Just a few weeks ago, Nashville native Davis won the Red Bull Thr3style DJ Battle Qualifier locally and advanced to the regional final in Chicago on February 21. There, he'll take on the likes of DJ Godfather (Detroit), Buck Rodgers (Indianapolis), DJ Donkis (Cleveland) and others in the four-year-old competition. Gimme Noise recently got internet sheik with Davis to congratulate him, and ask a few questions before he heads out on his busy winter and spring schedule.
How much research did you put into your winning DJ set?
Quite a bit. This is really my favorite kind of DJing to do: fast-paced sets with lots of changes, lots of scratching, and lots of using both turntables at the same time. I started with a folder of mashups and blend routines (mixing different acapellas and instrumentals together) and started thinking of ways to stitch them together. I wanted to make sure there was enough material that the crowd would relate to plus enough that would surprise them. I worked on my Minneapolis set nearly every day for about two months straight leading up to the event. Since I won, I've been putting together some new bits to use in Chicago.
The best routines in the competition are the ones that keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what the DJ is going to do next, so I want to make sure the crowd is engaged the whole time from start to finish.
As far as using new bits for Chicago, do you think crowds and tastes differ that much from city to city?
Absolutely. You could have one routine go over super well in Houston, but get crickets in Las Vegas. When I was in the Chicago battle last year, I knew I had the odds against me seeing as there are so many good DJs in that city. I made sure to use a lot of Chicago music in my set (R. Kelly, The Percolator, "Street Player" by Chicago, etc.).
I feel at this point, the crowds at the Thre3style events know what they're getting themselves into, so they tend to be a bit more open to wild choices by a DJ, but you can't take the Chicago out of a Chicago crowd, you know?
When and how long have you been DJing? How did you get started?
I've been in love with music since I've been a kid. I took piano and guitar lessons and then in high school I started messing around with a 4-track recorder, making my own songs and experimenting with sampling. I grew up in Nashville and the only DJs I ever saw were on MTV -- Jam Master Jay, DJ Premier, Doctor Dre on Yo! MTV Raps, etc. In 1994, Luscious Jackson came to town and they had a DJ open up for them. It was my first time watching a DJ actually mix records and not just scratch in a music video.
Between that and seeing DJs in St. Louis when I moved there for college, I decided that was what I had to do. I started sneaking into the campus radio station and taught myself how to use turntables and a mixer. This was in 1996. I eventually got my own radio show, then my own turntables and mixer, and then started to DJ at parties, build up a record collection, work on mixtapes, and on and on and on.
Let's talk about the success of Dre Day and Triple Double.
A lot of people don't know, but Triple Double and Get Cryphy actually began in the exact same week -- February of 2008, and yes Dre Day. So right before I had moved up to Minneapolis from Saint Louis, Wes and the rest of the crew here at Burlesque had started doing this party dedicated to Dr. Dre. It kind of started as this wild idea like "Wouldn't it be funny if there was a huge national holiday for Dr. Dre and everyone got the day off of work to just listen to 'The Chronic' and party all day?" There was a show at 7th Street Entry on his birthday, February 18th, which had some DJs playing Dre classics -- current hits and anything he'd done dating all the way back to World Class Wrecking Cru. Dillinger Four performed and they played "The $20 Sack Pyramid" (based on the sketch from "The Chronic") live on stage. There was a birthday cake for Dre, plus the very first sticker pack featuring lyrics from "The Chronic" printed up with pictures of Dre and Snoop's heads and served up in a dime bag.
Since then, the party has grown and now there are syndicated events going on in New York, Chicago, Paris, Austin, Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Miami, Nashville, the list goes on. We're that much closer to the national holiday thing. This will be the 11th annual party in Minneapolis, held at Triple Rock Social Club on February 18th. We've got The Oh Geez playing (members of Culture Cry Wolf with a whole slew of local rappers) and Jimmy 2 Times and Plain Ole Bill on the turntables. It definitely promises to be another one for the history books.
Nice is there a chance Lets Get Electric will make a comeback, or maybe a New Jack Swing version of LGE?
Let's Get Electric! was fun and incredibly relevant at the time. There weren't a lot of people doing open-format DJ nights here in Minneapolis to the degree that we were in 2003 / 2004 -- mixing '80s pop songs, Southern rap, Miami bass, Minneapolis funk, etc. I think now, most DJs are really comfortable throwing all those kinds of songs together, plus there's such a bounty of successful DJ nights and parties here in town -- more than enough and enough to make it all the more difficult for a night like LGE to come back. However, I think the spirit of the night is alive and well at parties like Pleasure Principals (me and DJ Espada's party the last Friday of each month at Clubhouse Jäger).
How did you get involved in slanging beef jerky?
OK, so the beef jerky... my wife Mali is from Laos and her family get-togethers are always full of incredible food. One of the traditional Lao dishes that I fell in love with was this beef jerky that her Aunt makes. It's unlike any jerky I'd ever had from any dumb gas station. It's sweet, crispy, and full of flavor. We'd have it at our birthday parties and BBQs and our friends would always ask where they could get it. Mali eventually learned the recipe and we started making our own so we could give it to friends as gifts and try selling it. We decided to call it Cool Jerk. I designed some packaging (graphic design is my full time job) and boom. I wish we had the time and resources to make it a full-time thing, but unfortunately for now we're able to just make a batch or two once a year, usually in time for the holidays.
Awesome. Speaking of graphic design, you are the man behind the classic Cryphy posters, Life Sucks Die Magazine and numerous limited edition prints and posters. How is Burlesque doing? Tell me about that a little bit, you guys are pretty major and influential.
I was living in St. Louis, working as a freelance graphic designer. Around 1998, I became friends with the guys from Minneapolis who were working on Life Sucks Die, one of the greatest graffiti magazines of all time. I started helping out with some design for the magazine and by about 2002-2003, the magazine was slowing down and the crew was moving towards doing graphic design and screen-printing under the name Burlesque of North America. I liked the cut of their jib and moved up to these beautiful Twin Cities in the fall of 2003 to start working with them full time.
We do a lot of music-based work like screen-printed concert posters as well as album covers, logos, illustrations, etc. We also screen-print and publish art prints by other visual artists like David Choe, Ron English, John Baizley, and 123 Klan. Our studio also houses CO Exhibitions, a large art gallery space that we use to showcase our work plus paintings, prints, and installations from a wide range of local and national artists.
Any big projects you want to brag about?
Sure! We're always excited to get to work on prints with John Baizley. He's the front man of the rock group Baroness and also does all of their artwork. We've done a number of fine art prints with him and it's always cool to keep pushing each one to be a bit more complicated than the last one. We also design and print all of Arcade Fire's concert posters. They're a great band to work with, as they're very invested in the visual component of their music. How things look for them seems to play almost an equally important role as how their music sounds and there's always an interesting challenge there. Another project we really enjoyed working on was a poster for a Vote No campaign fundraiser concert in late 2012. It's a message we strongly believed in and it was really rewarding to get to put our talents towards something so meaningful.
Out of all the things you do; art, music, promotion, what is your favorite thing?
I always alternate between being really excited about music or really excited about art and design. They change back and forth every couple of weeks. I hate promotion. If anyone reading this wants to do my promoting for me, please get in touch so I don't have to do it anymore!
February 5: Triple Double 5th Anniversary - huge brigade of local DJs, free pizza, and of course the 2-for-1 drinks that the night is known for. Triple Rock Social Club.
February 18: 11th Annual Dre Day - featuring a live performance from Culture Cry Wolf's special one night only project called The Oh Geez, plus tons of guest Twin Cities rappers and Get Cryphy's very own Plain Ole Bill and Jimmy 2 Times. Triple Rock Social Club. Plus keep an eye out for more information on upcoming exhibits from CO Exhibitions.
You can follow Mike Davis on Twitter at @Mike2600