Wax On, Wax Off
There’s a new breed of DJ. One that’s all about the party anthem.
That term may be more associated with songs such as “Kids in America” than anything in the realm of DJing. But spinners in this school mix records familiar and obscure — laying a gangsta rap a cappella over a robotic Daft Punk beat, for example — to create almost completely new songs, which blend, one into the next, like spilled sonic paint.
The basic craft is as old as DJing itself. What’s different is that these new-school cats use the advent of digital music — in some cases laying aside their vinyl altogether — to incorporate a massive array of styles and sounds into a 30-minute mix or a single night of throwing-down.
Big names on the scene include Diplo, Flosstradamus and DJ Mel. The local landscape has its own set of practitioners, too, such as hip-hop crossover DJs Sku and Konsept and the audiovisual troupe Nomathmatics. But the most devoted and hardest-working has to be Tactic.
Track 7 from Tactic’s Money Shot Vol. 2:
Tactic’s members, Ben Fuller and Brent Lippincott (who goes by DJ Candlewax), have been playing together off and on for four years, but they’ve been hitting it hardest in the past nine months. In that time, they’ve sent a mix tape into the blogosphere — where it’s been downloaded 4,000 times. They spun at a South By Southwest party in Austin, Texas. They’ve struck a co-sponsorship deal with the clothing store Phenom. And they’ve made Shake & Pop, their resident night at the Hangout, a runaway success. They’re bringing that night to a close Saturday with a headlining set by DJ Mel.
The Pitch caught up with these badass beatmasters a few days after being rocked by them on a Friday night at Jilly’s. Among other things, we talked about what it’s like being a DJ in a digital age.
What are some characteristics of the newer school?
Lippincott: Honestly, just having an open mind about all different kinds of music in general. You got a chance to hear us on Friday. I don’t know if you noticed, but we ran through about 80 different kinds of music in an hour.
Fuller: We try to play a lot of different styles, whereas sort of the older-school, traditional DJ will stick within genre boundaries. Maybe as a hip-hop DJ, you’ll play a little funk, a little R&B, but that’s as far outside of hip-hop as you’ll go. Same with house or more traditional electronic music — you’re going to stick within these certain realms. For us and the scene, or whatever you wanna call it that we want to try to be a part of, it’s not about that. It’s about encompassing —
Lippincott: Having a good time.
Fuller: Having a good time and encompassing as many different types of quality music as possible.
How much of your music in a live setting is on vinyl?
Fuller: For Brent, none.
Lippincott: I’m 100 percent Serato.
But weren’t you scratching the other night?
Fuller: We use a program called Serato. It allows you to upload all your MP3s onto computer and then use turntables through these special records as controllers. So whatever you do to that record, it’s controlling an MP3 on your computer.
Do you play any tracks off records?
Fuller: I do. I always bring a couple bags with me because I’m always paranoid about my laptop crashing.
Lippincott: I’ve got, like, thousands of records in my basement.
Fuller: Yeah, I’ve probably got four or five thousand.
Lippincott: I can carry my laptop in a bag instead of carrying 200 pounds of records with me wherever I go.
Fuller: We got to the point where we were bringing two to three hundred pounds of records with us to a gig, and then Serato started to come up quickly, and a lot of the most famous DJs out there, like DJ Jazzy Jeff — iconic DJs — bought into it, and it doesn’t really change how you DJ. It’s just a change of technology.
Do you have to defend yourselves in the digital-vs.-vinyl debate?
Lippincott: With us, I think we’re safe just because we’ve each got a ton of records, and that’s how we got into it, by buying records and figuring out what kinds of music we liked and what we wanted to play. He still buys a little bit. I’m 100 percent digital now, so if I’m buying anything, I’m buying MP3s. But like I said, I’ve got thousands of records, so it’s not like I didn’t come up. I think you have to come up the right way.
Fuller: I think people find issue with the fact that there’s a downloading culture today beyond just being a DJ. There’s so many people who take out and don’t ever put back in. Like, they’re only downloading for free through Napster or Soulseek. And with a lot of DJs, it’s very egalitarian — they want to see that you’re putting back into that whole system through purchase of digital releases or vinyl releases. It sort of keeps the whole machine running.
Lippincott: But those cats that are just playing music they’ve downloaded for free —
Like the infamous iPod DJ who’s basically just a selector?
Lippincott: It’s a Catch-22 on all angles with that stuff now. Like we say about the scene itself, it’s in its infancy, and this whole digital music age has been going on for seven years. Has it been seven years since Napster hit the scene — was it ’99 or 2000? This whole thing is in its infancy, and the record industry hasn’t figured out what to do about it, and I don’t think they’re going to.
There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the CD.
Lippincott: CD sales are down 20 percent — 20 percent — in a year. It’s unbelievable. And you’ve seen it. Mom-and-pop record stores all different shapes and sizes are closing up. Online retailers are closing down because all they were selling was vinyl. You’ve gotta accommodate and adapt.
It’s not really slowing you down, though.
Lippincott: No. I got into Napster from day one. As soon as I saw it and found out about the capabilities, I was like, This is the frickin’ future. If I could sit down and build up this whole catalog of music — at the time there was no way to harness it, and I was getting stuff for free — but I totally understood it, totally got it and was just like, Wherever this path takes me, that’s where I’m gonna go. Now we’re DJing on fuckin’ computers.