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Wednesday, 16 March 2011 08:00

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: DJ Needles of Rawthentic, Part 2

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: DJ Needles of Rawthentic, Part 2 Steve Ley
Written by Dannie Boyd
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This is Part 2 of Dannie Boyd's interview with DJ Needles. Read Part 1 here.

Dannie Boyd: If someone follows your Facebook page or any type of rhetoric that you display you can tell that you're a socially conscious person, do you think that influences what you select or play?

Needles: Yeah, it definitely does. I can't ignore the fact that I have opinions about certain things and I take issue with a lot of things that go on in society. I feel that I would be a hypocrite if I were to play things that I consider part of the problem. It's fine for people who are able to not let music influence what they do, but the truth of the matter is -- just like a lot of things in society -- music has a big influence as well. I would rather play more progressive music than not. Not to say that I don't play anything that people may deem negative, but the difference is that I come from a soul aspect. I definitely limit the negative stuff but I don't believe everything should be positive.

When I say progressive I don't necessarily mean positive, I just mean more innovative, something to stimulate. Something that people might consider [to be] a negative record could still stimulate and push you musically. But when it's just about one specific awful aspect of human life I don't really respond well to that. A lot of times a lot of the things people produce are solely for money, and when that's your main driving force I can't really relate to you. When I hear just utter ignorance over a beat it's hard for me to get down with it. I can't promote that because I'm the DJ. I'm basically promoting your record if I play it. I'm saying I agree with this, I'm okay with this, I'm fine with this, so I can't do it. I've never been able too.

My tapes back in the day were very (pauses), I was a discriminating dude. I didn't tape just anything off the radio. We're talking about taping off the radio like it's real serious. I was serious about taping stuff off the radio. I was like, "Man no, I'm not about to tape this MC Hammer song. I can't do it." It's funny, I was down with MC Hammer when he first came out, then he started doing stuff like "Can't Touch This" and "Too Legit to Quit." I liked "Turn This Mutha Out" and "Pump it Up" and all that stuff from the first album, and then it seemed like he went and got all pop and everything, which is fine to him. But I was not with him because he was MC Hammer; I was with him when he made good music.

That's basically how I conduct myself now. I'm not going to show any allegiance to anyone just because they're that person. They have to prove to me that they're worthy of my allegiance. There are some artists that you can basically just expect good things from, like Mos Def. He might miss a couple of times with the beats he picks but he's never going to be a disrespectful dude on his records. And even if he does put out something that's really gritty, it's a story, and more times than not it's a cautionary tale. The current rap guys that talk about drug selling and all this stuff, it's not cautionary; it's just them talking about it. It used to be cautionary. It used to be, "Yeah we're talking about this but understand that we're not down with drug dealers like that, we're not down with selling to kids." It's just gotten to a point where that's the state of hip hop specifically. That's the state we're in with a lot of the mainstream hip hop.

It's obvious that you have the mainstream hip hop that sells out and then you have a lot of artists that will start out with a great career and then slowly kind of drift away. Do you feel the same thing can happen with DJs?

Yeah! I do. I do. I'm fearful. I'm definitely fearful, but I don't want to think about it too much (pauses). I don't know if I'm fearful, I'm aware. I'm aware of that possibility, but (pauses). I don't think it's going to happen if you just keep being true to what it is that you do. If you keep trying to jump on different bandwagons that's going to translate to the audience that you really have no identity to yourself. You're trying to hang on for dear life, and that's kind of weak. If you have a platform, your own identity, for what it is that you do, you really don't have any reason to fear falling off or drifting away. And if the crowd gets smaller, that's not cool, but at least you still have a crowd. You'll still have a crowd, that's the main thing. You'll still have a crowd whether it's 30 people coming out as opposed to when it was like maybe 300 people coming out, but you still have that 30 people that still understand what it is that you're doing and they still appreciate what it is you're doing. In my opinion, I don't need that 270 people that left so quickly. It's like, "You guys never knew me. You never knew what I was doing, obviously, so later for you." I'm glad you're gone so then I can focus in on the 30 people that actually want what it is I'm putting through.

How would you describe the Needles identity?

Um (pauses). Basically progressive soul music. As far as the DJing is concerned, progressive soul music. Definitely I'm concerned with having people dance and wild out and everything, but I also want to be able to play different things and not get stuck with just one type of element. I want the audience to understand that they can dance to different things, they can just let go, they can have fun. That's what it's all about, just positive fun. Really, it's kind of like fellowship, fellowship in music. I just want a lot of music lovers to understand that DJs like myself, and definitely the DJs in my crew, the Soulition, that's our goal. Our goal is to just fellowship through music. Good music. We want that feel good crowd.

As far as DJ and audio equipment is concerned, do you have a preference for what equipment you use?

(pauses) Yeah. As far as turntables are concerned I'm definitely a Technics 1200 dude. Real sad that they're not making them anymore. But I'm glad I got mine (laughs). I actually got two sets, so I'm really happy about that. As far as mixers, I was definitely a big Vestax guy. They're still good, but right now I'm using a Behringer, which is basically a want-to-be Pioneer. Sort of (laughs). Not a want-to-be, but it's a more affordable model than the actual Pioneer. They're basically similar. They're big, but it doesn't have to be that big, I just want the effects that it provides. It's more of a futuristic type of a thing when you're mixing. You're able to echo things out and distort the noises and things like that. Just another element that you can add to your set.

Needles, I like Shure needles. Stanton is pretty good. Headphones, I was using Technics headphones for the longest, but then my girlfriend bought me the Beats [headphones] by Dr. Dre, which are great, obviously. I'm very thankful for those. I'm real simple. I'm real simple, even with Serato on the laptop I use. I have a Mac but I really don't need it. I don't need it to be a Mac. When I was laptop shopping I was looking for just a laptop, period, that I could afford. I'm thinking, "I guess if I want to afford one I'm just going to go ahead and get a PC, like maybe a Dell or something." Then I see these prices and they're like 500 or 600 dollars. Then I go over to the Mac area and this one is like 700 something. So I'm like if I'm going to get a laptop and pay 500 or 600 dollars I might as well just get a Mac for a little extra. So I just went ahead and did that and it works well.

Do you use all vinyl or do you mix in some digital tracks from your Mac?

Yeah. I mix in; I play vinyl (pauses). I'm analog and digital. That's what I do. I definitely keep a few cases with me of vinyl. For the most part it's mostly digital because a lot of stuff that I play I don't have on vinyl. I can't find a lot of new stuff on vinyl. I've been through the whole transition. I've been able to find a lot of the stuff, house wise, on vinyl and get a lot of stuff I initially had on MP3. The vinyl collection is still growing, even with the digital age in full motion. It's a good mixture.

How would you feel about going all digital, using the digital turn table and the whole setup?

I wouldn't do that. I mean, you're talking about digital turntable on your computer?

Yeah. With software.

Without any actual turntables?

Yes. Like if you go to the Guitar Center and they have a display which is basically just a metal turntable and it gives you the impression that they're vinyl but it's really just for display, and everything is done by software.

No, I wouldn't do that. Me personally (pauses). For one, my name is Needles so I have to have a tone arm and I got to have a needle on the vinyl. That's why I like Serato so much, and programs like Serato. Even though you're playing, not the actual record, you're still playing vinyl and you still have that feel, and you still are able to cut and scratch and everything. What it does is, to me, it preserves your vinyl. When you don't have to use your vinyl every single time you're preserving your collection. You're not playing it so much to where it develops scratches or wear and tear and everything. I definitely appreciate that aspect. With Serato and different programs similar to Serato it still allows you to play vinyl, specially made pieces of vinyl that reads the MP3s, but it's still the actual act of DJing with vinyl and a needle. That's why I really never went to the CDJs. These days I don't really have to much of a problem with them. I would use them if that was all that was provided. I would probably get me a set for events that really don't require vinyl. Like if I'm DJing for a certain crowd and they don't really care about vinyl, they just want me to play a party, then I'll definitely use things like CDJs and just my Serato and laptop and not bring any vinyl or anything. Too me, that's what it's really for, for me. Those gigs where you're not going to have that crowd that really cares whether or not you're going to have vinyl at all.

When I'm playing for a true soul crowd, a crowd that really appreciates the art of DJing, and that includes seeing a DJ digging through his crates and everything, that's what I bring all [of it] for. It's a godsend for me because when you travel and everything you don't want to have to worry about bringing tons of your records. It cuts all of that out. You don't have to worry about your records getting lost in different airports and all that stuff. I mean, that's your vinyl collection. A lot of times people spend years looking for these records, and things like that really happen, stuff gets lost. Stuff gets stolen. With MP3s you can get it again like that (snaps fingers). You can get it again like that. If somebody deletes it you can still get it again.

What are some of the most memorable moments of your career?

Wow! (pauses). Definitely the first time I spun in front of people, like a real hip-hop crowd, that was back in '98, '97 or '98 at the Red Sea. Rich Money put me on. He was the first guy to let me play. A lot of the opening sets I did for a lot of these bands and groups. The Roots, I opened for them at the Pageant. I opened for Common twice. Was it A Tribe Called Quest? (pauses) I believe so; I opened for them as well. A lot of good times at the Pageant. A lot of different private parties have been fun too. I can't really go into any specifics because there have been so many. Many of them have been some of the best sets because when people hire you specifically to do their party most times they know who you are and they know what you bring, and they want that. It's always good to have that.

When you're not DJing what can you be found doing?

Graphic design. Graphic design, all day. And running my blog site Ghettoblastic.com. Just uploading different music videos and things like that. But definitely graphic design. That's one of my passions. From the illustration I transitioned to graphic design. I still illustrate. I have sketchbooks all over the place. I definitely spend a lot of time with Photoshop just making different CD covers, flyers, posters, things of that nature, and business cards. And watching TV (laughs).

Are there any specific projects that you have going on right now?

I have a few monthlies that I do. A first Saturday of the month at the Delmar Lounge. Second Saturday I do at Lola downtown. Then I do a Thursday monthly at EXO. It's just to kind of spread things out. I don't really do a lot of weeklies because many times people really can't commit to a weekly outing. It used to be good back in the day. My crowd, they've grown a little bit. A lot of people who come out to what I do are not really weekly people. They might be for general stuff, but for a specific style that isn't general it's hard to do a weekly for and get those numbers. Unless you're a music mecca like Chicago or New York, or Philadelphia, I would say Atlanta or LA. Unless you're cities like that it's kind of hard to have those types of nights be successful in a city that doesn't really promote a lot of that to begin with. You definitely got to treat every event like an "event," like, "You have to come out because it's only a once a month thing. Let's come together. I'm not asking you to come every week (laughs). It's just a monthly thing."

I try to keep them a bit different. The first Saturday of the month, that's called "Must Love Hip Hop." That's a strictly hip-hop set. I did that because I wanted to have something where a lot of the poorer [long-time] supporters that just knew me as a hip-hop DJ, because that's what I was basically, just a hip-hop DJ. I was just playing old school classics and newer current, mostly underground hip hop earlier on and I kind of ventured out. I kept playing that, but I ventured out, started playing a lot of different genres of music at my events. That's basically what I do now. It's not just hip hop, it includes so many different things.

But a lot of people just want a straight-up hip-hop night, and I understand that, and I was just wanting to do something to do just that. So I was able to get a night over at the Delmar for that. Now the second Saturday is more funk and soul based. It's called "Funkin Right." I play a lot of deep funk and rare groove. I mix house and Latin and I still keep hip hop in the mix and everything, and dance hall here and there. But for the most part it's real eclectic but it's up-tempo. I keep it very up-tempo, very danceable. I usually have a percussionist to assist me. This comes from being influenced by my friends Enoch and Will Power, and seeing people like Rich Medina spin in Brooklyn a few years back. Also, really embracing this cultural type of flavor and making it work and tying to show people a different way to party because it can be done and should be done. It keeps you grounded to something we are kind of disconnected from. The same thing goes for the thing I do at EXO on a Thursday. I don't have any musicians with me yet, but it's more, I would say low key and not as in your face. But it's definitely on a nice tempo. I play a lot of mellow soul, a lot of mellow new soul, jazzier music. But like I said it's still all danceable, up-tempo stuff.

Do you feel that there's any difference between listeners in St. Louis versus listeners, in say New York since that's basically the hip-hop city?

What I think is, it's just a matter of numbers. There's just more there. There's people here. I don't think there's a difference; it's just a difference in numbers. It's not a difference in people. We have the same fine-tuned ear here that you'll find anywhere else, but it seems as if there are fewer here. Places like New York, and basically all the points that are on the edge of the country, that seems to be the place where there's kind of a pull [pulling away] of people from places like here. A pull of those specific people and it's a few. It's always a few out of so many in places like St. Louis. There are a few us that venture out, that know that we're not going to get what we want in abundance here. We might get it here and there, but if we want to be among other people that get it and celebrate it to the fullest we have to go elsewhere many times to experience that.

So that's what you find a lot of times when you go to places like I mentioned. Most of them aren't from there. A lot of people are from Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Idaho and Oklahoma. They're from the middle, those were the few people. There's always going to be a few of us born in the middle of the country that just kind of get it. We kind of understand. We look at things differently. We hear things differently and we want more of it. We want to meet other people that hear it the way we do and we want to celebrate it with them. When it's not a whole lot of outlet in the places that we're born in you got to go and seek.

How do you market yourself?

Heavily (laughs). Market as in promote?

Yeah, promote your services.

I'm definitely on Facebook. I rarely do Twitter just because I haven't gotten swallowed up [by it] yet. I admit I've gotten swallowed up by Facebook. I'm on Twitter but I haven't done a lot of promotion on Twitter. And believe me, I'm on these social networks, honestly, because I'm a DJ and that's where everybody else is. So if I want to reach the people who I'm trying to reach I need to be where they are. I put up event pages almost every week. I still print out posters, print out flyers, hand them out and leave them different places. I put up the posters and everything. I send out texts here and there. Now I'm getting into video marketing. I don't have the big, fancy video-making programs. I'm actually working with [Windows] Moviemaker (laughs), but I'm able to get the job done. I'll probably be doing more of that for my events as well. Put it up on YouTube just to garner more attention and more interest in what I'm trying to put through.

Do you feel a DJ could make and produce a music video, similar to how recording artists do, that could be featured on MTV, BET, or YouTube and everything?

A DJ? Like direct and everything?

Yes.

Yeah. I think so. I don't see why not. I mean, definitely now with technology. You don't even need a production crew. That's bad to say because it puts a lot of people out of work, but when you don't have the money to begin with they weren't going to work anyway. If you can do it by yourself all you need to do is, you got to spend some money for it, get that 5D Canon that shoots video and do it yourself. You can shoot your own video, and edit it. They make it so easy now, and you just put it out. Now to get it on MTV, I don't know how easy that is, but I've seen a lot of up and coming independent artists get on MTV-Jams and things like that without the big budgets or anything. I think things are definitely coming back to where they need to, where you don't need the help of these big major labels to put your music out. I'm definitely just talking about quality music. We all know it's still easy to put out trash and garbage, but when we're talking about quality artists I'm glad for that. I'm not glad for how easy it is to put out the garbage (laughs).

What are some of the artists that you listen to?

New or old?

Either, or.

Let's see (pauses). I listen to Fela Kuti, I listen to Eric Roberson, Erykah Badu, Brittany Bosco, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Mos Def, J Dilla, Janelle Monae. A lot of different artists. I'm trying to think (pauses). Queens of the Stone Age, a lot of people.

Do you download music form iTunes or any kind of online venue?

A lot of stuff I'm able to find on different websites, and I share on my blog as well. I try to buy actual CDs and albums when they're available. Like I said, a lot of stuff isn't available. I've been trying to find Foreign Exchange on vinyl for the longest, and I was finally able to get the first album on vinyl, but I'm still trying to find some more.

Where do you usually go to look for vinyl?

Where did I get that? [The Foreign Exchange record] I think I got that from Vintage Vinyl. Yeah, I got that from Vintage Vinyl. I still shop there. I shop at Record Exchange, Euclid Records, and a few other vinyl shops in St. Louis. I know there's one on Cherokee but I don't know the name of it [Phono-Mode], on the southside. And they're online. There's tons on places that still sell vinyl online. I go to Discogs, Juno Records, Dusty Groove, Turntable Lab.

Where do you see yourself long-term when everything is all said and done?

Well, like I said, I don't plan for anything so I don't have any plans right now. I don't know. All said and done like I'm done DJing? I don't know if that's going to happen (laughs). I might be in a rest home playing records for the old women. I don't know, I definitely see myself married with kids, sooner than later. Teaching my kids about music, hoping they go the right way (laughs). You can only do so much. That's kind of the goal, get someplace settled to where you can continue doing what it is you love but get started on the next generation.

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