Tag Archives: hiphop

Roots Manuva

At age 7, Rodney Smith, thought he was too cool for the violin, and, being the son of poor parents from Jamaica living in South London, he sought out music more to his taste. “I was walking past Stockwell Skate Park and there was this sound system being set up. They were probably just trying out their speakers, and these dodgy-looking blokes standing beside it just admiring the sound of their bass,” the man who is Roots Manuva describes the first time he saw a sound system. His voice over the phone is exactly the same as it is on his albums, and his inflection and tone is wonderfully lyrical. “The sound system has been a massive part of the social actuality of the Afro-Caribbean people. Part of me culture and me heritage. That was what brought me to music, the sound through a big sound system, not the learning of music. I was learning the violin when I was 7, but it wasn’t cool enough for me, you know, so I kinda stumbled into reggae and then in my early teens was attracted to hiphop.”

Smith has just finished a “Back To Mine” mix, and just completed a tour of Australia, (sadly missing Adelaide), but I got the opportunity to see him not only at Park Life in Sydney, but a few years ago in Melbourne too at Vibes on a Summers Day 2001. In 2001 he just had a DJ and extra MC, but this time around he had a whole band. I asked the enigmatic performer why he came down with the band this time. “Using a band just seemed natural, just a natural evolution from sampling and using the machines. It adds a whole new dimension and flexibility to the live entity. It’s more of a challenge, it’s more scary, and there’s a higher place to fall from when you’re using a band.”

Smith enjoyed his tour, but finds travelling tedious. “It’s such a pleasure to be performing to such large numbers in Australia. It was a good ego boost, or ‘a ripper’ as you say over there,” he laughs. “Travelling is a real pain in the arse,” he adds. “Just as you’re getting into a place, you’re flying away again. And with Australia being so far away and so big, going through all those time zones it was such a physical engagement. There was many a tetchy moment between the band. There’s just so much to think about – everyone’s emotional state is fragile and up in the air, and it took a force from another world to come down and assist us to keep it together,” he says, with his voice rising like a preacher.

His last artist album, ‘Awfully Deep’ released at the beginning of this year, was also quite a challenge. “It was more intense, more of a laboured process, with more attention to finicky detail. Our past records have been more punk rock,” his laugh booms again. “A demo recorded in my front room, and other times we’d take five skeletons of tracks down to the studio and try and get five tracks done in two days. Have a couple of spliffs and a half a bottle of champagne and it was like, ‘right that’s it!’ But no more, we don’t have the time or money to be messing around,” he says sternly. “This time I would start off with the stripped down laptop ditty and take that to a bunch of musicians and get them to musically embellish what I do to step it further to a different sonic harmonic spectrum.”

Our chat takes us to his latest project, Back To Mine. “This compilation wasn’t about influences for me, it was more about putting together a bunch of music under the context of people coming back to my house after a night out,” he says, when I ask about the tracks he’s chosen. I mention how I think this Back To Mine is one of the most enjoyable, most listenable and accessible, especially compared to Adam Freeland’s Back To Mine. “Is it?” he asks, thanking me. “Well I’m always making mix tapes, so I kind of tried to hit it with the mix tape stroke radio show vibe. Definitely thinking about my audience, and not sitting there scratching my own balls and showing everyone how I have a deep, deep knowledge of all there is in music,” he laughs.

 

Stereo MCs

The Stereo MCs are back after a few years in the wilderness with a new label, a new record Paradise, and new positive outlook. Speaking with Nick Hallam from the band was an interesting experience. Listening to someone who has experienced the worst of what the fickle music industry has to offer, but someone who’s still positive about the band’s musical future, gives even jaded music reporter like myself some hope that beyond marketing, money and managers, music is still the most important thing.

Even though the core group of people who form the Stereo MCs – Rob Birch, the indomitable front man of the group, writer and instrumentalist Nick Hallam, and singer Stephanie Mckay – have been on the road and in each others face on tour busses for quite a long time, there is still a great deal of love for each other. “If we’re not making music, we go to Rob’s house and listen and play records, play some table football, that kind of thing,” says Hallam.

Hallam claims there is quite a lot of optimism now about all aspects of the group. “We toured Deep Down and Dirty for about a year or two after the release,” he says of the last few years. “It was a bit of a weird time really. Because Deep Down and Dirty didn’t sell as well as Connected, the record company started becoming a bit negative, and we felt we had to get away from them.”

Things then changed quite dramatically in the Stereo MCs camp. “We fired our manager and we carried on doing quite a lot of live shows for a number of years and then got back into the writing process. In the meantime we were sorting out our legal troubles as our manager took us to the lawyers. And after that all got sorted out, we got out of our deal with Island Records, which we thought of as a corporate record company and we didn’t feel anything for them. Then we got a new manager, who is really positive and helped us start our own label, and we started to get our confidence back.”

Not surprisingly, the legal and contractual problems left a bad taste in the group’s mouth. “There was so much negativity around us at that stage that we kind of lost the plot a little bit, we thought it was all a bit pointless, we didn’t feel as though we were part of something anymore. Island were acting like a bank and we just felt de-motivated by the whole thing,” he laments. “But now we feel it’s a new start – we’ve got the new label, we’re doing it kind of low key really, but we’re establishing a firm base for ourselves again to build something. We’ve done some live shows around the UK and Europe and it’s been real nice, it’s feeling good, as good as when we first started even,” he enthuses. “It’s refreshing.”

“After Connected we had a few bad years where we shouldn’t have been in the studio. We needed to get some fresh juice really. We did the DJ Kicks thing for K7! and it kick started us into making records again. When we did Deep Down and Dirty we felt really good about it, because we had broken through a hurdle for ourselves in terms of actually making a record, so we were a bit disappointed at how the record label treated us like a fucking donkey, you know what I mean?” he laughs.

“But now I think we have control over what we are doing, we’ve got our shit back and we’re feeling more inspired than we have done for about 10 years. Once we cleared the decks of all the bullshit, got rid of people who had grudges against us because we hadn’t made them rich,” he chuckles. “Now we got a new team who have an open minded, positive approach to us and what we were doing, and it has became about making a good record and having fun doing it.”

Kid Koala

If hiphop and turntablism conjure up images of trendy young kids with too much attitude, performing impossible technical tricks in front of a self-involved crowd of cap wearing wannabes, then get ready to have your world turned upside down by Kid Koala. Having parents from Hong Kong, but being raised in Vancouver and Montreal, Canada, Eric San aka Kid Koala has a diverse cultural background to draw upon, but it is his background in classical music that led him to the wheels of steel. Being one of the most enigmatic producers on a Ninja Tune, a record label that is renown for it’s eclecticism, in conversation he is very down to earth and friendly, jumping around the place, looping upon himself, much like his records, and is also very quick to laugh. After finally getting through, “It’s turning into one of those fibre optic traffic jams”, he laughs, and we chatted about his history and his upcoming tour with RDJ2.

“I’ve actually been to Australia once”, San quips when I ask about his DJ name “but I don’t think that trip had anything to do with it. There was a drink in Canada when I started DJing in the late 80’s, a really sugary beverage called Koala Springs. It had this really big stamp that said ‘Made In Australia’, which is really funny because every Australian I’ve spoken to has never heard of this drink,” and I had to concur that I’d never heard of it either. “It was actually quite a popular beverage especially amongst those who likes really sugary drinks,” he laughs. “So anyway, my mum would buy cases of this stuff from Costgo [the Canadian version of Bi-Lo] and if you were a kid, you know, 25 and under or whatever, you’d always be offered that – it’d be milk, water or Koala Springs. My friends started calling me the “Koala Kid” as a joke, as there were always empty bottles of the stuff around my room”, he laughs again, “and that’s the real story”.

San starting DJing in the early 1980’s, “in my really awkward, pimply period before I discovered discover girls”, he chortles. Inspired by the sounds of New York’s hiphop scene, as well as the sounds of the British cut up artists like coldcut, he says “at one point you stop spending all your money on firecrackers and candy and spend it on something you decide to get into. Some kids get into comic books and I got into records,” he says. “I think it was the classic music stuff I was doing. It was like an elastic band being pulled back,” he says referring to the stress of his training. “Because it was such a strict music experience for me as a kid, just being told ‘you have to play this 500 year old piece exactly the same way it’s been played for the last 500 years – any deviation will lose you points with the adjudicators’“, he laughs. “It wasn’t a very joyful musical experience for me, so when I first heard scratching the first thing I got from it was that it was so free from these rules. And the people doing it were maybe 10 – 15 years younger as opposed to 500, it was more within my grasp. I was like “oh there’s these DJs and they’re doing their thing and they’re really good at expressing themselves and they’re not like buried somewhere” and again he breaks into infectious laughter.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he begins, with a hint of seriousness in his voice, “I think at the time I was just too young to understand how you play a classical piece and actually put your own feel into it. For me it was just a rope memory exercise, and now obviously I’ve grown to like and understand all kinds of music. But when I got into turntablism there was a central idea that all the DJs, whatever they were doing, they were trying to do something new. And I think that was the most impressive thing to me. Technically I didn’t know what they were doing”, he confesses. “I didn’t know how they were making the sound, I just knew that every time I got a new hiphop record the producer or DJ behind it was trying to do something new. You never knew what you were going to hear when you dropped that needle, and I really liked that, and I think that’s something I keep to heart when I go to play or go into the studio. In my mind, if there were any rules to scratching, it would be to do something fresh,” he states.

One of the tunes that San is most famous for is drunk trumpet, a fantastic scratch fest involving a trumpet being played over a 12 note blues loop. It’s distinctive sound drew me to Kid Koala, and I still haven’t heard anything like it. “I think for me when I started scratching it was very percussive,” San begins, but the falters as he tries to describe the process behind the tune. “How can I say this? I’m a big Louis Armstrong fan, and I know I’m doing him a disservice by comparing the two,” he laughs. “For the first few years I would say [my scratching] was very percussion orientated and very much into making the WEIRDEST noises ever. Stuff that would stand out and make you go “What is that noise?” And I still like doing that, making the freakiest noises ever,” he giggles, “but I think that from playing with bands and playing with other musicians that it’s equally as interesting to try to blend in a certain context. ie: you’re scratching, but you’re scratching on a ballad, so how can you do that? For me starting to do that with drunk trumpet – trumpet through a melody scratching – you’ve got a 12 bar blues song, is there a way to play and actually run within that by scratching? Trying to figure out how can you do something that can only be done on a turntable, but doesn’t totally overtake the rest of the song.”

San is stoked to be on the Ninja Tune label. “I can’t really imagine being anywhere else”, he states matter of factly. “Coldcut were one of the first tracks I heard with scratching, and ‘bits and pieces’ was very inspirational to me, and still has a big influence on the things I do, so philosophically there’s that kinship. They’ve very patient and they let you explore whatever music avenue you want to and give you time to fall on your ass and take a break if you need to,” he laughs. Being based in Canada, but flying to London every few weeks to do a Ninja Tune performance means San has racked up a lot of frequent flyer points. “Let me put it this way – we’re very excited to be coming to Australia for the first time. I’ve been touring across oceans since 1996 and still haven’t made it to Australia,” he sighs with a smile in his voice. He’s also looking forward to touring with RJD2. “We’ve never worked together before… it should be fun!” he exclaims excitedly. “I’m a big fan of his work and I’m really excited to see him play. I know he has a show that he does, and a have the show that I have and we’ll do them on tour, but who knows what we will do with the remaining time… we’ll probably open it up”

 

The New Pollutants

The New Pollutants are about to contaminate your mind with their latest release “Urban Professional Nightmares”, a snapshot of their work of the last 18 months. I managed to speak with Mister Benjamin Speed, who provides the spoken component of this 8-bit wonder band from Adelaide. “We describe ourselves as an intelligent mash-up of 8-bit hip hop, beat driven experimental electronica, weird head-bobbing, banging beats and curious sound bytes which are reminiscent of 80’s and 90’s computer game soundtracks, dark themes from futuristic films and thought provoking yet baffling beat poetry,” Speed says of the Pollutants sound. “Hmm… that is a mouthful! We just think we make pop music really!” he jokes.

Coming together around 3 years ago, Speed met DJ Tr!p through mutual friend Red Rabbit, who plays experimental electronica at the Exeter. In late 2001 at the ‘This Is Not Art’ festival in Newcastle, a fortuitous accident led Speed and Tr!p to form a bond. “I had a broken toe and Tr!p has a limp so we were the ones walking way behind everyone because of our physical conditions, and we ended up talking and joking about together for most of the trip”. Both seem to have a love of the weird, which comes through in their music. “We are influenced by many things around us, not just music. As far as music goes, we do not care which genre of music we listen to, as long as it is good, and sometimes if it so bad it goes full circle and becomes good again. In fact we prefer it if we listen to as many different styles of music as possible.”

Something that makes them stand out is their use of 8-bit technology, through DJ Tr!ps’ Commodore Amiga. “The Commodore Amiga has only 8 bit sampling and 4 mono channel sequencing parameters. His whole sound is very lo-fi. Because I use a new computer for music, the nature of my sound is more hi-fi. We make songs on both computers but Tr!p’s contraption is definitely a defining sound. We bring finished songs from his computer and I always have to take them on to mine and hi-fi them up a bit,” Speed says of their unique production techniques. “It is a good mash I think,” he adds. “When we have composed what we describe as our ‘pop’ sounding songs they usually come out very different to what normal pop/electronic/hip hop music is today. This is just because of our backgrounds in music and where we come from. We also deliberately go out of our way to make weird tunes! We make some very experimental stuff but usually don’t play them at our gigs much. We make music people want to hear in their homes as well as when they want to have fun too.”

With the amount of lawsuits against artists and the public in general for copyright breaches, the use of sampled sounds could be detrimental to a rising young group. “Tr!p is a untraceable button man who wont even tell ME where the samples he gets are mutated from!” Speed says of their material. “He is so paranoid about being caught by the sample police, or ASIO or the FBI, or something, that his music studio and computer is like a top secret fortress of solitude. Me on the other hand, I don’t really care because really, unless we are selling more than 50 000 albums, (which we haven’t yet but are working on) no one actually cares because, as Underworld so eloquently put it – we live underneath the radar.” Speed is self confessedly brash. “If there are sample police out there I’m like, “You want me? Come and get me!” On that note, we obviously steer well, well clear of using obvious samples that are really bad… so much so we have gone full circle and put a song on our 12” with all of these bad samples on it! But don’t worry; it only goes for 40 seconds,” he adds.

With their critically acclaimed debut album and airplay on a wide variety of radio stations, they have been all over the country at various festivals over the last year or so. “Our live performances are a manic, fun and extremely energetic mash of live and recorded material that always kills me because I jump around so much”, Speed says. “So far the best show we have performed at was the Big Day Out this year. We got to meet Kraftwerk before our performance and chatted to them while we were setting up. We found out they bought our first album the day before they met us too! At the gig I was jumping around so hard I smashed the table and my computer fell off and my microphone broke… we pulled the computer back on and loaded up our last track and I used Tr!p’s headphones as a mic. After doing that we got a big cheer from the crowd to round off our set.”

Katalyst

Ashley Anderson has been producing music since the mid 90s. Along with fellow producer Illpickl (Michael Wright), they recorded Moonrock together, and were invited to submit songs for the Café Del Mar compilations. After Write passed away in 2001, Anderson took the moniker “Katalyst” and released a few titles that were issued on the “Dope On Plastic” series. In 2002 Anderson produced Manipulating Agent, a tour-de-force of laid back Aussie scratches and beats. Anderson sites the release of this record as one of his greatest achievements. “The way it was received, getting airplay, the reviews I got were all really positive, and that was the culmination of a few years work,” he says.

Anderson is also known for his remix work, remixing a range of artists such as Portishead, Dynamo Productions, Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Machine Gun Fellatio. About six months after Manipulating Agent came the remix album Agent Manipulated. “The remix album came about by quite a few people approaching me asking if I was going to do any remixes on 12 inch or whatever,” Anderson explains. “Also I didn’t get to put all the tracks I wanted to on Manipulating Agent due to running time, so I was able to put those tracks with the remixes and make a full-length release.”

The collaboration with Portishead saw Anderson strike up a friendship with the main man behind Portishead, Geoff Barrow. Seeing a gap in the market, they formed Invada Records, based both in the UK and Australia, to be able to give them “a lot of flexibility in a lot of other areas. Geoff has got his office in the UK, and that allows him to have his finger on the pulse in Europe and sign acts based over there. We have our ear to the ground here, and sign mainly Australian artists, and release them in the UK and vice-versa. We have a lot of phone contact, emails, MP3s, that kind of thing.”

Invada’s next big project is Jamaican born Australian artist R.U.Cl’s (Pronounced Ru-See-El) album Let The Music Talk. Due out the end of May, Anderson is quite thrilled by this new talent. “We’ve put a lot of time and energy into this,’ He states, “so we’re quite excited. His background means he’s got a bit of a different style for an Australian lad. He’s really talented, and we used some great producers on it, it’s quite a diverse product,” ranging in vibe from hiphop to dancehall. Anderson sees R.U.Cl being able to perhaps cross into the lucrative US market. “I think Australian hiphop is really good that is out there, but it’s not up to the standard of what’s coming out of the US,” he says guardedly. “I think it’s on par with what’s coming out of the UK and Europe, but I think the cutting edge production and most talented MCs in the world are American. America is very insular, and it’s hard to break into. But,” he continues, “the level of Aussie Hiphop is getting better and better. There’s lots of great new MCs I hear pop up on different tracks, and lots of talented young producers out there.”

You can get a taste of R.U.Cl on Katalyst’s first mix album, Dusted. This double CD contains a mix of funk, soul, hiphop and reggae, and includes some of Anderson’s all time favourite tracks. There were a few that he couldn’t get due to licensing problems, but Anderson says he expected that. “It’s not always the fact that people won’t or want stupid money for it,” he says. “It’s often a case of simply not being able to find the owners. That was the case in some of the more obscure tracks I wanted to include, which is a bit of a shame. It moved the direction of the compilation in some small way, but at the end of the day I had enough tracks anyway.” Anderson is also quick to point out the fact that it is all from vinyl isn’t an attempt to be wanky and elitist. “I didn’t mean to make a big point about it really. I was a bit paranoid about it because some of the records are a bit noisy, and it bugs me out sometimes if there’s a crackle. So I just wanted to get the point across – if there’s any surface noise don’t worry, I couldn’t help it. Plus,” he adds with a laugh, “it is all off vinyl because I don’t have many CDs.”

Many times you’ll see Katalyst performing not at hiphop events, but at big shows such as Ben Harper, and the up-coming show with Jack Johnson, Xavier Rudd, G Love and Donovan Frankenreiter. “Obviously it’s a really different vibe,” Anderson says of these shows. “I’m there to play a different role too. I enjoy the Jack Johnson shows, because it gives me a chance to play different sorts of tunes that I feel I wouldn’t at a ‘Katalyst’ show in a club with a dancefloor vibe. I like to break up the sets, because they’re usually similar sounding kind of acts in the bigger picture, so it’s kind of nice to mix up different flavours for the audience in between them. I guess some members of the audience can’t relate to it, but if it broadens the mind of a few of the members who are there to see Jack and Xavier then that’s a good thing,” he beams.

Grand Master Flash

Even if you’re into hiphop, Grand Master Flash should not need any introduction. You should know that he is, along with Kool Herc and Africa Bambaataa, considered a pioneer of hiphop. He pioneered the scratch, and introduced the turntables as an instrument. With his record The Message he brought hiphop and DJing from being a New York craze into a worldwide phenomenon. He’s sold millions of records, performed at the Superbowl and Commonwealth Games, and received countless awards and accolades. Anyone credited with all of this would probably be ready to give it up and retire after 35 years, but Flash still has a message he feels he strongly needs to deliver to a new generation of fans.

“I have to make it clear to all the young and up and coming young people that hiphop was created in the year 1971 and it was totally designed by a DJ. And if it wasn’t for a DJ there’d be no hiphop, there’d be no rap records, there’d be no breakdancing, there’s be no graffiti artists, there’d be no MCs, there’d be no nothing!” he begins passionately. “Now that hiphop has become so big, that knowledge is either nonexistent or it has become buried. Since I am one of the creators I have to make it clear to every audience I perform in front of, of where hiphop comes from. It’s very important.” And it’s also the reason why, after 30 years of doing it, he’s still doing it, still going on the road, performing to audiences both large and small.

“I love playing big events like the Superbowl and Commonwealth Games, because it gives the DJ a notoriety they should have. I think that people need to understand that hiphop was designed by a DJ,” he says. “In my shows I jam, which is what I love doing, and I also like talking to young people. Just to see what they know, and what I can tell them about what they should know. Hiphop in it’s beginning was just a DJ. No MC, no breakdancing, no graffiti; just a DJ, his turntables, a microphone, and his trusty records. That was it.”

I ask him if he gets nervous or could be worried by a wardrobe malfunction at such a big event, and he laughs heartily. “I’m a man I don’t think I’ll worry about a wardrobe malfunction too much. But I do get nervous, two minutes before. But when I get up on stage, it’s the only place on earth I feel totally safe, other than when I’m with my children,” he adds. “I feel totally, totally, totally safe once I come from that side stage and all those people waiting, and it’s just me and God.”

Like most fathers, he gushes when he talks about his children. “My kids keep me up to speed with new music. I might be touring for a couple of months, and might miss a few new records that come out, and they keep me up to speed with that. Let me know what’s in, what’s hot!” I was curious to know if he held high hops of his children following in his footsteps. “They’ve gotta be the best at it, because they’ve got a tough act to follow,” he laughs. “They’re going to have to be top notch at it, be deadly serious about it, because you can’t come in on pop, you’ve got to come in as you as an artist.”

As someone who created scratching and introduced the world to sampling, I wanted to know his take on the controversy that always seems to surround it. “The beauty of hiphop is that you take an older record that probably was never a hit, and make it a hit,” he explains. “Now it has become big business, these records sell millions, and the owners of the publishing rights are deadly serious about getting paid, and I think that’s fair. I think that if you take a piece of someone else’s song and implant that in your work to make your song become a hit, you should pay that person. I’m with that.”

The prospect of vinyl being replaced by CDs and other technologies doesn’t seem to phase Flash at all. “I think that in this point in time for the more animated DJ and the more serious minded person who goes and watched DJs, I think from what I understand, it’s not watching the arm on the vinyl. From what I am told, the average fan likes to watch the DJ. They like to watch them turn around dig into his boxes, take it and put it on the platter, set it, cut it, throw it in,” he says. “With a CD DJ, those steps disappear because the CD goes right to the point where you want it. I have much respect for the CD DJs who do their thing, but for the animated DJs, for those who move to the music, go the whole 9 yards, the look of the vinyl is just,” he searches for the words “more appealing, you know?”

Flash has recently created Adrenalin City Records, his record / production label, in order to produce new artists and get new material out there, and plans on doing a few more things once this current tour is finished. “When the tour ends there’s two things I want to do, things I promised myself I would do. One is to get a book deal and write about my life and hiphop, and open up some DJ schools. I want to give back, in my own way, to hiphop, because it’s been good to me. Over the last 30 years it’s been up and down, up and down, but if I were to go back I probably wouldn’t change nothing,” he says.

Flash is also looking forward to getting some time off on his tour of Australia, as he feels he hasn’t had a decent chance to explore our country, either in searching out Aussie hiphop, nor it’s natural beauty. “Every time I come into your beautiful country I fly in and fly out. They get me coming into a town, and they whisk me away to the next town. I think I have some days off on this tour, so hopefully I’ll get time to listen to some Aussie hiphop. Also, I want to see a kangaroo! I want to see your oceans. I’ve only seen it on the TV, and I want to experience it for myself, because it looks like a very beautiful country.”

 

Z-Trip

You can hear the frustration in Zach Sciacca’s (otherwise known as Z-Trip) voice as he talks about copyright laws. Known for the incredible Uneasy Listening Vol 1 mix CD, done in collaboration with DJ P, this master of the mash and blend has become a pin up boy for the fight against the incredibly archaic copyright laws which has seen him get caught up for nearly a year trying to get tracks for a mix CD cleared. This is not about getting samples cleared – this is about getting clearance for mixing two songs together. It’s like being told you can’t play two certain songs together on the radio.

“The whole concept of having to clear something is limiting”, Sciacca explains. “If you want to put out something legitimate, something that you can sell and people can buy, it’s hard. I’m an advocate of people doing it on their own, doing it independently and getting it out, because that’s the most important thing – getting it out there. It’s such a shame that it’s like that,” he pauses. “There’s no way to make an album like the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique for instance. That album, financially, could never be made. You couldn’t sample The Beatles – and they did – but people weren’t aware of it then. Now there’s sample clearance house business set up and you have to go that route.”

“Most of the stuff I’ve done until about now has been under the radar,” and this includes Uneasy Listening Vol 1, an amazing mix of 80s rock and electro. “People come to my shows, they tape it and put it on the internet, because people want it. That’s the funny thing, there’s such a demand for it that industry people should be more willing to allow things to be cleared. There’s money to be made if they want to make money from it.” The resistance comes from the record companies and their profiteering. In an article on DownhillBattle.org Sciacca states, “The industry is so old school in thinking, most can’t wrap their head around the concept of a work A and a work B coming together to form work C.” “I think artists are slowly getting into it,” he tells me. “At first they were a bit reluctant, but it’s starting to rise to the surface, become such a mainstream thing, that people are going to want to do that kind of thing. I did get to meet Barry de Vorzon, the guy who did the Warriors theme song,” which is on Uneasy Listening. “I met up with him, played it to him and he really dug it. At some point I would like to sit down and maybe collaborate with him.”

Sciacca has also collaborated with Del Tha Funky Homosapien in the past, and is collaborating with Lyrics Born on his debut album, due out next year. “Going through the route of trying to clear everything just takes forever, and I ran into a lot of stop signs from people who just didn’t get it, didn’t want me to use their stuff, so I had to a different route, and that was to produce an album rather than make one using other people’s music,” Sciacca says of the work he’s doing. “I don’t want to give too much up because I’m saving that for a surprise, but there’s some people I had to really search out to find, and some that were good friends. It’s a good thing though, it was a good process and I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out.”

But Sciacca is first and foremost a DJ. “I’m a DJ and playing to a crowd is my biggest pay off and also my biggest thrill. It’s what I enjoy the most and how I built my career and reputation,” he says proudly. “I don’t really worry too much about record sales or things of that nature yet, I guess I will when I put the record out, but my biggest concern is that more people come to the shows, and maybe buy a T-shirt or something, because that’s money I will see directly, versus going through the channels of me putting something out and the money gets spread out to all the people I’ve sampled, and then the record label, and at the end of the day I might get one or two cents”.

Sciacca will be hitting Australia for the first time next week, and thanks to Traffic we will get to see him perform in Adelaide alongside the Life Savas. Having downloaded a few of his DJ sets from djztrip.com, expect the unexpected from his performance. “It’s very dance floor based, I’ll be trying to rock the party. I like to be different from any other DJ you’ve heard, I pride myself on that. 98% of what I do is on vinyl, I do a few things off CD, but most of the blends and mashups I do are on vinyl,” he states, and having heard those blend I simply cannot wait to see him do it live.

Not only does he allow his sets to be downloaded for free, Sciacca is an active member of his forums, answering questions and giving his opinion on mixes and music in general. “The website isn’t really a big deal in so much as putting photos and such up”, he explains. “My main concern was to have a community where people could ask me stuff and I could interact with them. Sometimes it’s hard to speak to a fan or to someone who’s at a show when you’re packing up or just about ready to go on, so if I can answer things at my leisure, you know at 4 o’clock in the morning in my underwear, you know?” he laughs.

Steinski

Winning the Tommy Boy remix competition with their “Payoff Mix” of G.L.O.B.E & Whizkid’s Play That Beat Mr DJ in 1983, little did Steven Stein and Doug DiFranco realise they would become two of the most important names in hiphop, whose production techniques would span all genres of popular music. “I was fairly old… early 30s I guess maybe,” Stein begins. “We didn’t know if everybody made mixes like that, and we didn’t know if it was anything special. We just did it in a weekend, we liked it and said ‘OK, lets send it in’. It was a contest, and we hoped we would win, obviously,” he says humbly, “but we didn’t know. As it turns out they knew heard once they heard it!” In fact, the organisers left it for the judges to hear last, and they broke out in spontaneous applause once it was played. Steinski and Double Dee became an instant hit on urban radio.

The Payoff Mix was a mind numbing mix of hiphop, pop culture samples and sound effects, and soon became known as Lesson One. Lesson Two: The James Brown Mix featured the now infamous sample “Lesson Two” ripped from a dance instruction record was released in 1984. Lesson Three: The History of Hiphop features a whole heap of breaks that were common to hiphop, and strongly featured Herman Kelly & Life’s Dance to the Drummers Beat arrived shortly after, although none were released at the time due to copyright laws.

“Boy, are you asking the right person!” Stein laughs when I bring up the subject of copyright laws “I feel somewhat constrained by them,” he chortles. “But at the same time there are two sides to it. On the one hand, the idea that musicians should make money from their records is something that is close to my heart these days. What I don’t agree with is the sweeping nature of the laws and the enforcement as it is happening now. I feel constrained by copyright laws because I would not make something that was obviously illegal with intent to sell it… I wouldn’t not make it, I just wouldn’t sell it”, he smirks. “It’s kind of stupid; the whole attitude is so corporate. They don’t see it as art. It’s frustrating in that respect, but I can make a legal album,” he concedes. “The album I’m working on currently is all legal, and I feel much more confident about that than I did in the 80s.

In 1985, the pair split amicably. Stein went out on his own, and produced the chilling, evocative And the Motorcade Sped On. “Douglas and I had decided that we weren’t going to make records together for a while,” Stein begins, “and here I had this challenge – I wanted to make another record, because I liked making records it turns out, and I wanted to do something that had a very emotional impact. I took my own money, and it took me a while because I was working with a guy that was good, but who I had never worked with before, and it wasn’t a partnership, it was really just me steering the fire engine. At the time, 20 years ago, the Kennedy assassination really had a lot of impact; there were a lot of people around even younger than me that remembered it. In the same kind of way that September 11 was a shock, that had a big impact in the United States, and hearing those sounds gave people an electrical stimulus.”

“I did a 9/11 piece,” he begins when I ask if there’s any subjects or samples he wouldn’t use. “I used audio from one of the plane to ground communications that was released after the investigation, and it’s really intense. I wouldn’t be playing this out at a party for a variety of reasons – first of all there’s no beat in it, it’s a ballad essentially, and the other it’s REALLY depressing and slow moving, it’s not really something for a party. But there are lots of samples and issues I wouldn’t touch. If it turns my stomach or if it violates someone’s privacy, I wouldn’t touch it.”

Steinski is touring Australia in December with the Nextmen and DJ Signify, and promises to offer something new to all those who go to see him. “I’m learning a new software package for when I perform in Australia. I’m not going to be DJing records. I am a really lousy live DJ and this is going to turn me into a good one!” he chuckles. “I’ll have a lot of digital material that I can play and mix live, pre-recorded material, whole records of tracks, plus I’m going to be performing with DJ Signify on the turntables, and we’re going to be doing his material also. So it should be a gas. Right now it’s theoretically a wonderful idea,” he chuckles, “and we hope to see soon if it’s a good practical idea.”

I let him know that he’s playing at a rave, and he is stoked! “Really?! Oh no kidding!” he cracks up laughing, “What’s the date like man, that’s something I haven’t experienced!” I explain to him how Enchanted Forrest usually works, and he becomes as enthused as I am. “Oh boy, are they going to be surprised at my stuff! I’m kinda of new to playing out, this is all news to me. I’m really interested to see this!” He’s a little concerned that people may find him a little slow. “My stuff is very hiphopish, so if you’re listening to stuff which is hard house, or drum and bass which is 140 to 150 or more BPM, my stuff is going to sound like doped out reggae compared to that… That sounds interesting,” he muses, “that will be fun! Really? A rave an hour and a half outside Adelaide… Cool!” If Steinski’s set is as fun as this interview was, then it’s going to be a corker!

Ugly Duckling

Ugly Duckling are one of those bands where you hear their music and are instantly happy because of it. They have a funky, fresh vibe that’s infectious and fun. Their first album contained such tunes as Pick-Up Lines and A Little Samba. The former lambastes the stereotypical wannabe ladies’ men, whilst the latter an amusing send-ups of hiphop braggadocio. The second album was Taste the Secret, which celebrated “Meat Shake”, a restaurant where the gimmick is everything has meat in it. Throughout the album the trio explain their woes at working, the fight between “Meat Shake” and “Veggie Hut”, and a whole host of other funny and clever songs, such as ‘Mr Tough Guy’ that pays out the idiot who acts tough at hiphop events, and Potty Mouth, a song with the wonderful line “All you really wanna do is make a fast buck / That’s why rap sucks, it’s too limited / Potty mouths wanna keep hip-hop primitive”.

To my surprise, and perhaps even horror, I discovered that Meat Shake is actually real, and that the boys did work there. Although not a massive corporation as portrayed on the album, Meat Shake is a very small, family-owned establishment Andy Cooper, aka Andy Cat, one of the MCs of the group, explains. “So this has been fun for all of us. I’ve heard that (the Meat Shake) business has picked up considerably in the past year, and they loved the song and the album”. Given the topic of the last album, I had to ask if anyone in the band was a vegetarian. “I’m not even sure if anyone in the group has been a vegetarian for a day!” replies Cooper. “That’s not a judgment against veggie-people, and the point of our album was not to pick sides as much as contrast two different points of view. Actually, the ‘meat shake’ thing was more a metaphor than anything else. We were really talking about western culture and more specifically music culture, and, more importantly, we were trying to be funny.”

And funny it is. Some might say fucking hilarious, but not UD, who try not to swear on their albums. “All of our music is ‘kid tested and mother approved!’” Cooper laughs. “It’s something that is important to us – there are plenty of groups that talk dirty so we liked the idea of being different. Plus, we wanted to be able to play our music for our families and not feel uncomfortable about it. I have to say that this is not revolutionary,” he adds, “in fact, most of us love early De La Soul, Rakim, Biz Markie, Jungle Brothers, Run DMC, and those bands were, for the most part, squeaky clean.”

Not only do they like those bands, but also there are very similar elements to them in their music. Although they had the questionable fortune of forming in late 1993 in Long Beach, home of gangster rap, they took a decidedly different path down the road of hiphop. The origin of Cooper’s stage name is rooted in the gangster mentality, being that everyone, including Andy’s gym teacher, referred to themselves as “dog”, so he chose Andy Cat in order to be different. “We never entertained the idea of going gangster,” Cooper says. “We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with that because I don’t think anyone would believe that we were thugs. Being different has worked, for the most part, to our advantage so we can’t complain too much. One thing about us that is often overlooked is the fact that we grew up around gangs, violence, drugs and all of that stuff.” Dizzy, the other MC in the group, was even thanked on the first Compton’s Most Wanted album, Straight Checkin’ Em’ record. “Ironically, we are much closer to that culture then a lot of the people who make fun of us for being so un-street,” Cooper says.

Their sound is often called retro, or old school, but that tag is unfair as it’s almost as if people are saying they don’t like to look forward or progress. “Certain people love to label bands and the “old school” label has stuck with us because we have a traditional sound. That perception is out there and it has been harmful to us. For example, we didn’t make a single reference to old school on our latest album and, in my mind, we put together one of the most creative records in years, yet often, Taste the Secret was categorized as a throw-back thing.” Maybe it was the fact that it was a theme album, or maybe that the tunes were simple yet deep, but either way the album certainly sounds different to the new school rap that poisons our airwaves. “But we’re not ashamed of our roots,” he continues. “On the contrary, we’re extremely proud of hip-hop heritage and we will continue to draw from that well, but we, more than most groups, combine new ideas with traditional rap values, and if that’s a terrible thing then I’d rather be terrible.”

Following a theme album is often a hard thing to do, with the expectation to follow it with something equally quirky. Ugly Duckling has given us Taste the Secret, a mini album that “closes the book on meat shake, although we may make mention of it on future albums,” Cooper explains. “But, honestly, making a concept record was extremely difficult and I for one am looking forward to making a normal album next time. It’s hard enough for us to get anything done as it is!” he laughs.

UD’s hiphop heritage shines through from the album to the live shows. “Our show is all turntables,” Cooper begins. “It costs more money to put of our stuff on wax but we feel that it is well worth the trouble. Turntables are to hiphop what drums, bass and guitar are to rock. Hiphop began with the DJ and we would feel funny doing anything else. In fact, we just got an offer to do a live, radio set in Australia but we were told that we couldn’t use our DJ and would have to rap over a CD… we politely declined,” he says with a wry smile. I ask about the possibility of CDDJs… “It’s very convenient isn’t it? Kind of reminds me of the guitar-style keyboards smooth-jazz guys play with a strap over their shoulders. It just isn’t right. The possibility of the needle skipping is part of the thrill!”

Another thrill is seeing these guys live. They give it their all, and they have a similar presence to the Beastie Boys. Last time they hit Adelaide they played a rather short show, and left us wanting more. But it was on a Tuesday night… “We’ve really tried to step it up for this tour!” Cooper exclaims. “The show is much more theme-oriented and crowd participatory as well so, hopefully, people will be pleased. We will do everything we can to entertain you good people… we’ll come to your houses and force meatshakes down your throat if we have to!” he laughs

Qbert

Throughout history, certain individuals have found callings, and through that calling have redefined the world we live in. Edison, Mozart, Einstein, Da Vinci, Picasso, Warhol; genius that took what we knew and changed it, made it new and also made it acceptable, usable, common. Richard Quitevis is one of those people. Quitevis weapon of choice is the turntables. Under the moniker Qbert, Quitevis has won more awards and is held in higher esteem than any other DJ. For him, turntablism is an obsession, but it’s an obsession that he wants to share with the world.

“It was just the weirdest sound”, Quitevis says of how he got into DJing, “and growing up in San Francisco there was a lot of hiphop and breakers around. And scratching is like the weirdest sound, I really fell in love with it, and now it’s my musical choice.” Some would even call it an obsession. In his old studio named ‘the Octagon’ in San Francisco, DJ magazine reported there were 16 Vestax units as the focus of the room, and that ‘every moment, unguarded or otherwise, finds QBert squeezing, fondling, stroking or otherwise manipulating a slab of vinyl’. “It’s a lifelong commitment,” Quitevis says. “Like a kung fu artist perfecting his skills, or a Jazz musician honing his skills,” and whilst I can’t see him, I can imagine him fondling a turntable as he speaks from his new set up, the ‘Temple Warplex’ in Hawaii.

However, turntablism for Quitevis is not like some guarded secret that only a few can know and learn. Quite the opposite in fact, as through his company Thud Rumble, he is bringing ‘the scratch’ to the world. Ranked in the top 50 most influential media companies of the decade by A Magazine, and one of the top 25 Most Creative Companies in the Bay Area by San Francisco Magazine, Quitevis and partner Ritche “Yogafrog” Desuasido are making a name for themselves outside of DJing, whilst keeping Djing the major focus. “Thud Rumble is a company that caters to the scratch DJ niche market,” Quitevis explains. “We make sound effect records, slip mats, instructional DIY videos, we design mixers.”

“I’m very into minimalising everything. We’ve invented the scratch records with all the best breaks and sounds, so a few records with these sounds is all we really need these days,” he say. “I also have a new turntable coming out in July, the QFO. Basically it’s made for portability.” The design is a high-torque circular turntable with an integrated 2-channel mixer, featuring an ASTS (Anti-Skipping Tonearm System) tone arm and pitch control. This was the next evolution in portability from the infamous ‘Kut Mobile’. “The Kut Mobile is a big turntable set up I plug into my car, but I’m still stuck in the car, and it was a question of how can I now take this out of the car,” he laughs. “I live in Hawaii and I like to go to the beach a lot,” Quitevis says of the idea behind the design. “I was like ‘how can I be like the guitarist who plays at the beach all the time, or the bongo player. A violinist can go to the mountains to play. Why do us DJs have to be stuck in a house, scratching while staring at a wall?’ The idea was why don’t we attach a fader to the turntable and make it portable.”

Quitevis also has had a hand in developing a scratch notation device, allowing scratches to be recorded on paper much like musical notes can be. “A-Track (Audio Research + the Allies) and John Carluccio (director of ‘Battle Sounds’) perfected the system. I wanted to do the musical notation as it’s kinda like what we all see. It’s like a universal scratch pattern. When you move the record forward, the on the page line goes up, when you move the record down the line goes down… I dunno if that makes any sense right now”, he laughs, “but if I want to see what a specific scratch looks like, I will definitely write it out. But most of the stuff is in my head.”

With advances in technology like the Pioneer CDDJs and Final Scratch making inroads on the DJ scene, with Allies’ member DJ Craze using Final Scratch in his performances, and Quitevis wanting to make things more portable, I had to know if he’s ever used these new tools. “I’ve messed around with them, yeah,” he muses, “but I’m definitely an analogue type of guy. I like the rawness, the feel and ‘real time’ of vinyl. A good comparison would be between someone playing a piano as apposed to someone playing an electronic keyboard.”

Quitevis rarely tours, but is making his way down to Australia at the end of June. “It’s very important to live your life, period,” he says of not touring as much as other DJs. “There’s got to be a balance. It’s kind of obvious. I know guys who tour their whole life and it’s like ‘what the hell are they doing, you’re going to kill yourself out there!” It’s like a prison to be touring your whole life.” Adelaide is a scheduled stop on this tour, and we are very lucky to have this great talent, no genius, finally hit our shores. “Whilst you’re waiting, check out www.djqbert.com and www.turntabletv.com,” Quitevis mentions cheekily.