If you were able to nudge through the crowd of thousands of glitter–covered festivalgoers who convened in the Hamptons last summer to attend the first–ever edition of Kygo's Palm Tree Music Festival series, you would have found yourself face–to–face with Will Sass, the College sophomore hailed as “dance music's next crossover star” by Gotham Magazine. Will hardly needs an introduction—his figure is dwarfed by his own name splashed across the screen behind him in huge fluorescent letters. Switch out the Hamptons heat for a North Carolina speedway, a hazy New York nightclub, or an exclusive Los Angeles pool party—wherever Will Sass goes, the good vibes follow.
Though the huge venues and packed performances may make it hard to believe, his unprecedented rise to fame started slowly: Growing up in New York City, Will was surrounded by music from a young age. He had always been interested in DJing, partially thanks to the city’s “off–the–charts” music scene. “All throughout high school, I would sneak into clubs and watch the best DJs perform,” he explains, “and I would also travel to festivals whenever I could.” In high school he began to dabble in the craft, playing classmates’ small birthday parties. One thing led to another, and the parties quickly developed into the then–teenager being scouted out to play clubs in the city. “Every time I’d go DJ, I would wake up the morning after and have all these DMs from club promoters and nightclubs,” Will says in disbelief.
To find themselves on the other side of the stage is every New York City music junkie’s biggest dream, and Will recognizes that he's one of the lucky ones. Throughout the interview, Will continually expresses his gratitude—especially towards the community at Penn—for being able to pursue a career in music. “Honestly, the support from people at Penn has been a major turning point—before I went to Penn, I never really had an inner community of people pushing my music,” he says. “I would say I have at least 300 people who will repost my songs and support me when I DJ, where most artists don’t even have 100 real fans, so being in school while DJing was a big turning point [for me].”
Will was able to build up a name for himself on campus mainly by playing at frat parties. He and his manager, fellow Penn student Sacha Mattey (W ’23), would “go from frat to frat with [his] DJ decks, and would just DJ every single night. It’s not like a formal thing, but just for the vibes, we started DJing all over Penn,” Will says. The success of these parties, which he describes in awe as “crazy, ending at like five in the morning," is clearly a point of pride. Every college student knows how to appreciate a good party, and even from the other side, Will is no exception. In fact, he sees his identity as a Penn college student as an important element of his success. “In my mind, wherever I am, I just try to make it a vibe—I never really think of Penn and LA as different communities, because to me it’s all interconnected,” he says.
Part of this interconnectedness is thanks to Sacha, who approached him on campus and began managing him solely off his DJing. “He found me when we got to Penn, we became best friends, and he started managing me just off of my DJing without [even] hearing my music,” Will explains. “Then, I ended up playing him all my music and we became roommates in LA.” Though the world of DJing nightclubs and music festivals may seem worlds away from the Penn college experience, it’s all a part of Will’s unique musical and personal journey, and he’s found the small, close–knit school environment invaluable to building up an invested, loyal following.
And the journey is just picking up. After graduating high school, Will deferred his enrollment at Penn and flew to Los Angeles, where he spent time learning how to produce music for friends he’d met through the New York DJ circuit. These months laid the groundwork for the massive career expansion that came with getting involved in a new environment. He continued to DJ parties throughout Los Angeles, ultimately playing for a party hosted by celebrity photographer Sam Dameshek’s clothing brand Wish Me Luck, and the connections he made in California got him involved in the nationwide festival circuit. In 2021, he opened up the very first edition of DJ Kygo’s Palm Tree Festival, an event that would go on to become a worldwide brand. In past interviews, Will has named Kygo and other DJs and producers—like Marshmello, The Chainsmokers, and Zedd—as particularly impactful on his approach to music, so playing Palm Tree represented a huge turning point and landmark in the still–accelerating rise of his career.
It's not uncommon to hear Penn referred to as a "work hard, play hard" environment, and Will Sass embodies that energy to a tee. As impressive as his career trajectory has been thus far, he makes sure to keep the fun of it alive. "For me, it never feels like work. I love it. I just get in the zone and can go forever," he says. While DJing remains his main occupation at the moment, Will has a lot of good stuff coming up: His remix of Trevor Daniel’s “Alone” was released this past Friday. “Alone” is his first foray into the world of original music, but he has always had his eyes set on making original music, naming that ambition as the main driver behind his move to Los Angeles during his gap year. “I’m obsessed with music production,” he says, “and that’s where my future lies.” He’s sitting on dozens of original songs and has studio sessions booked with a lineup of major artists. Will's upcoming year of new music is definitely worth being on your radar.
If the iridescent synths and punchy drop of the “Alone” remix are any indication of what we can expect from Will’s future work, it’s sure to be a vibe—make sure to tune in here, and keep an eye out on Instagram for his upcoming projects.