Today (Feb 15th), San Francisco DJ/producer Mophono releases the genre pioneering new album Cut Form Crush on CB Records. On it, the artist presents the three genres he calls Dirt Wave, Thug Jazz, and Skip on Beat. Last year Mophono, who also goes by the name of DJ Centipede, did a record with a project called Mophono's Halftone Society on Bastard Jazz Records, a cool small label out of Brooklyn that another Bay Area DJ/producer/remixer DJ Platurn has also recently released a record through.
For Cut Form Crush, which should appeal to fans of instrumental hip-hop and glitch-hop type beats, Mophono is joined by San Francisco's MC Subverse on "Rep," the album's only non-instrumental track, and by famed LA producer Flying Lotus on the track "Cut Form Crunch." Another LA based DJ/production talent, Gaslamp Killer, will be joining Mophono, along with Citizen Ten, in San Francisco this weekend when the artist will be throwing a record release party for Cut Form Crush on Saturday, Feb 19th at SOM Bar. Meantime, the album (which will be released on both CD and vinyl) arrives in Amoeba Music today. Recently I caught up with Mophono to talk about the new record and his career to date.
Amoeblog: For those who don't know about you, can you give us some history about you as an artist, including releases that people should be aware of?
Mophono: I grew up DJ'ing hip-hop and instrumental, experimental, and electronic music at raves and underground warehouse parties throughout the Bay Area since 1995. Before that it was just a hobby that started from listening to shit like the Beastie Boys, EPMD, and the Art Of Noise. I also definitely was inspired by my older brother, who played me a lot of rap, punk and industrial music, sandwiched with my mother and father's psychedelic folk background.
These elements, combined with the Bay Area B-Boy culture blossoming in the early 90's, allotted me the musical spectrum to create my first release in 2005. It was a sample based concept piece about the self and communication and had a lot to do with the human condition and the role of the artist/craftsman. In 2006 I remixed DJ Quest's "Live Human" and the song was featured on the [Daly City Records'] Baby Godzilla compilation.
Later in 2006 I turned down the opportunity to produce beats for House Of Pain's DJ Lethal (also Limp Bizkit) to produce a new musical format called Skip On Beat. I also knew there was more for me in the vinyl culture and experimental electronic music community. In 2008 I released the first all Skip on Beat compositions on "The Edge" 45rpm/7" and in 2010 formed Mophono's Halftone Society and released the Sinicism EP on Bastard Jazz Records, pioneering the Thug Jazz genre.
Amoeblog: How much has your music changed or evolved over the years?
Mophono: Man, it's changed a lot, I've gotten a bit more minimal in the instrumentation and am really feeling the dirtier sounds. You can hear it in my DJ sets. There's a bit more dark, aggressive drum rhythms, complex patterns and distorted drum machine sounds and experimental synth arpeggiation. This is also reflected a lot in my compositions, especially on my new album, Cut Form Crush. Texturally it's gotten a whole lot richer and more specific. Like, I love the sound of one beautiful instrument recorded really interestingly -- whether it be an old ass baritone sax or the crappiest garbage drum machine or the fanciest organ with the perfect leslie, to kicking a pile of snare drums, to sampling on an Iphone, to static record dust.
Amoeblog: Why do you go by the two names DJ Centipede and Mophono?
Mophono: I have been DJ'ing so much music that I don't want to let go of my heritage as a odd baller from the mixtape generation of Bay Area turntablists meets D n B electro experimentalism. Even though I love drum machines and moogs and live instruments, the turntables have been my tool for more than a decade now. I was named DJ Centipede by my original DJ and production team mate who I helped start a DJ co-operative in 1995 called the Ace Revolution Mechanics (A.R.M.). At the time, the only other electronic music crews in the Bay either threw house music rave parties or was Phunkatek. Mophono is the title I use when creating my own compositions on stage or in the studio, but the line tends to blur when I DJ my own compositions.
Amoeblog: Is SF a good place for artists like you to be making music or is LA better?
Mophono: The Bay Area is the dopest place on earth, period. That being said, I have hella love for all cities, L.A. included. My mother was born in Brooklyn and drove across the earth to come to the Bay Area in the sixties and my father was born in Oakland, the second motor city of America, so the Bay Area is my home. No other city on earth has the freedoms that we have here in San Francisco and I use the open-mindedness and support of the community to build new forms of musical and creative expression. Honestly, San Francisco is the best place to make music and the hardest place to sell it.
Amoeblog: I know your record release party on Saturday is at SOM Bar, but is the Tuesday club night "Change the Beat" at the same venue with you as Centipede and all those other DJs still happening?
Mophono: Yes, Change the Beat is so dope! All the homies that have performed along the way and all the regulars, and like I was saying about the Bay Area and how supportive of new sounds and expression... man, we have been able to have some of the world's top musical minds through Change the Beat. Gaslamp Killer helped me start it in January of 2006 and was a resident for almost a year before he moved to L.A. and since then it has been a musical haven for many electronic and experimental artists like Salva, Low Limit and Dibia$e. My main goal in creating Change the Beat was to form a creative platform free of traditional closed minded pressures. So far we have all been very lucky to work together and have acts roll through the party like Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Slum Village, Edan, Andy Votel, Slugabed, Eprom, and so many fucking dope people from across the board.
Amoeblog: Tell me about the Skip on Beat genre.
Mophono: Skip on Beat is a new technology I am still developing. Skip on Beat wax is more than a record; it's a machine. Skip on Beat means, no matter where you drop the needle, the record stays on beat. Q-Bert and DJ Swamp pioneered skip proof records that helped take scratching and turntablism to another level. I really see Skip on Beat as something that could change the way we view and listen to vinyl records. Imagine being able to have a dashboard turntable or ride your bike with a record player. At the record release party for my Skip on Beat record The Edge, I invited people to come and bump the turntables and try to skip the record; everyone really freaked out and it became a completely interactive scene and blew a lot of people's minds, including mine. I still have not fully expanded on the tech side of things but there are two songs on my new album, "Now" and "Cut Form Eight." Both are Skip on Beat and the beauty is you can only do it with the vinyl copies.
Amoeblog: And how do you describe the Dirt Wave style?
Mophono: Dirt Wave falls closer to punk and musique concrete, but tips its hat to post punk industrial and new wave musical textures...really, I hope to dive more into it now that this album is done.
Amoeblog: And what about the Thug Jazz? Love that name, by the way.
Mophono: Thank you, yes, the title Thug Jazz was created by Aspect McCarthy, co-founder of the JAZZ MAFIA in S.F. and Change the Beat resident. It is a term used to describe the act of "Thugging out your sound system." The genre is still being developed by artists all over the world. Some of them don't even know it, they just make hard shit that is untouchable. There is a song called "Bumps" by a project I created called Mophono's Halftone Society on Bastard Jazz out of Brooklyn last year. That song does the genre justice for real.
Amoeblog: Can you break down the Mophono's Halftone Society project?
Mophono: The Halftone Society is a group of like minded musicians that come from the same school of dedication to the art of recording and playing with discipline and not needing so many notes all over the place, you know; people not afraid to play some simple melodies and rhythms, but with balls and feeling.
Amoeblog: Also, can you tell me what the album's recurring term, "Cut Form," means to you?
Mophono: It's kind of symbolic, because I came up with the title with a friend in 2007 after buying a drum machine with Flying Lotus at Robot Speak in the Lower Haight, San Francisco. As far as what it means to me, it definitely relates to the process of getting away from traditional forms and rules but also creating and building relative to them. Each composition or piece of music was created as a template or a rough sketch, a beat, that would later be developed into a composition or song.
Cut Form Crush has many songs that were created specifically for it. I wanted to create a body of music, like movements or parts of the project, [something] that has more value together. At one point I was considering releasing the whole album as one 45 minute track without song separations. But when I thought of the listeners, I realized that was unfair. I just really feel strongly about keeping the songs together as the album.
Amoeblog: What was the instrumentation and recording process for Cut Form Crush?
Mophono: There are so many digital tools available right now and with computers there are so few limitations, it has become daunting to decipher direction because of the endless options. I remember when all we had was an 8 second sampler and sequenced it with a DR 660 drum machine and then [would] record onto a 4 track recorder. Limitations created obstacles that pushed us to do more and be more creative composers. It's funny, in a sense we were inspired more because of all the rules to break and miss using equipment created new effects and odd outcomes that would surprise us. On Cut Form Crush, I kept re-inventing ways to construct compositions and while it was definitely cool getting real technical with programing and digital effects and automation, I was real hyped on recording grand pianos into handheld tape cassette recorders and distorting full drum recordings into static crunches.
Amoeblog: You collaborated with the Gaslamp Killer. Can you talk a bit about that, too?
Mophono: Most folks aren't up to date and other people just don't know of the huge and diverse history of recorded music and what makes old recordings so dope to listen to. Willie [The Gaslamp Killer was born William Benjamin Bensussen] and I have worked on many recordings together; he is one of the most inspiring artists for me to record with definitely because we share a knowledge of odd, obscure music from the newest underground producer to the most rare, sought after psyche beats.
Amoeblog: When you play live what gear/instrumentation do you use?
Mophono: I love the drums and have performed with live drummers but love the drum machine equally. I usually do live needle lifting and play the moog with a drum machine and look forward to the next time I can bring out a string section again.
Amoeblog: And what can people expect at the release party on Saturday night in San Francisco?
Mophono: I purposefully decided to do it at a smaller, more intimate space because I wanted to enjoy the party. It's gonna be myself, Gaslamp and Citizen Ten, we started Change the Beat together, so it means a lot to me to have us together again. There are going to be crazy psychedelic visuals, live performance and amazing DJ's and all the dope party people who have supported me along the way.
Amoeblog: Anything to add?
Mophono: Look out for more Mophono's Halftone Society and the Skip on Beat records to come and I have been making a lot of mixtapes, so keep your eyes on cbrecords.com. Peace!