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DJ Vice Interview

DJ Vice, The Mayor DJ of Las Vegas, holds it down all around the world and is no stranger to travel. With non-stop DJ gigs, opening a boutique, and most recent collaboration with Tumi for his co-branded DJ / Travel bag, the Tumi x Vice Brief Pack, it’s safe to say dude is busier than ever. We sat down with Vice to catch up and talk shop.

Dj Vice

You started as a Radio DJ on Power 106, how did this help you to become who you are as a DJ?

Radio trained me to perfect my mixes with no flaws. We mixed live on the air so there was no room for error.

You have held a residency at Tao in Las Vegas for years now, how do you keep it fresh for yourself and the crowd?

Vegas has a rotating crowd. Every weekend a new wave of people come to town which brings a different vibe to the room. It’s the same puzzle just different pieces every week!

What does your travel schedule like?

Busy! I rival a politicians campaign schedule.

From talking to Roctakon, Ross One, and other touring club guys, it seems like the touring DJ life is very lonely. Lots of time to think, repetition etc. What is your take on it?

I try to find new things to do in cities I visit frequently. I’m also a big shoe collector so there is always somewhere to dig…guess it replaced my vinyl hunting in someways.

Is the DJ lifestyle cushy?

It’s a never ending grind. I’ve been DJing over 20 years now and still find new inspiration daily…the moment I sit comfortable is the moment I will retire.

Can you list the DJ things you bring to a gig (be specific)?

– My Tumi X Vice Briefpack carrying my MacBook Air 11″,
– Bose Noise cancelling headphones
– USB cords for HID mode on CDJ 2000’s
AIAIAI headphones
– Zagg USB charger
– Multiple USB jump drives
– My custom ear plugs to protect my ears…they don’t always make it in.

You have played your early set and you are moving into prime time. How do you get the crowd to recognize there is a real skilled DJ behind the decks? Do you have go-to mini-sets. What are your most effective one?

I honestly don’t have any go-to sets…I still feel like I am a house party DJ doing my thing in a mega nightclub or festival. I have tried to plan a set here and there and every time I end up free styling after a couple records.
Dj Vice x Tumi

Do you ever say F it and play things that a big vegas crowd might not want to hear?

Sure!! That’s what makes us DJs!

Do you ever mess up?

All the time! Like I said…I don’t plan my sets or tricks or even word plays so if I mess up or my mix slips a lil bit that actually feels human to me and I hope the crowd can appreciate that in some sort of way. Take risks!

Do you play requests?

Depends.

Who has inspired you as a professional DJ?

Jazzy Jeff, Jam Master Jay, KDAY mixmasters, Baka Boys & DJ AM!

Tips / words of wisdom for aspiring big club DJs?

Do You! Represent yourself and know your brand. Be humble and know that what ever you envision can happen.

What input did you have on your Tumi bag?

I worked very closely with the head designer of Tumi. Together we focused to meet my high standards for protection, functionality & style.
Tumi x DJ Vice

The bag is kinda pricey, what is your response to that?

The brief pack is the best in class quality hands down. Do you wanna fly coach or first class in life!?

TOP 5 DJ Records of ALL TIME

1. Run DMC – Peter Piper
2. Outkast – Spottieottiedopalicious
3. Aly us – Follow Me
4. EPMD – Crossover
5. Eric Prydz – Pjanoo

TOP 5 Listening Records of ALL TIME

1. Moby – Porcelain
2. Bob Marley – Is This Love
3. Garden State Soundtrack
4. Depeche Mode – Somebody (ED note: FUCK YES!!!)
5. The Cure – Lullabye

TOP 5 Things to eat

1. Pho – Pho So1 Vegas
2. Ramen – Totto Ramen NYC
3. Pizza – Lou Malnati’s Chicago
4. Turkey Burgers – Five Napkin
5. “Win Omlet” Bea Bea’s in Burbank CA

What were you like high school?

A DJ!

You like Asian girls?

I married one!

Special thanks and congratulations to DJ Vice for the interview and all the success he has maintained. His recent travel backpack collaboration with Tumi is one of the fastest selling items in Turntable Lab history and easily one of the best DJ bags ever built. Read more interviews from Turntable Lab and keep up with us on the Labstagram (@turntablelab) for more exclusive content.

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Express Rising / Dante Carfagna Interview

We caught up with esteemed record collector / music writer / producer Dante Carfagna and taked about the second Express Rising album dropping July 2013.

On the new album how much is samples and how much is original instrumentation?

There are maybe two very small samples on the record. All of the other sounds were played by myself, with some guitar added by my close friend in Arkansas.

What’s your studio setup to build the tracks?

The entire album was recorded at home on an Akai MG614 cassette four-track. I used a Rhythm King, electric and acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, banjo, drums, lap steel, and synth.

Express Rising reminds me of the downtempo and instrumental indie rock records I loved from the mid-nineties. Did you find any inspiration there. If so, what records / artists?

I am 38 years old, so my formative years were certainly smack dab in the 90s. I never really listened to any so-called downtempo records during that time, but I was very into Flying Saucer Attack, Labradford, Charalambides, Stars Of The Lid, and other groups that leaned toward the more narcotic and highly personal end of the sound spectrum. I also listened to a hell of
a lot of Ultramagnetic MCs and Tuff Crew.


Express Rising Vinyl

I always wonder what drives record collectors after they get to a certain level. I remember bailing once it got too intense, consuming, and expensive. What keeps you searching for new sounds?

There will never be an end to records. That alone keeps me relatively optimistic when I breach the doors of a record spot.

In record collecting, I think one of the best feelings is dropping into random spot, finding something you’ve never seen before, and listening to That Track on your portable. I’m sure you’ve experienced that a bunch. Is that something that still drives you?

I rarely look for records with a portable in tow. I’ve looked at enough records to trust my brain to know when to buy something.

Personal Space

Personal Space was on heavy rotation in the office. What inspired it? Did you have all the tracks before you came up with the idea, or didsearch out more tracks to complete it? How did you know you were finished compiling? Was there a last piece that brought it together?

The Personal Space compilation was actually finished nearly seven years ago but a few things held the release up. I found myself drawn to these little soul statements that usually featured a drum machine or rudimentary synth. I made a tape of a bunch of these songs and eventually trimmed it to a reasonable length and some friends expressed interest in the vibe. A few other collectors suggested some similar sounds from their neck of the woods and the whole package found focus. Obviously I just scratched the surface of this fascinating period, so compiling will never really reach an end. I am interested in making the lonely white dude version in the near future.

Ok, indulge the readers for a bit with record nrop. Can you tell us about a memorable digging experience?

Something along the lines of two severely mentally disabled teenagers squirming naked on the floor while I looked at their mom’s terrible records? Or perhaps a dude that kept a half dozen Huskies in his basement and used a snowshovel to cut a path through the ankle-high dogshit so I could look at his terrible records? Those were indeed memorable. Finding a rare record pales in comparison.

In your digging adventures, anything cool you’ve found, non-record related?

Probably the most rewarding part of driving around on the hunt is the bond that you might create with another human in pursuit of interesting stuff. If you can spend two weeks with someone, tooling aimlessly, facing inevitable disappointment, sharing a hotel room, eating questionable food, maybe buying some cool records, if the friendship remains and grows stronger as a result, that is the greatest of finds.

Any plans to reissue the first Express Rising album?

Not at this time, but many folks have asked me the same question.

What’s up with Chad from Memphix these days?

Raising a family in Memphis, keeping it turnt up.

5 favorite listening albums?

Random choices as of July 2013:
Kauffman & Caboor – Songs From Suicide Bridge
John Martyn – Grace And Danger
Ned Doheny – Prone
Roy Smeck – Memories Of You
Wee – You Can Fly On My Aeroplane

5 favorite things to eat?

Anything fresh and well made. But enough with the pork belly and waxed moustache scene already.

What Were You Like In High School?

A little between the lines. Stoned. I worked at a Woolworths and spent all my free time in a studio of some sort.

Do you like Asian Girls?

Is this some new indie rock band?

Express Rising and Personal Space are both available at TurntableLab.com. Also check out Dante’s contributions to Wax Poetics magazine

.

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Morgan Geist & Darshan Jesrani of Metro Area Interview

Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani better known as Metro Area created some of the most memorable dance music from the last 15 years. Well before the “EDM” craze, the duo played a key role in inspiring your favorite producers from DFA to Hot Creations amongst others. Their organic style continues to grow with personal projects such as Geist’s Storm Queen and Jesrani’s Arcade Lover. After a somewhat long hiatus the duo are back with a new reissue of the first four 12″s and a recent RBMA live performance knocked NY off it’s feet, we sat down with Metro Area to see what is new in their world.

Metro Area

2013 has been a big year in reunions and releases from timeless producers / DJs. Masters At Work, Daft Punk, Boards Of Canada, and now Metro Area. What inspired the reunion?

MG: Well, we’re friends and life on the road gets lonely. We tour separately a lot since we have solo careers and I thought it might be a good excuse to hang out and revive the name a bit. It also was a way to dip a toe into learning some new tools for live use, which I was thinking about doing for Storm Queen. I can’t learn new technology without a gun to my head, so this was the gun.

DJ: It’s good to play live again, after only DJ’ing for so long. It’s also been cool to build a live set around our sound, but using the latest stuff. I’ve heard a lot of live sets done with Ableton and controllers – there are obviously so many ridiculous things you can do, but to kind of reign it in and use it in accordance with the way we make our music is interesting. It kind of makes clear how much technology and the current trends in sound and aesthetics are intertwined.

Metro Area’s first 12″ came out in 99, a time when House music was a little stagnant. At the time, did you feel Metro Area was really onto something new and exciting?

MG: We just did what we wanted to do. It was a reaction to what was going on only in that the glut of “disco house” or filter-house stuff coming out was starting to disgust us, because people would take amazing old music and put a kick or a filter on it and call it their own. A modern analogy might be all the lame edit records that still are made to get bloggers DJ gigs. I can’t believe that is still happening, but it is. Anyway, I digress. So we’re into disco and boogie and hearing all these lame ripoff records coming out and we wanted to learn more about how the original stuff was made. So we tried to do that, but mixed it with our influences (techno, house, new wave, etc.) and, obviously, had budgetary, technological, talent and personnel limitations that made it sound the way it did.

DJ: I think it was just in the air for both of us. We were just making music that we wanted to make – it happened to read as a reaction to the market, and it was, but I feel like it was also inspirationally motivated. I remember one day I had sampled and re-sequenced part of a Patrice Rushen song and was playing synth over it. I called Morgan and played it for him on the phone. He was making very groovy, warm house tracks with mainly Roland and Arp stuff back then, and was cutting up little pieces of R&B and fitting these pieces into place within his own tracks, so we were really on the same wavelength, and just weren’t interested in taking whole loops from great songs and repeating them. We didn’t think that was the way forward then, and in my opinion it’s still not, but people are still doing it, or similar things with edits.

Metro Area

I don’t know if this has ever been outed, but who is Baby Oliver?

MG: Someone who needs a lot of help. Poor guy.

Straight A’s, the latest collection compiled from the first four Metro Area 12″s, features arguably your hugest track “Miura”. Can you walk us through the process of the track or share any studio moments that may have happened during the making?

MG: There’s not a lot to tell. I made most of it at my Brooklyn apartment and then took it to Darshan’s studio in Manhattan and we added the finishing touches there, including recording the vocals that I had written with a keyboard. We mixed it on a huge “vintage” mixer and I think we both regret that to this day because it sounds really knocky and shitty to us. Better to have used even the broken Mackie we mixed our earlier music on.

DJ: Morgan brought over a fully formed track idea, most of the drums and music, and we recorded a bunch of parts and mixed it at my place. We had access to a lot of good mics from my studio-mate’s cache back then, but had no idea what we were doing. We recorded the strings and vocals with a big, expensive tube mic but probably engineered it wrong, who knows. Morgan held the bongos in place under a mic while I recorded a pattern because we had no stand. It was kind of like that. A mixture of precision in the idea, and pretty much totally winging it in the execution.

Morgan’s Storm Queen project is obviously very vocal driven and the last Metro Area single saw some guest vocals, the first in the project history if I am not mistaken, do you feel this was a natural progression from the instrumental tradition of the group?

MG: I remember some people didn’t understand the dub thing and kept pushing for vocals and we resisted. We tried vocals when we were ready. I don’t know if there’s any natural progression really, since in the age of the internet, what I consider natural progression often gets rushed or thwarted. As usual I’m very self-critical and while I like parts of that track, we should have let the vocalist (Phil Owusu) get looser and instead we controlled it too much. Rookie mistake.

DJ: Yeah, who knows. I think songwriting could be, logically, a progression from doing instrumental arrangements of any merit. Though some people only do instrumentals, and do amazing ones. If people felt like our stuff called for vocals, and could hear them in our music that’s cool. I was personally really gung ho, for a while, on the idea of Metro Area moving in the direction of songs with lyrics, but lately I’m kind of missing the empty dubby stuff. I’d of course love to do great songs, but don’t think they need to be forced in order to accommodate the idea of a progression.

Any thoughts on the current state of electronic music? Favorite labels / artists?

MG: There are obvious areas of so-called electronic music that I feel completely removed from. I’m out of touch on even underground records, let alone stuff that is huge commercially. Every once in a while I hear a record I like or want to play out. I haven’t been blown away by any music for a long time, though. A long, long time. I’ve heard some stuff sound good but then it gets shittified by mastering that has to compete with all the other loud shit out there. Omar S is a great example of that.

DJ: I just kind of cherry-pick, and also try to stay open to recommendations. I used to follow labels and artists but now it’s more that I get into individual tracks. Some releases I like have artists in common, but many times not. There’s just much, much more music coming out now and obviously the conduit isn’t as filtered as it was with records. Once in a while I’ll browse some charts online to see what people are up to, but I still only find very few things I’d play.

What can we expect from Environ and Metro Area in the future?

MG: Not sure. I’ll be doing more Storm Queen and that will come out on Environ. Metro Area isn’t really defined but we’ll be doing more touring, that’s for sure.

DJ: We’ll see. In the near future we’ll both be finishing the solo things we’re already working on, plus more touring.

A very special thank you goes out to Morgan and Darshan for taking the time to answer some questions. You can catch up with Metro Area on the Environ site and be sure to pick up the Straight A’s compilation featuring the first four A-sides from Metro Area.

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Legitmix Discovery Explained

On the occasion of the Legitmix.com re-launch, we sat down with co-founder Booker and talked startups, sampling, and discovery…

Firstly, how did you come up with idea?

I made a documentary about Queensbridge, featuring Mobb Deep, CNN and Tragedy. It was well received at legit festivals, and distribution deals followed — contingent on clearing the music. To my surprise, I learned that would’ve cost more than it did to make the movie – and longer to do! Take ‘L.A. L.A.’ by CNN, Tragedy and Mobb Deep, in which Marley Marl sampled a song that samples a song that samples a song. I had to get sign offs from a ton of people, some asking up to twenty Gs. So we ended up replacing the music in the film with generic beats to get it on Fuse – which was a big disappointment for me.

My playground pal Omid McDonald, a rationally minded computer engineer, thought this was absurd. In part because those who held the copyrights didn’t end up making any money off the film. But also because I was unable to realize my creative vision. Omid felt that in this day and age, technology should be used to deal with music licensing, and went to work on a solution – and invited me in as a co-founder. We felt that especially with remixes, the pre-digital era music clearance process was robbing original artists of the money and credit they deserve – by driving remixers to release their work for free online. In the end, we decided providing a solution to the sample clearance problem was more pressing than that of clearing music for films – but we hope to address that problem one day too.

We felt that especially with remixes, the pre-digital era music clearance process was robbing original artists of the money and credit they deserve – by driving remixers to release their work for free online.

legitmix-discovery

In simplified terms, can you explain the new Legitmix.com Discovery site?

Discovery is the first ever integrated remix search engine and digital store (for simplicity sake, I use “remix” as any music made using other music). Discovery makes it easy for you to find remixes of music you love, while at the same time connecting remixers with fans of the artists they sample.

Legitmix is especially useful for DJs looking for remixes of particular songs for their sets. Fans who want to own a remix can use Legitmix to recreate it on their computers using their own copies of the sampled tracks. If they don’t own the sampled tracks, Legitmix makes it easy to buy them from iTunes.

In addition to uploading and selling your remixes, the new site seems geared for DJs to find quality remixes. Is this the direction Legitmix is moving towards?

Yes and no. We’re all about creating a win-win for remixers and the artists they sample, and so Legitmix should bring some shine and money to both.

On the one hand, remixers (and the DJs who play their remixes) shine light on forgotten artists, and help keep current ones in the spotlight. As one major label exec told us, Legitmix could turn remixers and DJs into a massive sales force for his label’s back catalog, without him having to spend a dime.

But at the same time, producers get discovered by remixing hit songs – especially if DJs play the hell out of the remix. And the secret to a great set is often to play famous songs remixed for the dance floor. So DJs looking for an Adele remix for a set might discover a Sazon Booya moombahton gem. Or discover Paul Simpson or Kon when looking for Chic disco edits. We feel Discovery is the best tool for DJs looking for specific types of remixes of specific songs, and it will only improve as our catalog grows. We hope the time they save in finding what they need will motivate them to actually buy from us – especially since most of the money goes to supporting remixers and the artists they sample.

We hope the time they save in finding what they need will motivate them to actually buy from us – especially since most of the money goes to supporting remixers and the artists they sample

What are some of your favorite releases / remixes you have found on Legitmix?

There’s more and more great work flowing in, so it’s hard to keep track. On the re-edit tip:

For club remixes:

On the moombahton and moombahsoul tip:

For mash-ups

Plus the many great entries in the Danny Brown, Moombahsoul and especially TTL remix competition entries.

What are your future plans for Legitmix?

In the near future, we want remixers and sample-based producers to embrace us as the best way to showcase and archive their work. There are so many great remixes, but they’re all over the place and a real mess to find – and are getting taken down from Youtube and Soundcloud all the time. And with a big enough catalog, we’ll have a solid store we can go out and market. The traditional sample-clearance process at odds with today’s technological realities drove the remix community to build an underground “economy of free”. This has led to a feeling that remixes have no monetary value. We want to follow the lead of the vinyl bootleg community, and prove otherwise. By giving people an efficient way to shop for sample-based music that supports both remixers and the artists they sample, we hope to build an equitable “remix economy.”

The traditional sample-clearance process at odds with today’s technological realities drove the remix community to build an underground “economy of free”. This has led to a feeling that remixes have no monetary value.

Neil Nice has been a part of the Lab family for a while… any good Neil Nice stories since he’s worked for you?

legitmix crew

I met Neil when I was a struggling filmmaker. He was spinning CNN’s “LA, LA” in a down low spot on Essex, and I went up to him, and he knew all about my QB doc even though it hadn’t dropped. He was music director at Ecko at the time, and without me asking, he hooked me up with Complex, Rock Star Games, Scion and a bunch of other outlets interested in my film. Flash forward 5 years: Ecko’s time had passed, and Neil’s back working at TTL. So I hit him up to join the Legitmix team. Not just cause he’s a nice person, but also cause he’s nice with the music knowledge – which makes for a powerful one-two punch. Rolling with him during WMC in Miami, he recognizes everyone, from reggae old timers to edit legends, all of whom he can talk with in detail about music. But those who know Neil know the best stories are strictly confidential!

What are some of your upcoming releases?

We have a Pusha-T “any style, any sample” contest coming up, designed to bring together hip-hop and dance music – which after all share 1970s remix roots.

Then, as mentioned, we have Sammy Bananas’ boots coming out, previously available only on vinyl. We have a ton of stuff coming in through our partnership with Moodswing 360’s Funkontrol label. There’s just so much great remix content out there – it’s overwhelming sometimes. Neither Omid nor myself are music experts, but we’ve learned how to listen to those in the know. It’s an exciting time for remix culture.

The Diplo “Mad Legit” project is probably your most high profile usage of your service (along with Kon’s edits), has that process gone smoothly even after it gained traction?



http://www.legitmix.com/securepublic/discovery.aspx?res=root

Like any ambitious tech product, Legitmix will always be a work in progress. True, we got a lot of exposure when we first launched our beta site with Diplo’s “Mad Legit” (Paul, Wes and especially Jasper at Mad Decent really looked out on that one, given we were unproven). People were psyched by the Legitmix idea – but beyond inspiring them, all we had to offer was a complicated and expensive purchase process.

However, the exposure helped us learn some hard lessons fast. We came in kind of gassed, like we had THE solution to the sample clearance problem. Now we realize we have A solution, and that beyond our core offering, users in this day and age expect a ton of features. Luckily we have a great group of early adopters (many from the TTL community) who are patient, but without holding back their criticism. And a great development team working hard to implement their feedback, and make our vision a reality.

Whenever we get discouraged at how long things take, we check out the website archiver Way Back Machine to see how crude Soundcloud, Beatport and even Youtube looked in the early days. But now with Discovery and the core Legitmix offering, we feel we’re on to something. But it all depends on a growing community of dedicated users, whether DJ, remixer, music fan or blogger. So (here comes my pitch), we invite you to help us build an equitable remix economy. Let’s make bootlegs legit!

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Sammy Bananas, Fool’s Gold Records Interview

Sammy Bananas. Fool’s Gold secret weapon. The Original Sexy Sax Man. One half of Telephoned. A Certified Banana. Known for rocking parties and creating some of the most memorable edit / remix records from the last decade, his approach is always funky and never trendy. Dude paves his own path and 2013 is looking great for our Sammy. On the success of his recent release, Bootlegs Vol. 1, the Brooklyn producer got sorted by Legitmix to get these grey area remixes official then went out and got crowd funded for the physical. We interviewed Sammy to learn a little more about the man behind the ‘stache.

Sammy Bananas by Megan Jolly

What have you been up to these days?

Working on a ton of music! Between the recent Fifteenth single (my project with LA’s (thee) Mike B) on Fool’s Gold and the Bootlegs Vol. 1 vinyl release I’ve been finishing up my next EP of originals, working on remixes as well as producing an album for a new UK duo called Antony & Cleopatra.

How did this project come to legitmix?

Scott Melker initially introduced me to Legitmix, and I was really intrigued by the service and the loophole they are exploiting to make the purchase of bootlegs legal. Rather than putting a bunch of individual tracks up there as I made them, I got excited about waiting until I had a proper release, and treat it like something that you might wait to buy on iTunes.

Where have you been DJing?

I just was out in LA to play at legendary summer party the Do Over for the first time, which was amazing. I made a pact with myself that I would do an all wax set the first time I played there, and it was a total blast. Lots of 90s house, the recordng is up on The Do-Over Soundcloud. Another highlight was my trip to Japan this spring where I played at Le Baron.

What’s the best thing about being a professional dj?

I love knowing that it’s my job to make people feel things, mostly happiness and joy. Music has a connection to emotions in an incredibly deep and primal way, and I feel lucky to be able to help people access those feelings, on the dancefloor or on the earbuds. DJing professionally also allows me to make music full time, which is maybe what I love even more than playing it.

Making people feel happiness and joy.

Worst thing?

It’s weird to come to terms with the fact that DJing is now Pop, and how people’s views and understanding of it have become skewed. I’m still usually in the mindset of the punk, scrappy stuff I was doin in the mid ’00s with Certified Bananas, Caps & Jones and Catchdubs trying to carve out a place for ourselves in a landscape that didn’t have any infrastructure for it. I’m pretty bummed with a lot of stuff that’s going on right now, but I’ve actively chosen to not play bottle service clubs/ Vegas or play music I don’t like for massive crowds, and although it definitely affects my income, I know I’m happier for it.

Trying to make people dance if all they really want to do is stare at the stage and jump up and down.

Kickstarter seems to be on a few producers minds these days, how was your experience going crowd funded?

It was amazing. It’s just an incredible way to engage with your fans and make them feel like they are directly supporting your cause. It allowed me to make this pressing really awesome too, because I raised the money in advance. I don’t think I would have spring to do yellow vinyl and the full color collage insert otherwise, and the design of the package is truly important to the release.
Sammy Bananas Bootlegs Vol. 1 (Colored Vinyl) EP

5 Favorite places to eat?

I’ll limit this to NYC :
Motorino, Pok Pok, Gwynett Street, MoMo sushi shack and the Commodore chicken sandwhich.

What do you like to do, non-music related?

I would say cooking is my biggest hobby. I went to school for science, and it’s pretty much the way that I can scratch that itch. I recently got really into making pretzels using Lye (NaOH) to make them extra dark, which I used to work with in the Lab all the time. I guess I get off on the procedural, reaction based nature of it. And of course you get to eat the results!

What were you like in high school?

I was a real late bloomer so I was very puny in high school, but for some reason I played hockey and lacrosse in addition to in-line skating on ramps. Yes I was a “fruit booter” but I can ollie too so whatever. Otherwise I was your average nerdy kid buying 7L & Esoteric and Mr. Lif records.

5 Favorite records to DJ

Right now it’s
Justin Timberlake – Like I love you (Motez remix)

Bosq – More Heavy

Bicep – Vision of Love

Moon Boots – Got Somebody

Smooth Touch – House of Love

5 favorite non-dj / listening records

Funki Porcini – love, pussycats & carwrecks
Bjork – Homogenic
Sly & The Family Stone – Life
Beck – Odelay
The-Dream – Love King

Word on the street is that you like Asian girls, true?

Since my Japanese wife doesnt really use the Internet I guess I will take the bait and respond “all I need is sweet ‘n sour sauce”.
finger licking kanye

Thanks to Sammy for the great interview and be sure to pick up Sammy Bananas Bootlegs Vol. 1 (Colored Vinyl) EP now from Turntable Lab. For the digital jocks, pick it from our brothers from another mother Legitmix.

There was obviously some stiff competition. The three DJs I would expect to make it to the end did. How do you feel you are different from Vajra and Incrediboi? Were you strategically looking at what they were doing throughout the comp?

I was def sizing up Chris Karns (don’t call him Vajra anymore, he will get mad) and Incrediboi. I knew both of their strengths, but I also knew both of their weaknesses. And I think what set me apart from them was my musical depth and familiarity with rocking big rooms and different types of crowds around the globe. I think I am able to please people looking for a technical DJ while keeping the party people into what the music is doing.

This is clearly different from a traditional battle and with Red Bull Three Style paving the way for the now commonplace multi-genre sets. Was there anything missing from the comp you wish was included?

Good question, I kinda wish that some of the challenges were at different venues and not all on the same set. I liked how in previous seasons they traveled around and did specific challenges in the regions they would apply do.

Do you feel your solo and now group touring with Boston rap wunderkind Sammy Adams helped in your performance on set?

Definitely… The fact that I have been on the road doing solo shows as well as big tours with Sammy Adams has helped my comfort level to do just about everything. For instance, On Sammy Adams tour I was the DJ, but also Music Director so I played a big part in creating moments in the show with the Lighting and Creative directors of Sammy’s production. I took note of what was being used and how it was being used. Also one of my best friends Eric Ginnety has been working at the stage production manager for Dog Blood (Skrillex + Boys Noise). He would always tell me about the bells and whistles to their stage production as well. So, When in the Finale when they told us we had the option to create our own stage show, right away knew I wanted Jarags, Clay Packy Sharpys, CO2 Blasts, and certain light cues to make my set come alive.

jayceeoh stage

Kid Capri seemed to have your back, if he were to get in a fight with let’s say Manny Pacquiao. Would you have his back?

If Manny was fucking up Kid Capri, I would find the closest large object and Fred Flinstone pummel Pacquiao. But If I didn’t KO him I would be toast.

manny p knocked out

Who was the other dude aka not Kid Capri?

Ben Maddahi, is a label exec at Atlantic and own his own publishing company APG. A lot of people gave him flack for being a judge but I actually thought he was a great judge. He see’s things from both sides of the coin, creative and business. He grew up loving DJ culture and battling. (He can actual cut a little bit, I saw it with my own eyes). But yeah, In reality to be successful as a DJ/producer in this day and age you need to be able to impress Label executives if you want to get placements with major artists and be on the radar of the major labels. That is one of my goals so I appreciated him as a judge.

I’m here imaging all the DJs living together like it was Real World, was there any sexual tension between the dudes and chicks?

Well, We didn’t all stay in the same house throughout the taping. If we had I think more of that stuff would have come up. There was a little tension between Tina T and Brian Dawe that they tried to play up on the show. But for me, I was 100% focused on trying to win the comp. I had fly Miami chicks trying to kick it with me during the taping but told them all to fall back. I got a quarter-million to win!
miami jay

You think VH1 will ever bring back Pop Up Video? I used to love that shit.

I hope so, maybe I can host it. I will bring it up to them.

What’s next? 6 month vacation with your winnings?

No way!!! No vacation for me. I plan on taking this exposure and flipping it to really take my career to a whole new level. Production is my main focus now. I just signed with the Windish Agency and hopefully can build myself to the point where I can get booked for festival stages. I want to phase out of general “party rocking” and become more of an artist/DJ a la A-trak or Diplo per say. Got a lot of work to do!!! My next true vacation won’t be for years. But who am I kidding, for those of us who can make a living playing records on any level, our lives are one big vacation.

drank jay

Thanks so much to Jayceeoh for taking time off to do this interview and again congratulations for being a champion. You can follow dude on twitter @Jayceeoh and keep up with his touring and other goodies via his website and of course Jayceeoh’s soundcloud always with new production and mixes.

all Jayceeoh photo credits to Colin Brennan.

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Digital Gravel Postscript / Preface, Nima Neems Interview

After over a decade of being at the forefront of streetwear e-commerce, Digital Gravel recently converted its online business to a non-profit news source and social presence. Founder and owner, Nima Neems, has already found success in his next business endeavor (totally unrelated to clothing), and he took time during a trip to Dubai to answer some questions about his experience in the thing we know as the “Streetwear Game”.

A little backstory on the relationship with DG and the Lab. We met in the late nineties in NYC and have had a bizarro parallel existence. We were introduced to each other through a good friend… had first to market status… went through trend booms… sold the same brands… managed our own warehouses… had offices in Dumbo… the list goes on. Whenever we’d catch each other on the street in early 2000, we could instantly relate to each other with our tired internet faces. DG moved out west and our parallels separated a bit, but managed to stay in touch through it all…

nima neems digital gravel

Every Persian I’ve encountered has seemed to have a knack for business and entrepreneurism… no matter what the business. Even the DJ equipment business has its share of successful Persians. Why is that?

Interesting question. Well, I can only really theorize about the Persians that left Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution of the late 1970’s, because those are the majority of the ones that I’ve known in my life. Here’s the way I see it: When the revolution hit and people started to escape Iran around 1978, the people that were leaving were actually the most intelligent / forward-thinking in the country; the ones that could foresee the trouble that was brewing. These people were the doctors, lawyers, business people, engineers, etc and they set off blindly for new lives in west, abandoning their settled, comfy lives because they knew the country would no longer be a fit place for them to live, given their ideals. However, all those professionals faced an uphill battle when they landed in their new adopted homes, whether it was in Los Angeles or London or Toronto or wherever else.

First off, they weren’t necessarily super welcome, because of all the negative imagery outsiders were getting of Persians from TV, not to mention the U.S. hostage crisis which really cast the whole population of the country in a negative light. Remember, this was long before the internet and globalization, so it was more common to just paint a whole group with a single brush. The second big challenge a lot of these immigrants faced was that whatever hustle they had in Iran, was no longer applicable. If you were a Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Teacher or any type of Scientist for example, your degrees and licenses were no good in the west. You had to start from scratch.

…whatever hustle they had in Iran, was no longer applicable.

I think these two elements distilled this sense of the ‘by any means necessary’ hustle in the Persians that had left Iran for the west. It was really common to see a former Engineer driving a cab, or a former Dentist working at a dry cleaners. These people were happy to just be out of Iran and living in a free country, and they just didn’t want to lose that, so they were willing to do whatever it took. They also wanted to be accepted by their new country, so they worked their asses off to prove that they belonged. Maybe their egos took a little hit, but there was a certain pride in having pulled off this huge transition and saving themselves and their families from a horrible regime back in Iran. That’s why I think there’s this huge respect for the hustle in Persian communities. You don’t often hear Persian parents praising their kids for following their dreams, but you DO hear them praising anyone that got theirs regardless of the hurdles they had to go through.

So that’s why I think you see so many young Persians with a natural knack for making a dollar out of 15 cents. We were basically bred to look for opportunity and make something out of it. Hopefully though, now that the community is so settled and successful outside of Iran, the next generation should start contributing much more to art and culture as our people had been doing for thousands of years prior to the revolution.

Ok, gotta ask: Shahs of Sunset is… (fill in the blank)

It’s pretty much a bunch of racist bullshit as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s a couple reasons why: 

1.  I read the casting call and they were pretty much only looking for rich douchebags. With all the creatives and intellectuals we have in the community who are actually a decent reflection of the thousands of years of Persian Civilization, all they wanted to put on screen were a bunch of spoiled biatches. I’m not saying that that’s what every single member of the cast is, but if you look up the original casting call, you’ll see that that’s what the producers were looking for. They wanted the cast to match THEIR one-sided, stereotypical view of Persians, not reflect a reality. 

2.  I know for a fact that there are no Persians that actually work behind the scenes on the show. No producers, no advisers, no editors, no nothing. Something just stinks about one race of people deciding to make a show about another race of people, with a built in presumption of what they want to capture. When you don’t include any Persians behind the scenes on the production side or the money-making side, it feels a little like someone’s putting on a monkey show.

3.  The name is straight racist/retarded, or maybe just simply ignorant. To me, it’s the same as if they made a show about well-to-do Chinese people and called it “Chairmen of Canal St”. I don’t know, maybe it’s too nuanced or complex to explain why the name irks me so much… I just don’t know any Persians that live on Sunset, and certainly not any that would refer to themselves as Shah’s. Again, it’s just one race reflecting their own perspective, and it just comes off a bit racist to me.

4.  They should’ve put me on the show. Come on now.

With all that said, there’s one element of the show that I do like and that’s the character Reza. You know, the big, gay dude. I think that guy actually brings up two controversial issues that are usually glossed over in everyday Persian society and that we as a community really need to confront: the first is homosexuality and the second is inter-religious conflict. He speaks on both of those issues, and I think it’s forcing people in the community to stop pretending like neither exists. I wish there was more of that on the show, and less diamond water and bullshit knife fetishes.

I remember you went to NYU business school while DG was expanding rapidly. Is grad school worth it for the entrepreneur? What are some of things you took away from it?

Man, I remember you dropping me off at school that one time when I bumped into you in Dumbo when both of us had offices there! God damn, that was like 10 years ago already..

Anyways, to be honest, I’d have to say that it’s not really worth it. Not for an entrepreneur that has a business up and running and moving with it’s own momentum. There’s really no replacement for experience and real world knowledge. These schools basically teach you theories and how to work within a corporate environment. They’re more like training grounds for Morgan Stanley and the like, and the focus is much more on how to be a good corporate employee. I can honestly say that I learned much more from my own mistakes and from the stories shared within the industry than I ever did from grad school. You gotta do your own reading and your own research on your own time. Let your own drive guide your path. 

I can honestly say that I learned much more from my own mistakes and from the stories shared within the industry than I ever did from grad school.

However, grad school does have it’s upside…. mainly that it’s grad school and people always respect that. First of all, my parents loved it and didn’t have to explain to their friends what Digital Gravel was; they just said I was in grad school and they’d get adult high fives from their homies and that would be that. Secondly, everyone within the industry kind of assumed I was smarter than I actually was, so I did get a lot of respect from that side of it.

As for what the take-aways were, I only remember two things, and they were both pieces of advice given by the same old professor in a class called ‘Managing Growing Businesses’. He was one of the only professors that had ever run a business of his own, so his simple advice stuck with me. The first was: “Your inbox will never be empty”. It was like he was saying, ‘don’t stress trying to get work done just to get work done… cuz it’ll never actually be done… just do your best and move on’. That was really relieving to me. The second piece of advice was “Do first things first, second things never”. By that he meant, ‘Only do the most important things… If something else becomes important later, you can get to it at that point… but there’s no point in worrying about it while its not the most important thing’. I liked his advice because it was so real world. He basically knew what it was like to be an entrepreneur and have endless things to take care of and worry about… His advice was to not stress and to just do your best at the most important things, and everything else would fall into place. 

Only do the most important things… If something else becomes important later, you can get to it at that point… but there’s no point in worrying about it while its not the most important thing

You’ve witnessed and helped startup brands, both successful and unsuccessful. What are 5 things that you noticed make a brand a success?

I’m gonna pre-empt this by saying my idea of ‘success’ is a brand that has the respect of the most respected people in the brand’s community. That might be due to its longevity or financial success or whatever, but I think in the worlds we work in, a successful brand is one that is respected, and that respect often leads to strong financial gains as well.

1) Be Original: It sounds trite, but this is probably the most important one. Listen, a million people have done brands (especially t-shirt brands) and it gets easier and easier every year. Pretty soon, every human alive with an interest in this kinda stuff will have made a brand of their own and almost every single one of them will fall off the face of the earth. If you want to stick around, you have to really be doing something significantly different than everyone else. Yes, a lot of us grew up the same way, with the same cultural references and interests, but you can always flip things in a really unique way. Stop looking at how things have been done and assuming those are the standards. Stop trying to just get your foot in the door by doing something that looks convincing enough to be part of the crowd. If you have nothing entirely new to add to the game, I’d recommend you not do it at all, because it’s more of a headache in the end. On the other hand, if you start off on an entirely new note that no one has touched, you open up a whole field of possibilities for yourself and you become the pioneer in a new sub-genre and if you stick to your guns, you’ll eventually get the respect you’re due. MISHKA is a good example of this. When they came out, I’d really never seen anyone do the kind of things they were doing, and it was far from what was considered a standard in streetwear. They did their thing and stuck to their own steez, and now anyone that does anything remotely similar looks like they’re biting them. MISHKA did their thing and now they own that category and they get the respect while giving themselves much more broad range than most other brands.

Stop trying to just get your foot in the door by doing something that looks convincing enough to be part of the crowd.

2) Be Good:  No matter how great your ideas are, it doesn’t really matter unless you are actually skilled at your craft. If you’re a graphic designer and make tees, it’s not enough to just come up with quirky ideas… the execution is just as important. You have to know your Illustrator and Photoshop skills inside out. You have to know what colors really work with each other and what colors customers like to buy. You have to know how to lay out a graphic for a screen printer. You have to know all the blank t-shirt brands out there and which ones fit best and last through a hundred washes. You have to be able to flip a ton of impressive details, labels and additional prints to add value to the product. You have to know what is and isn’t possible in the execution so you’re not wasting time conceiving things that aren’t doable. Basically, you need to stop thinking that you’re one clever idea away from having a brand. The sharper all your skills are before you begin a brand, the higher your survival rate will be once you enter the market. Once you drop into the game, the heat is on and you’re gonna have to keep things moving at a consistent rate. Being under-skilled will show and you’ll just come off as clumsy. Make sure your game is airtight. Keep in mind, the stores you show your product to have seen a million designs and brands before; you don’t want them to think of you as just another brand, you want them to think “damn dude, where the fuck did you come from?!”

3) Handle Your Business:  This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. So many designers jump into the business of having a brand with very little knowledge of the business side of it. There seems to be this idea that you’ll have a super hot idea, customers will flock to you waving hundred dollar bills, and you’ll live happily ever after. That’s not the way it works for 99.9% of brands. Not only is this a business, but it’s one of the hardest businesses around, cuz not only are you trying to make money, but you’re also trying to be cool at the same time. You’re trying to maintain brand integrity while at the same time maintain the integrity of the greenery in your pockets. That’s a very tough thing to do. Streetwear is not that high-priced and its not very cheap to produce, so your margins are almost always low. Most brands I know operate on a near pyramid-scheme model; always using last season’s money to produce this season’s gear to get orders just in time to pay overdue bills. They’re super successful from the outside looking in, but from the inside, they’re on a virtual financial treadmill with no way to slow down without looking like the brand is losing momentum. So, my advice is to learn the business inside out. Go to tradeshows. Intern with a company you like. Make a list of brands you admire and then see if they’re actually as financially successful as you think. Talk to people in the industry. Learn how things work. Don’t accept that the way things are is necessarily the best way for things to be run. Learn how other businesses run. Find financially successful businesses and ideas in other industries and see how you can apply that knowledge to this game. Don’t be no fool with clever t-shirt idea and stupid business ideas. 

4) Develop Your Own Audience:  The market for these types of brands and creative companies has changed dramatically over the past decade. It used to be that the retail stores had all the power in presenting you, your brand and your brand message to the customer and without them you really couldn’t make many waves on your own. Now things have changed. The internet, blogging, social media have made it so that anyone can develop their own following without ever having made a product, and this is a huge advantage. Not only does it mean that you can win retailers over much easier if they know your brand comes with a built-in audience and customer base, but it also means that you can set up your own online retail and start making some money off your followers without ever being picked up by one store. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about developing an audience of 50,000 followers in a couple months or anything; there’s usually not a sound way to do that without using excessive boob imagery. You’d be surprised however, how far a loyal following of just a couple hundred followers will take you. Work on building the audience one by one and focus on making them love you to death. 500 loyal followers beats 5,000 fickle followers. In any case, start building your own audience early and you’ll learn a lot about your potential customers and what they like and what the market needs. You’re in a very unique time right now, take advantage of it. You can start building a loyal fan base tomorrow.

5)  Be Nice:  This is kind of a strange one and probably unexpected, but you’d be surprised to know how far niceness has taken some brands that had almost nothing else going for them. It’s a small industry and people love to talk, so if you’re a dick, word will travel very, very quickly. On the other hand, if you’re super nice to people and overly respectful to the veterans of the game, you’ll be shocked at the amount of help and information most people are willing to give you. I can tell you very honestly that there were at least 15% of brands that I picked up for DG whose designs I really didn’t love, but I just happened to like the people that ran the brands. There were brands that I rejected season after season, and the brand owner would still greet me with a smile the next season and enthusiastically show me the new collection… and eventually they’d work their way into my cold, cold heart. At the same time, there’s been people who I’ve given the slightest constructive criticism to and gotten nothing but the stank eye from after the fact, and needless to say that was the end of any chance of a business relationship. Also, on a related note, be nice to everyone regardless of what their current job is. You stay in the business long enough, and the dude that was a sales rep becomes a store owner, and that guy that who was an intern owns his own tradeshow. Believe me, making friends early and often will pay off much more than almost any other skill in your quest for having a successful brand.

What are 5 things you’ve noticed that make a brand unsuccessful?

1) Too much logo too early:  A lot of new brands are usually started by young cats that really just want to have their own clothing lines. They have a group of friends, they come up with a crew name and a matching logo, and they throw it on a bunch of different color tees, and they expect the whole world to get enthused about it. You might get your siblings and homies and random neighborhood dudes to rock it, but to everyone else it means nothing. Your logo has to represent something significant to the customer if you really expect them to wear it on their chest. You need to build up the brand story and make it appealing enough that people want to rep your logo. Even if you have the greatest logo in the world, is anyone gonna buy it twice? Three times? Enough times for you to live off of? Probably not. I can’t tell you the amount of catalogs and linesheets I’ve seen that are just made up of one logo used over and over again, by a company that is making their very first entry into the market. Those brands probably won’t even get looked at twice and they’re out of the market before they’re really even in it. On the other hand, if you’re someone like OBEY and you’ve spent 10 years pushing your logo on the streets before you ever even dropped a tee, it’s a whole different story… but selling a logo tee when it means nothing to anyone is the easiest way to fail.

… they come up with a crew name and a matching logo, and they throw it on a bunch of different color tees, and they expect the whole world to get enthused about it.

2) Spending too much too quick: This goes hand-in-hand with the idea above about knowing your business. I’ve seen tons of brands enter the game with about $10K-$20K to spend and high expectations that once the world sees what they have to offer, they’ll starting making millions the  next month. One of the most common mistakes is doing trade shows too early. Trade shows are expensive and will cost you at least $10K after you consider the cost of the booth, travel, accommodations and food. You need to be realistic with yourself and work out how many stores/orders it’ll take for you to recoup that money. Realistically for a first time brand, you’d be lucky to get a $500 order, and chances are, you really wont open 20 new accounts. But let’s say you do… after the cost of producing the goods, you’re back down to $5K and it’ll probably take a few months and lots of legwork to collect that money. And then, 6 months later, you have to do another trade show, cuz once you start going it’s a bad idea to stop cuz it’ll look like your brand is failing. So that’s mistake number 1. The second most common mistake is when people get too fancy too soon. I’ve seen tons of brands get cool offices and furniture and hire all their buddies before they even have a steady cash flow. Save the cool guy antics for when you’re actually a cool guy. In the beginning, you’re just a guppy and the more low profile you keep things, the easier you’ll make life on yourself. Stop trying to be like everyone else from day one. Which kinda leads me to my next point…

3) Don’t blindly follow the others:   A lot of these industries tend to be really insular and when you’re new to them and you run in circles of people doing the same sort of shit, you tend to get the feeling that there’s one general route of doing things. Someone gets successful doing one thing and then everyone feels like they naturally have to emulate that. I remember back around 2006 when the regrettable “All-Over Print” t-shirts were the hot new thing. A couple brands had done that style of shirt and had gotten some love over it, and pretty soon everyone was doing one. I remember running into a designer who said, “I don’t know what OUR all-over print t-shirt should be..”. It was like he’d already resigned himself to the fact that he HAD to do one too. This doesn’t only go for designs, it goes for everything within the business. Stop assuming that other people have it down-pat and know what the fuck they’re doing. Usually, nobody knows much better than you. Try to do new things. Apply things you’ve learned from other industries or parts of your life. Not everyone that sounds like they know what they’re talking about acutally knows what they’re talking about. It’s usually the blind leading the blind leading the blind, until its one big circle of blind people and no one is really sure where any of these ideas even came from. Trust me, innovation is what gets the most respect in the long run. It’s better to be the first at a decent new idea, than to be the 10th person to do a tried-and-true idea.

4) Don’t do things you’re not good at:  As a continuation of the idea above, I’ve seen many brands start failing because they started expanding their brands/lines into areas and/or product categories they knew nothing about. For instance, they started out making t-shirts and did really well at it, and then just assumed they should start making ‘Cut n Sew’ items like jeans and jackets. They most likely made that move because it was what everyone else was doing, or it just felt like a natural progression, but the fact is, they knew nothing about it. Not only does doing things you suck at dilute your brand, it also takes away from what you ARE good at. A customer will buy one of your shitty jackets and will grow to hate your entire brand if they hate your jacket. In this game, it’s better to be 3-for-3 than 4-for-10, you know? Doing a few things perfectly will garner more respect than doing a bunch of things at acceptable levels. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever try new things, but I’m just recommending you get really good at anything you do before you let the whole world know about it.

5) Don’t stop doing things you ARE good at:  Ok so this is the opposite of the point above, and may seem stupidly obvious, but I’ve seen this happen so many times that it has to be mentioned. Here’s an example: A brand comes out and the very first t-shirt they do is a banger… an absolute gem that sells like crazy and literally puts the brand on the map. That’s the t-shirt people know them by. 4 months later when they drop their new collection for stores, there’s no sign of that t-shirt whatsoever, it’s disappeared and never gets printed again. They move on and start focusing on new designs. They almost begin to shun that original best-seller design and get mad at people who ask for it. Although I understand the inner artist wanting to move on, the reality is that t-shirts aren’t like songs. It’s not like you made a smash record that everyone has heard a million times and is already sick of. You just made a t-shirt that maybe 1,000 people have bought. You can still sell it to 10,000 more people. It’s really rare to get a product or design  really right, so when you do, don’t be ashamed of rocking that shit for as long as you can. Remember, a good design can be flipped in tons of different ways, whether it’s in a new colorway or in a new format… Just don’t deny your customers what they really want from you. If you’re making private art, keep it private… but if you’re trying to run a business, never discontinue your best selling flavor.

If you’re making private art, keep it private… but if you’re trying to run a business, never discontinue your best selling flavor.

Equally, we’ve seen a lot of brands grow quickly then hit a wall. What do think causes that abrupt stop?

The most common cause of this that I’ve seen is brands getting a financial backer without really even knowing what they’re getting into. Now, this is a part of the industry that not a lot of people are very hip to, and most brands do their best to hide this fact, so it’s worth researching and understanding. Here’s the deal: there are, and always have been, lots of rich, rich companies and venture capitalists (to put it politely) that wait in the wings looking for the next upcoming brand/designer to invest in. Most brands that start getting a lot of success and growth in their first few years, will also very soon realize that they need big money to keep growing at these crazy rates. Their egos are also compromised at this point, because they’re so used to having been on a strong role with their brand, that they really don’t think they can do any wrong. Right around this point, the financial backer meets the cash-starved growing brand, and often very bad things can happen. The reason is, that the investor pretty much buys out your brand and you end up being a designer for a brand you now have very little stake in. The main goal of the investor will be to turn a profit immediately, and the brand designer (and former owner of the brand) suddenly risks being put in a position of delivering results fast or having the company shut down altogether. Financial backers don’t care about the history of your brand and all the touchy-feely stuff, they just want to make money. Not knowing that is a really quick way to get yourself in a mess that will make your brand hit a wall overnight and maybe even shut down the next morning.

What are some of the most memorable, bestselling items in the history of DG?

I think some of the most important items we sold were the really early ones from back around 1999. The whole industry/community was so small then, that all of those original designs and motifs had a lot more influence on the next decade of t-shirt design than even the designers realized then. One that quickly pops to mind is the ‘ILLSON’ t-shirt by Milkcrate Athletics. It was a flip of the ‘Wilson’ logo, but read ‘illson’ instead. It was pretty much a perfect graphic to me. It did the classic logo flip move, remixing imagery from a well known brand mark and converting it to an iconic slice of NY hip hop lingo. It was so early on in the game that it certainly accelerated the practice of brands looking for other well-known logos to flip. People still ask about that t-shirt to this day. One of the best ever on every level.

Another item that signaled the start of a new era in the streetwear of those days was the Architect Pants by LRG. We were literally one of the first stores to ever carry LRG back in early 2000; I remember their first booth at the ASR trade show where I first met them was just a table and a ‘Mic Man’ banner. Those guys really helped spearhead the popularity and growth of streetwear in those days, by merging the aesthetics that appealed to both the skate and hip hop audiences. The Architect Pants were one of the first items from them that really blew up for us; we could never have enough in stock. They were so unique in style and construction, not to mention that LRG had Planet Asia wearing them in some full page print ads. It was our first taste of the contagious popularity that streetwear could have.

I could really go on and on, but just to mention one more item from the later phase of the streetwear life line, I remember the Paisley Zip-Up Hoodie by The Hundreds  was also a game changer and signifier of a new stage in the game. At the time, I’d thought it was a pretty good design and I ordered 12 pieces of them. The evening before we released the sweatshirt, Ben from the Hundreds called me and was like “I think you should take 120 instead. I’m gonna set 120 aside for you. Just sell as many as you can and let me know how many you need tomorrow”. Sure enough, we sold all 120 hoodies in a couple of hours. I was fucking blown away. After 7 years in business, it was the first time we’d sold that many of anything, and it was the first time I experienced the power of blogs in powering sudden, overwhelming retail sales.

Other honorable mentions go to: ‘Rap’ T-Shirt & ‘Only Hope’ T-Shirt by Nonsense, ‘Coi’ T-Shirt & ‘Foreign Affairs’ T-Shirt by Foreign Family… and every collabo tee we did with any brand. 

Running a warehouse / fulfillment is hard work. What did you learn from that experience?

I pretty much learned that I shouldn’t have done it. I mean, to be fair, (and I’m sure you can agree with me here), the era in which we started e-commerce businesses was so early in the game that we really didn’t have much of a choice with a lot of the ways we did things. We had to drop a ton of loot on building websites and had to get big warehouses to store and ship everything oursleves.  Nowadays, you can really outsource everything pretty efficiently, including fulfillment. Like I’ve insinuated this whole time, I really do think that you should try to focus on your core competencies and keep your organization as small and tight as possible. Keep your overhead low so you can be more nimble. When DG was this huge factory, I had so many things to worry about and almost none of them were of the creative variety. I started having to take my eye off the ball to worry about things that other people knew how to do better. I had to hire more people, just to solve problems that I had no experience with. Pretty soon, the company had 20 employees and 20,000 sq feet of space, and only about 20% of the workforce was doing the work that the customer would see. The rest of the people were the support system to keep everything running. It gets really hard to run a small, independent business that way. I never miss the headaches of those days. So my conclusion in this matter is: Focus on the things that only you can do, and be the best in the world at it… Everything else, outsource to the people who are the best in the world at those things.

The recession hit e-commerce as a whole pretty hard, have any insights from going through it?

The recession was this big behemoth of financial fuckery that I don’t think we would’ve been able to have escaped unscathed no matter what. However, if I could go back in time and give myself some advice at the time, here’s a few things I think I’d say:

1. Don’t Panic:  These things happen, and shit is gonna be rough. But don’t panic and don’t feel bad, you’ll just make it harder to make good decisions. Stay focused, calm and decisive.

2. Reduce Overhead Fast: You have to come to terms quick with the fact that things won’t be the same for a long time. So instead of trying to restore things to the old way, try to readjust to the new realities by cutting the big costs fast.

3. Communicate: Let your business partners and employees know what’s going on. Be straight-forward and realistic. You’re better off telling someone right away that you can’t pay them or that you might have to cut their hours than to hide it from them and then hope for a miracle.

4. Do what you gotta do and fuck what people say: In times like these, you gotta get creative and often pull dramatic moves. Other people might advise you otherwise, or you may find yourself worrying about what people or the industry in general will think. But when time is short, you have to trust your own instinct and just go for it and make fast moves. The longer you wait, the more you’ll bleed.

5. If all else fails, it’s not that dramatic anyways:  Whenever shit hits the fan like this, you’re going to feel like it’s the end of the world for you. Everyone you know is running around scrambling and you have no idea what to do next. The reality is that even if everything crash-lands, you’ll eventually pick up the pieces and move on. Don’t trip the fuck out.

What ultimately made you decide to change the DG model? 

I basically realized that the way I wanted to run DG wasn’t compatible with the type of living I wanted to be making in my mid-thirties. I always tried to run this company with integrity and I had a lot of self-imposed ethics (maybe too many). I started DG when I was 19 and ran it as a retail business for 15 years, hiring only friends and friends of friends and trying to do right by our collective ideals of what a utopian independent hip hop company should be. I turned down advertising on the site for 15 years. I shit on any corporate collabos. I spat in the face of any potential investors. I sabotaged any attempted buy-outs. I’m actually really proud of the way I did things, but it’s basically not the way to get rich. And in retrospect, that was never my goal. I always just wanted to make a meaningful contribution to a culture that I grew up in. I wanted to help young artists get their work out to an audience hungry for something more significant than the garbage in the malls. I think DG did all of those things and the company just came to a fork in the road where I had to decide to either 1. stop trying to make money out of the honest endeavor or to 2. stop trying to make an honest endeavor out of making money. I picked the first option because I just love DG too much. It’s my baby and its more than just a business to me. And I realized that it’s more than just a business to a lot of other people too. I couldn’t kill it and I couldn’t pimp it out. It was an obvious route for me once I realized that; so as of the beginning of 2013, I started running DG as a non-profit with the focus of doing what we’ve always done: digging out the best of the underground and exposing those brands/artists/creatives while helping them grow their businesses. All of the items on our site now re-direct straight to the brands’ own e-commerce sites, and I do a lot of consulting helping these brands grow and advising them from my own experiences and mistakes. It’s really the most fulfilling work I’ve done and in retrospect I realize we’ve always been a non-profit, cuz I sure as hell never got rich off of DG. I just eliminated the stress part of the job, and now I’m really enjoying it all again.

I started DG when I was 19 and ran it as a retail business for 15 years, hiring only friends and friends of friends and trying to do right by our collective ideals of what a utopian independent hip hop company should be.

I always dream about what life after the Lab would be like. Now that you’ve left the game in a way, do you feel liberated?

I think you’re maybe one of the only people in the world that I can fully relate to in this regard, and vice versa. We started the same type of company in the same type of field at around the same time and we both got caught in a beautiful struggle that lasted 15 years so far. We’ve gone through so many phases of our lives, and so many things have changed, but along the way I always had Digital Gravel and you always had Turntable Lab. I can tell you that even beginning to consider my role in the game as anything different than the way its been since 1999 has been a very difficult internal transition. I’m so tied DG. Nothing has ever really been more consistent in my life, so the process wasn’t easy. But for me, it was really necessary. In a way, I’m really thankful for the recession because it really knocked a hard-headed train off the tracks and it forced me to really look at the situation with new eyes. Yes, it’s probably one of the greatest feelings of liberation I’ve ever felt not having to look at DG as a source of money for me and my friends. Its really freeing and its actually allowed me to get more creative again with anything that I do that’s DG-related. I just spent a week in Dubai with David Choe and Estevan Oriol doing workshops with special needs kids and setting up cultural exchange programs, and at no point did I have to worry about the daily DG operations or how I could flip this into a way to make money to keep DG rolling. The best part is, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without the things I learned and the people I met through DG, so I’m by no means saying I was doing the wrong thing this whole time. It was just really time for a transition. It was stressing me the fuck out, and that particular part of the journey was already over. I had to move on and do something new… It hasn’t been easy, but I know it’s what’s right for both me and DG. 

If you could give 5 general business tips to younger entrepreneurs what would they be? 

1)  Try to build a good, honest business… but not a utopia. It’s not your job to save the world for everyone or to feed everyone’s kids. They’ll be fine without you. Be a dreamer, but don’t be a martyr.

2)  Always be a really good person to your employees and to your customers. Even if it all falls away one day, those people will always remind you that they appreciated you as a human being. Some of my closest friends to this day are former employees & brand owners.

3)  Pay yourself first. I never did and I realize why it was wrong now. If there’s not enough money to pay yourself, the business might not have the legs to support everyone else. 

4) Try to sell products that have a long shelf life, don’t lose value and don’t come in so many varieties. 

5)  If you ever listen to anyone’s advice, make sure they’re running a business that you love and live a life that you respect. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what they say, because you probably wouldn’t want to be them anyways.

Be a dreamer, but don’t be a martyr.

Keep up with DigitalGravel through their Facebook, Instagram, and DigitalGravel.com

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Oyaide Electric Co. Interview

We recently interviewed the product specialist of Japan’s Oyaide Electronics Co. The NEO d+ line caters to DJs, musicians, and engineers working in the music industry that want the best sound from all components. The lab DJs swear by their cables and we wanted to get a closer look at what makes their performance superior to that of a standard RCA, USB, and so on.

Oyaide

Oyaide has been crafting high-end audio cables for over 30 years. What made Oyaide decide to begin producing cables for DJing and music production?

Oyaide Electronics started in Akihabara, Tokyo in 1952 as a Cable specialty store. For over 10 years now, with the vast knowledge, experience and know how in high-end audio they have released several cables and accessories for the Pro Audio/DJ market. Through our store we have had many artists and world renowned audio engineers visiting us and providing their feedback. This allows Oyaide to make the best cable products. With all of this customer interaction and knowledge we have brought a new concept for the professional, in search of high grade, quality audio cables.

What separates Oyaide Neo cables from other cable brands in the market?

NEO Cables, while carrying the core elements of high-end cables, have been engineered to bring quality sound character while keeping costs rather reasonable. With its unique audio technologies and sound character, NEO brings you a quality sound incomparable too any other cable on the market. The costs may be higher than other cable brands, however the ability to have the core construction of a high-end audio cable, at this price is extremely reasonable while featuring a well-rounded line-up. Other important factors are the cable quality, cable manufacturing, conductivity, plug quality, outer shell, and even the coating on the parts have all been uniquely engineered and refined from ground up for the DJ, Music Producer, recording studio, guitar, bass, and various forms of audio architecture needed. From understanding the necessities of filling in the demands of sound quality, sound character and end users, we were capable of building products that satisfy their needs. We assure you that there are no other companies this dedicated to catering to the needs of the professional DJ and their cable requirements.

In what ways are your USB and RCA cables specifically designed to work with audio interfaces (A/D D/A converters) and DJ mixers?

The NEO d+ cables series have been engineered to bring the best performance out of your dj mixer, interface and audio devices. By maximizing the signal with a specification to lessen any deterioration in sound, the cables can bring out the best audio quality from the mixer or audio interface.

Thinning of sound is prevented and rich bass frequencies are preserved by the conductive body used in the cable, which is approximately 3 to 5 times thicker than typical examples from other manufacturers. In order to bring a clear undistorted sound, we utilize the latest quality technologies from Furukawa Electronics with their PCOCC (Pure Crystal Ohno Continuous Casting Process) conductive body. (With Class B, a combination of a selective and stabilized OFC conductive body is used. In order to be superior to other cables, a flat architecture design was incorporated. This was done not only for a better visual appeal, but to eliminate any distortion that can be caused by the bending of cables, loss of transmission signal, change of impedance, and avoidance of any electrical capacitance. This architecture applies even more so with USB, as it handles electrical current which often can fluctuate and negatively effect the software and its performance. The d+ series being able to handle high level of electrical conductivity will allow the equipment to have stable data transfer and cable performance. Furthermore, in most cases, people are under the assumption that USB cables only send and receive data, thinking that audio quality is not affected at all, but we have found our cables help to produce a richer and higher quality signal. We guarantee you will experience the clarity from our specialized high quality USB cables. From audio to electrical connection, Oyaide cables will prove their superiority to other cable brands.

What are the differences between the d+ USB class B and d+ USB class A?

d+ USB class A are built with a cable thickness of 21 AWG + 25AWG PCOCC, while the outer shell has a special TPE material for processing a high quality electrical signal. With many of these specifications, the cables are able to bring out the best quality and maximum performance with out limitations from the audio interfaces.
d+USB class B has the same gauge structure as the class A, however the coating is silver , OFC cable and the outer is a soft PVC material. You will be able to achieve stability and the purest audio quality transmission in any environment from DJ to Live Stage performance with these cables connected to your audio interfaces.

Are there advantages to the flat cable design over the traditional round design?

As mentioned earlier, the flat design was made to reduce any signal pass issues. For example, a bent cable, creased cable or an over abundance of cables are all issues that effect signal loss. Changes or inconsistencies in impedance as well as the avoidance of any electrical capacitance all can be relieved from this flat design. The cables carry an electrical and advantageous construction compared to that of the conventional round cable especially in an ever-changing environment and set-up for the DJ.

Oyaide Class B RCA Cables, DUO 1.0m - Green (Matching Pair)

What specifications should DJs and producers be looking for when shopping for cables?

It would depend on the user and what he/she is requiring from the cable. The thicker the gauge, the greater low-pass performance you are able to achieve. This, in conjunction with the high cable quality ensure that a clear and robust sound can be achieved. However even using a high spec cable that isn’t right for the surrounding set-up may not give you the best results. For example, using a 1 meter (3 Foot) Audio cable with excessive noise reduction countermeasures will not have too much affect and further the electrical permittivity while possibly making the audio sound muddy or unclear. Also consider the level of equipment you are using as well. Using a system that has characteristics of high pass audio with a good quality conductive cable but a thin gauge build will only support the high-pass sounds, creating sound that would surely have you go home with an ear ache.

Considering a switch to a slightly higher end audio cable from cheaper standard cables will improve sound quality. However, because they are expensive doesn’t mean the performance will improve comparable to the cost. The higher the price goes up for cables, the less difference in comparison because you must apply the cable specs to your specific set-up to really appreciate the most out of your hi-end cable. When buying cables make sure the fit is the right balance to your environment. In the world of guitars and shielded cables, guitarists consider sound quality, price, personal preference, design aspects and more. In Japan, DJs who use laptops or are in the world of production with less hardware have seen similarities to the guitar world, where users are being able to choose the right cable for their set-up. Like a DJ on a DVS system who will only use their needle of choice, it seems just as important for them to consider this with cables as well.

Thanks to Oyaide for the interview and Stokyo for the help. If you have any questions or want to purchase the Oyaide cable line the lab carries head over to our Oyaide Cable Section at Turntable Lab.

Also be on the lookout for for an Oyaide x Turntable Lab giveaway soon via the lab’s Facebook & Instagram

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Oyaide Class B USB 2.0 A to B Flat Cable, 1.0m - Green

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