This evening Amoeba Music San Francisco will welcome hometown turntable master DJ Quest who, in celebration of his recently released new album Questolous (ZQ Records), will take to the stage of the Haight Street Amoeba location at 6PM for a free instore performance. Joining the veteran San Francisco turntablist onstage at Amoeba will be some of the collaborators on the new album including Eddie K, Luke Sick, Bas-1, DJ Oaty Love, DJ 2 Fresh and Dawgisht along with emcee Apostle this evening.
An established battle DJ and performing artist, DJ Quest's long list of accolades include his membership of the historic early nineties SF turntablist crew the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters with Eddie Def & DJ Cue, who produced the first ever DJ battle record (Hamster Breaks) and who in later years morphed into the Space Travelers (aka Bullet Proof Space Travelers) -- adding DJ Marz, & emcee Eddie K to the lineup. In more recent years he has won praise as the turntable musician in the critically acclaimed envelope-pushing jazz trio Live Human (with bassist Andrew Kushin & percussionist Albert Mathias).
Since starting out in the mid eighties DJ Quest has rightfully earned the reputation of being one of the most super-skilled, talented turntablists in the history of the hip-hop DJ. However always being a modest artist, one more focused on his music rather than publicity, DJ Quest has never fully exploited his talents and hence many music fans are not aware of him, as they well should be. The guy is amazing -- as proven by his all-killer new album Questolous.
DJ Quest, a San Francisco Mission District resident, began DJ'ing 22 years ago. He says he scratched records for about a year before he learned to mix. In addition to recording several solo projects and releases with Live Human and the Bullet Proof Space Travelers, the prolific turntable artist has performed and recorded with a number of producers including Lyrics Born/Lateef, Mike Patton's Peeping Tom, Dan (The Automator), Rob Swift, Q-Bert, Blackalicious, Z-Man, Peanut Butter Wolf, Fanatik, Mark 5 (V), DJ EFX, DJ Zeph, Sacred Hoop, Eddie K, Apostle, and Top Rawmen.
I caught up with DJ Quest to talk with him about his illustrious career, the state of the art of the hip-hop DJ today and how it is perceived by the Average Joe, his new album, and what to expect at his Haight Street Amoeba Music instore tonight. To read, scroll down past video of the DJ in action at Club 6 a couple of years ago below.
AMOEBLOG: What is the one thing -- the driving force -- that has kept you focused and doing your art all these years?
DJ QUEST: Several things. One of them -- the fact that I gotta eat and don't really feel like I want to do anything else. The other, I guess it's just a supernatural force which I can't really put my finger on.
AMOEBLOG: What do you think of the state of hip-hop DJ'ing today?
DJ QUEST: The state of hip-hop DJ'ing is all about how alive it is in your bedroom. Remember this is an underground art and it's always going to get the 'step child' treatment by the general population. Sure, it sucks in the competitive commercial world, cause too many of these so-called hip-hop DJ's never even attended a battle, let alone entered one, which in turn makes the skill level sorry, and it only educates the audience that much. Regardless, there's much room left for furthering the art without dwelling on how bad things are.
AMOEBLOG: I have always felt that the average person didn't quite get what a turntablist or DJ-as-musician does; that they maybe miss many of the subtleties and nuances of a skilled performance. Is it frustrating as a turntable artist to be performing all of these skilled techniques that took years of practice to perfect when they perhaps go over the Average Joe's head?
DJ QUEST: First of all, I do this for myself. Sure, I want to make a living but the whole idea that what I do goes over the Average Joe's head only makes my job easier. The Average Joe is capable of feeling complex patterns, they're made to be felt, not deciphered (unless you're another DJ). The problem is, this kind of music doesn't linger in the airwaves for long once it makes it there. The question lies more with how you reach the market that's into it. There a market for noise music, for crying out loud. It may very easily take another 20 years before the general public accepts this type of music. There will be ups and downs (like right now), but this shit is way too much fun for me to stop doing just because the Average Joe is a retard.
Z-Trip and DJ Quest photo above (taken by Timi D.) is from several years back at a Future Primitive Sound Session in San Francisco.
AMOEBLOG: What is your take on the state of DJ battles right now: are they still a relevant force within hip-hop music as an art?
DJ QUEST: DJ battles are a whole new can of worms. The DJ art has evolved so much that DJ's are having to press their own vinyl to have any chance at a title. It's almost like a hobby that detached from the hip-hop culture in general, the same way rappers were rappin' to ADAT's a while back. On the other hand, I can still appreciate a good battle and give props to anyone willing to step in the ring, cause it takes a little bit of a lion's heart to do that shit, and although personally I think there are other ways to be a relevant force within hip-hop. I think battles will always keep creative minds on their toes.
AMOEBLOG: Do you use Serato or a similar type of technology and if so what are your opinions of it (versus the tradition vinyl on turntables) for DJ'ing live?
DJ QUEST: I use Serato. I'm not mad at it. As a DJ I always want to be on top of new technology (even if I can't afford it). There are many more benefits than downfalls to using digital technology, including ways that DJ's who only think about downloading an MP3 and mashing it up will never dream of. At the end of the day, I want to move forward, not not be a dinosaur. By now most computers and software are reliable enough to count on for live performance and the fear of a crashing computer is not as bad.
AMOEBLOG: How is the new album different from previous releases?
DJ QUEST: Questolous is different in that it was a bit of a guinea pig for me. I originally started with drum machine beats, which inspired me to find cats to collab with. Then, I got the idea of featuring other producer's tracks to give me the freedom of focusing on scratch arrangements as if they were
verses and I was 'spiting with my hands.' Finally, I wanted to make an album that could be a many flavor collection that would maximize its own listening possibilities.
AMOEBLOG: It sounds like you put in a lot of time and work on the new album and it shows, as it is richly layered and incorporates so many sounds and styles of hip-hop.
DJ QUEST: Roughly, it took about a year and a half. I tried a number of ideas, went through the process-- making and arranging beats and recording raps, many which didn't make it on the album, recording and orchestrating scratches, arranging, editing, mixing down, mastering, feeding my pet rat. And then, getting the artwork, getting the layout, pressing it, lining up distribution, etc, you name it! Obviously, all those things are time consuming, but I guess I took my time with the actual creative process from the beginning. To sum it all up, I just wanted to represent the music that I've grown up with, which is hip-hop, electro, and scratching, and it wasn't exactly easy to combine all those styles in a way that it would make sense.
AMOEBLOG: On Questolous you collaborated with a hell of a lot of people. Was it difficult working with so many different artists? And what was the recording process: did you physically get together in the studio with each or did each contributor work independently from his own studio?
DJ QUEST: Most of the folks on Questolous are friends of mine, not necessarily musicians for hire, so working on the album was not difficult -- with the exception of working with MC's! They're lazy, they come in whenever the hell the want, and they want you to keep changing the arrangement every five minutes. Just kidding! Can't you mother fuckers take a joke? On the real though, I recorded a lot of the album in my studio, including vocals, but the tracks by Oaty Love and 2 Fresh were recorded in their labs, and the tracks by Dawgisht, Dust, and T-Rock were all done via the Internet.
AMOEBLOG: What was the experience like, collaborating with the artists on Questolous?
DJ QUEST: Personally, I feel my collaborations with all these artist are unique in the sense that we're all learning a bit from each other every time we sit down to tweak knobs or exchange ideas about what has or hasn't been done, and in turn mutually opening our minds to new possibilities.
AMOEBLOG: Can you tell me a bit about Oaty Love, who worked with you on about five of the new album's tracks?
DJ QUEST: Oaty Love, who was very influential in the making of this record, is an old school b-boy, DJ, producer, high tech kid, and all-round bad mutha. It was a treat to have him bless the album with his knowledge of hip-hop. Don't test him.
AMOEBLOG: And how would you describe Alameda artist Dawgisht, who collaborated with you on the track "Submarine Thump" and who is also with you at Amoeba tonight?
DJ QUEST: Dawgisht, another incredible producer. He is electronically organic and he's light years beyond the usual cat with a computer. He contributed to much of the electro- sci-fi influence on the album. We will be rocking a live version of "Submarine Thump" at Amoeba and I can't wait to hear it.
AMOEBLOG: What else can people expect at Amoeba Music instore tonight?
DJ QUEST: I will try and recreate as much of Questolous as possible, but given the fact that some of the artists live outside of San Francisco it may be difficult recreate the whole thing, unless I get them on the phone, maybe not. I will, however, bring something for everyone who loves good hip-hop. From a live DJ megamix and electronic styles, to dope MC's and good ol' fashioned hardcore scratching. Eddie K, Luke Sick, Bas 1, DJ Oaty Love, DJ 2 Fresh, and Dawgisht, as I mentioned, will all be there.
DJ Quest is scheduled to perform at Amoeba Music San Francisco this evening (4/18) at 6PM as part of the store's Home Grown series. If you can't make it to the instore, check for his KZSU 90.1 FM radio appearance on Sunday evening (April 20th) at 6PM on The Drum with Kevvy Kev and the crew. He will also be over in Berkeley at the April 27th B-Side Records DJ Battle at 2PM. Meantime, pick up his highly recommended new album Questolous at Amoeba Music and visit the following sites for more information on the man: djquest.net, myspace, bulletproofscratch.com, & youtube.com/questosahn.