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May 03

DJ Quest of Live Human & Bullet Proof Space Travelers
dj_quest_live_human

A member of both Live Human and the DJ crew Bullet Proof Space Travelers, DJ
Quest also actively DJ’ and appears on tracks by himself (you can peep him on
the Hip Hop Slam release ‘Turntables By The Bay’).  Fresh off a European
tour, The Peach finally caught up with him to chat for a minute…

Peach: Tell me all the boring stuff: how you met, how the group got started,
how you ended up on Matador, etc.

DJ Quest: The group got started in 1996, and basically the group came
together from playing shows. I was playing shows at the time, doing my thing
with Eddie K, and we just had a gang of people that would come on and do a
show, do the shows with us: LOC (beatboxer), Paradise (raggamuffin/dancehall
kind of rapper) that used to come through. Around that time we met Justin
Smith, a bass player…we met him at the Last Day Saloon. He started coming
around; doing some shows with us. He introduced me to Albert and Andrew.
The thing was…getting all those people together was kind of a hassle. It
was kind of a hassle to get everyone to rehearse. I was looking for
something even more solid instead of just having people come through.

P: Did you have a regular gig? Like a weekly or something?

Quest: I’ve never done that because I think that’s kind of boring.

P: I meant as far as a weekly gig where random people could just come
through.

Q: Naw, but since I started playing, I’ve always had at least one show a
month-stuff that comes up here and there.

P: (joking) Since like ’87…

Q: Roughly since like ’92 or ’93. I was deeper in the battle scene-djing
with rap groups. Anyway, that took me to the stage of working with emcees
and the live act thing. That whole thing just got me more beserk about
wanting to play with more people and getting a real act together. Although
the shows we were doing before the Live Human stuff was the real shit-and I
love a lot of the shows back then still. A few of the shows that I did with
Eddie K stand out in my mind. Like I said, I just wanted to do something
more solid. Albert had already been playing with Andrew for a few years
doing more of a free jazz ensemble with this guy Charles. They were working
on some stuff and touring with a dance company called Contraband. Anyway,
when Albert came back from tour with Contraband, Justin (the other bass
player) introduced me to him. We just hooked up from the first rehearsal I
had with those guys-and it wasn’t even a rehearsal…we weren’t even setting
up to play a show or anything. We just wanted to play music.

P: Just like a jam session.

Q: And it was just mind blowing. To me it was like, whoa…you could just
combine certain sequences that sould like they might be electric and at the
same time sound natural. And the whole combo was just weird. And that’s
all. A week later we decided to make a record, to make the first record. I
wanted to get in the studio and just put a record together just to have
something solid. Just so that we could have a more official…

P: Documentation?

Q: Right, as a group or as the beginning of a group. We played our first
show at the Cactus Club in San Jose and that…just the response was
incredible. Not that the crowd went wild…there was just silence-they went
silent.

P: They were mesmerized.

Q: There was total silence in the whole room. I kind of knew what the
response was gonna be, but it was like, “damn”. You can’t always predict the
audience. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they shout, do whatever. And
sometimes we come out and attack and sometimes also throughout the night
there might be different factors that fail to play a part in the making the
show tight. If we go on too early in the night and there’s someone else
playing earlier and they go on too long…a bunch of different things…you
don’t want to burn the crowd out too much. There are different things I’m
learning to watch out for now. Because I learned throughout the past years
where I need to play and when and how loud.
We mostly freestyle the shows, but as we more and more we have segments that
are somewhat arranged a little more-not necessarily in a song way, but in
more of the tone of what it is we’re playing…we know what that is, we know
when it comes back around and when we come to a break…wherever we want to
take it to. Basically, we’ve just been dissecting the music more, trying to
compose a little more. It’s tricky…if you’re at the show if you just sit
there in the audience, you’ll hear stuff that sounds happy, sounds sad,
sounds twisted, sounds mad…

P: Did you guys have an immediate vibe the first time you played together, or
did you have to work to achieve that?

Q: That’s the thing, we never felt like we had to work through anything. The
music was never perfect…I fuck up quite a bit. Playing on stage, I do
something that I feel stupid about afterwards…if there’s a certain groove
going and then I stop-that kind of fucks it up. And I’ve done that…we all
have. From day one, we all knew we wanted to work to get to a point where
it’s just clean. We’re doing that a bit more now, but back then, it was just
like, “see what happens”. We’re still like every rehearsal, just play
anything anywhere and it goes somewhere usually. There’s this thing we like
to call “the 3-D effect” because after you warm up and start playing and get
into it and it’s like all of a sudden there’s this feeling that I get that
whatever the music is that’s coming out of the speakers and the instruments,
I feel like this thing kind of elevates above your head and starts spinning
around and twisting-like a spectrum of all kinds of images and stuff. It’s
not really there, but you hear it. You see it with your ears. You know what
I mean? It’s something happening…we like to call that “the 3-D effect”.
That’s what we play for…just to get that feeling.

P: Do you think that when you’re playing, you think more like a musician?
Well, I guess the best DJs think like musicians anyway, but do you feel like
you’re one piece of this whole collage, or are you mainly thinking about what
you’re going to do?

Q: Both. When I come to a tricky point in the set that I know something has
to happen, then I have to use my skills, my “DJ mind”. When we’re all in a
groove and people are dancing, then I have to think as a group. So I have to
think both ways.

P: You were talking earlier about reading the crowd. So what would you do if
there’s a moment when you know the crowd is beat down from the previous
act-what is your plan of attack when you go out on stage? Do you come out
hype? or more subtle?

Q: There is no plan. We usually don’t have a plan, and that’s the nice
thing about it. We make up a plan when we’re there, but just from the past
experiences…we take what we’ve seen in the past and just apply that there
at that point-you know what I mean? It could be that the crowd is burnt out
from the other act, but once we come on, it’ll start jumpin’.

P: That’s what I mean…do you take a “pep-them-up” kind of approach?

Q: It depends on who it is. If it’s an audience that’s never heard us
before, it would be good to go easy, you know what I’m saying? Some people
react differently to what they see on stage. If it’s a Live Human crowd and
maybe they were bored because there was another act before Live Human, maybe
they’ll get excited when we come on.

P: Well, if it’s your crowd, they’re always going to get excited when you
come on…

Q: Of course, but maybe not…we try. We try to make those decisions at the
last minute. I have also learned, apart from what your question is, that you
have to have volume control and little techinical things…that play a big
part in what’s going on in the room. As a DJ, if I have a sound that’s going
to be earshocking on the turntables…if I’m going to drop it and the people
haven’t been hearing anything like that for awhile, it could either wake them
up, or it could piss them off. I have to watch my levels…all that shit
plays a big part. I’m now realizing the lights in the room have a big effect
too. I don’t really know what works best as far as lighting, but I’ve been
noticing certain colors and certain moods work for certain tracks-and certain
lights fuck up my eyes too when I’m trying to do something. Like strobe
lights sometimes are too crazy. I love strobe lights when we come to a point
a point in a track where it’s kind of a climax-I like all that shit. So many
details…

P: Do you guys do your own lighting?

Q: Nah. Hopefully one day we’ll have enough money to go and the road and
have mini-light shows to go with the music. Sometimes they do a really good
job, but you never know…

P: Most shows I’ve seen of yours…the audience is very quiet, concentrating.

Q: In San Francisco they’re breaking away from that and starting to get more
into the rocking or dancing…a lot more. But the average Live Human virgin
listener doesn’t know how to react quite yet…and I don’t blame them. I
wouldn’t know how to react either. You see a DJ up on stage, and you assume
it’s going to be a certain type of sound…and it’s not like that at all.
It’s kind of like all of us tweaking around with our shit. I like being able
to be on stage, and people are paying attention. Just drop the beat, drop
everything and just go off on some shit-some bizarre electronic sounds or
something. I like that. The nerd in me comes out. There’s a lot of that
that’s not really that musical, but it’s technical stuff that i’ve learned
throughout the years…how to scratch a certain sound with a delay and make
the delay work for me so that the sound keeps going, and when I’m done with
the phrase and it comes back around. We all do that sort of stuff.

P: Like experimenting with sound?

Q: Yeah, yeah.

P: What do you think about other bands that have a DJ in the band purely for
like a cosmetic reason?

Q: A cosmetic reason???

P: Where they’ll have a like a really dope DJ, and they’ll just use him to
scratch in a word every now and then?

Q: I don’t think about them. I think everybody that plays music deserves a
place in the industry somewhere, and some people just have to get in where
you fit in. And that’s not necessarily the most creative thing to do, I
think. I’ve done that sort of things with bands before. I worked with MCM
and the Monster around the time I first started messing around with bands.
>From my experience, when I first started playing with bands, I didn’t want to
be in the background all the time. I guess if you’re a wack DJ, it’s okay to
be in the back…I just didn’t feel like that was my place. I worked for my
stuff, I practice a lot, and I felt like what I was doing deserved a little
more show then it was getting. I like being able to work with other people
as an ensemble, but I felt at the time, DJs weren’t getting enough props and
that’s one of my reasons for wanting to step up a little bit. Albert and
Andrew…these guys can play drums and bass…I have to be able to show that
I can work my tables just as well. I don’t think that DJs that work with
bands are totally wack, but it’s not something I would do…I have to clear
that up…there’s a certain sound that’s called a “hip hop band” which sounds
like wack drums-drums that have no fat kicks- and a lot of wack lyrics. And
that’s the typical “hip hop band”. It’s a certain sound. Whenever you hear
like really thin drums and bass and usually a DJ doing some wack shit and
usually a crazy white kid screaming on the mic-rapping or wanting to rap-

P: How about Limp Bizkit? Do they fall into that category or no?

Q: Kinda. I don’t really know their music, so I can only speak so much
about it. I think to make it easier to understand, there’s a certain
rock-hip hop sound to the drums

I feel kind of lucky too that I’ve been able to hook up with the people that
I play with because Albert for one, he’s a really heavy-foot drummer and he’s
solid, a solid drummer. He has a lot of hip hop style in his playing and I
think it makes it easier to feel it. But there are so many people who are
doing “DJ in a band”, it’s ridiculous. To me, it’s not about being in a band
because it’s a trendy thing. The Live Human stuff…we didn’t come together
because we were like, “okay, we have to rehearse and get here and there…”
It just happened. We didn’t plan on that at all.

P: Organic.

Q: Yeah, we liked what we heard and kept doing it. And for that reason, I
don’t consider myself a hip hop DJ either. To a point I do, because I still
play hip hop and I love a lot of hip hop stuff, but I’ve grown from that.
Hip hop is cool, but it’s been kind of stale for the past 10 years anyway.
There’s some dope west coast stuff coming out…things here and there, but
it’s not like in ’86 where every record coming out was like, DAMN.

P: You had to get it.

Q: Beats were just fat and rhymes were simple yet clever. Funky.
I don’t feel like I can rely on hip hop to vibe off of, get inspired off of.

P: How did you end up getting record deals?

Q: It was kind of an accident. We put a record out. The first record was
Live Human featuring DJ Quest-came out in early ’97. A label in the UK,
Fatcat Records, heard it and wanted to license a few tracks off of it. We
licensed four tracks for a 12″ which came out on Fatcat Records, and they
wanted to put out an album. And we were like, well..we’ve always been
struggling and never really had the means to do anything on that scale, so we
were like, okay, these guys are willing to put up the money, we’re willing to
play some music, record it, and see what happens. The Monostereois album
came out, and Matador heard it. They heard the album and they heard of Live
Human, and they were interested in doing something with us. And since the
album was licensed to Fatcat, but it was not in the states-it was European
and the world license only-we were like, we need someone to put out music out
over here because we had the record out for awhile and the other things that
we had done for Fatcat that nobody even heard of over here, so we thought we
needed to move on. Matador was willing to take us on and give us a shot.
That’s how that happened-from linking with one label, music got out in Europe
and Matador heard of us through the European releases. So far so good.

P: So you’re working on another record? You said you guys were working more
on song “structure”

Q: It’s going to be half and half, you know what I mean? Still some of the
stuff that we know already that we’ve been playing around with. We’ll just
clean it up and make it tighter and record some of that. But half of the
album is going to be like the Elefish album that doesn’t go anywhere …but
it goes everywhere. Whatever we do on the record is going to be a lot of
experimenting. Not to say that it’s so much of an experiment because we know
that whatever we end up putting on the record…we’ll hear that it’s working.
But the techiniques and the formulas for recording the album are going to be
in ways similar to what we did last time. But I think that we already have
about half the stuff that’s going to go on there that we feel pretty strong
about.

P: Where are you going to record?

Q: I don’t know. We’re going to record a lot of stuff here (Quest has a home
studio), record some stuff at Albert’s, record maybe again at the same studio
where we’ve recorded the past two albums.

P: Where is that?

Q: In the Oakland Hills. It’s actually a friend’s house and studio. It’s a
really nice place at the top of the hill. A view of the entire Bay Area.
Whenever you get bored, just go outside.

P: Wow, friends in high places…

Q: Very high. I feel priviledged when I go up there. I don’t want to come
home. Naw, you know…it makes the recording process a little smoother. The
way we did the past couple of records, we went up there, stayed up there,
recorded, mixed and everything like that. I think this time I want to do a
little bit more pre-production. Work out some of the structure to the album
and so when we get there we can just lay it down and get it over with.

P: Do you forsee it having any emcees or is that just totally not what Live
Human is about and it’s never going to be like that?

Q: We have played shows where emcees have come on and it’s fun.

P: But it’s just not the essence.

Q: Yeah, I think that the moment that we have emcees on the album, we’re
going to fall into the same hip hop band category.

P: NO!

Q: Eventually, maybe we’ll feel like doing that but at this time, I think we
want to keep it instrumental. It’s so…many colors. You know what I mean?
It’s exciting to me to be playing this music. I feel like keep it
instrumental. The moment you start putting in vocals, then a track becomes
“about” something. Instead of being a track for pure listening. That you
can feel; make it whatever you want it to be about.

P: like jazz.

Q: pretty much.

P: What’s going on with the Space Travelers…what’s happened to everybody?

Q: Well, we have an album coming out. March. On Stray Records. It’s a
crazy album. It was kind of weird because we didn’t really work on it
together-we all did our own parts. I did a couple of tracks on it. Eddie De
f did a couple of tracks, Marz did a couple of tracks. And Eddie K did most
of the album. He’s the emcee. The idea that we have is that we don’t want
it to be a “turntabilist” album.

P: Is Eddie K rhyming on ALL the tracks?

Q: No, he’s not rhyming on all the tracks. About half the tracks are DJ
tracks, but they’re not like “turntabilist”…which are tracks just made up
of scratch sounds. That stuff is cool, but I think all of us appreciate the
art of making beats a lot more than perpetrating with turntable-made beats.
I mean that stuff is cool, but we’ve done that already too. The album is
going to be a trip because it’s half turntable and half emcee, but everything
is blended together. Not like one side rap and one side DJ songs, but all
the songs…

P: are intertwined?

Q: yeah.

P: Oh, I see. Okay, so what equipment do you use?

Q: I don’t use Vestax.

P: Should I put that in big letters?

Q: I just don’t use Vestax. I use 1200s. I like the Rane.

P: You’re endorsed by them?

Q: I’m glad I am, cause it’s a really dope mixer. I’ve had that mixer for
two years…I’ve dropped it and everything…it’s a fat mixer.

P: What model?

Q: TTM-54
My favorite mixers have been a Gemini 12A, the 2200…they had the first
small mixer that came out
peach aside: (i may have gotten those model numbers wrong…i’m not too
familiar with them).

P: What do you use when you’re making beats?

Q: I use a MPC. I like simple stuff. I’m not really a computer nerd. The
MPC is pretty simple to use…you can start out with a loop and add beats to
it or you can start out with beats and add loops to it…and then I transfer
my stuff to a Roland 1600. So, I use 1200s, I use the Rane mixer.

_____________

DJ Quest would like whoever is using djquest@aol.com to give him his name
back…

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