The "Serial Wax Killer," Mix Master Mike, has set his sights on a new genre: dubstep, an unholy marriage of UK club styles including two-step, grime, and drum 'n' bass. It feels like a robo marching band stomping on your eardrums. It's great fun.
And in the hands of one of the most severe DJs the turntable has ever feared, dubstep becomes even more frenetic and layered than the average 12-inch platter. Mike's recent release, Napalm Rockets (available for free download via MixMasterMike.com), is a non-stop sixty-minute assault, a chain-link combustion of bass, bells, and whistles, like a casino crumbling around you during a miles-deep temblor.
The 39-track mix draws the rhythmic lines between grime (Wiley's "Grime Kid"), Jamaican-inflected dubstep (The Bug and Flowdan's "Jah War"), and good old-fashioned American hip-hop (Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'").
"This is aggressive hip-hop, dubstep, electro, breaks, blended in with the hardcore psychedelic scratching. I change every year for some reason," explained Mike. "Now that I'm into dubstep, my whole outlook on music has changed. It's like, it's still hip-hop, but it's [in] other forms. I mean, I make dubstep sound like hip-hop; I make electro sound like hip-hop. It's aggressive — I'll put it that way."
Through all the aggression, Mike's dry humor, which in the past has included the well-timed use of pop culture cues like the Jetsons' jingle, still occasionally shines through. On "Goin' Down in this Bitch," The Youngbloodz' Lil Jon-laced "Drankin' Patnaz" is juxtaposed with opera samples; and on the "Dipset Outro," a ferocious Jack Black lends his growling recommendation that "Mix Master Mike dominates the realm of intensity!"
Napalm Rockets was just released in February, but Mike is grinding out other projects. Not only was he tapped for a guest spot on the new season of the Nick Jr. children's show Yo Gabba Gabba! — a move that has elevated him to hero status in his family circle — but he has two more records on the boiler. The Elements Album will be a meeting of Mike, DJ Muggs, DJ JS-1, and Rahzel. ("That should be dope." Obviously.) He is also prepping the Plazma Ryfle EP, a thematic extension of Napalm Rockets, for a June release, when it will be coupled with a new signature line of Skullcandy headphones.
"Plazma Ryfle is a hip-hop record," says Mike. "But it's electronic-based. I can't really explain it. It's aggressive. It's fast-paced. And it's like travel music: You get from point A to point B faster listening to this record."
Mix Master Mike knows a thing or two about travel time, as he has become a veritable jet-setter. In fact, it was time spent in the UK that put him onto dubstep in the first place:
"[I was] touring, doing shows at Fabric and spots in Liverpool and Manchester, hanging out in London and listening to Caspa and Skream, cats who paved the way, who invented dubstep," he said. "When I'm on tour I get inspiration from everybody. ... You'll hear all those inspirations at Yoshi's."
Mike's show at Yoshi's this weekend is part of the Audio Alchemy series, which is being curated by Bay Area producer Dan the Automator, who is responsible for too many classic records to list here. "[Dan] was the first one putting out records, like DJ records," said Mike. "Much respect to Dan for setting that off over in San Francisco. ... He inspired us, in some way, to actually become recording artists as well, and put out records and DJ battle breaks and stuff."
Even after Mike devoured and spit out the art of DJing with his former crew with Q-Bert, the Invisibl Skratch Picklz, Dan can continue to encourage them to keep experimenting. At the first Audio Alchemy show, Dan pitted Q-Bert against members of Adam Theis' Jazz Mafia. Then, after they collaborated on a handful of classics like "Rockit," Q-Bert performed in front of a 3-D projection of a fishbowl.
Mix Master Mike will be sure to drag the decks in another direction entirely. "You gotta keep it interesting these days," said Mike. "You wanna grab people's attention. You can't just keep doing the same stuff. Today, you can't just do a full on hip-hop set. You gotta show diversity. You gotta make them hear something, like, 'What the fuck is that? I want more.'"
The last time Mix Master Mike played the Bay Area, he was slated to DJ alongside another former Skratch Pickl, DJ Shortkut, at Club Six's ten-year anniversary party. Before long, a full-on Skratch Picklz reunion was in the works. "It was me and Shortkut that were spinning that night, and Q and Apollo came — we made a call and decided to make it kind of like a reunion," said Mike. "So we were all together in the same house for the first time in a long time. It was amazing."
Shortkut is the resident DJ of Audio Alchemy — so he'll be there already. When asked if Apollo and Q-Bert might be among the "special guests" slated to appear at Mike's performance, he responded, "[It's] all fam. So it's maybe gonna be one of those reunions again. Who knows? Anything could happen."