As a pioneer of the turntablism movement, which in the '90s redefined what it means to be a disc jockey, DJ Apollo's numerous accolades include membership in the first DJ team to ever win the 1992 DMC world DJ championships, as well as founding the famous turntable-band Invisibl Skratch Piklz with friends Q-Bert and Mix Master Mike. Now more than 30 years into his career, the Bay Area selector has made appearances on the TV shows of David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O'Brien, and been featured in Scratch, a 2001 documentary about the cultural and historical aspects of hip-hop DJing. He is currently part of the Triple Threat DJs with Shortkut (Beat Junkies) and Vinroc (5th Platoon), and still plays gigs worldwide, with his mastery of turntablism always on full display. We recently spoke with Apollo about the annual Doin' It In The Park party, and what production work he's done lately. He plays this Sunday at Doin' It In The Park in Golden Gate Park's Marx Meadow with Mr. E., Mind Motion, Vinroc, and more.
What have you been up to lately in the DJ world?
I'm currently in the studio working on upcoming projects. The main one is reproducing of FM2O (Furious Minds 2 Observe), the album. This was my first band back in the early '90s. It's a five-member group consisting of two MC's, FMD and H2O, and three DJs -- Mix Master Mike, Q-Bert, and myself. I produced and arranged a majority of the album, and co-wrote a few songs as well. This is definitely a hip-hop and rock 'n' roll record. I would describe our sound as rebel music, a dark psychedelic mix of sample-heavy techniques, hard-driven beats, heavy guitar riffs, intricate scratch melodies, and solos, laced with melodic verses, sinister flows, and chants that contain conscious-type lyrical content. I'm very proud of this record, and can't wait for people to hear our unique sound. The projected release date is December 21, so everyone should stay tuned.
You and your crew basically started the turntable movement in the early '80s, and are considered part of the "old school." What do you think that means today?
It's an honor to be considered a part of the turntable movement and "old school." I'm fortunate to have seen the DJ culture from the infant stages until present day. I've gained a greater appreciation for the art form as I've seen it evolve throughout the years, from analog to digital, cassettes to CDs, vinyl to Serato, and so on.
What do you think of DMC battles today? Do you think it's as popular as it was a decade or two ago?
I think the battles are great. There will always be battle DJs in our world of DJs. It's important to have DMC as a platform to showcase their skills, and to make a name for themselves. The battles are competitive, and DJs have gotten really good. DMC is making big strides to keep it alive and doing a great job.
You've been the judge of various DMC battles. What do you look for? Is it different now, when contestants have more technological tools to work with?
There are so many things to consider when judging battles. I look for everything. Mixing skills, scratching styles, juggling patterns, degree of difficulty, stage presence, performing with soul, music selection, crowd appeal; the list goes on and on. But most of all, I look for which DJ rocks their routine the best for that given performance. Yes, it's way different with technology these days, but at the end of the day, it always comes down to whoever kills it the most -- technology or no technology.
Your most recent crew is the Triple Threat DJs. What do you guys try and showcase during your gigs?
Our concept of being a Triple Threat DJ is basically incorporating as many styles of DJing into your repertoire as possible. That means using the party-rocking style as a foundation, while sprinkling a little bit of everything in the mix, such as scratching, juggling, music selection, rocking party anthems, obscure breaks, reggae, new and old school, soul, disco, house classics, etc. When we play, we like to say, "anything goes".
You're co-founder of Doin' It In the Park. How was this party born?
Throwing parties, especially crazy different off-the-wall type events, has always been one of my favorite pastimes, which goes hand-in-hand with being a DJ. This particular event, Doin' It In The Park, was conceived by myself and Norm Ferreal, and founded in 2003 as we joined forces with Mr. E of Papalote Hi-Fi, Local 1200, Sake 1, and Fran Boogie. This community event was inspired by the Informal Nation La Raza Park parties established in the early '90s. It was one of the first outdoor park parties to ever go down in the city. It was great party with good music, a mobile sound system, talented DJs, and beautiful people laying out on blankets with picnic baskets, dancing on a grass dance floor, all joined together about the love and positive vibes. And to top it all off, it was in the park. And if that wasn't enough, it was free. We basically added free barbeque and a jumpy house for the kids, and now it's turned into the annual San Francisco Labor Day tradition, and considered the unofficial summer jump-off.
It's also a grassroots non-profit event. We donate our time, money, and lots of hard work and sweat to put this event together for you, the fans, our friends, families, and for our city of San Francisco. This is our way of giving back and serving our community, providing our scene with a positive event, and giving the new generation a chance to experience what we once did, and then some. It is dedicated to the unity of different cultures in the urban scene, and is also our way of saying thank you for your support at our events throughout the years.