Interview with DJ Design
[Conducted in December 2003]
One third of "Foreign Legion" and the man behind some very cool Negotiation Limerick File remixes. Beastiemania chats to DJ Design about his Beastie remix work, the UK music scene and Christian rock.
How did you get to the position of remixing a Beastie Boys track? Did they ask you personally?
It all happened because of my manager at the time, Lori Beulla. She knows just about everyone in the music industry (she by the way was also Z-Trip's manager, and still is). She was shopping my Foreign Legion record to some labels and GR was one of them. Kenny "The Tick" Salcido was GR's office manager and a friend of Lori's. He was already a fan of the Foreign Legion ABB release "Full-Time B-Boy" and was excited to meet us. Tick told me that the Beasties were big fans of the 12" and when we sent him out a copy of FL's "Kidnapper Van", he forwarded a copy to Mike D. Mike really liked the album and between him and Tick, they decided I should submit a remix for their upcoming single, NLF. It also might not have hurt that Lori was Mike D's neighbour.
After you did the remix, did you hang out at the studio and meet the band?
Well, not exactly. I caught a flight down there and visited the offices with Tick, but the closest I got to them was AD Rock's SP1200 and those silly yellow suits they wore in one of their videos. Which were given to some charity I forgot the name of. Oh, but I did come home with a collectors item - an uncut record sleeve of the Paul's Boutique gatefold.
Were you told prior to taking on the remix that it would be used as a download to support Kosovo relief efforts?
No, I was only told about that after they decided to use the Prince Paul and Automator remixes for the 12". I think my name wasn't big enough for the 12". But when I heard the news that it was going down like that I was totally supportive.
Your remix (and the Instrumental and Accapella versions of it) were never officially released on CD or Vinyl. Was that disappointing for you?
Yeah. I felt my remix was a lot funkier than a lot of the other ones out there. I mean, I don't want to sound egotistical, but the song was different. I sampled it from a Christian rock record that I bought from some speed freak on Haight St. for five dollars. I made the song and Peanut Butter Wolf helped with the arrangement and the scratch duties. And when it was finished, we both had these big smiles on our faces. And then it didn't make it onto vinyl. Disappointing is an understatement.
Although it was only really available through download, do you think the remix brought you any exposure?
I don't know if it did. Because the song was really only ever put out that way, I'm pretty sure not too many people got to even hear it. I sort of like it that way, though. It's only known by the few folks who tried to seek it out.
What do you think about downloading songs from the internet?
I think it's cool. I listen to snippets online, but to tell the truth I'm not that savvy, I can't even find those music sites people download from.
You've released stuff on a number of different labels (ABB Records, Insiduous Urban, Stones Throw) and now you're on Look Records. Would you be opposed to signing to a major label if the money came knocking?
Well, I think the major label idea is not always the smartest move you can make these days. The industry's in such a mess right now that if your music isn't going to sell as well as Big Tymers, it might be wiser to sign to a solid indie like Stonethrow or ABB. You have to recognize your niche and cultivate it at a grassroots level. Oh, and hold onto your publishing!
At first glance, you've got that whole UK mod thing happening - not your usual clichéd hip-hop getup. Do you get inspiration from that scene at all?
I get pigeon holed a lot. But it works to my advantage mostly. People usually say "It was you that made that beat?". I've always been a fan of that Manchester scene stuff. I was big into the Stone Roses, Charlatans, The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine and so on. It's great music, but it's hard to get inspired to make a rap song after hearing "Girlfriend In A Coma". There is one band, though, that is far from hip hop but still completely inspiring for the chaos of it all - that would have to be Huggy Bear.
Oh yeah totally. My music background is definately biased towards the UK scene with an emphasis on Manchester. Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays... Actually both Morrissey and New Order toured down this way last year, now that was great. Did you see the "24 Hour Party People" movie based on Factory Records and the Manchester scene?
Yeah, it was great. I think the guy who played Ian Curtis should re-form Joy Division and show all these wanna be's who's runnin' thangs.
So if someone was to do a movie with DJ Design as a character, who would you want to play yourself?
Uh, maybe Jessica Alba. Or my friend DJ Flip who just won the ITF world DJ competition yesterday. He's just a great kid and deserves his kudos!
So do you put "International DJ" as your job description on your income tax return these days?
"International Loafer" would be a better description.
Why start DJing? For the girls? the money? the fame? The rumor is that your father had a mad record collection.
Choosing to DJ came from seeing the movie Beat Street back in the Eighties. After that I just wanted to scratch. I loved the sound of it. My family are all music fans, and two of my brothers used to play congas in the garage along to Earth Wind & Fire songs. My sister Lisa introduced me to the B-52's in 1982 and that sort of opened things up for me. But yes, all along my dad had the goods right there, The Meters, The Winstons, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Hot Chocolate, Jimmy Cliff - you name it, he knew it. He was a DJ in Vietnam too. He played records over the airwaves and got to do a bunch of interviews with artists that came over to support. He has a great knowledge of how good certain bands were live too. He always said Rare Earth were probably the best band in the world at their peak.
The most embarrassing record in your collection?
I don't think any records are embarrassing. I do have a thing for Christian rock records from the 70's. Anything from Word Records, Tempo, all the stuff from Waco Texas is the shit! To tell the truth, in some weird way, having my own records in my collection is probably the most embarrassing thing, because I'm still always a little self-conscious about my music.
Everyone goes through a few handles before they find the one they like. What were yours before coming up with "DJ Design"?
There first was DJ KGB (1988), then Side A (1991), then I put "Design by Keith" on a 12" I produced for Rasco (What It's All About), who was on Stonesthrow at the time. I used to design record covers for Stonesthrow - I did the PB Wolf record "My Vinyl Weighs A Ton" (I came up with that '60s logo by biting the Cadet Concept label). Chris is a 60's psyche fan and the cover reflected that. I also created the Quasimoto character and logo design for for Madlib. It was for a 12" called "Microphone Mathematics". So I guess I was designing a lot of stuff and the name stuck.
Foreign Legion always seem to be having so much fun. I don't expect we'll be seeing Foreign Legion packing and starting feuds with other crews any time soon?
I think the only beefs we have are with each other. We're always clownin' and are best friends, but in the studio it's a different story. It's a lot like Pro Wrestling.
How does a Foreign Legion track come together? Who starts it off?
I always make a beat CD and then Prozack and Marc Stretch gel with it for a while and pick the beats they'd like to rap over.
What's in the water over there in San Francisco? There is some amazing talent based there.
There really is. Actually a lot of the talent is from San Jose. Or at least just south of SF and Oakland.
Christmas is coming up way too quickly at the moment, what's on your x-mas list?
Just world peace.
Any plans for New Years Eve?
I enjoy staying in on all major holidays. I'm a bit of a people-phobe.
How has 2003 been for you, turning 30 and all?
It's been an especially awful year for violence across the world. I feel some stress from that. But being thirty is actually like turning twenty these days. My mother already had her 6th kid (me!) by the time she was thirty.
Finally, a little birdie told me a story involving you, some roadkill and a cafe. Would you like to explain yourself? ;)
No thanks. That's crazy. I knew that would come back to haunt me!
Sleeve Designs by DJ Design