We love tuning into KCRW on weeknights to hear Raul Campos' smooth voice emanating from the amplifiers, slightly accented and smooth, as he back-announces such gems as Yacht, 1 am Radio, Moby, and more. Those of you who may not be KCRW listeners might know him from when he was a DJ for Power 106, where he hosted their longest running afterhours mix show Power Tools, along with Richard Vission and Swedish Egil. Raul was kind enough to talk to us about how he began DJing for KCRW, his love for electric cars, and his penchant for hanging out with chefs.
How much time would you say it takes you to prepare for your show?
It depends–if I received a lot of new music or it was a long weekend and I haven't gone through a lot of the new stuff that I got in the mail, then it takes me a few hours to go through it. Otherwise, about an hour to prep. Though I'm constantly listening to music throughout the day and thinking loosely about it.
Do you build the entire set before you come in to the studio?
No, but I do come in with an idea of what I'm going to play, look through what shows we're presenting and figure out how to incorporate them into my set. Also it depends on what Garth [Trinidad] has played–if he plays a Jamiroquai song at 9:50 I won't play one at 10:15.
Do you listen to all the music that people send you?
I try to, and I try to give it as fair a listen as possible. If it's something that looks kind of odd or whatever… well, as soon as you play the first track you have an idea whether it's going to be for you. If I like it, I go to track 2 and give it a listen. If I don't like it, I'll just skim through.
Do you really still get CDs, actual physical CDs?
Nowadays we get a lot of links but we actually still get a few dozen physical albums each week that are good. It's tough to keep up with it all, it's almost impossible. Especially now that there are links and MP3s, it's so much easier to put something out — it can just immediately show up in my inbox before the label even puts out a promo. There's just no way that you could keep up with it all so, in a way, we depend on each other here and see what other DJs are playing.
But yeah I try to listen to everything. And sometimes magic happens–something will be hanging out in my car for two weeks and I'll keep forgetting to pop it out and listen to it. And when I do, I really like it!
Have you ever made a really embarrassing mistake on the air?
It happens. You blunder a name, you have dead air. It's live — we have nothing to hide behind!
So nothing really super embarrassing?
Probably the worst disaster was when I went off air and didn't know how to get us back on air. It was one of the first nights I filled in for Jason [Bentley], I think it was Christmas Eve, Christmas night, and the day after.
So I was in here alone, it was the holidays and everyone was gone. There was an assistant, an intern–at the time, we had an analogue [sound] board and what we heard on the speakers is what was heard going over the airwaves. So I'm playing records, mixing and suddenly the studio is filled with a hissing noise and we're off air and I have no idea what to do!
After maybe–15 minutes?–it was bad, like really really really bad. And there was one person in the entire [station] besides the two of us here in the studio and she didn't know what to do either, but she suggested I call one of the engineers. I called our chief engineer and he walked me through it. It was really simple–I had to lower the antenna and raise it. Like resetting it. This was like ten years ago, now there's a manual but at the time I had no idea what to do. One of the first nights I was ever on and I brought down the ship!
What do you feel you bring to KCRW's lineup?
All the DJs in the music department bring their own flavor to the mix. We all come from different backgrounds. That's one of the beauties of KCRW, that we have such a diverse group of programmers. We have the freedom to play what we want. I just do what I do, play the records I like and music that I've grown up listening to and flavors that have inspired me throughout my life. It's just honestly stuff I like. I don't make it a point to be “eclectic,” this is just what I like.
I just played Radiohead, and I've been a big fan of them, but I also love house, electronica, and stuff I heard around the house growing up… rancheras, norteñas, cumbias. My oldest sisters are into Mexican pop from the late 60's and early 70s, my oldest brother is into classic rock and my next oldest brothers were into 80s metal, so it just kind of meshes together and I just pick and pull from all those different sources. But then as a DJ, my roots are disco and old-school hip hop.
Everything that I've brought from my DJ world, DJing clubs, parties, events, I also bring to the airwaves. I just play everything I like.
How has your show changed since when you started?
When I first started on Wednesday nights, I'd play downtempo and some trippy stuff, 'cause being on at midnight I could get away with a lot more. Then when I went to Saturday nights, at around that time the house scene was thriving so it was easy to gravitate towards that sound and focus. Now that I'm on the air Monday through Friday, it can't be 'disco Saturday' very night of the week and I've opened up a lot more. Now I have around 10 hours of programming and I can focus on breaking artists and breaking an album by playing different cuts on it.
When you're on once a week, you play 30 songs and next week you have 30 more songs, but playing Monday-Friday allows me to play a bigger variety of stuff. I have an idea of what artists I want to promote this week or over the course of a few weeks. If I get a new album I like, I want to try to help that artist and break them. Like The One AM Radio, I really dig their sound so I'm really going to try to push it cause I like it. So that's what it comes down to, we play what we like and hope enough people out there enjoy it!
How did you get involved with KCRW, being on the radio?
I started volunteering in 1998. Back then Nic Harcourt was the music director. And at the time, Jason Bentley was getting really busy with Maverick Records and doing music supervision. He was taking off a lot of time and getting a lot of subs. When I started volunteering I was putting away CDs in the music library and one day Nic walked in to put stuff away after Morning Becomes Eclectic, and I asked him what it took to be on the air. He asked me if I had any experience and I said “Well nothing I could put on a resume.” It was pirate radio and parties and stuff, back in the day. He kind of laughed and goes, “Make me a demo.” And I said “it's that easy?” And he said, “make it and we'll go from there.”
Was it that easy?
This was at a time when they were looking for someone to fill the gap — being from a club background I had a similar sensibility to [Jason Bentley's show] Metropolis. When I molded my show, that was what I liked so that was really what I wanted to do. Nic liked my demo, but I still had some stuff to work on and he really mentored me. I learned a lot from him. And this was the right time, right place. Nic saw that I had a similar sensibility, that I could play the same style and that I knew how to mix records. Back then Jason was one of the only DJs mixing live on air at KCRW.
OK I'm going to put you on the spot. It's 2 am and you need a floor filler at a club in Silverlake. What do you play?
Wow, that's a tough one. It depends who I'm playing for. If it's deep house, it's “Hey Hey” or a classic like “Follow Me” or something. But for the Silverlake kids, meaybe DFA? Discodeine, Hot Chip, Groove Armada, and maybe tracks like Super Stylin'. Or Chemical Brothers. And classic reggae, Dawn Penn's “You Don't Love Me” or Musical Youth's “Pass the Dutchie”–those go off really well. And if it's disco you can always play Donna Summer. And you can never go wrong with Michael Jackson! Everything has been so kind of dissected into different genres–you have to play specific music at specific clubs. I'd love to do a club where you play everything-hip hop, funk, disco, house, Latin, reggae— it'd be cool do something like that again.
Who has been your favorite guest DJ?
We've had Rick Bayless, Kerry Simon, lots of chefs. I totally dig watching the PBS cooking shows.
You like hanging out with chefs and playing records?
Ha yes, I love having chefs, I'm a total foodie! The Guest DJ project is a feature that lives online only. We take actors or directors, people who aren't in the music industry and let them DJ. We tape these usually in the afternoon and it runs for about a week. So yeah, chefs are fun!
What DJ would you like to have for the KCRW guest DJ project?
I'd love to get one of the CNN people, or someone like Rachel Maddow. I think she'd be really fun. Or maybe someone from the Dodgers, that would be great. My cousin played for the Dodgers, and we were trying to get one of them. But to get them, the Dodgers, it's hard. They still train in the off-season and they train 8, 10 hours a day during the seasons so it's tough to get one of them. Or Vin Scully, the Dodgers announcer. That would be fascinating! I think it'd be killer. And I grew up listening to the guy, being from LA I'm a Dodger fan. He'd probably have so many great stories.
What upcoming releases are you most excited about?
The Moby release–I've been a fan of him for a long time. I've been a fan of his since Go, the Voodoo Child, techno days. The new one will be out in May, and he's a friend of the KCRW family–Moby gets it, he's a big supporter. Right now he's letting us play three of the tracks from his upcoming album and you can get those songs for free on the KCRW music blog even though it isn't out until May! The new Raphael Saadiq is also coming out soon and it too is really good.
What about events?
I'm DJing the inaugeral ball for the Mexican American cultural center in Downtown LA, known as La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, on April 9. They're closing a portion of Main Street for it, it's going to be ridiculous!
A lot of the KCRW DJs work as music supervisors. Have you had the opportunity to experience that at all?
I started working on a documentary called Revenge of the Electric Car. It's directed by Chris Paine, who has been tracing the progression of these companies trying to get an electric car out. It follows around some heads from the auto industry — Nissan, GM, Tesla and another independent car builder who does conversions in his garage and goes by the name of Gadget. The film shows how everyone is so gung ho on the electric car and then the economy crashes and all these companies run into problems. And now we know they got bailed out, and the cars are coming out on the market so the documentary is very timely. I'm sure they didn't expect this movie to be four years in the making but with all the ups and downs, that's how long it took. This is the first movie in which I've supervised the music and I don't consider myself a music supervisor. The director is a fan of my show and asked me to help him out basically, and add my flavor to the movie. I loved [Who Killed the Electric Car] and saw a rough cut of Revenge, and I thought it was awesome. It started out as research–I picked songs to fit the vibe. Then it turned into supervision, then I ended up co-producing some of the songs.
This was your first experience supervising film music. Was it hard?
I've heard horror stories from other supervisors, but this project has been phenomenal. Picking out music was pretty easy because the director, producer and editors are into the vibe I play at KCRW. I've passed on various projects in the past, but this one was a no brainer because it was clear what they wanted musically. We did run into budget problems, after all it is a documentary. So a bunch of tunes were actually produced for the movie. The difficult thing about producing a quality record–any quality record — is the idea. So once the idea is developed and you know what they want to hear for the scene, it's almost formulaic.
How did you get involved in the project?
I met Chris Paine at his house for an event he had. That's where he first told me about the movie. I'm a total car junkie, so it really got me excited. I also told him about a producer I collaborate with. Chris Paul, he's out in Palm Springs and produced a lot. He did the Orangeman raves, had big records on Island and Tommy Boy so he's an incredible producer. A mutual friend introduced us and we've done remixes for West Indian Girl, DJ'd together and stuff for the movie. I was able to get in music from Rilo Kiley, The Crystal Method, Cake, it's a good soundtrack! There were some songs I wanted to get and couldn't, songs that sample other songs, etc. Chris and I just gel so well, and depending on the vibe I'll work with whoever can bring something to it. But the movie–I knew right away I'd work with Chris on it. I think it's going to be great!
You can hear Raul Campos' show weeknights on KCRW 89.9FM between 10pm and 12am, or stream it live on KCRW.com. If you miss it, you can hear his show in the archives here: https://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/no
Guest DJ Project links:
Kerry Simon https://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/gd/gd110223kerry_simon
Rick Bayless: https://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/gd/gd101013rick_bayless
Jose Andres https://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/gd/gd091125jose_andres