How are you reviving the art of turntablism?
That's something that's very important to me. The way that I decided to move forward with my approach to DJing -- and this is already from many years ago -- was to let myself continue to evolve with a selection of music and to play DJ sets that are aimed to get the party going but infuse some techniques in the way that I actually mix.
This way I'm able to kind of keep an element of turntablism in everything I do, and to bring it to new contexts and new crowds and new places because there was a time where my mixing was kind of separated. You know, if you go back 10 years ago, I'd be booked at a party and there'd be a part of my set where I would just be mixing records, and other parts where I would do a dance, scratch routine or solo. Those parts of my set didn't intermingle much. Either I'm mixing or I'm doing a crazy solo.
After a while I figured out how I could blend those elements together and make my mixing a little bit more technical and spread out my solos so that they're more digestible, so I don't make the crowd kind of stop completely, and then I have to kind of pick up from zero.
With turntablism, by the early to mid-'90s, it started feeling like that scene was dissipating and dying out to a certain extent and it became more marginal again, and just less part of general culture. I wanted to continue progressing as a DJ, and rather than playing for smaller crowds and getting a day job or whatever, I continued to push my DJing to bigger stages and bigger opportunities and to try my best to take turntablism on my back and take it with me everywhere I went.
Would you like to hear more scratching within hip-hop, or do you like being a lone wolf?
As long as it's well done, yes, I'm happy to hear [it]. That's one of the main reasons I brought Gaslamp Killer on my current tour, because he's a scratch DJ from the same era as me and he's bringing scratching to his realm of music, which is more of the L.A. beat scene alongside guys like Flying Lotus and such. He's DJing in that circuit and scratching, and that's something that I love. The first time I saw him play, I was like "Yes, finally another DJ doing current music and scratching." Right away I was like, "Yo, we got to tour together."
How do you build your scratches? Is it like an intricate guitar solo, completely planned out, or is it all feel and improvisation?
It could be both -- it depends on the specific context. If I'm recording a scratch solo on a song, for example, and there's a certain number of measures that I have allocated to the solo, there's already a sort of tonality, and feeling to the song, then I'll probably knock it out a little bit, at least break it up into segments in my head and tell myself, "Ok, I'm going to start with this trick and then improvise it big but I know that halfway through I'm going to do this scratch and end with that one." That's kind of how I'll do it. But if I'm at a show and just scratching over a beat then I just improvise.
What's the best decade to mix to?
I play such a variety of music that I can't narrow it down like that because I play just as much new stuff as older things that I pick and choose from the bins. I couldn't even choose between electronic music and hip-hop. The whole way that my DJing works is the full picture. It's like the way that I combine everything together. I can't really narrow it down into one.
How did growing up in Montreal shape your style?
It shaped my musical style in a few ways. In general, it has to do with the idea that back in those days, in the mid '90s, all eyes were on the US. It was very coastal. The east coast and the west coast had these big styles. People know that about rap music but I don't know if they realize that that even applies to DJing and turntablism. In those days, DJs from New York had a certain style, DJs from L.A. had another style and even DJs from San Fran had a specific style. I started DJing in a period that was extremely fruitful, full of creativity and new techniques in DJing, so there was a bunch of stuff coming from New York and a bunch of stuff coming from the West coast, and the fact that I was looking at it all from Canada, from up north in Montreal, I was able to absorb everything and I think I was able to be very well rounded.
So to enter these competitions, these battles, I was covering a lot of ground, in a sense that I was integrating what the New York guys were doing with what the Cali guys were doing and digesting it all in my own way. Just having that geographic distance gave me a good perspective. I was able to summarize everything that was going on and give it my own little touch.
Did Montreal have a hip-hop or turntablism scene?
Yeah, definitely. Montreal's always had a very healthy musical scene. Montreal's always had a healthy art scene in general. It's a very creative city and I met a couple DJs when I was first starting to DJ myself. I started when I was 13, and basically I would just kind of spend hours every day in my parents' basement practicing my scratches and trying to master all these techniques. My older brother had a college radio show; this is my brother Dave [David Macklovitch] who's also in Chromeo now. He had a college radio show when he was like 17, and through that he was able to meet a bunch of people from the local music scene, a couple of other DJs who were making their way and winning local competitions and stuff. One of them is Kid Koala who's still putting out music to this day.
I just posted about him this week [on my blog]. I'll see something from him every now and then. We're not really in the same scene per say anymore, but every time he pops up somewhere I'm just like, "This guy, he's still like no one else." He's really one of the most original DJs out there. Anyway, I met a couple of the local DJs. The Montreal hip-hop scene was also, to a certain extent, separated between French and English rap. But because my brother was a producer and I was a DJ, we were on the music side of things we were able to actually work with both sides.
He used to make beats for some of the French rappers and some of the English rappers. That kind of thing has been a constant throughout my career, just this idea of covering a lot of ground and bringing together scenes that otherwise didn't really intermingle much, because if you go back to a couple years ago when I started to merge electronic music with hip-hop and helping Kanye make the 'Graduation' album where he sampled Daft Punk and things like that, that was a big thing for me too.
Your new band Duck Sauce is getting a lot of attention. What's the story behind naming your hit single 'Barbra Streisand?'
To get people to ask that question [laughs].
It actually makes sense if you don't think about it.
Yeah, that's the idea, if you take a step back and don't think about things too much. The things that just feel right, I think it's one of those.
There's always an X-factor to Duck Sauce. There's always a kind of wild card aspect to what we do. I think that just boils down to the personalities of the two of us. Armand [Van Helden] and myself, we both have wacky senses of humor and we're drawn to these things that make people do double-takes I guess. 'Barbra Streisand' is the best achievement that we've had in the charts.
How did you and Armand meet, and when did you decide to start working together?
It was very casual. Armand doesn't collaborate much with other people and I don't either. We both do a bunch of our own stuff. We started hanging out for a while and didn't really talk about making music. We must have been friends for a good year before he just brought up the idea, "Hey why don't we make some tracks?"
I would've been probably too shy to bring it up myself. I didn't want to just assume that he'd want to make music with me. The guy has such an amazing history, there's no real reason for him to want to do this at this moment. But when he brought it up, it was like "Yeah, I'd love to," and that was it.
We made a couple songs at the top of '09. We picked the song 'aNYway' as the single, and then the following year we made 'Barbra Streisand,' and put that out as a single. And now we're wrapping up our album. Everything with Duck Sauce is very straightforward. It's a lot more straightforward than any of the other projects I make. That's part of why I enjoy it so much. The main idea is to bring out a certain feeling in people, just to bring back the fun in music. A bit of irreverence, you know? I don't think we're being too kind or too bubblegum. It's fun with definitely an element of attitude to it.
You have an intense work ethic. How do you spend your time?
I know that I'm never satisfied. I've been doing this for a while and if I was predisposed to rest on my laurels, I would've gotten lazy a long time ago. I still feel like I haven't really done anything that I want to do, what I need to do. There's always this sort of sense of urgency. I always feel that I'm running after my objectives that aren't quite met yet. Part of the reason why that keeps going is I'm always dabbling in a bunch of different things. In between running my record label (Fool's Gold takes up many hours of my day every day) producing music myself, producing remixes, doing Duck Sauce, working with other artists and then anything else I do online between my blog and everything, there's plenty to keep me busy making me constantly feel like I'm not done.
Do you and your brother Dave influence each other's music?
On a very simple level, we're very close. We speak many, many times every day. I don't think there's ever been a day where we haven't spoken. We're always kind of saying everything, whether it be music that we play to each other or just us kind of helping each other out with our music. We view our projects as one big common thing, everything that he does and I do, we're involved within some capacity together. I always have my hand in a couple of Chromeo things, and he definitely has his hand in a bunch of A-trak stuff too. It's the only way we know how to operate.
Do you ever tell him that he's doing something wrong, or vice versa?
He's probably the only person who will really give me criticism which is why he's so important to me. A brother has no censor; he'll let me say, "Hey what are you doing?" whereas a friend will say it's great and offer sort of moderate input or criticism. [Dave] will say it flat out.
Have either of you pushed each other in a different direction on a particular song?
The funny thing is the song 'Barbra Streisand,' the fact that we say 'Barbra Streisand' came from an idea that he had that was sort of vague. I remember playing him a couple Duck Sauce songs, we were working on maybe like four songs at the same time last year, and one of them was what became 'Barbra Streisand.' It was just the music part without those words. And I remember prefacing "Alright, this next one's a little silly, kind of off the wall but I can see people singing along to this at shows." After playing it for a while, he's like, "Something needs to be going on here. You guys need to add something: a sample, something silly. There's a sort of cherry on top that's missing." I went back to Armand's place with that idea in mind, like David's saying that you've got to add some sort of flourish to take this over the top. That's what triggered me and Armand trading ideas until we came up with "Let's say someone's name." But even that song he had an influence there. And me with Chromeo, it'll be more like little elements like "Why don't you add this kind of synth, or this kind of breakdown?" Sometimes I engineer some of their video sessions. Also, I give a lot of feedback about their live show and performances on TV and stuff like that.
Kanye West picked you as tour DJ. How was that?
I felt great! [Laughs] Already for about a year or two I was at a point with my DJing where I felt like I needed to find a new platform to take it further. One idea was to DJ for a bigger artist -- I just didn't know who. It's not something that's really easy to hook up, and at the time the music industry was a lot more difficult to penetrate. It was just sort of [an] unattainable world I guess. Kanye saw me playing London and immediately told me he wanted to take me on tour. I remember being ecstatic and his first album had just come out and I was a huge fan, and I remember having to catch a flight that same day and listening to his album on repeat during the whole flight and just being like "This is really amazing." Then I also remember doing that first show with him and calling my brother right after the show and just saying, "This is what I need to be doing. This is why I do what I do." It definitely gave me that feeling.
It also helped me fine-tune my DJing because I had been playing for what I call an educated crowd -- a crowd that knew DJs and DJing, which has a sort of narrow side to it too. I was playing for a crowd that new a whole bunch of references and I could play in a way that was really technical and they would understand it. In working with Kanye I had to make my craft more universal without feeling like I'm compromising anything. That's something he's always been very good at. He's always been really good at finding things that come from a pure place and kind of distilling them, 'til the whole world can appreciate them. I had to do that with my DJing through working with him. It opened a lot of doors for me.
Is Kanye easy to work with?
Depends on who [he's working with]. For me, yeah, I love him, but he has a very strong personality and some people can't gel with him. I got along really well with him, and still work with him to this day.