DJ Klever on tattoos, partying, & future of dance music (Exclusive MP3)
Photo by Sam Allen
When your grandmother has taken up spinning BeeGees classics in her spare time and the convenience store clerk down the street hands you a flier for his gigs with every purchase, it's become a bit difficult to decipher who's best behind the booth these days. But Atlanta's DJ Klever stands out from the ever-expanding DJ populous. He's been a full-on entertainer since his early 20's as an award-winning turntablist, and his cool confidence and laid-back sense of humor make him instantly likeable.
And, like his 100+ tattoos, his live DJ sets are like nothing you've ever seen.
's unmatched technical prowess carried him through his transition from a scrappy young DMC Champion in the early millennial hip-hop sphere to the tastemaking electro/future-music performer he is today, folding in scratching and beat-juggling techniques from his battling days.
Even if you're not into punishing megabass and splintering electro synthlines, one can appreciate Klev (a.k.a. Josh Winkler) as simply an interesting guy - whether he's behind the booth or, in our case now, telling stories about his 100+ tats and wild nights on tour.
Gimme Noise wants you to get to know him before he completely rearranges your eardrums (and your notion of DJing) as the headlining talent for Bassgasm 4 in Minneapolis on July 22 at First Avenue. Oh, and a friendly warning to the club that night: Stock up on the whiskey.
Any thoughts on Minneapolis based on your visits here?
A lot of fun and ... um... really intoxicated. The last time I was there I tried not to get even close to how I was [on NYE '09]. Always a blast and hanging around really great people, really great energy and, well, a lot of drinking!
Didn't you have to go to the hospital or something recently?
I was in Atlanta a few weeks ago and I was getting a stuffy nose and my throat was getting irritated. My immune system has always been on point, so I thought, 'I'll take care of myself a little bit and I'll get better.' But the thing was, the next day I had to go to LA.; I was there for a week and between the flight and drinking whiskey and smoking blunts, my throat started to hurt more every day. I thought it would get better. It only got worse.
The next thing I know, the inside of my throat swelled up so insane I couldn't swallow. It was so bad that I caught an emergency flight back home - I was supposed to go to China, actually. So I canceled that gig and went back home. My brother scooped me up from the airport and drove me right to the ER. They had to drain the inside of my throat -- it was gnarly, I have so many crazy pictures. It got infected. At one point I thought, 'Oh, the whiskey is going to kill it.' And I think smoking weed made it worse, too. So as soon as I got there I was in such pain they put me on morphine and started doing surgery, cutting slits in my throat to drain it so I started to feel better. Yeah, so that happened.
Woah. Glad you're OK. I saw some photos of you where it looked like your face was bruised and that you got hurt some other way...
I think the photo you might have seen is if me on morphine because I thought, fuck it, I'm gong to take a picture and see what I look like on this stuff.
It Gets Hot release, Jan. 2011
Ha. OK. So, moving on.... I was telling you earlier about how the Bassgasm party is kind of a throwback to the early rave days, so when was the last time you went to a rave as a patron?
I was never really a spectator, I was a hip-hop kid and went to punk shows. I didn't get into the rave thing until maybe six years ago when I started to change my sound and get more into the house and electro sound. The last rave I played was in Canada with these dubstep dudes Zed's Dead in Toronto.
At what point did you decide producing tracks would be your next step as an artist, rather than relying solely on turntablism skills?
A few years ago, because the thing with me and Craze and A-Trak, we were able to survive on the past but we changed with the current. It wasn't like, "Damn, I've got bills to pay so we've got to change it up." It was definitely stuff we just loved. It was a new sound with a new attitude. Back then, The Crookers were killing shit. I was playing a lot of their music but they weren't the best DJs. They were awesome, great producers and it started to change to be a producer's game when they started getting the most money. They were getting top billing even though they weren't the best DJs but their tunes were big. We thought, damn, we got to focus on song-writing. The DJing comes so naturally, so it's time to really challenge ourselves like we did with the battle stuff.
Who do you look up to in the dance music industry?
Armand van Helden has a great business sense and he's not always in your face with his music. He can put out a couple tunes and sustain popularity for a long time. You'll always know who AVH is because of certain tunes. He's kind of a background guy. He'll write some music and people love it and it's not because of his character, it's because it's just good. I like how he does it. He's just one of those special tastemaker producer people out there, and he's been around since day one.
And you're tight with Craze, too, speaking of people around since day one.
Yeah, my last EP actually came out on his label with Kill The Noise -- it's called Slowroast Records.
Do you have another EP for that label planned?
Yep, I'm nearly done, I've got like 10 solid tunes to choose from, so we're all going ot sit around and pick through the best ones and start promoting it. But it's a few months out. I don't have a title for it yet but I kind of have a lead track on there called "To The Top" and it's sort of gospel-ish jackin' house.
Let's talk tattoos. Your favorite subject. What's your favorite tattoo you've seen on somebody else?
I don't know, I have so many friends with so many cool tattoos! Right now, a friend of mine is still working on his back but he only has his ass left to do. Keet from Southern Star Tattoo is tattooing a friend of mine named Ryan and he's doing this really really sick Japanese back piece. It's just murder - I just started working on my back and I totally feel the kind of pain this kid's going through.
Klever's new bro tattoo
What's the latest tattoo that you got?
I tattooed my head, it says, "Guerrero", which means warrior in Spanish. It hurt. The way you would perceive it feeling is exactly what it felt like. The shit hurt, dude. I got a web on the back of my ear recently, too. Two days ago I got a "bro" tattoo with a friend in town from London, just these little boxing gloves. Lately I've been tattooing myself once a week. Even when I was in Baltimore, I tattooed my tattoo buddy! I keep finding myself in situation where I'm always around tattooers and we just go for it. I've got to slow down though, because I really don't have much room left. [pauses] Yeah, I'm that guy, I guess. I'm tattoo dude.
You've got to save some spots for future memories.
I don't want to tattoo my neck. If I'm wearing a suit or something nice, I don't want that to show. It's that one area when you're dressed, I like seeing that area... especially womens' necks... I guess I'm just a weird dude like that. I want to make sure you can see my bone structure and you can see skin.
As someone who's been around dance music a lot, you've surely noticed that this music is now pretty much pop. While you and I might not necessarily be pop people, how do you feel about dance music being used in a very pop way? What do you think will be the next frontier?
You're right, dance music is fucking everywhere now. But there will always be dance music. I think it's just the way it's written. All my new stuff, I'm trying to go back to old Chicago house roots, taking it back to where it's simple and fun. Not to where the builds are so "epic". I don't want to be taken to a place where it's "OMG HERE IT COMES! AAAH!" every 2 minutes. Less is more. If I have a good vocal and some good grooves and some nice drums, that's what to speaks to me now -- not how crazy you can get with your synths and how complicated you make your builds and drops. At this point, everyone can do that. It's time to chill out a bit. You know, sometimes shit gets out of hand and you just want to rock some great bands from 20 years ago, and go a day without seeing people wearing what looks like space footwear. A return to "back in the day".
SLIDESHOW: Klever at 7th St Entry
EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOAD (from the upcoming album): Klever - "Under Dog"
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