From accountant to DJ: John Summit’s curious rise to fame

John Summit is one of those characters in the house music world today whom Ears To The House can’t quite decipher. On the one hand, he is probably one of the busiest touring DJs around this year – whilst we’re not exactly fans of his alcohol centred image, we certainly accept he’s what in Britain we’d call a grafter.

But even if we have to admit we do quite like his relentlessly cheerful current release called “What A Life”, we can’t help but wonder about his back story. How did Summit – real name John Walter Schuster – ascend to fame so quickly? Barely a few years ago, few had heard of him – so how did he reach the highs he’s at now? (and we don’t mean the magic mushroom induced one…)

Schuster started appearing on a number of live streams during the first few months of the pandemic – Repopulate Mars and the Defected Virtual Festival are just two examples. Less publicised, however, are the plague raves that he was doing from at least September 2020 – mostly in the state of Florida, which often had more relaxed restrictions than most others in the USA.

The man himself referred to this period in dance music history as “the rave prohibition era” on his Twitter account during the week – an amusing claim seeing that Schuster not only played at raves at the time and admits to attending at least one as well.

Schuster is quite unusual in one aspect, however. These days, it’s expected that DJs have to be producers too – but Schuster’s own catalogue is actually quite modest compared to many of the peers whom he idolises, such as Lee Foss and Jamie Jones. His rise can be attributed to two things – one is his very flexible DJ sets which range from house, techno, minimal and occasionally even dubstep.

As for the other? It’s his understanding of a very modern promotional tool – social media. Schuster frequently engages with his own fans across his pages – he’s had plenty of experience with this. As a Forbes article in May 2022 put it…

“The Off the Grid label boss says he was bored at the start of the pandemic, so he began streaming on Instagram Live each day, and, naturally, would shotgun a White Claw each time. He says his audience found this funny, thus causing Schuster to use this humor as a way to promote his new music.”

Schuster promotes an image of himself on social media as a hard drinker, sometimes even drinking tequila straight from the bottle at DJ sets. But is this the real John Summit? Our sources at Ears To The House are adamant it isn’t – with one saying “He’s no one’s fool. Behind the facade of drink and exuberance is a serious business brain. He trusts few people in the industry and knows his worth. John is only 29 years old, but is one of the most savvy individuals I’ve ever met.”.

But how on earth did he end up on the radar of Defected so quickly in 2020? Many producers dream of working with the label, but few are chosen. The answer, according to an insider who’s staying anonymous, was partly Schuster’s adept skills on social media. They told us “Defected was focusing on growing their socials at the time, and his were growing fast too. I’m reliably told Simon Dunmore was very impressed by his professionalism. It was the perfect fit.”.

In the long term, Schuster plans to use his Off The Grid label as a platform to launch his own events – something eerily similar to what Defected does now. So even when he was out at Defected Croatia recently in a somewhat intoxicated state, the possibility can’t be ruled out that he was taking mental notes, ready for when he branches out into events himself…

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