By the time you read this, Jeff will be entrenched in the madness that is the All Good festival. Whether it will be All Good remains to be seen and will be likely determined by the amount of illicit substances obtainable prior to sets by George Clinton, Femi Kuti, and Furthur. Thankfully, Matt Shea, Australia’s finest cultural product since Men at Work (and less plagiaristic), holds it down today.
Mix Master Mike’s done more than enough with the Beastie Boys to deserve the high praise he receives from the casual rap fan. But the contributions made by the three times DMC World Champion to hip-hop began long before the Beasties. Mike helped kick-start turntablism, giving young DJs everywhere an excuse to nerd out over torque and tone arms, and in the process furnished the establishment of the turntable as a musical instrument. Elements of this interview originally appeared as part of a feature in Scene Magazine, but the full deal is presented below. Mike turned out to be a fan of the chat. He also proved a shameless marketer of his own products – which is cool, because the man can scratch.
There seems to be a lot of gnashing of teeth in the US about the state of hip-hop. What’s your take on the health of hip-hop – is it in a good place at the moment?
Well, speaking for myself it is. I don’t know about anybody else and I can’t speak for anybody else on that topic because for me, it’s amazing. For me, my career is based upon pushing the boundaries and challenging myself. I’ve been challenging myself for the past 15 years at this, so when you speak about other stuff that’s out there that’s hip-hop, there’s some stuff out there that’s good that I’m listening to right now, but it’s not like being back in the early 90s when there was stuff from all angles. It’s gotten a lot thinner, but like I said you’ve got to keep pushing the boundaries and diving into other genres of music. That’s how I keep it fresh.
Going from hip-hop to dubstep – Napalm Rockets, your dubstep mixtape, was released a few months ago. What kicked off your interest in dubstep?
I do shows all over the world – London, Germany – just all over the place, and you pick up things. The first time I was turned onto dubstep was like three or four years ago and the genre kinda stuck with me, you know. There was a lot of it that I didn’t really like, but there was some that was really interesting, like Benga making some crazy shit, and Rusko and Caspa and I thought, ‘Wow, this would be an amazing thing to merge with hip-hop.’ That’s where the inspiration came for Napalm Rockets.
So it was always important for you to tie it back into hip-hop?
Yeah, definitely, no doubt. For me, I’ll always be a b-boy – by heart, it’s just what I am. I’m a b-boy; I am hip-hop. So, it’s just taking other avenues.
What do you think is the secret behind dubstep’s rise as a musical form?
Well for me, as you hear in my previous records – Anti-Theft Device and Return of the Cyklops and Bangzilla, and then I have a new record coming out, Plazma Ryfle – this is all instrumental, hip-hop-based music, and what intrigued me about dubstep was that it was instrumental, and it had these crazy-ass bass lines, and I’m into the crazy, grimy music, and it really reminded me of what I was already doing, in a way. It was there and I though, ‘Why not? Why not collide both worlds? It makes a lot of sense.’
Has Napalm Rockets influenced the way you’ve approached your new Plazma Ryfle EP?
You know what? To tell you the truth, no, which is weird because people expect there to be a dubstep influence, but not really. It’s a hip-hop instrumental but it’s aggressive hip-hop. Don’t get me wrong, there are elements of that which would remind you of dubstep, but I’m kinda sticking with the same formula: the crazy, psychedelic instrumental, aggressively-driven, monster beats. It’s just trying to stay true; not trying to pretend. There are cats that are making electro records now that were hip-hop back then, but for me I want people to know that I haven’t lost touch with where I began.
When do you think that will be coming out?
July. And it’s coming out with new headphones. I have headphones from Skullcandy – the Mix Master Mike headphones – that the Plazma Ryfle EP goes along with. It’s going to be a package deal.
How else has your approach to making records changed over the years since Anti-Theft Device?
For me, on the production side I’m always a student. I consider myself a student. I’m on my fourth record now – fourth or fifth? – and I’m learning new things. For some reason, every time I start a project there’s always new technology involved, and I’m learning new ways of recording and compressing. The structure of me creating music over the years has evolved: it went from, like, the really, really, shitty quality to the cool lo-fi and then the cool digital, and now it’s working its way up with the cross between analogue and digital. It changes, the technology advances.
Talking about those early years. Did you learn much about the album-making process from the Beastie Boys?
No, not really. There was this guy I met: his name is Naut Humon. He was from Asphodel Records and they’re based in San Francisco, California, and he approached me and said, ‘I want to make a record with you. I want to help you make a record.’ And, you know, it kinda worked out for me, because he showed me my first steps in using the TASCAM DA-38 digital recorder. I was using the 488 TASCAM eight-track, so I give a lot of credit to Naut, because he showed me the real way to record. He took me from dirty to the nice sounding world, you know? He kinda cleaned up my act and showed me how to use technology to my advantage, and I give all the glory to that guy. He showed me how to use Pro Tools and all that sort of stuff.
What were some of the things you learned from the Beasties after you hooked up with them?
Just being a musician. Being with them you go from DJing small parties to DJing big stadiums, so it was a big learning curve for me and I was put on the spot real quick. When I first joined the guys I was in the studio with them and right after we finished recording Hello Nasty we went on tour, so it immediately started for me. It was like, ‘Okay wow, I’m doing these DJ battle contests and I was doing these club shows that would draw 1000 people max, and now I’m DJing in front of 150000 at a German festival! So I learned how to be a true artist and it taught me how to hone my skills.
Whose idea was it for you to wear the proton power pack for 3 MCs and 1 DJ?
It was actually my wife’s idea. Yeah, she took me to a spot and said, ‘You need to fly in with the jet pack!’ Much love to my wife, Diane, because she hooked it up for me and it worked out great. It went hand-in-hand. Forget the scratching and the skills, the MCs and forget me – that jetpack was the video!
Things are a certainly moving faster than when you first started out, but are you happy with the evolution of both analogue and digital equipment these days? Do you ever feel held back by the technology?
No, not at all. You gotta be happy with it: to have a whole full-on studio on your laptop that you can take around the world with you is just amazing. I can make a whole record if I was in a hotel room for a week with a couple of hard drives. That’s the beauty of it, and as far as Serato, it’s a beautiful thing to have all your records with you. I mean, you graduate to that stuff. Nowadays, I know thousands and thousands of DJs that have never owned a real record, and that’s the sad thing about it. I think DJs like me, DJs like Premier, Flash, the X-Men – we’ve carried crates on our backs – we’ve checked in hundreds of records onto the plane. I guess you graduate to the technology and pay dues. If I could have people carry my records for me, I would still use real records. When I’m with the Beastie Boys I’m using real records – there’s something about seeing a bunch of records laying all over the place, you know.
In that sense do you feel blessed that you came to prominence just when the tech was taking off?
Exactly. The level of appreciation for it is just like, ‘Wow!’ It comes as a gift for cats like us. I’ve done recording with 4-track reel to reels and stuff like that, and now you just have everything on your laptop. It’s an amazing breakthrough. For younger cats it’s not really a breakthrough because they’re kinda used to it now – they don’t realise what it used to be like. I sat in a bedroom with thousands and thousands of cassette tapes, and I made pause mixtapes, and you can imagine how long that shit would take – cue up the tape and pause one and pause another – and now the level of appreciation for the technology: oh man, I’m so gracious for it. It excites me.
And you recently got involved with Yo Gabba Gabba. What was that like?
That was amazing. There are always ways to give back to the children and I figured that was the best way to introduce the kids to the art. And now my little girl wants to hang out with daddy more. Daddy’s cool to hang with. It’s like when she grows up a little and is six or seven, I can come in, she’ll be with all her friends and she’ll be like, ‘Oh no. Daddy’s cool! He can kick it!’ So it works out! I give the lesson to the kids, and I get to hang out! When kids grow up, I don’t think they really want to ‘hang’ with their dad, but now I can kick it because dad’s cool!
You realise, though, that you’re going to have to keep updating what show you appear on – when she’s seven she won’t think Yo Gabba Gabba’s cool anymore.
Yeah, I’m gonna have to move into other areas! Trust me, I’ve got it all mapped out right now. I’ve got doorways into all these other kids’ shows! But you’ve gotta teach the kids – you have to teach the kids or how else are they gonna know?
What are the plans for the rest of the year?
So, I’ve got the Skullcandy headphones with the Plazma Ryfle EP coming out, and I got a new record with DJ Muggs and Rahzel called The Elements record, and then I’ve got this really, really cool DJ app coming out, called Mix Master Mike DJ-to-Go, and it’s miiiiiind-blowing. Mark my words, it’s mind blowing! I have it on my phone right now and I can’t put it down. You can rock a party with your iPhone – that’s all I’ll give away!
ZIP: Mix Master Mike-Napalm Rockets Mixtape (Left-Click)