On December 31st, 2023, Austin Fuoss-Feinberg had a lot of power in his hands. He took the stage at KAM’s New Year’s Eve Party as Vorborg, the DJ growing his resume and reputation in the Champaign-Urbana music scene.
A ticket to NYE at Kams would have cost you at least $75, steep but reasonable when you consider how much Fuoss has practiced controlling an atmosphere with music. Fuoss is not just a DJ; he’s a music producer and engineer, a theatrical sound designer, and a classically trained violinist. Though he doesn’t play his violin often these days, his musicianship is still central to his identity.
“I really do feel like a musician, but I play the fucking computer, as sad as that sounds. I am a computer musician,” Fuoss said. “I feel like I practice almost every day to get better at my craft. It just so happens that my craft is me clicking a mouse and keyboard.”
Fuoss’ journey as a musician started when he was just a toddler and his gangster rap-obsessed brother Bryan, who was 15 at the time, introduced him to DMX and Eminem. The younger Fuoss would listen to his brother’s favorite artists, mixed in with songs from the High School Musical Soundtrack and hits from his favorite CD, Now That’s Music 19.
Growing up with such diverse tastes in music certainly bodes well for a career as a DJ, but the x-factor may have been his early introduction to the violin. The violin has a reputation as one of the hardest instruments to learn, so children are often pushed to start playing early. However, Fuoss was given a choice, and sometimes he regrets the choice he made.
“I’m really lucky in the sense that my parents and my grandparents really wanted the best education for me,” Fuoss said. “When I was like seven years old, they put me in a music shop and just told me to pick an instrument and I was like ‘alright let me just choose the hardest instrument to play’. I wish I knew back then what I know now; looking back I honestly wish I chose the saxophone,” muses Fuoss.
He may regret the choice, but Fuoss can still see how it benefited his career. He believes that his knowledge of music theory and rhythm are big reasons why he stuck with music production when his friends grew out of it. In fact, Fuoss was introduced to his first DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) at a friend’s house when he was eleven.
His friends were self-proclaimed EDM heads, obsessed with Skrillex, ZED, and Porter Robinson. One of their older brothers let Fuoss mess around with Ableton one day, and Fuoss’ introverted nature led him back to the computer whenever the group would hang out. These moments where Fuoss was, in his own words, “just fucking around with the thing,” led to the creation of Vorborg Studios 13 years later.
Since 2020, Fuoss has run Vorborg Studios in Champaign-Urbana, producing beats and recording with up-and-coming artists like A$AVV, G-Dello, and Vicky Tingz. But Vorborg Studios didn’t appear out of thin air. Fuoss had some guidance from a friend and fellow computer musician, Cago.
The two met while studying music technology at the University of Illinois and quickly formed a friendship after finding themselves in several of the same clubs, namely the Electronic Dance Music Club and the University of Illinois Hip-Hop Collective. Within these clubs, Fuoss and Cago were able to grow as artists, something they felt was difficult to do within the School of Music.
“I feel like most people in music tech felt the same way we did in a sense,” Fuoss said. “We all felt like we were just the fuck-ups of the whole music department.”
Unlike Fuoss, Cago did not have a musical background to fall back on; in fact, he originally applied to the University of Illinois to study computer science but was admitted undeclared. After a friend mentioned the new music technology program to him on a whim, he signed up. Today, he is a full-time sound engineer working in Los Angeles.
“I’m a very 2024 musician is what I tell people. Do I have musical skills? Yeah. I think you could talk to anybody that’s around me, and they’d tell you I’m very musically talented,” Cago said. “Am I by any traditional sense of the word a musician? No, I mean I sing a little bit, I’ve been told I have a good voice, I rap a little bit, I can keep time, you put me on a drum set I can play a beat. But at the end of the day, no. I don’t play guitar, I don’t play violin. I’m a techie that happens to be into computer music stuff.”
Before he left Urbana, Cago gave Fuoss the blueprint to start his own studio. He set Fuoss up with a load of clients he’d be leaving behind in Urbana and gave him tips about pricing.
“The reason I was comfortable doing that is that dude’s extremely dedicated, and has a great ear,” Cago said. “And he was always down to put in the work that it took to do the thing.”
After opening his studio, Fuoss decided to pursue a master’s degree in sound design from the University of Illinois Department of Theatre. Despite this choice and his unabashed appreciation of High School Musical, Fuoss says he isn’t much of a “theatre person.” Still, he has designed sound for six different productions so far, including the Illinois Theatre adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.
Fuoss views theatre sound design, much like he does the piano, as a tool that will help him reach his dreams but not the focus of his dreams at all. Although he has thought about a career in theatre, he says it’s unlikely.
“It’s kind of hard to change my whole dream and aspirations of what I always wanted to do. It goes against my identity in a way,” said Fuoss.
In the face of the common conception that one must choose to either follow your dreams or follow the money, Fuoss has put himself in a position to pursue both.
Visit Vorburg’s website for social media links and more information on Vorborg and Vorborg Studios.