Kenji Yoshinobu's Posts
|I'm a volunteer KDHX music writer and music lover. I make my home in Elsah, Illinois.|
St. Louisians D-Ex and Furius “Iceman” Stylz, the award-winning DJs and hip-hop diehards behind Deep Krate Radio, have a combined 50-plus years of experience as DJs.
That isn’t including the other members of their respected collective of veteran DJs and producers in the Wax Murdaraz crew. Individually, D-Ex and Iceman have made their names primarily as battle DJs, showcasing their innovative turntable talents on regional and national stages. Despite their experience and accomplishments, the two remain humble devotees to the art form of DJing, both on-air at 88.1 KDHX, and all over St. Louis.
I had the pleasure of conducting the interview at the Wax Murdaraz HQ where the crew rehearses and runs a DJ school. The basement-turned-bat-cave is decorated as an encyclopedic shrine of action figures, posters, comic books and of course plenty of vinyl. The HQ even has a pinball machine.
Amidst the mass quantity of cultural relics, D-Ex and Iceman shared their thoughts on the “vinyl versus digital” DJ debate, the process of putting together a Deep Krate Radio show and their contentment with where they are professionally.
Kenji Yoshinobu: How did you guys hook up with KDHX?
D-Ex: Before we had Deep Krate Radio the first show I was hosting was a show called “Street Vibes.” That was G. Wizard’s show. He was going through some transitions with hosts on the show. At the time I was hosting a hip-hop video show backed by Double Helix, called “Fat Clips.” G-Wiz wanted me to host “Street Vibes,” but I turned him down. Not that I had a problem with his show — I loved his show! But it came on Friday nights, and for me it was more comfortable to sit back at the crib on a Friday. At the time I had to work early Saturday morning, at like 4 a.m., so I just wanted to kick back and enjoy the show. But push came to shove and I took him up on his offer.
So from ’95 to ’98 I did “Street Vibes.” G-Wiz semi-retired from radio DJing at that time, and DJ Alejan and myself started DJing on Street Vibes around ’97. Then we started “Da Science,” a radio show on 88.1, but then six months later we took it out of the studio and to Blueberry Hill and did that for maybe eight years. Then we came back to the station and continued “Da Science” for a while, then I brought in Iceman and we changed the name to “Deep Krate Radio.” That was 2007 and we’re still at it now.
How long have you guys been DJing?
Iceman: I’ve been DJing since like ’88.
D-Ex: I first started to teach myself to DJ in ’84. From that point on I was pretty much just in the crib getting my skills together recording. First time I DJed publicly was like ’89.
You guys have pretty much seen hip-hop since its beginning. How has DJing changed since then?
Iceman: For the most part, I really don’t like the new DJ because the DJ used to mix. Nowadays the DJ just puts on a record and doesn’t mix it into another record. I used to go to the club and watch a DJ cut and mix and it created a certain vibe. These days DJs have got all the technology and they are just pressing buttons. You don’t even know what they are doing. It is just changing.
D-Ex: Part of the excitement was looking at the DJ and seeing what they were doing. It was cool to see how they would bring in a record and overlap it over another. They’d do little tricks with the crossfader. Just watching them made me want to learn how to do it. It is different now. You definitely have DJs, like Iceman said, that don’t do much. They bring their computer in and they might not even have turntables. They just are pressing buttons, looking like a mad scientist behind the computer, and music is just coming out.
It is probably harder for people to follow someone who might want to become a DJ and get a grasp on what is going on. We were always looking at hand movement, style, all of that. There are still a lot of DJs who use the new technology, but still get busy with the mixing. But Iceman and I use the technology on the radio too. All the digital formats. But we are also using our analog skills.
This is a list of records I found while digging through the excellent record stores that St. Louis has to offer. I did enjoy a number of 2011 releases, but this year my most memorable experiences listening to music came from these records (with the exception of the new Thundercat album).
Happy 2012! Enjoy all the music you can before the world ends!
The Beach Boys – “I Can Hear Music/ All I Want To Do” 7″
I’ve always liked Carl Wilson’s voice best and he has superb lead vocals on this Barry/Greenwich/Spector-penned song. Good song to sing if you’re trying to get out of jury duty.
Blue Magic – “Blue Magic”
I only got this album because of the song “Look Me Up.” If I had a falsetto like that I’d probably try to play in the WNBA.
Bootsy Collins – “Ultra Wave”
“F-Encounter” is a song everyone should experience at a party. Preferably, a freaky party with costumes.
D-Train – “You’re The One For Me”
Classic dance album from ’82. The record cover — a woman smiling at D-Train from the window of a train — is actually how D-Train meets all his women. COME RIDE THE D-TRAIN, BABY! Fun Fact: D-Train helped write the Pokemon rap song for the cartoon show. Don’t call it a comeback.
Deodato – “Artistry”
Gotta cite my sources and say my boyee Neil showed me this. It was recorded live at the Mississippi River Festival in Edwardsville, Ill. I can’t believe how crisp the sound is for a live recording — this ain’t “Kiss Alive” sucka! My fav song is “Rio Sangre.”
Concert review: Beirut and Laetitia Sadier tour the worlds of pop and folk at the Pageant, Sunday, October 9
The album best represents Condon’s incomparable sound, which combines traditional Balkan music, French pop and electronic music. Beirut’s evocative pastiches of romantic and foreign festivity have given the group plenty of fodder for lively shows around the world. Quite a few came out on the eve before Columbus Day to see Condon and Co. play under strings of light bulbs that were reminiscent of the patio area in Italian restaurants.
The crowd was unprepared for opener Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab fame. For the first few songs she seemed to masquerade playfully as a quirky coffee shop singer/songwriter, just getting her big break opening for a hip indie buzzband. She took no time in charming the crowd as a one-woman band lightly picking at a Gibson SG.
But as Sadier’s set continued she revealed to a youthful crowd that she was a veteran performer. Her songs were gorgeous vocally and backed by simple guitar chords. Her soft voice filled the room and ebbed and flowed with her chummy strums. She used the crowd’s detachment from her celebrity to her advantage, ending songs with a blood-curdling scream or funny vocal effects. She later revealed her allegiance with a bubbly cover of Stereolab’s “International Colouring Contest.”
Just when it seemed her act could benefit from a backing band, Beirut’s rhythm section and horn section each respectively stepped in for a song each. The arrangements with and without a backing group showcased Sadier’s songwriting with a minimal apparatus. It was safe to say that people who didn’t know Sadier from her Stereolab resume left with a strong impression of her. It was possible too that Sadier, if given more time, could have run away with Beirut’s show.
For the last three years, Chris Lawyer has been the host of Hip City on 88.1 KDHX, each Wednesday, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Central. Every show is an opportunity to get schooled on some of the best and lesser-known gems of ’60s, ’70s and current funk and soul music, with the occasional cut of hip-hop thrown in for good measure.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lawyer over some soda pops at Shameless Grounds to discuss the origins of his show, some of his favorite aspects of music and how the media has always dumbed down James Brown.
Kenji Yoshinobu: Have you lived here your whole life?
Chris Lawyer: Yeah. I was born, raised and educated in St. Louis. I went to college at St. Louis University. Moved to Chicago for a while and did some acting, but I came back.
What do you do professionally?
I’m an actor when I can find the work, but here you’ve got to have a day job also. I paint houses when I’m not acting.
How did you get involved with KDHX?
I was working in construction, so I was listening to the radio like eight hours a day. I listened for a long time. Eventually I started working for myself so I had a lot more flexibility schedule-wise, and I decided to help answer phones during one of the membership drives. I did that for several years and then they asked me to be a supervisor. I took the training so I could sub for people on other shows. And three years ago when they made some scheduling changes, they offered me a slot.
What is the origin of your show’s name?
It is actually a song by Junior Walker and the All-Stars, a Motown band. I’d always loved Junior Walker and the name just fit.
How did you get into funk and soul music?
I was raised on classic rock and also the oldies in my mom’s car. In my dad’s car it was classical. I also had an affinity for rhythm and blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. But when “The Blues Brothers” movie came out, I was about 11 or 12 years old and I remember wondering what they were listening to. I saw they had a Sam & Dave eight-track in their car and I thought, “I gotta get that.” I started picking up on stuff they were listening to along with what I had heard on the radio and just kind of kept going from there.
Do you shop for records often?
I don’t know about often. The economics of the times have conspired against me buying lots of things. But buying used records is certainly inexpensive. I actually have a lot of success at the library. KDHX, with all the music coming in there, is a great resource. And it’s nice to have people who look out for you, like our music director, Nick Acquisto. When something comes in that he thinks will fit my show he points me to it. There are a few other DJs who do the same kind of thing. Kate [host of Beep Beep Boop Boop] and Valis [host of Trip Inside This House] have turned me on to a few new things. It’s a nice musical community here at KDHX where we’re sharing with each other and there’s this sort of cross-pollination between genres.
The music of Black Moth Super Rainbow exists in a dimension where the best analog sounds of electronic and psychedelic music delightfully coexist. That being said, it is hard to imagine a live show capable of accurately portraying what the experimental band from Pittsburgh puts to record.
There are animatronic drums, dainty and careening synthesizers, and a purring vocoder controlled by Black Moth Super Rainbow’s enigmatic frontman, Tom Fec (aka Tobacco). On tour in support of their expanded reissue of the seminal album “Dandelion Gum,” the group took to Off Broadway Monday night to demonstrate how well their music translates from trippy recordings to an ethereal live experience.
Opening band, Marshmallow Ghosts, led by Ryan Graveface — a member of Black Moth Super Rainbow and the founder of Graveface Records — played a quick set of ghoulish, fuzzed out songs. Graveface wore what looked like a customized S&M mask with black and white stripes and a microphone inserted inside, while the bass player wore a French mime mask and the drummer wore a fluorescent pumpkin mask. Half the set, Graveface hid behind a large box probably containing a plethora of effect pedals and gadgets. He reappeared periodically to deliver distorted, indecipherable vocals.
The band played in front of a backdrop of surreal, horror-movie-styled visuals. Perhaps the visuals were from the band’s own horror flick, “Corpse Reviver No. 2,” which accompanies the October 11 release of Marshmallow Ghosts’ debut self-titled album. The early crowd at Off Broadway seemed confused by the short set, which featured a heartfelt soliloquy from the girl bassist about her mother, a lot of noodling synthesizers and Graveface adjusting and readjusting the effects on his vocals.
Martin Dosh (aka Dosh), a Minneapolis native, took to the stage shortly after and threw down jam after jam using a deep cache of loop pedals, samplers and other instruments. His forte was the drums; he unleashed some funky beats, all the while looping them and controlling the mix from a giant mixing board. The unassuming maestro breezed through his time, which heavily featured playing and drumming on his Fender Rhodes keyboard. The wandering crowd got pretty chatty throughout Dosh’s set, but Dosh got their attention when he threw a Radiohead jingle (“Everything Is In Its Right Place”) into the mix.
Concert review: The War on Drugs (with Caveman) hook indie rock fans at the Billiken Club, Tuesday, August 30
The Billiken Club at St. Louis University is an intimate and inexpensive (as in free admission) way to enjoy some of the more buzzed-about bands in indie music. On Tuesday night the student-run music venue hosted Philadelphia’s the War On Drugs and Brooklyn’s Caveman, the first show of its fall lineup.
While I thought Caveman might be some ironic hipster dude with a laptop, it turned out the opening band was a drone-rocking five-piece. Caveman’s entire set — new songs from their debut album “Coco Beware” — existed under a soft blanket of shoegazey distortion that was punctured by two percussionists, one being lead vocalist, Matthew Iwanusa, sharing the duties on the drum kit. It was impressive to see how the two drummers transformed sluggish, beautiful noise into a strange indie rock tribal gathering as Iwanusa tried to sing in time.
I later heard from members of the band that their drummer was sick and they were forced to split drumming duties between an old friend kind enough to fill in and Iwanasa. For performance purposes this tactic of tom, snare, and cymbal rationing worked well during the jams when the guitar and keyboards rose in the mix, but the drumming seemed to distract from and drown out a lot of the melody within the songs, especially Iwanusa’s softer croon. After listening to the band’s music on Myspace, songs like “Decide” and “Old Friend” sound much better served by a single drummer. Get well soon, drummer for Caveman!
The War On Drugs’ new album, “Slave Ambient” is a masterpiece and I was excited to see it performed, as I’d read that front man, Adam Granduciel, had worked tirelessly for three years to craft every song. The songs on “Slave Ambient” all have an Americana backbone, with Granduciel’s signature distorted guitar murmurs, but are sonically bolstered by glossy synthesizers. The combination of triumphant heartland rock and buzzing shoegaze — with a little new wave for nostalgic purposes — makes “Slave Ambient” sound like Day 1 (or even the last day) of a road trip across the U.S.A.
Performing all this fresh and calculated material seemed like a breeze for Granduciel and his three backing members. The singer is known for having stage fright, but he was able to execute his front man duties without any flaws. Although he played most of the set with his eyes closed, his presence as a vocalist and lead guitarist was captivating. Whenever Granduciel stepped to the mic to sing, his voice, reminiscent of Dylan, penetrated the entire room, despite the babble of atmosphere created by all the stomp pedal effects rigged up to his guitar.
The band high tailed it through “Slave Ambient” standouts “Come To The City” and “Your Love Is Calling My Name”; both had marching qualities to them with varying tempos. Often the War On Drugs smoothly wove songs together and created ambient noise before launching into new selections. They only paused a few times to acknowledge the audience, and I didn’t realize how big the crowd was at the Billiken until Granduciel asked, “What is a Billiken?” No one seemed to really know, but a “hybrid dwarf/vampire” was the answer that got the most positive reaction from the crowd.
San Francisco knows its psychedelia. So when a young band like Sleepy Sun materializes from the Bay Area and quickly makes its name on the scene, you know that some serious psych fans have vetted them.
Coming off a laid-back summer on the West Coast, the five-piece will be visiting St. Louis with a fresh batch of material to grind into Midwest cerebra. I talked with lead vocalist Bret Constantino about working on new material, playing festivals and his favorite psych music.
Kenji Yoshinobu: Did you have a good summer in California?
Bret Constantino: We played a couple small shows. For the most part we’ve been hard at work on our new record. It has been really great to step away from the touring lifestyle and hunker down, listen to new music and in a way reinvent ourselves, which is always a challenge. We got a studio space for the first time in a couple years and we’re enjoying being residents of one city rather than residents of the highway.
Do you have a title for the new record?
No, we’re not there yet. We’re getting ready to book studio time and we want to do it before the end of this year. We’re still not quite done with it. Usually the final touches happen in the studio, so it doesn’t need to be completely finished before we go into the studio.
Will we be hearing any new songs at LouFest?
Oh yeah! We’re going to be playing mostly new songs, and the last tour we went on with the Black Angeles we played mostly new songs. You’ll get an impression of the new direction we are heading. It’s a little bit different, I think.
How is working on the new songs different from two years ago when you released “Embrace?”
We’re definitely stronger musicians at this point with more experience writing songs together. The group dynamic has changed a lot, but I think it has changed in a way that will make stronger songs. The dynamic is still that we’re writing them together. They are more concise with less space in terms of length. More concentrated and conceptualized. Whatever felt good we went with. We’re trying to take more of a “mature approach,” at least that’s what we’re calling it.
Is the songwriting process different now that Rachel Fannan has left the band?
I don’t think the songwriting process will be different, but definitely the live performance process. Obviously we don’t have a female voice anymore, but with “Embrace” and “Fever” the songs demanded female vocals and our new songs don’t. The older songs we wrote keeping in mind that there would be space for a female and vocal harmony. The nature of the performance now is different, but it feels much better for me. It can be a lot more unhinged with less people on stage.
Concert review: Elsinore (with Scarlet Tanager and Santah) charge through the Firebird, Friday, August 19
My introduction to the band was watching their off-the-wall puppet video for their bouncy single, “Tumbleweed.” I was surprised when I saw actual people playing on stage and not the cast of some defunct “Nick Jr.” show. The six-piece band had the presence of a self-possessed posse, with lead vocalist Susan Logsdon as the gang’s leader. Logsdon chirped in front of an animated band that backed her with jubilant exclamations and harmonies.
I was impressed by the band’s chemistry; they threw curveballs with their percussion, notably a marching band bass drum that formed the centerpiece for at least half the set. The music, with its twee-pop sensibilities, was full of energy, and by the end of a Patsy Cline cover (which reminded me of my own adventures at Twangfest 2011), Logsdon bashfully admitted, “That one always takes my breath away.”
Chicago’s Santah had one of the better light shows I’ve seen at the Firebird. Not that anything special was added to the venue’s array of colored lights hanging behind the band. The colors just seemed to fade in and out at the right times while the five-piece navigated through their songs. The lights shone brightest when the two guitarists, vocalists and siblings, Stanton and Vivian McConnell, blended their voices in an elegant, off-kilter manner, sounding like a soulful country duo. Stanton assumed frontman duties; his wildness came through during the jams as he turned to face drummer Steve Plock.
Certain aspects of the set, however, came off listless and contrived: A few songs sent some of the crowd off the floor, and in the middle of “Neighbors and Cousins” Stanton gave a cringe-worthy sermon about having nothing to lose vs. having something to lose. But the best moments came when the band was locked in on brief yet punctuating guitar solos by Stanton; those brought some welcome rock catharsis.
After Elsinore‘s first song, “Chemicals,” I was pissed. The Champagne-Urbana quartet had the audacity to open with one of its catchiest tunes. I had the chorus stuck in my head the rest of the show. Elsinore managed that trick again as they closed with their ultimate sing-a-long, “Yes Yes Yes.”
Guitarist and lead vocalist Ryan Groff is among the better singers I’ve seen live. The dude has a range that vacillates between choirboy to coffee-shop crooner. He even did a decent Ian Curtis impression during the first verse of “Love Will Tear Us Apart (Elsinore Remix).” My suspicion that he could make it as a solo artist was affirmed when a friend said, “I don’t see the band, I only see the singer.” Not that the other members in Elsinore weren’t talented; Groff just has the kind of voice that displaces everything else. At times, such as the slow-spin breakdown during “The General,” I felt like I was watching Groff sing at a temple rather than a bar. It’s rare to see performances by rock bands where the singer sounds as good as the recorded versions of their songs, and sometimes even better.
The other notable part of Elsinore’s set was how beautifully each song took off galloping during the catchiest bits, then, led by drummer David Pride, the songs would almost completely disintegrate before building back up to the hammering choruses.
At the conclusion of Elsinore’s affirmation anthem (and the soundtrack to Kohl’s latest commercial), the crowd, led by spirited dancers that had been trying to upstage the band all night, was chanting, “Yes!”
The crowd wanted an encore; the band might not have been prepared for it. Elsinore sheepishly waved to the crowd and headed to their merch table. For me, this simple denial was another highlight. I was able to drive home and begin the process of getting the chorus to “Chemicals” out of my head. Maybe some dubstep would cure me.