Taking the DJ performance to a new level is a tall task. Since DJs stepped outside of the club and onto the stage, they've struggled with making the often-obscure craft translate to their crowd. What began as confusion over cross-faders and bad viewing angles has since gotten much worse, as two turntables have been joined by laptops. It's not fun to watch someone seemingly checking their email. While electronic acts have made efforts with light shows and special effects, not much has been done for the hip-hop DJ since turntablist-centric groups like the X-ecutioners and Invisibl Skratch Piklz figured out that screens should show the artists' hands cutting and scratching. (Although, Z-Trip, Peanut Butter Wolf and others have made great strides blending audio and visual.)
But DJ Skee is trying to change all that.
Tonight at Vanguard, he debuts Skeetox, an event that's been in the works for over six months and promises “the future” and “special surprise guests” from long-term Skee collaborators (possibilities include LA heavy hitters like The Game, Snoop, Evidence and Freddie Gibbs). He's got a band full of studio and touring musicians–two guitarists, a bassist, a bunch of keyboards, a drummer–and enough LED lights to infect ravers with epilepsy.
It's a lot to pull off correctly, but Skee hasn't done much else but come correct since coming to Los Angeles from Minneapolis. He started at Power 106 and has since moved on to KIIS-FM's Sunday night show and a weekly gig on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Skee has also become one of the country's Top-5 mixtape DJs, nominated for eight Justo Awards in 2008 alone. And then there's the marketing/multi-media side, where he turned a gig at SRC Marketing into a company of his own, one that's worked with Nike, T-Mobile, Universal, and spawned the popular Skee.TV, which has accumulated 110 million YouTube hits for its interviews, freestyles and behind-the-scenes action.
But the live element was lacking and we caught up with DJ Skee this week to find out why it was so important to fix that.
And if you're too cool to leave your computer for a live event, you can stream Skeetox live from your laptop at 10 PM
How did the idea of Skeetox originate?
I've been thinking on this for a year and a half, two years, especially with how big DJ culture is getting with games like DJ Hero. And the live DJ show is typically underwhelming–I'm talking about concerts because clubs are another story. It's tough for a DJ to give a real concert behind two turntables and a laptop, which just isn't that exciting to watch. A lot of people who don't know the specifics [of DJing] might not really understand what is going on. So I wanted to flip it and mix the elements of a great live show–talented people onstage and the crazy lights–with what a DJ can do. I'm not just playing along with tracks, we're creating them live. The band is remixing the track and I'm chopping up the vocals–there's so much freedom in this set-up, it's a lot of fun. If I had the just the beat playing behind it, it wouldn't sound as good.
How did you make the song selections for Skeetox?
I obviously had some idea when we went into the studio, but it really came from that. I wanted it to be a real mix of songs, so you can hear everything from Eminem to Bon Jovi to TLC to Marvin Gaye, everything across genres and generations. So we had this dream set and then from there, the toughest part was finding all the acapellas because so many songs don't have them. We called in favors and did some cool tricks for songs that we really wanted, but we needed to have the stand-alone vocal to make it work. We couldn't do it with just tracks, that was against the whole purpose. [But in the end], we wanted to make the show enjoyable for people who may not know a lot about music, as well as the most hard-core critical music fans. The critical type might be like “oh damn, they switched it that?” and the average person might not notice such a small thing, but will still have fun with it.
Besides just having a band, how important are its individual pieces?
This show wouldn't be possible without them, we have some of the best musicians. They all understand everything from the true music theory to really rocking a party. It's really been great and actually given me even more ideas about what I can do in the future.
What was your involvement with the visual aspect, the lights and all that?
I don't know the technical aspects, like what kind of screens and all that. But my thing is that I know how to get people who are great at what they do. I just want this to be the craziest thing in the world, and then I gave him a little bit of my vision, and [Total Solution Production–same company behind Alicia Keys at the Great Wall of China and Jay-Z at the World Series] came back with their version, and then we were able to go back and forth with what was possible. So I was definitely hands on with that part of it. It's going to be a full experience–people can come and dance like at a club or sit back and watch the show. Even with today's ADD culture, people are going to walk away tired from this show.
One of the most buzz-worthy artists you've worked with is Freddie Gibbs…are you guys working on an album yet?
We're actually working right now on a mixtape and trying to figure out the next step–whether it's dropping an EP or an album or some more multi-media stuff–so we'll see where it goes. There are no rules right now, that's why we're blessed to be independent artists, we can do our own thing. And Gibbs is obviously blowing up everywhere.