It's easy to find new and interesting music these days. All we have to do is pull up an app on our smartphone, and in seconds we can find a song that will hopefully move, motivate, or make us feel that special something in the gray matter between our headphones. Once upon a time, though, finding music that was left of center wasn't easy. Just ask Los Angeles-based Anthony Valadez, a photographer, record producer, podcaster, blogger, and the Monday late-night DJ at Santa Monica's public radio station, KCRW. The multi-hyphenate, who was hunting for early-'90s hip-hop and underground French artist DJ Cam in his formative years, recalls the journey he used to take to retrieve an album from his favorite record store.
"Melrose had all the cool, hip record shops," Valadez says. "I used to take the bus and travel down to Hollywood to just buy one or two records, because that's all I could afford at the time. I remember just sitting in the record store for hours and hours and I'd come home with two records, but those two records justified the whole trip."
The always curious Valadez no longer has to endure a 45-minute bus ride to find the music that moves him, but his passion for spinning music resonates throughout the 36-year-old's story line, whether it's working at the local pool to save enough money for a set of turntables, skipping sixth period in high school to DJ at the local community college, or convincing the radio station on his college campus, which played classical at the time, to allow him to host an electronic/hip-hop/world soul show.
"I fought for a program that catered more toward the student body," Valadez recalls, "Eventually, I got my own show. It was a lot of work. I would play stuff that would cheer me up. That's the beauty of public radio. It's playing what you love and breaking new bands, breaking new sounds, and just playing what made me happy. I've been fortunate enough to always be in a position, in terms of radio, to play what I love and what I want to share with the world."
It's knowing what an audience wants that has allowed Valadez to branch out of the studio and into the clubs, connecting all his many musical tastes so he can share them in the appropriate medium.
"I'm trying to reach a lot of people in different arenas, and not necessarily stay in one box," he answers when asked how he balances it all. He released a single in 2008 with Flying Lotus, remixed tracks for David Bowie and Ozomatli, and recently released In Search Of . . ., a collection of tracks that fuses jazz, techno, and rap with a relaxed beat featuring artists around the world that he managed to connect with via e-mail. The result is a perfect mix for the hip music lover.
"Some of those tracks we sent back and forth on the Internet. Some [artists] came to LA because they had shows and they were sleeping on my couch. It was like, 'Okay, let's record a song.' It was fun!"
He also regularly spins sets in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The secret to his shows, he says, is going in without an agenda and feeling out the crowd.
"I want an environment that makes everybody happy and is very inclusive, but at the same time I want to shock people," Valadez says. "Once I step up to the turntables, then I gauge the crowd and feel that energy. That's when I start putting things together: on-the-spot."
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