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"I got this crazy-ass offer from Jason Priestley, 90210, y'know, to be on the show. It really mind-boggled me, y'know, 'cause I don't know if I wanna do that kind of thing," Mixmaster Mike says on the phone from New York City, where, in a few hours, he'll be playing his role as the Beastie Boys' DJ at Madison Square Garden. In the few short weeks since the Beastie Boys' latest LP, Hello Nasty (which features Mike on the wheels of steel), debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Mike has become a bona fide rock star.
Although Mike's only become visible to the masses recently through his work as the Beastie Boys' mixmaster, he's been on top of his game for years. He and the rest of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz crew, which he founded with DJ Q-Bert (and which also includes Shortkut, Yoga Frog and D-Styles), have dominated the turntablist scene since the early '90s, winning so many DMC (Disco Mix Club) world titles (Mike racked up three in two years; one solo and two team titles) that, in 1994, the DMC asked them to retire and reign as judges at the annual battles. Their competition simply was too intimidated.
During the past year, the Skratch Piklz have been accumulating notoriety and acclaim as the general public has begun to recognize that turntablism and scratching exist in their own musical galaxy, one audiences hadn't dreamed of before.
But now it's really hit--Mixmaster Mike's on top of the friggin' charts. Granted, the Skratch Piklz' vs. Da Klamz Uv Deth and The Shigger Fragger Show don't even register on Soundscan, but Mixmaster Mike's Anti-Theft Device CD, released on Asphodel Records immediately after Hello Nasty, may be the record that puts pure scratching on the charts. If the frantic fingerwork on the B-Boys' record mesmerizes enough people (think Jason Priestley), Anti-Theft Device is liable to go through the roof.
The union of Beastie and Mixmaster was something Mike could only have dreamed of a few years ago. He met Adam Yauch at the Rocksteady Crew's anniversary in 1995, and they exchanged phone numbers. Mike says he was stoked.
"I've always been a really, really dedicated Beastie Boy fan, you know what I mean," he says.
Mixmaster Mike's connection with the Beasties comes at a time when the group is reaping the dividends from years of stubbornly following its own eccentric path in the hip-hop world. In the last year alone, the Beasties have received an amazing amount of delayed-reaction airplay for their 1989 collage-sample masterpiece, Paul's Boutique. With Beck incorporating many of their cut-and-paste techniques--and also using Paul's Boutique's producers, the Dust Brothers--the Beasties find that, in 1998, the masses are on the same page with them as they haven't been since the heady days of 1986.
Mixmaster Mike says the Beasties' musical evolution always influenced him.
"Everytime I would make mixes, I'd think about what Adam's doin', and Ad-Rock, what's he makin', what kind of shit are they doin' right now," he says. So Mixmaster Mike walked his fingers onto MCA's answering machine, repeatedly.
"I'd leave him messages on his machine, these scratch messages [as heard on the Hello Nasty track "Three MCs and One DJ"], and it just drove him berserk," Mike says. "So he called me up to work on Hello Nasty. We knocked that out, and after that whole session, they asked me to be their DJ, and I was, like, cool, yeah."
Now Mike's spreading his scratch-love in arenas around the world, flabbergasting audiences and occasionally the Beastie Boys.
"The show is more, like, improvised on my part," he says. "Everything I basically do is improvised. The boys let me do whatever I wanna do. And, actually, it's more comfortable than the small shows with the Skratch Piklz; the Beasties play other instruments, they do their punk-rock songs, it gives me time to chill sometimes. When I'm with the Skratch Piklz, my hands are constantly moving."
Those who want to truly experience Mixmaster Mike's hand movement can go directly to Anti-Theft Device. The record's composed of wildly surreal space sounds, scratch babble and sci-fi samples.
Mike once said that scratching is communication with the aliens, and this CD supports the notion that he's in contact with the otherworldly. "All the work on it was, like, one or two takes, the whole album. Everyday, I would make it a point to program a beat, whether it was a scratch drum or programmed beat on the SR10, and from there, I would practice something, whatever, scratching a horn or a violin or whatever, and I'd find myself hitting the record button. That's how the tracks came about."
The 31 tracks are blasts of wizardry and brilliance, from the excessively funky abrasions of "Supa Wyde Laces" to the thumping stutters of "Vyce Grypp."
"Can of Kick Ass" delivers a pounding barrage of drum hits over eerily violent scratches and soundscape scribbles, and "Mean Dirty Killers" infiltrates your ears with booming liquid convulsions. Mixmaster Mike is definitely out to freak people, and when the Technics 1200s are in reach, that's exactly what happens.
But can turntablism really become a music form for the masses? "Of course, that's what I'm here for," Mike says. "I'm hopin' one day you walk in, like, a Tower Records or Sam Goody and there's its own section for scratch music." That goal doesn't seem so farfetched these days. "It's like reaching the other side of the Earth that don't know, so I feel more global now, 'cause these people had no idea. Like, the Beasties' fans had no idea what this whole turntable scene was about. I was blessed with this opportunity to go out and display this type of turntable music to these people, and they really get a kick out of it. They get a kick out of me. People look at me like a scratch god, y'know, 'cause it's totally something new. They never even knew a turntable could do what it does when I'm up there, y'know."