Black Carl!: Reminiscing on Biggest Inspirations, Overcoming Adversity as a DJ From The South
Carl Bell is a metalhead at heart, frequently reminiscing on days of skateboarding and listening to A Day to Remember. The Birmingham, Alabama native found his introduction to live music with seeing bands like Disturbed and The Devil Wears Prada. Bell, better known as Black Carl!, draws inspiration from across the music genre map and has created a sound that toes the line between experimental bass music, dubstep, and a unique, wonky vibe all of his own.
Back in high school, Bell was drawn to making music and found inspiration to create art from his father, who was a DJ and producer himself.
“My dad was making hip hop with Mike Epps,” Bell says. “Back in the day, they were friends. My dad got me my first drum set.”
In 2015, during Bell’s senior year, he went to his first Electric Forest. This is where he saw Skrillex for the first time. Directly after leaving the festival, he bought his first turntable, along with a keyboard and speakers. He had no idea what his music would sound like, and really just wanted to start getting into it. Leaning on a heavy Must Die! influence, Carl started creating music, focusing on a style known as riddim.
“I was the kid that was playing riddim in my town when riddim wasn’t cool, and no one really liked it,” Bell recalls. “Now, it’s crazy because like, the riddim shows are the ones that are packing out the venues.”
Bell quickly realized that making a name for himself in Alabama was going to be a hurdle to overcome. He found himself going to every show he could to network and get his name out there. He didn’t have a real project in mind when he was first starting out either, which was another bump in the road he had to face. Carl was known by his local friends as Black Carl, so he rolled with it before the finishing touch came in the form of a punctuation mark.
“Must Die!’s style was one of my favorites back then as a senior in high school. He had an exclamation mark on his name and I was like, ‘I want that.’” And with that, Black Carl became Black Carl!.
As he continued to grow his name and sound, Bell found himself making music that he liked, but he hadn’t put much serious thought into actually making this his career. However, in retrospect, he can pinpoint some pivotal moments where he knew would be heading down a path of greatness, and making music would become his entire world.
Carl also looks back on his great connection with CharlestheFirst and pays tribute to how he helped mold him into the artist he is today. Bell was invited to play in Wyoming at Terry Bison Ranch for CharlestheFirst’s two-night event in May 2021.
“That event was the whole reason I was able to quit my day job,” Bell says, making a huge moment in his career. This milestone further affirmed he was destined to keep growing his career. Black Carl! was also given the honor of playing at the CharlestheFirst memorial benefit show in Denver earlier this year, performing a set as Integrate, his side project collaboration with his good friend Aaron Pugh, also known as VCTRE.
“Charles was a really good homie and he really believed in my project,” Bell says. “He was always looking out for the little guy, and I’m grateful for my time with him. He changed my life.”
Another defining part of his career would be Bell’s friendship with VCTRE and their many live shows together. Carl met Aaron a little after high school through some friends. They weren’t initially very close, but they ended up playing back to back together one time and quickly realized they had synergy together on stage.
“That meeting led to us making music together and getting tighter over the years. He kind of brought me into his whole friend group. Now, they’re like my brothers. It just kind of happened so seamlessly.”
Their friendship quickly flourished into the creation of Integrate, which began in the later months of 2021. Carl describes Integrate as a side project similar to how Eprom and Alix Perez form the side project, SHADES.
“We both focus and go hard on our solo projects, then this is just like a side thing we do for fun, you know?”
With Integrate and his solo project getting more and more popular, Black Carl! has grown into a nationwide name. Hearing he’s pretty well known is still baffling to him since he started so recently, which speaks to how artists view themselves versus how their fans and supporters view them. Bell recollects how Aaron’s girlfriend, Kelsey, will play some of Bell’s really old songs. Bell will ask, “why are you playing this?” She comes back with “because it’s fire.”
“I was like, ‘oh man, I didn’t think like that,’” Bell says. “People have been messaging me lately asking me to play songs that I don’t even play anymore. And that’s because I think that the quality of them compared to what I make now are not even on par. But people love those songs, so I gotta play them.”
Carl takes this even further by tying in the fact that if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not gonna go anywhere. You have to believe in yourself; self-doubt will only prohibit growth. This perspective goes for any artist, not just Black Carl!. In a world where there is so much underground talent, this seems to be something artists need to continually remind themselves of. This is something CharlestheFirst brought out in so many artists around him too, and his memory is pushing artists like Black Carl and VCTRE and so many others.
“My sound has really grown. I’ve got a lot more work to do, but it’s getting there.”—Black Carl!
For Bell, the big focus for the coming year for the Black Carl! project includes dropping a freestyle mix next week and his upcoming Okeechobee performance, all while aiming to release 2 EPs with some singles sprinkled in along the way. As for an album, Carl talks about how he appreciates the way Subtronics set up his album and didn’t even release one until he was several EPs and singles deep. He wants to hone in on his sound and get bigger before releasing something of his own that big in nature.
However, when that day comes, it will represent his journey from listening to heavy metal and dreaming big dreams all the way to headlining shows in major cities and performing at bucket list music festivals. We still have much more to see from this rising star.