(Ed. Note: Finally got to speak with one of my favorite DJs, Cut Chemist. His new project, Sound of the Police, is out now, as is this dope internet-only mix, The Death of Disco. Check both those out and peep our talk below. -DM )
Originally Published on www.waxpoetics.com
Cut Chemist’s selection has always worked in lockstep with his techniques. On Sound Of The Police, his latest project, he uses a foot pedal and one turntable, looping breaks and portions of rare African records to make the mix. Like past work with DJ Shadow (Brainfreeze, Product Placement, and The Hard Sell) it’s more of a live set than an official follow up to his studio album The Audience’s Listening. The routine in fact debuted last year at a concert with Mulatu Astatke, a towering figure of Ethio-jazz, and the release itself was recorded live; no post production, just records and swaths of detail. The response was “so overwhelming” according to Cut, that he thought he’d make it official and release it.
Sound Of The Police is in line with recent explosions of interest in African records, evidenced by books, reissues, and the Broadway musical “Fela”. Since Wax Poetics first spoke to Cut in issue #16, he’s done cameos in films and still shows interest in different genres. The Death Of Disco (1973-1979), a recent internet only mix, sounds like a drunken dance party—highs, lows, sloppiness and all—and has been incesantly downloaded.
When asked what he’s been into lately, he said, “Can’t go into specifics, but I’ve been digging early industrial cassettes from France circa the early 80’s, really great music with primitive drum machine textures.” Here’s my recent talk with Cut Chemist; still on top after all these years.
Were the records on Sound Of The Police accumulated from your collection over time or were these recent finds?
These were records I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve been into African and South American music ever since being in Ozomatli. Being in that band made me explore different sounds from around the world, as that was the group’s mission.
What are some of the technical things you did on this that possibly may have been lost on the average listener?
As a listening piece, not a performance, the listener may not realize that the mix is live with one deck. It still holds up as a nice mix of music, but everyone might not appreciate how difficult it actually was to record it. This is why I would like to perform the set live.
What was the first African record that got you hooked?
I collect everything. I chose to release this collection of music because I intended it to be just a performance opening up for Mulatu Astatke at the Timeless concert series. The first African record that really moved me was the Mulatu Of Ethiopia LP. The chords were very different from anything I heard in the past.
Which are your favorite tracks from this mix?
I really like what I call “Ethiopian Skank.” It’s very jazzy and skanky. The music is very emotional.
What is it about African rhythms is grabbing heads worldwide? What do you attribute the recent boom to?
I attribute the recent boom of African sounds to Miles Cleret and Will “Quantic” Holland. They have really been doing a lot of work excavating and releasing music from different regions of the continent. I get a lot of my knowledge about the music from these two.
Who are some African artists fans of this mix should check out?
Mulatu Astatke and anything Ethiopian.
Will there always be an element of scratching or turntablism in your music or will you ever move to just production?
There will always be an element of performing whether it’s scratching or something else. I don’t ever feel comfortable doing just production.
What are your thoughts on the Flying Lotus/Gaslamp Low End Theory scene currently coming out of LA?
Love these guys! They’re doing big things for the LA hip-hop scene.
What was the general reaction to Hard Sell? It was great, but seemed to almost be purposely off-putting to some.
I think once again the selection of music was so different from the first two projects, it threw people off. It had a lot more of everything in it as well as 90’s rock. We always try to make people ask, “Damn, that was released on 45?” They need to think about that when they listen to the mix.
Would you collaborate with a rapper for a full-length? With whom would you do a full-length? Ever thought of working with Edan again?
I’m currently doing some work with Edan and Lif on my follow-up album to Audience’s Listening. I will always look forward to working with them. They get the direction I’m always trying to go in and kill it every time.
Speaking of collabs, describe the process with Shadow. Who starts off with what? How do you come up with the looping routines?
The routines Shadow and I come up with are very involved. The first couple of weeks we dig through our collections and shop for things we might need. Then we start putting together sections and then arrange the sections. The looping pedals were a tool to recreate famous hip-hop songs. Then we started using them to create our own songs. It was just another element to add to our eight turntables that made it more versatile and, yes, complicated.
What’s your personal favorite thing you’ve done with Shadow?
My favorite project was the Hard Sell. It really expanded what we’ve already done in the past and brought something new to the table, musically and technically: more records, more genres, more turntables, and loop pedals. Not to mention the visuals for the tour were very carefully crafted to the concept, an amazing team to work with.
Once and for all: how did the role in Juno happen?
Director Jason Reitman is a fan and approached me to do some music for some short films. His plans changed when he landed the script for Juno and thought it would be a fun idea to give a cameo as a chemistry teacher. We have since become friends. He himself is a DJ and I have to say comes up with some pretty cool mash-ups with his DJ group Bad Meaning Bad.
Let’s go in reverse and cover some history. Tell people about the Unity Committee and how that developed your career.
Unity Committee started in 1987. I was 14 years old. It developed me as a producer. I never thought I would make music until groups like the Jungle Brothers came out. After we met Rebels of Rhythm and created Jurassic 5, I had already produced numerous songs for Unity Committee over a course of seven years. It was great practice for arranging loops and samples for the future.
How did ‘Lesson 6’ come about?
“Lesson 6” was my opus at the time. I’ve been doing research on different time signatures and trying to apply it to a DJ solo song. Everyone that heard it at the time thought I was crazy. I was and am still very proud of it. I also wanted to illustrate by sampled dialogue what it meant to be a DJ and its roll as a crowd pleaser and a conceptual thinker. I think it coined my style to be the “dialogue record guy.” It’s still pretty hard to shake that, but I don’t mind.
How have Shortkut and those Primitive Session cats struck you as DJs and affected your career?
That mix CD got around. It’s still probably one of the more famous works with my name on it. Future Primitive was a great concept with a great execution, pairing hip-hop DJs with non hip-hop DJs at first. I think Shortkut and I were the first pairing to be both hip-hop. It was completely improvised. Shortkut being a scratch pick, he could handle anything I threw at him. He was like a jazz musician with great chops.
What other DJs are you fans of?
DJ Shadow, Kid Koala, Q Bert, D Styles, Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus, and Z-Trip, just to name a few.
Tell folks about The Good Life, what it does, what it’s become, and what your efforts towards it were.
The Good Life was a health food store that had an open mic night on Thursdays here in LA from 1989 to 1995. Groups like Freestyle Fellowship, Unity Committee, OMD, Volume Ten, Abstract Rude and Tribe Unique were frequent performers. There is a documentary about it called This Is The Life. This helped start the careers of all these groups and others. Being the producer for Unity Committee, I was there all the time backing my crew up. Ill never forget those days.
How did ‘What’s The Altitude’ come about?
Kind of by accident. Hymnal and I were playing around with some serious spoken word songs for my album. In the middle of it all, he said, “Well, I also have this,” kind of jokingly. I had just sampled the Curtis Knight song, but hadn’t made it into a beat yet. I told him to try rapping the lyrics over the sample and I thought it worked. It was simple with an indie sound yet utilizing hip-hop origins by using an old Zulu Nation tape. It was an odd blend of cultures that made perfect sense to us.
When I spoke with Shadow, he said Brainfreeze affected the whole DJ mixtape/collecting culture and that things reached a boiling point after that. What are your thoughts?
I think this was the first time you had turntablism meet deep collecting. So those that were into one and not the other got into both. You had more people digging for 45s than ever before. It made it more mainstream than it had ever been.
How did your role in ‘Up In The Air’ happen? Anymore acting beyond cameos?
Once again, Jason Reitman thought it would be fun to put me in the movie as a DJ. Of course I said yes. It didn’t take too much method acting to nail that roll.
If your career were to end tomorrow, what would you like to be remembered for?
“Lesson 6” and The Audience’s Listening.