidence has grown and it shows in his stage presence when he weaves to the music and commands the audience.