Legendary Beastie Boys turntablist and hip-hop pioneer discusses his new projects as he heads on a solo tour
Arguably one of the most important groups in rap history, Beastie Boys have a legacy that cannot be underplayed. Combining an explosive punk energy with their unique brand of alternative hip-hop, the New York trio remain one of the most commercially successful rap groups of all time and from 1998, legendary turntablist Mix Master Mike was a big part of their success. At the helm as their resident DJ from fifth album Hello Nasty onwards, Mike took their sound to a whole new level with his off-kilter samples and high energy cutting and scratching.
'I gained notoriety through the DMC World DJ Championships,' Mike explains about his early years with Beastie Boys. 'That helped catapult me into the consciousness of hip-hop. People knew about me because I was a battle DJ and then hooking up with Beastie Boys was an easy transition because I was a big fan of theirs. So you could say I was kind of grooming myself for that position. As soon as they called me up, I went to New York, stayed there for a month and recorded Hello Nasty and it happened so organically, they were telling me what to do and I was showing them what they should do. I was eager to display my sound and skills and add to that record. And after the end of that session and the whole recording process, we all gathered in a room and they asked me to become their DJ and that was the start of it. I believe in alignment and the positions of the moon and the stars and the solar system and the universe and it was all meant to be.'
A Grammy Award winner, three-time consecutive winner of the DMC World Title and victor in the 1992 New Music Seminar DJ Battle, Mix Master Mike is both a pioneer and household name in DJ circles. But his start in music didn't initially involve turntables.
'In my teens, I grew up listening to heroes like Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and George Clinton. I wanted to try to do the same thing that they were doing but I didn't know how to play the guitar or drums. So then I discovered the turntable and it was a match made in heaven. I figured, actually I can play the guitar and drums and all the stuff that I hear them playing, I can apply that same mentality to the turntable. But I couldn't actually afford them so I started out with cassette tapedecks and I used to make mixtapes. I remember I used to record these radio shows from a local hip-hop station and I used to customise my own version from these tapes. Then I saw Herbie Hancock live in concert and there was a DJ called GrandMixer DST and that was the first time I saw somebody have a turntable and I thought oh shit, that's how it's done.'
Aside from his work with Beastie Boys, Mike has played with and for the likes of Metallica, Travis Barker and DJ Qbert, opened for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, joined the official Emmys orchestra and performed at the John F. Kennedy Center on invitation from then-President Barack Obama. Most recently, he was asked to join LA hip hop crew Cypress Hill as their newest member, something he considers a real honour.
'That was actually something that B-Real was pursuing for a long time. But you know, I'm a solo artist before anything. But we're all definitely cut from the same cloth, we're all family and they're basically my extended brothers so B-Real extended the offer to me to be the musical director and DJ of Cypress Hill. I finally had some time so I thought let's try this. They wanted someone to take over the whole Cypress Hill catalogue and to change their live performances and I was flattered.'
But forever being a multi-tasker, Mix Master Mike is not only known for being a trailblazer in the world of music; his interests these days centre on his work in the field of virtual reality.
'I'm pretty much at the forefront of virtual reality projects and I decided to make the first ever virtual reality album, Magma Chamber,' he says. 'And that's where my heart is, that's the forefront of entertainment right now. As someone that's always thinking of what's next, I'm elusive, I'm unpredictable so this is something out of left field that I thought could basically change the game of entertainment. I don't want to put albums out on iTunes because once you put them out, they're out with thousands of other albums and it's flooded and it just doesn't make that project that special. You put all this work and effort in and you put them out, and that's it. So that's the motivation behind it; attaching something cool to your album that sets it apart from all the regular shit that's out there. That's what it's about, creating timeless projects that can live forever.'
Making his long-awaited return to the UK with a series of solo dates, Mike promises a show that presents snippets of all his influences and trademark projects, while also showcasing his forward thinking ethos.
'I encourage people to videotape,' he says of the shows. 'Bring your recorder and capture a moment in time. None of the things I do are rehearsed, I go by feel and I keep in mind the people that are videotaping me during these moments, they're getting a special experience. Because I'm just basically improv-ing and seeing what direction the universe takes me. It's aggressive, it's grime, it's hip hop, it's metal, it's rock. It's all this shit but it all sounds hip-hop. It's a navigational pursuit and it's a spectacle. And it's action packed!
'I look forward to every show but I'm excited about being on my own tour,' he continues. 'This is my tour so it's much more special for me as a solo artist. You can enter into the mind of Mix Master Mike which is awesome and I can show you what's going on in my world.'
Mix Master Mike, Saint Luke's, Glasgow, Mon 6 Oct, and touring.