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Friday, July 23, 2010

Oakland Faders' DJ Platurn on Why Song Requests Suck and the Rise of Bottle Service Hip-Hop

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 3:00 PM

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Have you ever wondered just how much it pisses off a DJ when you request your favorite guilty pleasures all night? What actually happened to the hyphy movement? What sets Drake out from all the rest? DJ Platurn of the Oakland Faders gave us his candid thoughts on these topics and more, and explained what sets apart a DJ from a jukebox (you'd think it was obvious, until you realize how often you make drunk Kesha and Gaga requests). He'll be spinning at Royale this Sunday with a few other Faders for the All Shook Down Festival.

How did you come up with the name DJ Platurn?

I was trying to come up with something clever that was a derivative of my language [Icelandic]. DJ translated directly is plate turner.


How did your crew The Oakland Faders get together, and what does it mean to be in a DJ crew?

Oakland Faders is a term that a lot of people who don't like the Oakland Raiders call [the team]. We kind of took that as a clever pun; the crossfader on a mixer is the idea behind it. I don't know a single person in the crew that's actually a football fan. We're not sports guys. We're record nerds.

Initially, the crew was started by myself and another gentleman named DJ Spair. We've known each other for sixteen years now. We were in a crew together from '94 or '95, till roughly 2000. We switched things up a little bit and started the Faders. There are eight of us now. When you're younger and in a DJ crew, it's usually more a camaraderie thing because you guys have a lot in common like DJing and music. Now the Faders are more of a legitimate collective in terms of where we stand professionally. We're a business at this stage. The eight of us all dabble in different aspects of the industry, from production to engineering to DJing to managing business.

What's it like DJing around the world in places such as Iceland, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia? 

There are few things I enjoy more than traveling and doing what I love. Anybody with that privilege at this stage is very fortunate. It's a big plus to go do what you love in a different scene, for different people, and have them appreciate and dig what you do and what you've built. I'm very happy about being able to do that.

Do you incorporate the local top hits of the countries you spin in?

At a lot of the gigs I get booked for, people come to see what I'm known for. When you do standard club stuff, you have to do a bit of research in terms of what's hot in that area. I go online and see what's being played on commercial stations. Music is popular [in certain cities and areas] for distinct reasons, especially in the states. If an out of town DJ plays [Bay Area classics] in a Bay Area club, people will absolutely love him for that. Props if you know music of the region.

Which genres do you borrow from most?

I tend to play a lot of James Brown, The Meters, Parliament Funkadelic - classic funk and soul outfits. People know me for playing headier sample based music and playing it back to back with hip hop. It's a style you don't hear much anymore, because hip hop music hasn't really been much of a sampling art form in the last 10, 15 years. At this stage, people appreciate it if you play old school. It's for people that are really dorky about music, or people who are truly open minded. Some people want to hear what they know, but often people are interested in what I can teach them.

Are there particular venues in the Bay Area that you've found are into that?

There's not a specific venue, but there is a scene. In the scene I was in, people would go to a gig and truly trust the DJ to entertain them and teach them something. Nowadays, DJs are generally regarded as someone who is there to strictly play known music, or the music the people in the club want to hear. That didn't always used to be the case. There used to be more trust between the crowd and DJ. You would go see a DJ and [trust] that he knew what he was doing and would entertain properly. 

It's hard for [people today] to just sit back and enjoy themselves. For a DJ like me, it's upsetting at times that people can't just enjoy themselves, or the only way [they can] is if they recognize the music. In the scene here in the Bay Area, you can go and see ... people who are music connoisseurs themselves. It's not usually a Top 40 or bottle service club where you hear a bunch of Lady Gaga. The scene I belong to is more about people understanding and appreciating the craft of DJing. 

On your website, you posted a letter that was promoting a service for clubgoers to text song requests to the DJ. What are your thoughts on technology like this?

When I got that letter, my first reaction was 'This is terrible; we don't want to be bothered when we're DJing.' [DJs] take the time to find out what music works and what's popular. They know how to play certain music at a certain time of night. Most DJs in the Bay Area don't last too long if they don't understand that. It's really unfortunate that [most crowds] treat DJs strictly like jukeboxes. They don't have faith and trust in the fact they'll do a great job, and eventually play the song that they really want to hear. [They have the opinion that] a DJ doesn't know what he's doing because he doesn't know a bunch of the stuff that they know. That device is all about putting the control of the music into the crowd, and taking every single aspect of a DJ's input and creativity and know-how completely out of the picture. I play a little bit of what people might want to hear, and what I think people should hear. This isn't an ego thing; I just have a lot of experience and know a lot about music because I've sat there and taken a lot of time to educate myself on it. I would hope people at this stage would be open and willing to appreciate that. This person in front of you knows what he's doing. This type of technology is basically saying, "No, the crowd knows what they're doing." 

It takes a lot of concentration to pull off doing everything technically correct and making sure it sounds good. You cannot find a DJ in the world who says they like taking requests from people all night. Most of the time the approach that the person has when they come and want to hear a request is offensive. They come at you like "You don't know what you're doing." It throws you off and makes you feel shitty that someone would think you're not doing a good job. You don't do that to regular people in society. A DJ is a working person when they're up there doing their thing. You wouldn't go to a chef and be like, "That's not right, do it this way," unless you're working in the kitchen, too. I wouldn't walk up to a traffic cop and be like, "You probably shouldn't do that."

How do you feel about the success of hip hop artists like Drake, Lil' Wayne, and Jay-Z?

I honestly don't knock those guys at all. Even those three dudes you mentioned are smart guys and talented in their own rights. I don't love all their music by any stretch, but they put out pretty dope stuff on occasion. They're playing the game properly. They understand that especially nowadays, rap music is generally a young person's music. It's more about having fun and being in the club. It's not really for older folks who were into hip hop back in the day and can't relate to [today's] music as much. Dudes like Drake and Lil' Wayne are talking about popping bottles in the clubs. For a dude like me who's been around for a while, the age of hip hop that I come from talked about that a little bit -- partying and having fun in the club -- but it wasn't the only subject matter. I grew up in an era where Public Enemy was the Jay-Z of their time. They were a political group. A hundred thousand people would come to see them. They were talking about really risky stuff that people were scared of: bashing the government, talking bad about the president and society. They were not saying "Fuck the US;" they were confronting the issues and saying what needed to be fixed. 

You don't hear that much in music these days. It's something I miss. I love to party myself -- I'm a party rocker DJ -- but it would be refreshing and kind of cool if these big rappers, just once in a while, and even in a big radio song, talked about something important. There have been examples like Jay-Z and Young Jeezy's "My President is Black." They were talking about relevant, social things that needed to be discussed. That's where my stance is. There's more to life than partying.

Which rappers do you find socially relevant today?

When I stopped hearing subject matter that I could relate to, I stopped listening. When I DJ and whatnot, I'll definitely play some hits, but those are dumb songs out in the club that people love and have no meaning at all. It's a song that's a hit for two weeks and everyone forgets about it after that. Honestly, the rappers I pay attention to nowadays that are giving you a little more relevant content are Brother Ali, Murs, and Zion I. Zumbi [of Zion I] is an interesting example of a rapper that has a lot of presence on stage and gets people really excited and ready to party, but who's actually talking about really important and relevant shit at the same time. Even if you're not there to be given a lesson, you kind of walk away learning something anyway, which is really cool. That's how I regard a lot of my DJ sets. I want people to be entertained but educated at the same time. 

A lot of those guys who are concentrating on more relevant subject matters in terms of society are not really popular dudes. They might do okay but aren't making a whole lot of money and traveling the world. Jay-Z has really interesting and fascinating and thoughtful shit that he talks about on occasion. It's generally not the music that people know him for; he's mostly known for party tracks. Even Drake is one of those anomalies: he never degrades women and is one of most popular rappers in the world. You usually hear that all the fucking time in rap music these days. Rappers talk about girls in some demeaning way, talk about getting paid and partying in the club. But dudes still respect [Drake] as a rapper and listen to his shit. We haven't had someone come around like that in a long time.

What happened to the hyphy scene?

It's an interesting question. On a major scale, the Bay Area music scene never died. It just faded in the public eye. It was really popular for a little bit because of one particular song called "Tell Me When To Go" by E-40. It's the big song that really pushed the hyphy movement here in the Bay Area. It was the last one that was really popular. When it faded away, people thought Bay Area rap music was dead, but there's so much more to Bay Area rap music than what people thought hyphy music was. 

Forget about Tupac and Digital Underground -- groups have been around here making Bay Area hip hop music for a really long time. L.A. and New York are huge financial markets, but the Bay Area isn't a huge financial hub for music. We have Silicon Valley, Google, Twitter, but we've never had a big music industry. The Bay Area music scene is always here, but it's not always being talked about outside of the Bay. It's unfortunate because there is a lot of amazing shit that's going on here on a regular basis. There are artists and DJs besides Metallica and Green Day.

Snoop is L.A. Jay is New York. We have E-40 but people don't know him all over the world like they do Snoop and Jay. This is how the music industry works. Trends come and go and people talk about what's popular at the moment, and that's what hyphy music was for a while.

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Alex Wolens

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