By Marissa G. Muller | 24 April 2009
Since their formation in 2005, Flosstradamus (Josh Young [J2K] and Curt Cameruci [Autobot]) have raged with the likes of Chromeo and the Cool Kids, even helping Kid Sister (Young’s real sister, Melissa) get a jump into a mainstream career. In a very short time, Flosstradamus has gathered a fan base that spans from the West Coast to the Far East; no longer limited to the Chicago juke scene where they got their start, their name now permeates music publications like The Fader and Rolling Stone, the latter dubbing the duo “Best DJ of 2008.” Marissa Muller recently spoke to Josh Young about Chicago, fame, Pharrell, the kids, and the plight of the modern DJ.
Cokemachineglow (CMG): How did you guys blow up?
Josh Young (JY): Did we blow up? Did that happen? I think what happened, as far as us getting any kind of exposure, really came from Chicago and the scene here. We went down to SXSW in 2005 and played some shows there, just started creating a little buzz. And this was before DJs were going down there. We played in an abandoned lot off a generator with these textile bands, like Matt & Kim. This dude Todd P, from New York, threw together this show for us. Nick from The Fader was there. We were playing some Chicago juke music and ghetto tech, sort of. House stuff. He had never heard it before and was curious about it and he came up and introduced himself. We negotiated and talked and he ended up doing an article that included us on Chicago juke music…even though we didn’t really have that big of an impact on the beginning of the juke scene. But I guess we were some of the first people to play it outside of Chicago and give it that different context, kind of like with Baltimore club music. I think that was the first jumping point for us.
Then my sister came along and started rapping. Our parties got popular because a lot of people were performing there. It was just a hotbed for creativity. MTV2 came out and did a little segment on the Chicago hip-hop scene and they included a very small piece on my sister and us. It really helped. I feel like we were just at the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.
CMG: Where have the audiences been the least receptive?
JY: I feel like everyone has bad shows, here and there. For us, luckily, they’re few and far between. But when we first went out to LA we played at a club called LAX, which is owned by DJ AM, and, well, let’s not say that we were ahead of our time—let’s just say they were late. We played for about twenty minutes and the manger of the club came up to us and told us we had to play some different music ‘cause people were starting to leave. Then his girlfriend came up and told us that we sucked [laughs], so we just stopped playing. But, now their most popular night at LAX is the electro, club music night with [Steve] Aoki and AM. Now they’ve caught onto what we’re doing. The last time we were there we sold out the Avalon, like 900 people, and that was only a difference of a year and a half.
CMG: Which remixes are you guys are known for?
JY: I’d say the two most popular ones are the remix we did for Matt & Kim—their song “Yeah Yeah,” that was our first official remix—and we did a bootleg before that of “Overnight Celebrity” by Kanye West and Twista. That was the first thing we did, period. That was the first song we ever put together. We sampled Sigur Rós. It was really basic, kind of like a Miami bass loop-over. We also remixed the song “Act a Fool” by Lil’ Jon and the East Side Boys. And that one really blew up too, like some weird trans-anthem level [laughs]. I saw videos of DJ AM playing that in Moscow.
CMG: Those Europeans love to rave.
JY: Yeah they do. They really do. We played in Barcelona and we didn’t even start until two AM. We were the opening act. We played for an hour. Then DJ Kraze played for an hour. So then it was four ‘o clock and my sister went on, she played for half an hour. Then A-Track went on for an hour. At five-thirty the show was done but there were 5,000 kids still there so we just went back on, and they just kept going, and going, and going. We ended up playing until six-thirty or seven in the morning when they put the lights on, finally. That was the best part of the night: all the way at the end. We were just playing trance anthems and they were going crazy.
CMG: You mentioned the Sigur Rós remix. Are there any genres that you try to avoid?
JY: Maybe New Age, weird music…I wouldn’t really remix Yani. No. Actually, I’m gonna take that back. I would remix Yani. I would really like to do an Enya remix. I want to do an entire mix tape based off of Pure Moods, actually [laughs].
CMG: How do you define a well-structured remix?
JY: I like it to be better than the original, obviously. I feel like some songs don’t need remixes. If I’m really feeling a song—like so, so, so into it—it’s harder for me to remix it. A lot of times when people send over parts we try to not even listen to the actual song, to the original. We’ll just take the vocals and elements of the instrumentation and start reworking it. A good remix is definitely something that just makes people dance and has a hard-hitting rhythm to it. I really want, when something drops, for people to immediately know it’s ours; a good remix should sound like the person who’s remixing it, like “Oh, I can tell that’s Soul Wax,” or “I can tell that’s Boys Noize,” or A-Trak, or Bang Raiders, or Flosstradamus. It should bang, for sure. It should definitely bang out of the clubs.
CMG: At what point do you know to use a segment as a sample?
JY: We don’t really sample that much because it’s kind of hard. It’s really difficult to clear things and even when we do artists are trying to gain publishing rights and people want to take all of the money for a song. Of course, sometimes a part of a song just stands out to you. It might only be like two seconds but it has a catchy feel to it. It’s always a part of the song that’s not really in the hook but we’re like “oh wow, that has total hook potential,” something that we can put in our songs to make it really catchy. That’s usually the process: take it, loop it, chop it up, throw some effects on it maybe, and go from there.
CMG: How do you guys create your set lists?
JY: We don’t really. We’ll practice and make an actual set and it’ll be track for track. But when we do club shows we just freestyle. Like I said, there’re certain mixes, like two or three songs, that we always do. But we pick and choose what point of the night we’re going to drop our songs. But really, you just gage the crowd and you, kind of, feel where their energy is and you feed off of them. If they’re really giving it to you then you give it back. Sometimes people want music with words in it. You can tell. Sometimes an audience just needs that stimulation, they want to sing along. Other times they don’t want words. They just want that kind of droning, really aggressive club music or really minimal and bass-heavy techno or electro. Sometimes crowds are trying to chill and you don’t want to go too hard on them. Sometimes crowds are raging the fuck out and you go along with that. Sometimes the whole night is high energy. You just have to feel people out.
But, yeah, it’s not all that prepared.
CMG: How do you explain the rising number of so-called “DJs”?
JY: It’s the new generation: kids are getting sick of hearing the same stuff, the same blinking pop songs on the radio. It’s just a new time, a new era.
It’s the iPod generation. Kids aren’t just listening to one genre of music anymore; they’re listening to everything. And, I think, that has to do with music being so easily accessible, especially for kids in college or high school, when they’re first getting into music and they’re really excited about it. They’re downloading five different types of albums. There was a record company trying to sign Melissa at the earlier stages of her career—I was managing her at the time—and I told them they should sign her while they could afford her because we’re going to be the Pharells and Kanyes and Jay-Zs of the next five years or so. And I wasn’t trying to sound pompous. But I really did, do feel that this is going to be a mainstream movement; it was really going to catch on. And it did…three or four months ago we were down in Miami with Melissa, working with Pharell. I was laughing to myself because it’s just so crazy it actually got to that point.
But the scene is a lot more competitive now. It’s kind of like “here today, gone today.” And I think that’s kind of good. It keeps us on our toes. We really have to make good, creative music. And that’s why I say, ‘Curt and I don’t really take it too seriously,’ or worry too much. That’s the main goal for us: to really enjoy ourselves. And if we can make a living at the same time, then it’s really rad.
CMG: In an interview you said, “DJs should be respected as artists and you want the public to know that.” Where do you draw the line between playing music and making art?
JY: Everyone has their own way of looking at this. Ninety-nine percent of people when I’m sitting on an airplane ask me, “What do you do?” I tell them I’m a DJ and the first thing that they think is that I play weddings or the other half of them think that I’m on the radio. America’s view of DJs is still very, very narrow. They don’t quite understand that things are starting to take off and that people are starting to actually tour and sell out shows and make records and electronic music is catching on. I think Europe has been ahead of us on that level for years.
You can be up there just playing songs off an iPod, one after another, or just playing a mix tape and pretending you’re DJing. That’s not exciting for me to watch. I don’t think that’s exciting for anyone to watch. But to make calls on your own, and to vibe with the crowd and feed off their energy, that’s art. That’s performance art: to have that human element; to have a performance where someone might spill a beer on the record and it cuts off where you have to throw something else in there, there’s a moment of silence and people are like “yeeeeeaaaaaaaaaah, drop it!” Then you drop something else; it’s just on the fly, it’s improv. It’s really beautiful. I think people really enjoy being a part of the show. Look at Girl Talk’s performances: there are people all around him on the stage, behind him, in front of him, on him, on the table, jumping up and down, crowd surfing. That’s our kind of show. I think Curt and I have a good presence, a good charisma, on stage. I think that really registers with people.
We’re using controllers. We’re constantly on the move. We try to make things happen really fast. We talk to the crowd. We like to have a lot of interaction. It’s really all about having a good energy and a good presence on the stage…There’re a million DJs out there right now and it all starts to sounds the same, especially if it’s kids mixing the same twenty songs, it ends up sounding like a mix tape; the same mix tape over and over again. The DJ becomes interchangeable.