Some may have just recently come to know of DJ Icewater as the tour DJ for the reunited Pharcyde. Others may long know the skilled Los Angeles born, Bay Area based DJ from his countless, always amazing mixtape CDs, which earned him, along with DJ Cobra, the "Mixtape DJ Of The Year" title at the Tech.nitions Conference in 2003. Some might remember him from his time as a Bay Area college radio DJ, be aware of him from his affiliation with the Solesides/Quannum or the Living Legends crews or maybe from his collaboration with such acts as the Bash Brothers, or from having been the live DJ for Shing02.
Some might even know him from the numerous acts he worked with in an audio engineer's capacity, including Lyrics Born, Jern Eye, and Keelay & Zaire. In sum, odds are that if you are a hip-hop fan, you've most likely stumbled up this talented DJ/producer's work somewhere along the way. He has been putting it down since 1995 and nowadays also does video live mixing. Busy juggling several projects, DJ Icewater recently took time out to chop it up with the Amoeblog.
Amoeblog: How and when exactly did you first get into DJing?
DJ Icewater: I started DJing in 1995 with some Gemini turntables and a used Pyramid mixer handed down from my cousin. My main influence was the radio DJs in LA like E-Man, The Baka Boyz and DJ Jam. I liked the way they put together mixes via scratching/blending. I wanted to DJ ever since I first heard DJ Jazzy Jeff but I couldn't afford any gear until '95.
Amoeblog: Was it school that brought you to the Bay and music that kept you there?
DJ Icewater: School brought me to the Bay and the music was a big part of what kept me there. LA didn't have as vibrant a hip-hop scene at the time. My first week in the Bay, I was introduced to guys selling underground tapes on the sidewalk, amazing record stores (like Amoeba) and multiple events showcasing different elements of hip-hop all over the area. I remember the first time I took BART I went to see the Invizibl Skratch Piklz do a free show at the Nu Upper Room in East Oakland. The show was amazing but what was even crazier was that it was in front of an older crowd from the community. I think me and my roomate were the only people under 35 that evening.
Amoeblog: How do you compare Los Angeles to the Bay Area, and in turn, New York City for music, considering that you had mentioned to me before that you might be moving East?
DJ Icewater: I think the Bay is a great place to find inspiration and hone your skills. However, it lacks the industry and business opportunities of LA and NYC. I think a balanced diet of Bay, LA and NYC would be a healthy choice.
Amoeblog: Can you break down your radio history and tell me what was the main thing you -- as a club/tour DJ -- gained from your radio DJ experience?
DJ Icewater: I DJed on KALX from 1996-2000 primarily with DJ O-Dub and my close friend Roc. I also [have done] some stuff on KPFA and KZSU since then. College radio is my preferred venue for DJing. I never intended to be anything more than a bedroom DJ and college radio felt as comfortable as spinning at home except you have an invisible audience. DJing live on the radio was a great training ground for DJing in the clubs or on tour because you had to deal with the unexpected in terms of requests, technical difficulties, etc.
Amoeblog: And what about your Quannum/Solesides history: can you enlighten us on what you did with those guys over the years?
DJ Icewater: I started as an intern at Solesides in 1996, primarily doing street team type work. I eventually was given the duty of radio promotions which involved a lot of mailing and phone calls. Once the transition from Solesides to Quannum started, I was primarily a roadie/merch person. That was my first experience going on tour. I did merch for them up until I graduated college in 2000. After that I got involved with audio engineering and have been a tracking/editing engineer for Lyrics Born since 2003.
Amoeblog: What is your impression of the Bay Area rap scene today?
DJ Icewater: To me, the Bay Area rap scene is full of talent but it lacks direction. There [don't] seem to be as many venues for newer artists to gain experience and there seems to be a lack of strong mentorship in regards to the business of music.
Amoeblog: You have a lot of mixtape CDs out there, but what was the very first one you did and was it an actual tape or CD?
DJ Icewater: My first official mixtape was on cassette made in 1996 and it was done live on my sister's boombox. I recently found a copy and digitized it. You can listen to it on my website. The tape hiss is loud and the scratching is horrible, but overall I was pleased.
Amoeblog: How many to date in all have you made, and are the pay-for-hire ones fun to do too (they sound like it)?
DJ Icewater: I've done over 40 mixtapes but I'm not really sure. Recently I've started doing mixtapes for hire more than anything else. Those are fun when the artist I'm working with is involved and we have a lot of dialogue as to the direction of the CD. They're not as fun when someone just hands you 30 songs and is like "make it happen." I really enjoyed the opportunity to do mixes for The Gift of Gab and Lyrics Born because I was already a fan and highly familiar with their music.
Amoeblog: Of the many of your mix CDs I have, I like the recent ones you gave me as well as Can't Stop Won't Stop (made to accompany Jeff Chang's book of the same name) and the anti-Bush What About Us? mixtape. What are some of your favorites and why?
DJ Icewater: My favorite mixtapes are the Mixtape Gods series I did with DJ Cobra, primarily because it was outside of my comfort zone in terms of music and thus challenging. These CD's were strictly aimed at the top 40/club going audience. We wanted to do pop mixes that incorporated the creative mixing and scratching techniques used by our mixtape idols like DJ Rectangle and Spinbad. DJ Cobra really pushed me to be as creative as possible, almost to the point of absurdity. I consider those seven volumes my finest seven hours as a DJ.
Amoeblog: How often have you performed with Shing02?
DJ Icewater: I performed sporadically with Shing02 since I met him in 1996. He would always invite me to DJ at his shows. I would do some cuts for him on his recordings and in 2001 he brought me to Japan for the first time to perform at a release party for a compilation I did some cuts on. In 2002, he brought me back to do a full tour of Japan that lasted almost 2 months. That was my first experience as a Tour DJ. Since then, we've done some shows here and there but nothing too major.
Amoeblog: I know you work as an audio engineer for Lyrics Born, but have you also DJed for him or others in the Quannum camp?
DJ Icewater: I've never DJed for Lyrics Born. There were a few times when he asked me to fill in, but we couldn't get the schedules to work out. The only time I DJed for Quannum was a show I did with The Gift of Gab a few years back in Austin, TX.
Amoeblog: When you DJ with The Living Legends, is it with them as a collective or individual members/groups?
DJ Icewater: I think I only DJed one show with all the Legends and it was for a SXSW show. I mainly DJed for The Grouch, Eligh and Luckyiam. They brought me on a few tours domestically as well as in Japan.
Amoeblog: How did The Pharcyde DJ spot come about and what was that experience like?
DJ Icewater: My friend Sizwe from Lunar Heights introduced me to Imani from the Pharcyde who is also his cousin. I DJed some shows with those two back in '06 and a few months later, Imani called me saying they needed a DJ for a short run of shows in Colorado. Since then I've been doing shows whenever they need me. Working with them is unbelievable. They are a real professional and humble group of guys. Growing up in LA, nothing was bigger than the Pharcyde. I consider them one of the top hip-hop groups of all time.
Amoeblog: How challenging can it be to adapt to different artists in a concert setting?
DJ Icewater: It can take 1-2 shows to get fully comfortable with an artist and their tendencies, but once I figure them out, it's not that big of a challenge. Usually if there are extensive rehearsals, it's never an issue. I will say that expecting the unexpected always helps.
Amoeblog: What's your favorite equipment for performing and for in studio work?
DJ Icewater: My weapons of choice are [Technic] 1200s, Rane 56/57mixer, Serato, Pro Tools and Ableton Live. I'm really into the technological side of music so I try to stay up on all things new. I think there are a lot of great products that go unnoticed.
Amoeblog: You, like many other DJs, are now venturing into the practice of video mixing in a club setting. What is that like in comparison to audio turntable mixing: i.e., VJ vs. DJ?
DJ Icewater: To me, video mixing is a whole new style that is still being figured out. The visual aspect adds an entirely new set of variables for creativity. I've dabbled a little bit in video mixing primarily working with the video mixtape idea. There was also a version of the Pharcyde's live show that incorporated playing their music videos in the background while they performed. Knowing how to mix and scratch is just as important as having a strong foundation in illustration, animation, compositing and video editing. For now, it's rare to find a person that can do all of those things well. I really think to get the best audio/visual performance you would need more than one person -- a VJ band of sorts.
Amoeblog: What are among some of the best new records/track you've heard recently?
DJ Icewater: It's not that new, but the Q-Tip album The Renaissance is what I've been listening to pretty consistently.
Amoeblog: And the first record you ever bought?
DJ Icewater: The Fat Boys - Coming Back Hard Again. That's if you mean vinyl. Otherwise, it was probably [Michael Jackson] Thriller.
Amoeblog: All time Top 5 albums?
DJ Icewater: In no particular order: Ice Cube - Death Certificate, Outkast - Aquemini, De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead, A Tribe Called Quest - Low End Theory, Organized Konfusion - The Extinction Agenda.
Amoeblog: How has current economy affected you?
DJ Icewater: Business is slow and money is low but I understand that we all need to adjust for the past years of decadence.
Amoeblog: Anything to add?
DJ Icewater: Please check out my blog. You can also listen to a lot of my mixes at djicewater.com.
(Click here for DJ Icewater's MySpace.)
LBTV (Lyrics Born TV) presents DJ Icewater
Shing02 live "Whirlwind (Tsumuji-Kaze)" feat. DJ Icewater