Interview w/ DJ C

Boston's DJ C has been steady killin it for years now. As the head of the Mashit imprint, he's put out some of the most noteworthy ragga jungle tunes in recent memory, earning praises from the late great John Peel and countless others. As of late, DJ C has been busy developing a new club sound termed Boston Bounce, along with releasing two albums of forward thinking beats. The most recent of these lps - Sonic Weapons - is in heavy rotation right now, so should be coming through your stereo in the very near future. DJ C was good enough to chat it up with me from his new base camp in Chicago.

As part of the Toneburst Collective, you helped put together numerous events that fell outside the boundaries of rock, hip- hop or rave scenes of late '90s Boston. How did that come about?

I was attending the Massachusetts College of Art at the time and was producing music in the Studio for Interrelated Media (SIM) department. My professors there got me thinking about what context I'd like to see/hear my music in.

SIM is the department you go into if you feel too restricted by, or don't fit into the other departments at MassArt, so people are presenting works in many media; performance, film/video, sound, photography, sculpture etc. on any given week. We students were responsible for producing the studio class each week, where other students would present their work for critique. So event production was a big part of what we learned. Producing a class might involve setting up sound-systems, video projection, hanging art, stage management, lighting etc.

Meanwhile, the fact of the matter is that I wanted my music to be seen/heard at parties and in clubs. Unfortunately I didn't have connections in the clubs, and my music was kind of left-field-dub, jungle, instrumental-hip-hop-as opposed to the house and techno that was big in Boston clubs at the time.

The obvious decision: produce my own parties. I began producing small parties at MassArt for and with students, after-hours. I also got involved in some events that one of the SIM grad-students was doing at her loft in South Boston. She had been a student at Harvard and had a network of folks from there, some of whom became founding members of Toneburst with me.

DJ /rupture was doing a radio show at the MIT station at the time and I was introduced to him by some of these Harvard folks. Eventually I threw my first party in Glochester, MA with /rupture, Embryo(Splice and Raffi from Harvard), some video/instalation peeps from MassArt, and some DJs from the Boston College radio station. The party went well. /rupture, Splice and I decided we should try to do it monthly. The next month we did it again under the name Toneburst and that was the first of many Toneburst parties in locations that ranged from out-doors on the street, to the Boston Childrens Museum.

Your production seems to reflect a similar heedlessness for sticking to one genre of electronic music. How does this impact your approach to live performance? Put another way, are there restrictions to being "DJ" C?

Heedlessness is a great word! One of the nuns in the Montessori pre- school I went to told my mom I was heedless. So you can see it goes way back.

I don't have many restrictions. I just play what I like. I don't ignore the audience though. I work together with them to achieve the feedback loop that occurs when things work right. If I can craft a good mix, and the crowd is responsive then the mix gets better and the response gets better and so on.

One common thread through most of your tunes (regardless of tempo or genre) is polyrhythmic - and what I can only describe as 'dirty' - drumkits. What led you to develop that sort of sound?

That's very observant. I don't know that I would have put my finger on that myself. I just happen to like polyrhythms, or at least syncopation. There's a kind of tension that's created when rhythms stray outside a strict/simple frame. That's the tension that makes me move. Some people prefer the strict frame, I like my beats outside the lines. Same goes for the dirtyness. Music needs imperfection, and rawness for me to truly enjoy it. Not too much though. My favorite music stratals the line between formulaic pop and experimental, underground sound.

Jungle(and now to some degree dubstep) artists have developed a sort of canon for the way tracks are produced. This often influences the arrangement of the track in order to cater to DJs, and also narrows the range of samples used in otherwise instrumental tunes. As a producer, how do you view these sort of conventions?

I think you've touched on the reason why I always feel like an outsider from every scene. I'm never willing to conform to the rules that become established once the scene emerges. I think those frameworks can be valuable, and inspiring at times. I just can't stick to them. I also think they are the inevitable downfall of a scene. Unless rules are broken and changed movements become stale. All new and exciting genres come out of combining other genres.

You've recently produced a number of tracks with (vocalists) Zulu & Quality Diamond, some of which have seen numerous voicings over the same riddim. Can we expect more of this sort of collaboration? Do you foresee more American producers using what has traditionally been a Jamaican approach to releasing multiple vocalists on a track?

I do plan to do more of that. Now that I'm in Chicago, in close proximity to Zulu, he and I will certainly do more work together. I like the various vocalists on a riddim thing, and I'm also a fan of the mashup, so sometimes I just lay acapellas over beats I've made. I don't really understand why more american producers don't do the riddim thing. It's so jamaican.

What can we expect from Mashit and Beat Research in the future?

Beat Research continues as weekly party in Cambridge, MA with residents Wayne&Wax; and DJ Flack. Mashit.com recently launched a blog/podcast and will be launching a download store soon. Lots of good free downloads are already available: http://Mashit.com

When are we gonna hear more melodica?

Good point! I'll get on that.

Audio archive of DJ C's live performance at Local 506 in April 2006 is available here. In addition to Sonic Weapons being in the WXYC playbox right now, you can hear plenty of DJ C's tunes Sunday evenings 10-midnite(or anytime) on WXYC's New Science Experience mix show.