Logan "Element" Howard on Whether or Not He's Retiring from the Turntables
Logan Howard in his element.
In December, local turntable institution Logan "Element" Howard dropped a major bombshell on New Year's Eve: After 16 years of wowing crowds with his skills, he was finished with the DJ biz, saying, "It's time to call it quits." As in done-zo. Retired. Over and out.
A few weeks later, in mid-January, Howard announced he had one more gig in his arsenal and it would take place at the Blunt Club in Tempe. He even implicitly stated it was considered to be his "final show in AZ."
Apparently, he changed his mind and re-thought the whole retiring thing (especially after an outpouring of support from fans and fellow DJs), which might be why he started calling Thursday night's Blunt Club gig "The Rebirth of DJ Element." But then again, maybe he hasn't.
Confused? So were we when speaking with Howard via telephone recently and trying to nail down specifically whether he's hanging up his headphones.
Though DJs are no strangers to changing their minds about life-altering decisions (Remember when William Fucking Reed was supposed to move to NYC? Or Anthony "Hartbreaks" Hart for that matter?), Howard seems genuinely conflicted (and conflicting) about whether or not it's gonna happen. Decide for yourself when reading our interview below.
So was last night's event called The Rebirth of DJ Element I actually couldn't find a fitting enough title, so I didn't know what to call it. I thought putting retirement on it sounded like I was 70 or 80.
Is it rebirth in the sense that you're moving on to other things? Yeah, other things such as production, other avenues that I could pursue with music and not always being behind the turntables.
Why did you decide to do step away from DJing? I just thought it ran its course. To be honest, it's almost like reinventing myself, I guess you could say. I don't have a deep, serious meaning behind it. At the same time, I didn't want to give anybody false news, but a lot of people have been asking about it.
What sort of reactions have you gotten? Well, I went to a few places -- like, a friend of mine, Akshen, was teaching a DJ class near Metro Center at [Cyphers: The Center for Urban Arts] and I was his guest for their final class. And I didn't realize that a lot of these kids even knew who I was. I'm not saying they weren't supposed to -- I know they have Internet and stuff -- but I didn't think I was that big of an influence.
Really? Yeah. So I had all these questions coming at me and I didn't realize [that] aside from playing clubs, shows, concerts, tours -- just anything that came across -- that it's almost that I realized that I inspired so many -- not just my age bracket, but even the younger generation -- to get into DJing. So it woke me up in a sense [that] I have a bigger responsibility to teach the . . . next generation.
So are you going to start teaching classes? I'm not going to be teaching classes at [Cyphers]. I was actually going to start my own. But I was still looking into venues and figuring out the ins and outs. I have a manager, so along with her, she was helping me out. But at the same time, a lot of other things started to pick up, so I realized I couldn't walk away from this. So again, it came full circle of, "Do I really want to call this quits?" And I had a lot of people calling me talking to me. Z-Trip was one of them.
DJ Element with Z-Trip at Axis/Radius earlier this month.
What did Z-Trip tell you? He came into town, and we actually had a long talk. A lot of close friends that I would say I looked up to growing up have also talked to me. And the next thing I know, I turn around and realize I either had some type of impact or they just respected me for what I did. They were saying in so many words, "You can't quit. This is something you would do when you are at the 40-year mark or the 50-year mark and I've barely . . .
Scratched the surface, if you pardon the pun? Yeah. They were pushing me on to get back into it.
So let's be clear about this: Are you or are you not stepping away the turntables forever? I'll be honest, I really don't know what to say at this point. Will something come about? I don't know. I can tell you that I am feeling the need for playing for crowds and rocking the shows, I can say that.
So you're not retiring from DJing?. I don't know. I don't know. I couldn't tell you.
Who else has reached out to you besides Z-Trip? DJ Shortcut. He's a real famous DJ from the Bay Area. I talked to him. Friends of mine from Los Angeles [like] DJ P-Trix and DJ Dynamix, who are world-renowned DMC Champions, and of course the reigning champion right now. His name is DJ Vajra. He came into town about a month or so ago on tour, and he's another I talked to, because we actually used to compete against each other some years back. A lot of these guys -- they all have similar stories to share as far as I would say the ins and outs of the DJ culture, the trials, the tribulations, just the things that maybe people don't see behind the curtain.
And it was just uplifting, it was words of encouragement to say, "I don't think your time is up." As good friends, these guys all have the same thing to say, "You can keep telling me this retirement talk, but I don't believe it. I honestly look at it as a hiatus." So, I'm like, "Okay." I'm not going to argue with nobody.
Then you're not ruling out performing sometime down the line? No, not at all.
So you've essentially changed your mind and are being reborn? Back to the name. Just to call it a flat-out retirement, to me, sounded like I was super-old. So I was like, I need a new name for this. I had friends and random people throwing ideas and I thought the rebirth sounded kind of cool. Like an emancipation, like a change, something different. The rebirth was a lot more straight to the point like, "I'll roll with this." I didn't want to put too much thought into it. Let's get this show on the road. I'm not really the guy behind fliers and designs, I'm the guy that's there to play.
Are you still going to do your signature mixtapes? Oh, yeah. I actually have some projects I'm going to be releasing in the next couple of months. One of them that I can leak out is . . . They actually were here a couple of weeks ago playing at the Crescent Ballroom, Grupo Fantasma. I'm actually going to be doing a project with them, and I'm looking to release it possibly in March, depending on them, because right now they're on the road.
And you're gonna be producing, too? Well, the producing thing is me, but I'm on my own page. I know a lot of artists or a lot of DJs like to slap that word producer onto them, but I think I'd rather work for mine. As I said, I haven't put out anything myself that is originally mine from front to back, like a whole album, per se. The whole production thing -- that's just me still working on stuff, even to the day whether it's at my place or anybody else's studio. I'm just learning as I go along. Honestly, I don't think I'm nowhere fit to be putting out an album or anything like that anytime soon.
With all you've got going on, it doesn't sound like retirement in the slightest. Yeah, that's what I said. I've gotten asked a lot about not doing weeklies and all that stuff anymore. I'm not doing that. It actually feels good to have that free time and can work on other things that I'm not having to juggle both doing weekly nights and doing projects at the same time. Because it always like a battle with me all the time. I either had my turntable set up or I had them in a case, ready to go do a show. So I'm glad everything's like just there. When I need to go and work on something, I can just go and work on stuff.
So, you're ceasing regular gigs then? Yeah, pretty much because at one point, I think it was one, two, three, four weeklies in a week. And, then, at the same time, I was still doing out-of-town gigs, and a full week for me would be anything like four, five video shows in one week. And, then, if I was out of town, I would come back on a Monday and do it all over again. It surprised me how much material I got out of 2012, even though I was still constantly on the road just doing random shows.
A sampling of DJ Element's stacks upon stacks of wax.
When announcing your heretofore retirement back in December, you mentioned selling off your gear and record surplus. Has that happened? I think I sold some of the gear. And then as far as the records, I'm still -- because I have everything in storage -- gradually going through stuff. But a lot of my friends, really close ones, specifically, knew what they wanted. I was going into storage and specifically looking for what they were looking for. And that's what I was doing. But as far as the collection, I've got my hands full. Every time I go to the storage, I'm there for hours trying to go through all this stuff. There's a big chunk -- I can't lie -- that I really would like to hold onto just for my own. Yeah, there's some stuff I can get rid of. It's just piling up.
How many records are in your collection these days? I never pinned a number on it. All I can say is I have three shelves, but they're pretty big. Each shelf holds 20 to 25 crates. I also have two other storage units that are just as full. Three of the shelves that I have, two of them are at my house. Obviously I'm not trying to clutter my house with just records -- that's why I have them in storage. And again nothing is really organized, so I'm constantly going in there and organizing stuff, getting dirty and dusty with my own vinyl.
Scratching records and true turntablism is frequently called a lost art. Why do you think most new DJs never learn how to do it? I would say it's because it's a totally different lane as opposed to just mixing records. As a turntablist, you're actually taking songs and manipulating them and turning them into your own. You kinda have to have a sense or ear for not just rhythm but also tempo. It's almost like DJs already have everything already laid out for them already.
I'm not saying that we're lacking in people who grew up on records and scratching and beat-juggling. I guess it's based on the discipline. One thing that I can say that plays a big part of it is just the technology. So when you have people with the technologies of Traktor, Serato, Final Scratch, Ableton -- all of these new programs that are out now that give up-and-coming DJs a chance to have a library on a hard drive. Then everybody's swapping out libraries. So it's almost like everything is being given to them now. You got all of these DJs. Maybe they all have each other's hard drives, copied and pasted. So now you own a million, billion songs. But, thing is, now everyone's all starting to sound the same. It's almost like everything is being given to them now.
For us, you had to be on the hunt for that stuff, whether you were looking for reggae or hip-hop or any kind of electronic music. You had to hunt for that music. And again, like in Arizona, there were very few record shops, so you had to really be up on what to really be up on what had come in and what record store had those copies.
What I'm getting at is that everybody has the same records and same songs now. As long as it's on your hard drive or in your computer, you're good to go. I think a lot of DJs, the technology has kind of made them lazy.
How come you never did a Red Bull Thr3estyle? The past two [Thre3styles] that have happened here in Phoenix have happened on a Thursday, and those were the times I was a resident DJ at Blunt Club. It was either doing the Blunt Club or we go do this corporate event for Red Bull and maybe never see a dime. I've never even seen a Thre3style, never even been to one.
Do you feel like you are going out at the top of your game? This is the thing. Like, how we said before, am I going out?
Yeah. Again, are you? I guess we'll know on the 28th. That's the rebirth. It's either going to be a stepping stone to "Am I really going to put this all away?" or is it really calling it quits. I don't know. All I know is I'm excited to see all my family and friends under one roof. Seriously, we've been on it nonstop to let everyone know that all these [guests] that are coming out. Before I ever put out an actual flier, there was this RSVP thing on Facebook. It's at almost like 300, and I'm just like, "Wow, that's something."
There was a lot of people crying because it wasn't an all-ages show. "What about all the people that dig your stuff that aren't even 21 yet?" I wish it could be, but I just so happened to find this gig at that particular time and at a venue that didn't mind me having something free. Most places want to charge a cover. But again, back to your question: Again, I don't know. I guess we'll all know in the moment when it happens.
DJ Element performing for thousands at Brixton Academy in London.
Do you feel like you are on the top of your game? I think I am. I think I did a pretty decent job in representing the Valley. You know, I don't want to stand there and put myself on a pedestal or blow smoke up myself and to think like I'm the greatest. I'm just saying, my time was given to me, [and] I made do with it. But at the same time, I kind of had to look at back for a second and notice that -- not to be rude or sound like I'm any better than any of the other DJs in Arizona -- but I thought at one point I thought, "Where are all the other DJs from Arizona that are booked overseas? I don't see any."
It wasn't a bad thing, because I had a lot of promoters asking me, "Hey, you're great at what you do." And they were very interested after that and wanted to know who else they could look for coming from Arizona. So, of course, I'm mentioning everybody, people like Radar, DJ M2, Tricky T, Astonish -- the list goes on. I was naming DJs that I've seen many, many times who have put in the work and put on a good show, if not being better than me altogether.
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