Exclusive Interview: RJD2’s ‘Dame Fortune’

Interview with RJD2, pondering the samples of the artist’s classic 2002 “Smoke and Mirrors,” DIY back when Xerox printing at the library ruled, Philadelphia roots, MPC-2000, ARP2600s: “forged in steel — solid, fortified.” Read the full interview.

Your best shot at making a career is to be good at what you do. Most often, that happens by doing what you love. You’ve gotta love what you do, and then it’s not work.

RJD2

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The Peanut Butter Wolf Jukebox Feature for URB

peanut-butter-wolf-urb-featureI recently interviewed Chris Manak (Peanut Butter Wolf) of Stones Throw Records for URB Magazine. Here’s an excerpt. Please click through the links to read the entire article.

I first saw Stones Throw Records owner Chris Manak DJing 45 records as Peanut Butter Wolf more than a decade ago in a dank Seattle club. While he rarely made eye contact with the audience during his performance, he dug through his record cases with unconcealed glee. He was a shy type whose subdued and yet surly attitude was somewhat compelling. He didn’t seem to be an introvert, or an extrovert either, really. He wasn’t punk or shy for the usual rebellious sake of alienating people. There was a struggle taking place, a struggle that wasn’t appreciable by those who weren’t inquisitive. There was a reason he sought out the far reaches of popular culture. He collected and played obscure 45 records plundered from global flea markets. He donned strange haberdashery that had nothing to do with trendy headwear. He spent thousands pressing vinyl that had no apparent revenue potential.

If you were paying close enough attention, the subtext seemed to read: the hype isn’t what makes the music. The money, the scene, and the popularity aren’t what make movements. What compels and inspires is usually at odds with mass culture. It’s adjacent. It’s perpendicular. It’s genuine and difficult. And it might not make you rich.

Read the full article on URB.

My DJ Colette Mixtape

Image courtesy Colette Marino
Image courtesy Colette Marino

It’s 1996 and I’m traversing Interstate 80 somewhere in Illinois on the way to a rave in Chicago with my new friend Jonathan. We’re listening to my prized and well-worn DJ Colette mixtape. She sings “Rise up, riiiise…” over an expertly layered track when the tape seizes up in the deck of my Mitsubishi. I press pause, then eject, hoping to rescue the thing. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Jonathan grabs it, unspooling the magnetic tape, and hastily throws it out the passenger window. I watch in the rearview mirror as the spool unwinds behind us into the dividing line of highway and into the darkness punctuated by headlights. I mourn the loss of my prized analog artifact, and also silently curse my poor choice in litterbug passengers.

Fast forward.

2000, Seattle, Washington: As a contributing writer for San Francisco’s XLR8R Magazine, I interview the SuperJane collective (DJs Colette Marino, Heather Robinson, Shannon Ialongo or Dayhota and Darlene Jackson, a.k.a. Lady D) for a cover story touting the ladies as house music underground’s most promising new DJs and producers. This is the first cover story for the SuperJane ladies (it is also my first), and cements their celebrity status in the world of electronic music.

Fast forward.

2005, Miami, Florida’s Winter Music Conference. As WMC memories tend to blur together into an amalgamation of DJs, glinting disco balls, business cards, clubs, pool parties and over-exuberance, I can’t remember whether I saw Colette at a Red Bull mansion afterhours event or at some club. But I do remember the specific interplay of light chiseling her high cheekbones as she sang, lyrically lilting in alto, completely in the moment.

Pause.

In 2000, when the SuperJane article first appeared on the cover of XLR8R, the landscape of house music releases was relatively barren, as compared to today’s proliferation of labels, producers and releases. Production was expensive, access to affordable software was difficult, manufacturing and distribution were major roadblocks, and the space-time continuum still separated artist and label from fan discovery. Today, new house tracks are a MixCloud, SoundCloud, Beatport, Twitter or Facebook click away. Yet today, as always, the percentage of quality releases is far outnumbered by watered-down dreck. It’s rare to seize upon a house album that’s consistent, smartly produced and timeless.

Fast forward.

Last week, I met Colette at Aroma Café in Studio City, California. The house music maven has launched her Candy Talk label, and released a superlative album, When The Music’s Loud, spanning genres from acid house to classic Chicago house and Italo-disco. I love Colette’s new album even more than I adored that ill-fated ‘90s mixtape. She’s won various awards, including Best Song Used in a Commercial via DanceStar for her Motorola licensing deal, and her music has appeared in movies like The Devil Wears Prada. She’s married actor and rock music star Thomas Ian Nicholas, she tours on a weekly basis, and she has a son, Nolan. She’s preparing for the reunion of the SuperJane collective at Hollywood’s King King later that week, and also for the premiere of the Girl documentary, directed by Kandeyce Jorden and featuring DJs Sandra Collins, DJ Rap, DJ Irene, Lady D and Colette, among others. Our conversation spans topics from her production partners to DJing while pregnant.

Colette_WhenTheMusicsLoud_Final_600t

SC: How did your new album, When The Music’s Loud, come together?

CM: This record took about three years. I’m more of a singer-songwriter, so I collaborated with many different producers on the album: Tim K, Santiago & Bushido, Teenwolf and Nick Chacona. I’d either work with them in the studio, or swap tracks digitally back and forth. Tim K and I wrote all of the songs together, which was a first for me. Usually I write with many different people, but I feel like writing with one person made a stronger record. Even though the album is very diverse and musically travels a lot, having the same songwriting partner…

SC: Made the album more cohesive?

CM: Yes. Since Tim K and I wrote all of the songs together, I feel like they relate to one another even when musically they might be very different. The other great thing about working with Tim is that he introduced me to Teenwolf, who produced Ninjasonik’s “Somebody Gonna Get Pregnant.” I was actually pregnant during this time so the video was extra fun and funny to me. It was a very unique experience for me, too, being pregnant while writing…

SC: You have life growing inside you as you’re creating music! It must have influenced the creative process. Budding, growth…

CM: It was amazing! It was a very special and happy time for me. Even though the songs on the record are not specifically about my son, I will forever listen to this record and think about my first moments of becoming a mama.

SC: I wanted to ask you about DJing while pregnant. I have a DJ friend, DJ Sparatik, who’s 5 months pregnant right now and trying to organize a warehouse party event where she’ll be performing. She was discussing the party with one of her friends, and when she mentioned that she’d be DJing the party, he responded with, “Oh, I don’t want to see that,” meaning he didn’t want to see a pregnant woman DJ.

CM: I’ve had friends DJ up until their last trimester. I think the issue was more with your friend’s pal, and that’s unfortunate for him, because pregnancy is a celebration. Why wouldn’t you play music? I, and [the other SuperJane women] Darlene [DJ Lady D] and Heather all played during our pregnancies and got really positive feedback. I played a show in Mexico City where everyone wanted to take a picture rubbing my belly. It was very cute.

SC: That’s so sweet! How have you been able to balance everything? You tour often, you have a family, you produce music and have a record label…

CM: It’s challenging. Luckily, my husband is an amazing dad, and we also get a lot of help from his mom. Since we both have careers, we try to balance our family and work life as much as possible. We have a two-year-old named Nolan who has added the most amazing dynamic to our family. It’s incredibly fun and incredibly hard. There isn’t really a free moment, but that’s okay. It’s all worth it.

SC: Tell me about your label, Candy Talk.

I launched Candy Talk very quietly two years ago. When The Music’s Loud is the first album I’ve released on my own. It’s been six years since my last album, Push. I wanted to start a label so I could have complete creative freedom. I’m really happy to be releasing my own music, and not worrying about making a label happy. I compare it to the first time you drive a car by yourself just after getting your license. There’s this freedom that’s indescribable. That’s what this label feels like. It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, I’m really happy to work with people I respect and adore musically.

SC: Are you releasing When The Music’s Loud in different formats as well as digitally?

CM: Right now it’s available digitally on iTunes, Beatport and Traxsource. We’re releasing the physical CD in two weeks, and then the first single, “Hotwire,” will be released on vinyl. It’s my first vinyl release in eight years, which is very exciting.

SC: Right, you had several stellar vinyl releases. Weren’t you on the legendary Afterhours label created by Mazi, Johnny Fiasco, DJ Lego and Spero?

CM: Yes, I was on Afterhours. And, guess what?

SC: What?

CM: Moody’s coming back!

SC: YAY! Moody, DJ Bad Boy Bill’s classic Chicago house music label, released tracks from 1996 and then closed its doors in 2005, right? They’re back!?

CM: Yes. Moody re-released everything a couple weeks ago on Beatport, and now they’re gearing up to release new material.

SC: Good. The Moody house music mainstay is back at ‘em. I meant to ask you before we wrap this up: what are your top venues to play? I know that’s a difficult question…

CM: It’s a very difficult question! King King in Los Angeles has become my favorite spot hands down. In San Francisco, I really love Mighty. Lanai in Austin has a great outdoor space that I love playing at. I’m also a huge fan of Reflections in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. My favorite club to play in my hometown Chicago is Smart Bar. I had my first residency there in 1998 and it was the first club where I really learned how to DJ.

So what are you looking forward to in the coming weeks?

CM: I’m playing with SuperJane at King King in LA for our 16-year reunion. So much has changed and also stayed the same since we started Superjane in ’97. Some of us have moved out of Chicago and some of us have kids now, but our friendship and love for music has continued to be very strong.

We played a few shows together over the summer in Chicago and I was able to capture the footage for my new video, “Best Of Days.” It’s a special video for me as it highlights everything I love about Chicago and this group of amazingly talented women. The whole point of SuperJane was to have women playing music together and not make a big deal about it as music is not gender specific. People were always surprised to see a woman playing records, so we wanted to have a night where you saw FOUR women playing. That was always the goal. So it’s nice that, so many years later, even though we’ve all gone on different paths, that we can still come together. It’s been a long road, but we’re having a blast, and we’re gonna keep playing our music.

What I find today, as I did sixteen years ago at that rave in Illinois, is that Colette’s music is timeless. Had that mixtape survived, I’d still be blasting it on a boom box. Hers is a talent that’s survived evolving formats: mixtapes, to vinyl, to CDs, to MP3s; now vinyl again. Colette’s talent has not only survived changing formats, but also riveted generations of music lovers. And it will play on.

Stop. Eject.

Visit the Girl website for upcoming screening and show information. Visit Colette’s site or download her new album via iTunes. Also, you can download a few free singles from the album on SoundCloud.

Read the 2000 XLR8R SuperJane article.

Image courtesy Greg Cayea
Image courtesy Greg Cayea
This post originally published on Collective310.

Cyber PR: 51 Female Music Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice (Part 1)

Image

Ariel Hyatt is an inspiration. A digital pioneer and music industry maven, Hyatt launched her firm, Cyber PR, after working at WNEW FM, the KSA agency and W.A.R (What are Records) in New York. As “a thought leader in the digital PR world: the founder of a successful PR firm; international speaker and educator and the author of two books on social media and marketing for artists…  Ariel’s Cyber PR process marks the intersection of social media with engaged behavior, PR, and online marketing.”

I was pleased to contribute to Ariel’s collaborative article, “51 Female Music Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice.” My advice: “Think before speaking, and speak with conviction.” It seems a bit straightforward and obvious, but I’m constantly amazed at business meetings, seminars and presentations where folks forget to contribute thoughtfully.

Check out more advice from other female entrepreneurs in the music industry here.

Seattle’s Rich History of Rhythm

Seattle, while not as large as the American metropolises of New York or Los Angeles, is host to a bustling, shucking and jiving culture. With a half million residents in the metropolitan area and another 3 million in the surrounding Puget Sound, Seattle has long had a vibrant Asian and Asian-American population, and well-established communities of Scandinavians, African-Americans, Jews, Latinos and thoroughly Native Americans. The city represents the “melting-pot” that logically (and thankfully) fosters around the coastal areas of the United States.

The term “thoroughly” Native American speaks of the original settlers of Seattle, a city named for Duwamish tribe Chief Sealth. The Duwamish, part of the Salish tribe, originally settled the area and prospered from the land’s rich soil and vegetation and the plentiful fishing the surrounding waters provided. The inevitable exploration by settlers looking to establish a seaport on the Sound first took place via two battling fellows, David Denny and Doc Maynard, in 1851. Denny, a well-educated if money-seeking sort, originally staked Alki Point (now the beachy area of West Seattle) for his “territory,” but was soon overwhelmed with the muddy ooze and floods of the Sound and resettled in the area that is now Pioneer Square. Doc Maynard, a humanitarian doctor from Ohio, purchased much of the land around the Sound at the same time. He gave away legions of acres willing businessmen ready to settle the area and open shop, and in turn financed a large part of the city’s boom. Strangely, Denny is credited as the founding father of the city, through misinformed history. Much of history, the adage claims, is written by the winners (whether economic or militaristic), and settlers—Native American tribes and humanitarian sorts such as Maynard are often ignored in American history.

The economy of Seattle has had several fluctuations, but was greatly augmented by the arrival of the railroad 1893. The population of the city in 1880 had been 3533, and grew to about ten times that amount during the following Yukon gold rush. As the largest city in the Northwest, Seattle’s banking and financing industry was aptly positioned for the fortunes made there. Later lumber plundering ensured a continued economic health, along with the shipbuilding industry and the establishment of Boeing’s factory in 1916. Although the company now has regular trade disputes and the rare maligned mechanics, it was a mainstay in the Northwest economy throughout most of the remaining 1900s. Seattle’s part as an aviation metropolis helped garner it the location title for the World’s Fair of 1962, for which the Space Needle was constructed. At that time, the city hoped to foster a forward-looking modernity represented in the UFO, Jetsons-like shape of the Needle. The monument remains, now a somewhat dated-looking symbol of a timeless ideal.

In the 1980s, Microsoft arrived in the area, and developed as the world’s leader in software, albeit monopolistically. The grunge proliferation and later Internet boom created a dreamlike atmosphere in the city. RealNetworks, Amazon, and Adobe populated the Employment Opportunities sections of newspapers with wanted ads. Seattle-based Starbucks replicated itself exponentially on a tidal wave of too-sweet “corporate” coffee to jolt the technologically inclined into their 12-hour workdays. Cranes towered above downtown areas at all times, constructing a seemingly endless set of skyline-fracturing high rises. Charming brick artist lofts that rented for $200 per month were reduced to rubble to make way for condominium complexes selling for $400,000 per unit. Code-writing teenage geeks founded companies that went public on the New York Stock Exchange at $2 per share and skyrocketed to $60 apiece in one month. Information technologists were made millionaires in months from stock options. Some retired at thirty; other aggressively invested folk saw their wealth decimated in the same ratio it grew, were laid off, and remained on Unemployment for years.

While the Internet boom and bust were a manic time of too much wealth and then too much poverty, they did help revolutionize the culture of Seattle. The limitations of the finite world were kept at bay, if only briefly, and allowed dreamers to indulge. The staid American work tradition of “business” attire was cast aside, and three-piece suits were retired in favor of ratty T-shirts and Levis. Tradition was scorned for new invention. It is perhaps for this reason that Seattleites insist on pridefully wearing jeans and Teva sandals with white tube socks to restaurants with $200 prix fixe menus.

Seattle is revolutionary in more ways than simple tradition spurning, if ratty, attire. The city boasts the largest population of educated folk of any American city, and international companies seeded in the fertile brain-soil of the populace have prospered. When viewed in light of other American cities, Seattle’s politics are also revolutionary, as residents are devoted liberals. The democratic vote in King County neared twice the republican vote for the 2004 election. The WTO riots in 2000 garnered press coverage internationally. Finally, Americans opposed to unchecked power were given media coverage, although much of that coverage showed police in riot gear, tear gas, and running protesters. Punk group Anti-Flag wrote in the song “Seattle Was a Riot,” “They tried to pin it on us / But we didn’t show up, with gas and billy clubs / An unarmed mass of thousands, just trying to be heard / But there are no world leaders, that want to hear our words.”

Movements abound in Seattle, it seems. The American music industry was revolutionized by the whole grunge thing as Big Money corporations pushing bloodless rock suddenly had hot garage-bred labels as competition on billboard charts. This is apropos, as grunge was a movement couched in the unorthodox. Labels grew quickly, and satellite industries like music production and CD duplication supported the clamor.

Seattle’s Rich History of Rhythm

Jazz
Seattle’s storied jazz scene began in 1916, and was fostered through the alcohol Prohibition era of the 1920s. The Central District area of the city around Jackson Street proliferated with speakeasies, bootleg liquor, and jazz performers. Musicians Buddy Catlett, Patti Bown, Wyatt Ruther and Jimmy Rowles all got their start in the hotbed of 1940s Seattle. Ray Charles arrived in the mid ‘40s and, at age 16, began working with Quincy Jones, then 14. While the city’s jazz was often surpassed by that of New York’s in the national media, and misrepresented wholly in most of the local media due to prejudice, it remained a sweltering scene for many years.

This is especially remarkable when viewed in light of the political environment at the time, as lawmakers sought to force jazz clubs underground by strict governance. Paul de Barros speaks of this era in Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle: “As if national Prohibition itself were not enough, the city passed additional ordinances against dancing, imposed taxes on cabarets, and tried to enforce irrational regulation of entertainment of all kinds. Confusing prudence with intolerance, vice with artistic expression, these measures slowed the cultural progress of the region. A residue of that intolerance still exists, in the control exercised by the State Liquor Board over nightclubs.” This intolerance is also strangely replicated in Seattle’s electronic music arena today, as lawmakers have made it difficult for the musically inclined to gather peacefully, lawfully and with required permits.

In any case, jazz remained somewhat unhindered by the lawmakers’ lack of liberty, due to dirty policemen accepting quiet cash “contributions” from club owners. In 1969, when all that came to an end, Seattle grew much quieter. The quiet period was short-lived, however, as rock soon arrived.

Rock
Like jazz, when rock was introduced to Seattle, the conservatives arched their eyebrows. The discerning 1960s parent feared that the chaotic basslines of rock could lead to sex, drugs, and even more rock ‘n’ roll tendencies in their children. Were they right? Perhaps. The particular brand of Seattle garage rock was raw and untempered, with tonal inconsistencies, wild riffs, and staggered drum beats. The Wailers and the controversial “Louie, Louie” saga launched the city’s rock status into the national psyche, and the song plagued fraternity parties in the following decades. Seattle’s The Ventures produced an international hit here, and several local underground artists enjoyed cult status, but remained underground. Jimi Hendrix was one artist who will never remain underground, however, and there’s not much to say about his Seattle-bred rock psychedelia of the 1960s that hasn’t been said.

The underground paradigm of Seattle rock continued on through the post-garage and grunge scenes. Grunge music, as it is known today, got its start in the late ‘80s and continued through the ‘90s, and many Seattle groups became internationally known through a brief but massive worldwide fascination with the dirty rock that shared the same tendency to thick riffs and signature drums with garage rock. Sub Pop, who signed Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, and L7, was known for its gourmet curation. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains all hailed from the Jet City (so titled due to Boeing). Jello Biafra, the legendary singer of Dead Kennedys, gave Seattle cred when he organized No WTO Combo’s Live from the Battle in Seattle, giving voice to the aforementioned WTO riot fiasco. Grunge’s message of rebellion against mainstream and corporate culture resounded across a wide audience, though the scene was exhausted quickly. Perhaps it had always been something of an anti-scene, anyway. Some define the end of the era as the death of Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994, while others claim it ended with the breakup of Soundgarden in 1997.

Other Stuff

Other genres like hip-hop and electronic music have recently enjoyed a burgeoning, if relatively underground, following. Hip-hop artist Sir Mix-Alot hailed from the city, after all. “My Posse’s on Broadway” refers to Broadway Avenue, a main haul in the Capitol Hill former grunge area. The Stuck / Under the Needle record labels have fared well, representing artists like Boom Bap Project produced by Vitamin D, who also worked with Gift of Gab of Blackalicious. Several well-known electronic music producers and bands live here, such as Imputor? king Plastiq Phantom (Darrin Wiener), United States of Electronica, L’Usine, Matt Corwine, (Viva Recordings label owner) Jon Lemmon, Donald Glaude, DJ Dan, Jacob London and Lawnchair Generals. The success of the Decibel Festival, Seattle’s first Northwest electronic music fest, has also catapulted the city into national (if not international) recognition among the laptop-loving set.

This article was written for attendees of the Seattle Red Bull Music Academy in 2005.