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Freestyle fanatic

Cassie Pence

VAIL – On the cover of Mix Master Mike’s latest album, there is a cartoon of Mike battling a mechanical version of himself. The turntablist says he’s always at war with himself, testing his own musical boundaries.”No one comes up victorious. It’s an ongoing battle, pushing the envelope to the next level, finding that next strand of music. I’m still looking, still searching for that sound,” Mike says from his cell phone in California.Maybe it’s the listener that wins. “Bangzilla,” released in October 2004, is quintessential Mix Master Mike. It’s composed of fast beats, interesting and sometimes dark samples and his trademark lightning-fast scratching. It’s highly danceable and will incite uncontrollable head banging (hence the hard hats.) Mike says he’s very proud of the album, but like a lot of artists, he falls short of being content.”Hopefully this piece of music will be timeless, and the early generation of 3000 will be sampling this record. I think it’s a notch up, but I can never get enough. It’s never being satisfied that pushes me. I’m just never satisfied. I could make something yesterday and the next day it’s old to me already,” Mike says.

Mike gained most of his mainstream notoriety when the Beastie Boys requested his talents in the studio on their 1997 album, “Hello Nasty.” It was a chance meeting at Rock Steady Anniversary Jam in New York City in 1994 between Adam Yauch of the Beasties and Mike that led to the collaboration. The two exchanged numbers and Mike left several scratch insignia on Adam’s answering machine. After “Hello Nasty,” the Beasties invited Mike to be their resident deejay.Before the Beasties, Mike was already a star among the spinning circle. In 1992, Mike won the New Music Seminar DJ Battle for World Supremacy in NYC. That same year, Mike with DJ Apollo and Q-Bert, known as the first scratch band, won the DMC World title. In 1993, Mike and Q-Bert decided to take the competition to the next level by teaming up as a scratch duo known as “The Dream Team” and won the title once again. In 1994, after winning three consecutive world titles, Mike and Q-Bert were asked to step down from further competition because there was no viable competitors.”He’s a crazy scratcher. He’s making music out of his scratches like the lead guitarist would do in a rock band, but Mike’s doing it with turntables,” says Steve Stone, a local deejay who spins Thursday nights at Agave in Avon and Saturday nights at Art’s Bar in Vail Village.Mike is a turntable artist, creating audio paintings with his mixing, mashing and scratching. Sometimes he creates his own beats and other times he uses snippets from his 15,000-album collection. He grew up in San Francisco listening to a lot of jazz, rock and especially Jimi Hendrix, but it was when he heard Grandmixer DST spin on Herbie Hancock’s song “rocket” that really inspired him to become a deejay.

“Grandmixer DST was so futuristic and ahead of his time. The art back then to me was the future, and I wanted to get involved and I wanted to do the same thing he was doing, but take that style and kind of flip it around,” Mike says.”He’s got wrists of fury. He uses unconventional methods on the turntable, like the waa waa pedal from a guitar,” says Jon Scharfencamp of Eagle-Vail, who admires Mix Master Mike’s work with the Beastie Boys.Mix Master Mike will play a free concert Saturday at Checkpoint Charlie in Vail Village. Reggae stars Toots and the Maytals will join the party. When he mans the turntables live, Mike says 40 percent of his set is planned and the remaining 60 percent is freestyle.”Whenever I can I like to improv. I can just be me and let loose. Release my emotions through scratching, combining things that weren’t meant to be combined, but work together in some way,” says Mike. “It’s having a wild imagination. I think that’s where I gained most of my notoriety was from my imagination of mixing different things together, just coming out of left field.”

Mike says his style is based around versatility, which makes his art universal. For aspiring deejays, he recommends keeping an open mind and open ear.”Get in to the study of music, just don’t be confined to hip-hop music. Listen to everything and that will pretty much open you up. Like I said, my style is universal, so if you want to have that universal outlook you got to look at all kinds of different music, not just hip-hop,” says Mike.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail Colorado


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