- Fri, 2009-09-11 12:39
Having been tipped by Q Magazine as one of ‘The 10 DJs you must see before you die', voted alongside DJ Premier as ‘One of the Top Three DJs in the World’ in Hip-Hop Connection magazine and having judged the world DMC DJ Finals three times, DJ Yoda has remained at the top of his game as the ultimate party DJ, audio-visual boundary pusher and turntable extraordinare for a well deserved amount of time.
With the fifth mix in his cut and paste series just released, DJ Yoda's How To Cut And Paste: The Thirties Edition, as well as DJ Yoda's National Video Vacation Tour about to unleash it's fury up and down the UK, I Like Music met up with DJ Yoda for a cup of tea and a chat. We find out why he thinks the DMC's have changed, how he makes his mixes, what his favourite album of all time is, and a lot more...
"I Like Music because… it’s better than work.” DJ Yoda
ILM: You've just released DJ Yoda's How To Cut And Paste: The Thities Edition, the fifth installment in your cut and paste series. In terms of those mixes, where do you start? Do you always approach them in the same way?
DJ Yoda: This is the most different approach I've ever taken with a cut and paste mix. The style I DJ in is really schizophrenic, I throw tiny clips of music around, one second of this, two seconds of that, which is cut and pasting. With this mix I'd been listening to a lot of thirties music at home. I tend to go through phases of listening to music. So there might be a year where I really get into reggae and discover that, or a year where I'll really listen to jazz. I'd found all these great thirties songs and I wanted to find a way to make them relevant and bring them up to date.
I started this one with the songs, knowing there were certain ones I wanted to include. I just made a list. Then I started listening to the tempo of them all. For example, one was the same tempo as dubstep so I mixed it into that, one was more of a Baltimore club thing, so I mixed it into that, one was more hiphop, etc etc. So it was to do with the speeds of the tracks. I've never put a mix together like that before, that was the driving force of it this time around.
ILM: Do you actively seek certain types of samples and sounds out to fill in gaps or does it just fall together?
DJ Yoda: Because this had a very strong theme, I went through loads of thirties radio shows, tv programmes and movies and took all these tiny little samples out and put them in a bank of samples to use. I had some that were specific to certain songs and some that were the right length to go in a certain space. Putting a cut and paste mix together just feels like a jigsaw. You have all the elements, you just need to work out how it all fits together.
ILM: How long do they usually take?
DJ Yoda: It's quite labour intensive. I think it was a couple of months. I immerse myself in it. I do things project at a time. At the moment I'm doing an AV set for the DMC World Finals. It's the same thing. I've been watching all the DVDs, getting all the samples that I need. The only way to do it is to throw myself into it.
ILM: What tools do you use?
DJ Yoda: It's quite simple really, especially for the cut and past mixes. It's two turntables, a mixer and a computer. It's just about taking the samples from whatever format I can, so a DVD, the internet, or whatever else, and then putting it all together on a programme with a mix. Pro-Tools is what I use.
ILM: DJ Yoda's National Video Vacation Tour is coming up, what can we expect from that?
DJ Yoda: It's different from the cut and paste stuff. It's video and it's a live show as well, so I put that together with different things. The idea of it came from the fact that I've found a way to use youtube samples now. It had frustrated me a lot, before I could only use DVD's, so I just used films that I knew and liked. Now that I've worked out how to get the youtube stuff onto DVJ's, that's opened up an infinite amount of ideas.
ILM: You can just keyword search in a toolbar...
DJ Yoda: Yeah, you just have to start by thinking 'Hmm. What's cool?' Anything that I watch and I think is cool, I just try and incorporate it somehow. Especially with youtube, everyone gets emails sent to them with youtube links. The difference is, when I get sent them I decide to show them to thousands more people in a different way!
ILM: Will the Video Vacation Tour vary each night?
DJ Yoda: A little bit. It's not like DJing. When I DJ I can take it off into any direction. If I get the feeling the crowd are into drum n bass I can go that way, if they're into dubstep I can go that way. The video show is a bit more rigid, it's more of a show. But, having said that, I still have a little bit of material I can use as and when.
ILM: Out of all the shows you've played, what have been some of the most memorable live momemnts for you?
DJ Yoda: There's been loads. The crazy thing is that every week I'm somewhere different. I love that about my job, I get bored really quickly as you can tell by my music. One week I'll be somewhere really glamorous, one week I'll be somewhere really un-glamorous. I like that too, it balances things out. The really crazy things that I've done have been things like The Lake Of Stars Festival in Malawi, getting to play in Africa is pretty special. DJing at the premier of the last Star Wars movie, that was a big one, the cast of the movie were there and George Lucas was there. Being a huge Star Wars fan, that was pretty special. Also some of the places I've been, DJing across China, DJing in Brazil, Australia. The fact that I've been to all these places is just incredible.
ILM: Do you notice a big difference in crowd reaction depending where you go?
DJ Yoda: Oh yeah. There's a big difference in crowd reaction just within England, let alone across the world.
ILM: What are some of the differences?
DJ Yoda: The more I DJ across the world, the more I start to learn about each area. Things like the differences between Melbourne and Sydney, the differences between Newcastle and Liverpool. The hardest crowds in the world are London and New York because they've seen it all before and it takes a lot to impress them. People have a harder time letting loose and having fun in those places.
ILM: You're playing a showcase at the DMC World Finals. How long have you been planning that set?
DJ Yoda: I've given myself about three weeks, that's for a 15 minute set. It takes quite a lot of time. I don't ever just play things and watch the record go round, I'm very intricate with it.
ILM: Do you still practice the craft of turntablism in your spare time?
DJ Yoda: Not any more no. The practice I get now is in the club. It's probably the best practice you can get. A lot of the time when I'm DJing I'm thinking of that as practice, working out things that sound good. I don't actually spend a lot of time at home just practicing. I used to when I was younger. When I got to a level where I knew I could scratch and mix, I decided to get on with being creative rather than getting stuck in the groove of getting technically better.
ILM: Do you have a preferred turntable and mixer combo?
DJ Yoda: Yeah. Really simple. Technics 1210s, the turntables everyone uses. Then, if I'm DJing I use the Rane Serato Mixer.
ILM: Do you have a big record collection?
DJ Yoda: It's weird. My record collection is massive, but I just don't use it anymore. I want to get rid of it. My plan is to find someone to help me digitise it and sell it. I've been trying to do that for a while actually, so if anyone reads this interview and is up for it and get in touch! The thing is, if I'm looking for a song it's actually quicker for me to download it than it is for me to search through my records and find it. It's ironic, I have this huge room of vinyl and I just haven't touched it for ages.
ILM: Going back to the art of turntablism, how important do you think it is with regards to the future of hip hop? A lot of people nowadays can open their laptop, open a bit of software and programme a scratch...
DJ Yoda: It's changed a lot over the last few years. I have quite strong feelings about a lot of it. The part about it that is important to me is using the turntable as something creative, as an instrument. The DMCs have changed a lot. Everything is super technical, it's not about the personality of the DJ anymore. It's kind of lost a lot of what I thought was good about it. It's the same with hip hop in general. I come from a background of hip hop and there's actually no hiphop left that I like anymore. I can't think of a hiphop record that has come out this year that I've liked.
The DJ is irrelevant in hip hop now. It used to be that the DJ was at the forefront. It's lost touch with that. I hope all of that will come back around at some point, but it's not the way things are now. I've tried to take scratching and turntablism in other, interesting directions. Whether that be the video stuff that I do or the concerto for turntables that I did, which was about taking the turntable out of a hip hop environment.
ILM: Seeing it as an instrument in its own right?
DJ Yoda: Exactly. There's all this technology now. For a kid starting DJing now, they could start with a laptop, you're right. You could start with DVDs, MPCs, CDs...but for me the important thing is the basis of it all. Where it all started, which was two records and a mixer. I think it's important to learn that first if you are going to get into DJing. You should understand why people scratch in the first place. You scratch to queue up the beginning of a record. It seems irrelevant to do that if you're using laptops. It's about understanding the basics of it and where it all comes from. Then it will all fit together and start making sense.
ILM: Who are your DJ idols?
DJ Yoda: I get inspired by all the DJs that I see. When it comes to scracthing, for about 15 years Qbert has been lightyears ahead of anyone else. Any DJ into scracthing will say the same thing. There's no other field I can think of where one other person is so far ahead of anyone else. He really, really is. Watching the DMCs, especially the recent years, there's been no-one that has done much for me.
ILM: What music have you been listening to recently?
DJ Yoda: I've been listening to...well, I don't want to give it away! I'm planning a new cut and paste thing. It's all dependent on one company saying yes, so I don't want to ruin it by saying it's definitely happening!
ILM: Do you get the chance to watch much live music or go and see DJ sets?
DJ Yoda: Yeah, quite a bit. As I'm travelling around I get to see a lot of the people who are on before and after me. More often than not they're the people I want to see anyway! Which is good! In terms of what I listen to for enjoyment, I always listen to a lot of Jamaican stuff. That tends to be what I've got on my iPod and what I have at home. I'm also a big fan of the Major Lazer album, plus the big dancehall names, people like Elephant Man. I've always got music playing. That's what I spend my days doing, downloading music and listening to it. I like to think that I'm up on quite a lot of new stuff! There's always something different I like every week, the Miike Snow album is pretty good. I do have a favourite album of all time though.
ILM: You do?! That's something I'm not sure I'll ever be able to say about music!
DJ Yoda: I can!
ILM: Well...cool. What on earth is it?
DJ Yoda: It's A Big Daddy Thing by Big Daddy Kane.