Features: Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist: “I’m always in the lab trying to invent and create”

Ahead of tours with DJ Shadow and Jurassic 5, Cut Chemist spoke to TOM MANN about the influence of Afrika Bambaataa, his first solo album in almost a decade and the possibility of new material from the reunited J5. Photo by CAMERON STUART.

Cut Chemist – aka Lucas MacFadden – owns more than 40,000 records which is impressive enough to make the collection the source of material for April Fools jokes among music nerds. But when he tours Australia in March with DJ Shadow they won’t be playing any of their own records, instead they’ll be paying tribute to the iconic and pioneering DJ Afrika Bambaataa by playing nothing but vinyl sourced from the renegade of funk’s personal library.

It’s the first visit to Australia for the DJ duo since the intricate audio-visual spectacle of their Hard Sell tour back in 2008 but Chemist says this tour isn’t anywhere near as complex. This time around to make things a little simpler they’re just using Bambaataa’s original vinyl, six turntables, two mixers, a drum machine, and vintage gear from the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. Simple right? The pair have been collaborating for nearly two decades starting with Chemist’s remix of ‘The Number Song’ from Shadow’s essential 1996 debut Endtroducing… and continuing through the widely bootlegged mixtapes Brainfreeze and Product Placement. But Cut Chemist is probably known alongside a another DJ – Nu-Mark – producing the beats for rappers Charli 2na, Marc 7, Zaakir and Akil as a member Jurassic 5. After leaving Jurassic 5 before the release of their final album, Chemist spent a year clearing samples and released his solo debut The Audience’s Listening in 2006. He’s now preparing to release the long-overdue followup which will feature collaborations with Tune-Yards and Biz Markie as well as two tracks that feature the DJ showing off his skills on a more traditional instrument: an acoustic guitar.

Now reunited with Jurassic 5, Cut Chemist is set to tour Australia twice in the next few months. First there’s the Afrika Bambaataa inspired show ‘Renegades of Rhythm’ with DJ Shadow which includes a stop at the Golden Plains Festival. Then, after pausing for a few week’s rest and possibly a trek into the outback, he’ll make his way around the country a second time playing eight dates with Jurassic 5 including a headline set at Bluesfest in Byron Bay.

An Afrika Bambatta set has to have Kraftwerk and those classic breaks like ‘The Mexican’, Jimmy Castor and The Incredible Bongo Band – what other tracks or sounds are essential in crafting a Bambaataa tribute set?
You’ve hit the nail on the head. What are some of the unexpected sounds we’ve pulled? Well, there’s some Latin stuff like salsa and traditional Nuyorican kind of stuff. That was what was happening in New York in the ‘70s; a lot of latin stuff. So we’re playing that and we’re playing African stuff. Bambaataa tried to represent all kinds of cultures so I guess those are the more unexpected things.

“Bambaata taught me how to dig”

What stuff did you dig out from the collection that is uniquely Bambaataa and not just something you and Shadow have in your own collections?
I’ve been influenced by his taste so it’s kinda of hard to say if there’s anything in his collection that I wouldn’t have in mine. He paved the way for my kind of digging. He taught me how to dig, so to speak. So you find post-punk in there and you find stuff like Sex Pistols – which you’d find in my collection. And you find weird synth-y stuff. I’m trying to think if there’s anything in the set that’s really different [from my collection] but no, I even have Malcolm X speeches. Maybe some really crazy disco – stuff that I couldn’t find.

I read that you stumbled across Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli records in the collection – that must have been a proud moment?
It was cool. I saw ‘Cut Chemist Suite’ [Ozomatli] and ‘Unified Rebelution’ [Jurassic 5’s debut single]. I wish there was a way to exploit that in the set but there wasn’t enough time. We don’t have enough performance time to do everything that we wanted to do so we had to just cut it down to about 90 minutes and keep it to just the breaks and his influences and his work.

Were there Shadow records in the mix as well?
Yeah. He had ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ 12”. And the compilation of Mickey and the Soul Generation that Shadow put out, which we do actually use in the set.

Are the shows as technically complicated as the Hard Sell tour?
I don’t think anything is ever going to be as complicated as The Hard Sell. The Hard Sell was definitely the hardest set we’ve done together – maybe the hardest set I’ve ever done period. It was 10 turntables including the two portables then the loop peddles and the visuals with the wrist cams. It was just crazy. I’ll go out on a limb and say no; [the Bambaataa show] is not that complicated.

Is there space to improvise and react to the crowd’s response or are the sets tightly scripted?
We can’t really change course due to the reaction of the audience. We hope they get it but if they don’t they don’t. And there’s not really any room for extended solos. It’s a pretty well scripted set and we keep it pretty true to the script.

Your own record collections are pretty famed now. Do you foresee a future where DJs are raiding your collection for a tribute show?
I’d be honoured. I’d be curious to see what people would view my legacy. What records would they feel “Oh, we have to play that because that’s him.” I’d be open to it but if I were alive to see it I’d probably be really worried about how they handled the records. [laughs] The thing about Bambaataa’s records is that they were used a lot and he let other DJs do sets with them as well. He wasn’t really one for keeping them in pristine condition but I am and I know shadow is. It’d be hard to watch someone cut it up and beat juggle my mint records and opening sealed records.

As far a new Jurassic 5 goes we’ve heard ‘The Way We Do It’ but that was produced during the sessions for Feedback presumably after you’d left the group; will there be any new Cut Chemist J5 material?
I wish! That track was recorded right when I left, for the Feedback sessions, with a sample they couldn’t clear. [The Heavy-D produced ‘The Way We Do It’ is built around a sample of The White Stripes’ ‘My Doorbell’.] So I suggested we put it out just to kind of see if anyone wants new material and to gauge what the reaction would be. It did really well as a basis to say “Hey, there’s an audience out there for us if we still want to record an album and not just tour.” We’re still figuring out how to do that because everybody’s doing their own projects. Nu Mark is doing his Slim Kid Tre [Pharcyde] collaboration. Chali 2na’s on the road constantly with his new project and I’m doing the Renegades stuff right now as well as prepping a new album release. It’s tough to get everybody to co-ordinate their schedules to get into the studio to make stuff because that’s the kind of band we are – we’re not phoning stuff in or doing sessions on the computer via Skype. That’s not Jurassic 5’s style. And I think the music would reflect that kind of unpersonable approach if we did it that way. The only way to do a J5 album is to all be in the same room and do it because that’s what our fans deserve. We’re just waiting for that opportunity.

How’s progress on your own solo album? It’s been a while since The Audience’s Listening.
Nearly 10 years; it’ll be 10 years next year. I’ve been working on a new album for about five years and it’s finally done to the point where I’m shopping it because I don’t want to put it out on my boutique label and I’m not a part of Warner anymore. I’m trying to find it a home so it gets some kind of marketing and publicity behind it.

Seeing you with J5 last year you’d really taken the custom DJ instruments gimmick up a notch – especially with the turntable that you’d frankensteined into a guitar for the cover of ‘Smoke on the Water’. Are they just part of making DJing visually interesting or do you use them to write music?
At the stage that it’s at right now it’s just a flashy DJ tool. But I have thought about modifying it to maybe make it more like a guitar and put strings on it. I’m always in the lab trying to invent and create. Most of the time writing music my best tool is just pen and paper. Anyone that follows my sound knows that I love the guitar so I chose to perform with a guitar shaped turntable because it’s something I love. I admire people who can play guitar and write music with it.


There’s still a perception from some music fans that DJs are just pressing play and noodling with buttons – do you feel that DJs need to experiment more with how they present their live shows?
I see groups coming out with contraptions that are either drum machines or turntables strapped to their guts and they’re definitely taking a page out of our book. That’s cool – it just makes us want to up the ante and keep inventing new things.

Other than a few tracks with other acts that are part of the Quannum crew you haven’t produced many tracks for other artists? Why don’t we hear more rappers over Cut Chemist beats?
I don’t know. My style is very unique and it’s hard to collaborate. It’s a world I built for myself and I don’t really share much with people who aren’t my friends. On my new album I’m collaborating with Tune-Yards and Biz Markie. You’ll see a lot of “outsiders” as well as the same friends I’ve always collaborated with like Edan. I have to hang out with you and like you in order to do something. I’m not someone who will just Skype a session in. It has to be more organic. I’m kinda old school I guess.

Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow’s ‘Renegades of Rhythm’ tour

Wednesday, March 4 – Transit Bar, Canberra
Thursday, March 5 – The Royal Croquet Club, Adelaide
Friday, March 6 – The Forum, Melbourne
Saturday, March 7 – Golden Plains Festival, Meredith
Sunday, March 8 – Odeon, Hobart
Wednesday, March 11 – The Espy, Melbourne
Thursday, March 12 – Family, Brisbane
Friday, March 13 – Hi Fi Bar, Sydney
Saturday, March 14 – Metro City, Perth

Jurassic 5 tour

Thursday, March 26 – Panthers, Newcastle
Friday, March 27 – Waves, Wollongong
Saturday, March 28 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Sunday, March 29 – West Coast Blues & Roots Festival, Perth
Wednesday, April 1 – Festival Hall, Melbourne
Thursday, April 2 – HQ, Adelaide
Saturday, April 4 – The Tivoli, Brisbane
Sunday, April 5 – Bluesfest, Byron Bay

Source Article from http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/features/42088/Jurassic_5s_Cut_Chemist_Im_always_in_the_lab_trying_to_invent_and_create
Features: Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist: “I’m always in the lab trying to invent and create”
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