Ever wished you could let loose after a long day at work, spend several hours drinking and dancing under the stars and have a good, old-fashioned fun time with friends? If so, you probably haven’t heard about the One Step Beyond dance party at the American Museum of Natural History. The Museum’s Rose Center for Earth and Space has hosted thousands of partygoers along with a variety of DJs including Flying Lotus, Peanut Butter Wolf, Q-Tip, and Kid Sister since its inception in 2007.
Last Friday (November 14) the sold-out show’s headliner was none other than The Roots’ drummer and joint frontman Questlove. While Questo undeniably tore the roof off the place, show opener Matthew Law started the night off right with some classic tunes (i.e. throwback gem “Here Comes The Hotstepper” by Ini Kamoze) followed by a crazy set courtesy of turntablist crew 5th Platoon founding father DJ Neil Armstrong. Before the party started at 9pm, Brooklyn Radio was able to sit with Law and Armstrong to learn about their humble beginnings in hip-hop and their individual journeys, which ultimately led them to the One Step Beyond stage that night. Plus, we also checked in with Brad Harris, Senior Director of Visitor Services, and asked him to share some additional insight on what else one can currently experience at the Museum.
A lot of great hip-hop has come out of Philly. How do your roots influence your style?
Well, I started as a Bboy and just kind of dancing starting when I was around twelve. I guess coming from being a dancer and also just being into records already. And then I started DJing when I was fourteen or fifteen. It was a weird thing. It was around the time when a lot of stuff was going on in my family, and it was one of those “hip-hop saved my life” stories but not really that intense. It was just like, “Oh, this is something that is a pretty full idea, and I can kind of find myself within it.”
So, as far as for Philadelphia, especially in the early 2000s, there was this really interesting dynamic between a lot of street stuff and everything that was coming out of there, and the neo-soul stuff that was going on. So, as far as hip-hop that was current, a lot of stuff that I was listening to like State Property, and everything that came out of that era like Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Kanye. I mean, Kanye’s not Philly, but he did a lot of production for Freeway and Beanie Sigel.
And then there was the neo-soul side, which I was really into. So, it was like Musiq Soulchild and everything that was coming out from the Soulquarians, and anything that had to do with that. So, if anything, I feel like, you know, Philadelphia being a hub for that sound at that time, was kind of the root of my upbringing within it. And, of course, The Roots. Of course The Roots, which is funny. I was pretty young. I was still single digits when some of the best Roots albums came out, or some of the more revered Roots albums came out. And you know, I had to go back. Same thing with Tribe, same thing with De La, with anything that was…and Wu-Tang. Any group or any artist that was definitive – like those definitive artists that give you a perception of how it was. I always had to go back. Nobody else showed me how to do that.
You just kind of found your way.
I kind of found my way and then found people that took me a little further back and allowed me to move forward because I kind of understood where I was coming from. So yeah, the long and short of it – Philly, hi!
How would you classify your sound? Or what section of a record store would we find your stuff in?
I guess, new funk or something like that when that was still….I don’t know what section it would be called now. It’s like a sub-genre of a sub-genre of a sub-genre of every sound of everything right now. I don’t know. As long as it’s funky, man. It’s tough. It could be funk. It could be electronic. It’s something about that swing. It’s something about those chords. Whatever feels funky to me. With the Bboy background….
You put your own spin on it.
Yeah, I put my own spin on it.
Who or what would you name as your inspirations both personally and artistically?
My closest mentors since I was even able to get into a club have always been my own DJ grew Illvibe Collective from Philly, and King Britt and Rich Medina. Artistically, I’m not necessarily in the same vein all the time, but they are people that set a foundation for being a little bit more eclectic with musical choices and how to rock a party.
Personally, it’s a wide range. I’ve really been into looking to Muhammad Ali lately. Just the idea of standing your ground and representing something. It’s an interesting time now where, you know, people assume they’re standing up for something in 140 characters or less on Twitter. It’s putting your foot in the door, but it’s not actually stepping out there and really doing something. Sometimes I’m considered, in the DJ circle I run in in Philadelphia and at large, I’m a little left of field. Not really. I don’t think it is, but, you know. If I’m not playing like Bobby Shmurda at 10:45 or something, and the party started at 10 o’clock, and people are like, “Where’s that Shmurda at though?” I’m not against the most popular song on the hip-hop charts right now. It’s more about knowing that the whole night is supposed to be a journey. I’m not not gonna play it. It’s gonna get played, so just be patient a little bit. I don’t know. A lot of the people I look up to kind of follow that idea of standing their ground but still being personable.
When you say “stand your ground,” would you compare that to what you were just saying where you don’t want to play everything that’s on the radio right now? You kind of want to do your own thing and then maybe throw some stuff in there just to give a nod to the masses?
Yeah, yeah. You just want to be yourself. DJing to me has always been a conversation. If you’re lecturing people and hitting them over the head with the most rare groove, you’re going to lose them. But at the same time, the crowd has to be willing to come and hear your sonic opinion really more than anything.
Well, especially if you put yourself out there as someone who has an opinion. Maybe they would be open to that because they don’t go in there thinking, “Hey, I might hear something new” as opposed to someone that plays the same set every time.
And then if you hear certain songs next to each other. It opens things up in a whole new light. Quest is really good for that. Questo will play some….we were in Philly, and it was The Roots Picnic after party, and it was like the height of it all. It was two summers ago, and A$AP Rocky dropped his album, and it was at the height of all that, and he just went from there like, “Oh, you guys like Trap music? Alright, I’m going to take you all the way to T.I.’s first album.” Some people got it, and some people didn’t, but as a music enthusiast in general, I saw where he was coming from.
I mean, I guess “stand your ground” sounds a little tough, but it’s just standing for something. Like knowing, “I like this, this, this and this. I have this career and this job description that allows me to translate that. How am I going to do it? And how am I going to share that with the people who are listening and dancing, leaving them room to share something themselves?”
You were voted 2013’s Northeast Champion at the Red Bull Thre3Style Championships. Did that open any doors for your career?
Definitely, yeah. It’s funny. It just confirmed some stuff for me as far as….first of all, I’m not a battle DJ. When I got into it, this was before YouTube and all that stuff. You could look at some RealPlayer videos of Q*Bert or something like that. You could find some stuff online, some tutorials, but all I knew was like DJ Q*Bert and all that stuff. I really felt, after a while, I kind of felt like, “Okay, but I’m a dancer too. How can I mix some of those elements along with the plethora of music that I can offer?” If anything, it just brought me on a bigger platform. It was a lot of fun. It was like a step. It was like, “Alright, I got to this plateau. What am I going to do next?” I’ve been DJ PHSH since the tenth grade, and just this year, and a little bit of last year, I started using another part of my last name. My last name’s Fishman-Dickerson, so that’s where the PHSH came from. My full name is Matthew Lawrence Fishman-Dickerson. So, it’s not crazy complicated.
Yeah, sometimes people go a little crazy with that.
Yeah, yeah. And they’re like, “Oh! Do I need to obey the law?!” And I’m all, “Uh, that’s my name, bro.”
That could be your slogan.
Nah, I can’t. Somebody said I should do a campaign with OBEY and be all “OBEY the law.” They did something with Gaslamp Killer, and that was really cool. That was a while ago.
That would be cool with OBEY.
Yeah, I could put out a mixtape with them or something like that. Put it out in the ether.
Maybe they’ll read this.
The recorder ether.
Never know. What are your favourite records to play at the moment?
That I really want to play?
So, if you had access to any record….
Alright, I’ll say this. There’s one or two records that I really, really like to get off, but it’s like…in Philly, it’s such a hip-hop town. It’s like hip-hop and the house stuff that you can get into. You can get deep with it. You can get real funky with it, but it’s still not….if you play something too new, it might….I really like that Les Sins “Bother” – that track. It’s Toro Y Moi’s side project. That track is so funky, man. It’s a really, really good song. They had an earlier song called “Grind” that I put Missy Elliott over and remixed it for my last mixtape. There’s that.
What’s another song that I really like to get off? It’s tough. “Bother” is like a really ill, funky….it’s like electronic but still the swing is there. I like more of the avant-garde electronic music that incorporates a lot of street sounds and live sounds. So, it’s this dude kind of in the background – even though I don’t think there’s any live drum on it – it’s like a guy going, “Go on now!” Something like that. You can just hear it in the background. It’s somewhere in the tuck to just add a little something more in the pocket. I’m not going to play it tonight because I’m an opener, but….
You wouldn’t want to play it because you’re an opener?
As an opener, for the most part, what you try to worry about more than anything is tempo. Believe me, there’s people who show up and they’re like, “This is what I’m going to do” and forget everybody else who’s on stage.
So it’s more of a respect thing.
My ego isn’t nearly where it needs to be do something like that.
What can you tell readers about the PHSH Tank and Friends & Family events?
Okay, so PHSH Tank started in 2012. It was a simultaneous dance party and art show. It started out as a situation where we would throw the dance party, and we would get visual artists. As far as promotion, we would feature the visual artists as the guest act, but what we would do, just because the venues didn’t really have accommodations to really show off real art, we would have them send high-res images of their work, and we would project it over the dance floor. So, that was the first year, and then we moved to a venue that had a second floor that we could use as a gallery space. So, we did pop-up galleries – myself and Sedso Design based out of Philadelphia. We teamed up on that.
And now, we pretty much just stick to the block parties, which is more of a day party with live art outside with multiple DJs and stuff. It’s usually about six hundred or seven hundred people. I mean, it’s not the Mad Decent Block Party or anything like that, but it’s still a great amount of people. And everybody has a great time. And “Friends & Fam” started last December. I was getting tired of over-thinking the party thing. You ever see that Portlandia skit? It’s like, “Come to my DJ Night.” It’s such a poignant thing. Every DJ I know talks about that skit because it’s like you’re constantly spamming people, whether it’s the internet or flyers on the street.
I was lucky enough to capitalize off of the buzz I was getting from Thre3Style and the successful block parties. I was just like, “I’m going to make flyers on the fly. Just like little things that say ‘Friends & Fam’ with pictures of the crowd in the background. Something really simple. And just post it on Instagram. And if there’s specific people that definitely want to come out, I’ll call them.” It’s something a little more personal, and also you can link the image to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr and all that, so I’ll do that as well.
It’s kind of like those old warehouse parties where you had to have the flyer to find the location…
Yeah! And it’s like, when you get those Facebook events, it’s just coming, and I don’t even read them anymore! The idea of even calling it “Friends & Fam” is supposed to be more personal. And with the whole DJ PHSH thing and the party being called PHSH Tank before, I kind of wanted to get away from the limelight. Not the limelight. It wasn’t like there was a huge light on me or anything like that, but just saying that I wanted to get away from the focus being on me and whatever I got going on. More on all our friends and people that we can just dance and enjoy ourselves with.
What can we expect from your set tonight?
Some hip-hop, some funk, some twerkin’ stuff. I don’t know. I’ll put together a nice little somethin’ somethin’.
What are your plans for 2015?
Can’t talk about too much of it, but….
I get that answer all the time. I should take this question out.
This is actually probably the first time I get to say that! I can say that now like, “Uh yeah, I can’t talk about too much.” Hopefully moving “Friends & Fam” up to New York, as well as Philadelphia. Doing more stuff with Quest. I’m actually working on more of my own production. Also, Illvibe Media, which is the imprint/label that myself and Mr. Sonny James from our DJ crew we run, we’ll be releasing a project from The Bul Bey
Okay, so people who aren’t from Philly, people in Philly don’t say boy like “That’s my boy.” We say, “bul.”
It has different spellings, but specifically for Bey, it’s B-U-L. So, it’s the B-U-L-B-E-Y. His release should be out by February – his full-length. There’s a lot of really ill beats, and he’s an amazing emcee. So, that release. We have a few other records out now, and you can check them out at illvibemedia.com. And travelling – hopefully get some more travelling in. I want to go back to Paris this year definitely. I went last fall.
DJs love Paris. What is that?
Well, it’s a different thing for me because my mother spent pretty much the entire 70s in Paris travelling with a theatre troupe throughout Paris and the south of France. So, when I went out there, I only did like three gigs or something, but I was out there for a month. I travelled to Germany and toured a little bit of Germany with this party HipHop Don’t Stop that I used to play with. But when I got back to Paris and moving around, I spent time with all my mother’s friends from that theatre troupe, so I didn’t have to stay in any hotels. I just stayed with all of them. That was, if anything, how my life changed after Thre3Style. That put a little bit of bread in my pocket so I could go over there and do some real soul searching.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or promote?
I’m still @djphsh on Twitter and Instagram – don’t know when I feel like changing it. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. Social media is only as much as you put it into. Illvibemedia.com for all the original music needs and stuff. Check out #FNFParty for all the “Friends and Fam” info. Still not spamming anybody. Might make a website at some point, but it’s nice to have a room that fits two hundred people in Philly, and we stuff three hundred fifty people in there.
Nice and sweaty.
Nice and sweaty, and everybody has a great time. I love it up here. New York’s nice. Brooklyn’s nice. This is going to be a fun night. I’m excited about tonight. I’ve had a joke with a friend of mine. He was like, “Yo, if Neil DeGrasse Tyson is in this….” And I was like, “Yo, if I end up with a picture with Neil Armstrong and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, somebody better give me a medal.” It’d be pretty crazy.
DJ Neil Armstrong
When did DJing become more than a hobby?
I guess technically the first time I got a paycheck. I started DJing when I was twenty-one, and I’m forty now.Oh, you look amazing.
I appreciate that. I always tell this story. So, I was really lucky. I grew up in New York. My high school years were right at the beginning of what is known as the Golden Era of hip-hop. So, you know, A Tribe Called Quest. I got to see them perform. I would see Q-Tip running around Tower Records. Mos Def before he became Mos Def when he was still with a group called UTDs when he was just trying to do every show he could at Zulu Nation. I remember him performing there, and nobody was listening because they didn’t know who he was back then.
It kind of just started with me being around all that hip-hop stuff. De La Soul’s first album dropped when I was in high school. Slick Rick dropped when I was in high school. Public Enemy dropped when I was in high school. It was the environment. You could walk around the city, and just run into people kind of. So, eventually, I didn’t want to just be a spectator. I figured out that DJing was going to be my thing. You know, there’s this four element thing, so the DJ thing is what spoke to me.
Did you ever dabble in anything else?
Oh yeah. Who didn’t? I tried to graf. I tried to Bboy. I tried to not really rhyme, but, you know, we would joke around. I never took it anywhere seriously, but DJing was the thing that spoke to me. I’d say I thought of it as a job maybe when I was twenty-five or twenty-six as a stable way to make money off of my passion. There were definitely times when I thought about quitting. I had just started DJing. The first gig I ever got paid for, I had to split fifty bucks among my whole DJ crew, and there was five of us, so we made ten bucks each. This is when I was in college, so I didn’t really care. I was living with my parents, but that would go on for a while, and I didn’t think I could do it for long.
Fortunately, I’m really lucky. I went to Cooper Union, so I have a degree in chemical engineering, and I had a normal job. I was working at Credit Suisse First Boston. Back in the day, it was “I want to be a fireman,” and the fallback is whatever. I was able to do stuff, and I was just really lucky. It just progressed from there. I kept DJing and playing music that I liked to play, and that led me to work with Jay-Z. And then I started doing stuff with Adidas and the NBA and just kind of growing that brand. And yeah, I’m here now with you guys.
That’s a perfect segue to my next question, and I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but how did you land the gig as Jay-Z’s tour DJ in 2008?
There’s different stories I’ve heard. The one that I know for sure is that there’s a girl named Vashtie Kola who used to work at Def Jam for Jay, and Jay definitely had asked A-Trak to do the gig at the time. A-Trak was DJing for Kanye before all the Fool’s Gold stuff, and he actually left Kanye to work on Fool’s Gold. He couldn’t really do the gig because that’s kind of a slap in the face to Kanye even though they were on the same label, and everything like that. They were separate entities. It’s like your friend asking you to go to the prom, and you don’t go with him. You go with his best friend. That’s not cool.
So, I guess at some point, Jay had asked Vashtie, “Yo, who should I work with?” And I come from a similar background as A-Trak. He’s like a super champion, but I have background in the whole DJ battle scene, and I had worked with jazz bands before and used the turntables more as a percussive element, as an instrument. I had also started to build my reputation in what’s called lifestyle. So, people who listen to certain types of music knew my work. People who were into sneakers, into clothes, they also knew my stuff. So, I already had built up enough of a name in that world. And Vashtie basically was like, “Yo, you should work with Neil.” I got an email on a Wednesday, and by the next Friday, I was in the studio with Jay. And then maybe the next Monday, we were in front of ten thousand people.
That’s pretty amazing. How is touring with a big name emcee different than a solo show?
Your job in a situation like that is entirely background. I kind of brought up A-Trak. I think an interesting thing is, I’m sure at the time, including myself, they were like, “Why would you stop working with Kanye? He’s huge. You’re crazy.” And he was like, “Well, I want to start my own label. I want to be the star.” When you’re in a situation like that, you play a background role. I’m a cog in the wheel. No one’s there to see me at all. They’re there to see Jay and Beyonce and whoever else is on stage. I’m just there to support the act.
As you see, using A-Trak again, he was like, “Well, I can build my own thing. I want to be the star.” Maybe that’s not what he said, but that’s what he got. He’s been on the cover of Billboard. He’s gotten Grammy’s. He’s huge. If he had stayed where he was, it’d be a different story. Basically, your job when you are DJing for an act is to support the artist. When you’re doing a solo show, you’re there putting yourself out.
What are your thoughts on the transition from vinyl to digital?
I was actually one of the earlier adopters of the technology. I never thought it was a bad thing at all. Of course, it’s one of those double-edged sword type things. I think with digital, one of the cool things definitely is access. Someone like Kanye can make a song on Thursday, and you can have it in your hands on Friday even if you live in China, which was entirely impossible. The bad thing though is access. Everyone has access. So, everyone plays the same music. Anyone can be a DJ, which is fact. Everyone’s a DJ. Some people are better than others, but everyone does it, and unfortunately, there’s no rating system.
In basketball, LeBron James, who’s not even really the highest paid player right now, he gets paid because you can see his talent. You can’t fake it. You can fake talent in DJing. Paris Hilton will probably make more money than I ever will as a DJ, and I don’t really think she’s a DJ as far as I know. Unless she’s pulling the wool over my eyes. So, that’s just one of the unfortunate things again with digital. The double-edged sword.
So, you were a brand ambassador for Adidas, too. I’m guessing you like sneakers.
Actually, I’m kind of a funny character. I think the sneaker game made me, not the other way around. Basically, when I started doing events, some people just didn’t have money to pay me, so they’d be like, “Hey, you want some sneakers?” And I would be like, “Okay, sure.” And I would end up with sneakers that no one would have or limited edition whatevers, and I wouldn’t know. And people would like, “Yo, why do you have that?” I’d be like, “Uh, someone gave it to me.” And then, it kind of grew from there. I think almost all DJs have a collector’s mentality. You know, we collect vinyl, we collect comic books, we collect toys. That’s part of how we work, I guess.
Do you think of yourself at all as a Renaissance Man?
I often would have liked to say something like that, but I don’t know.
Okay, so I will say that. I can say that about you.
Alright, if you say that about me, I’ll be really happy. But yeah, I think especially if people knew my background, in this day and age, a successful DJ rarely just plays music. It’s a wide thing. Currently, for the people who follow me on Instagram, I’ve gotten really into food and cooking. They say music is a universal language. There’s a song by a guy named Jorge Ben. He’s Brazilian. There’s a song that he has. I have no idea what he’s saying, but I love it, and I’ll try my best to sing along to it.
I remember the first time I went to Hong Kong, I met a bunch of hip-hop kids out there, and they couldn’t speak English, but they could sing and recite every word to “Dwyck” by Gangstarr. And I think food is kind of the same thing. I could share a meal with somebody who I’ve never met who doesn’t speak the same language as me. But if we’re eating, you can tell when someone’s enjoying something like, “Oh, this is good.” You rub your stomach and smile. You can say “mmmm” and any of those little things. It’s a language. It’s a way you can bring people closer to each other. So, you know, music and food, they’re kind of similar instruments in that way.
I’m into cooking and because of the travel I get to do, I just have access to places that most people don’t. So, I always make sure to sample the local cuisine, talk to the locals, and there will always be someone there to bring me around and be like, “What do you want to eat?” And I’ve been on tour, and the people on tour just go to McDonald’s because that’s what they’re familiar with. I’m like, “No, no. Bring me something crazy. Bring me to go eat sting ray. Bring me to go get something I can’t get anywhere else.” And they like that, and they’ll be all, “Wow, that’s really cool. He’s trying to share something of my life.” So, that’s one of the things I’m currently involved in, and that’s the definition of a Renaissance Man.
Do you prefer playing large festivals or smaller venues?
Honestly, I still consider myself a hip-hop DJ. I think the term “DJing” has always been under a wide spectrum. Like Wolfman Jack, he was a DJ. Dick Clark, I guess, was like a DJ. My roots are as a hip-hop DJ, and I think the nature of hip-hop is small venue. There’s exceptions to the rule. There’s only two I can think of. It’s just Jay and Kanye. Even other bigger artists right now – they can’t sell out Madison Square Garden ten days in a row. There’s only a couple of people who can do that. But hip-hop, to me, and that type of vibe, was like when people would bump into my turntables. That’s the vibe that I’m used to and I feel most comfortable in, and it shows. That’s just kind of how hip-hop is.
Electronic dance music people, of course, they’re gonna say, “Big room.” That’s the nature of the music. It’s mass consumption. I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve played a couple of festivals. There’s a festival called Clockenflap out in Hong Kong, and I actually was just playing whatever I wanted to. Usually when you see a big crowd, I’d be really shocked if anyone ever would say, “Alright, I see a big crowd, and I’m going to play 90s classic hip-hop.” I don’t know any DJ who would purposely think that. The first thing, they’d be like, “Middle ground. I’m going to have to play a Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Chris Brown, Neo song.” But, over at this place, I was playing across the board, various genres, and they were having a great time.
Who are you listening to right now?
Oh, that’s a tough question.
Okay, you don’t have to say who. You can say what.
I don’t know. If you ever listened to my iPod or my phone, you’d think, “This guy has the worst taste in music.” You cleanse the palette, I guess, ‘cause more often than not, when you do have a job, you do lose some of the passion ‘cause you have to be repetitive. So, I listen to stuff that I just never play. But that could be as stupid as Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to some obscure remix that no one’s ever heard of like the Jorge Ben. It really depends.
On your mood?
On my mood and just what’s around, I guess. Like when I run. What do I run to? I run to everything from like 10,000 Maniacs to Calvin Harris. All of that is on there at any one time. Who did I go see recently? Jessie Ware. When I was younger, growing up in the 90s…let’s just take hip-hop, for example. There was no Hot 97. There was no, you know, Katy Perry doing a song with Juicy J. That didn’t happen. We didn’t even have a radio station. I had to search for…they called it pirate radio like Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito. They weren’t really pirate, they were just a college. Silver Surfer did a show. I forgot who else. Marley Marl did a show. There was a whole crew. I can’t remember. I had all these tapes. So, I had to actively search for music. Nowadays, you just get inundated. So, the tendency is you get lazy, I think, in this day and age, especially with the older heads. You know, your older, grumpy “Oh, music sucks now. It’s terrible.”
“Hip-hop is dead.”
Yeah. But you just gotta look. I actually did a mixtape with all new R&B artists within the last five years. You wouldn’t think it because of what’s on the radio, but there’s a lot of music that sounds like it could have come out in the 90s. Tinashe is really big right now ‘cause of that “2 On.” She had a song that sounded more like YoonA, but you just have to find it.
You were the DJ at Obama’s inauguration.
So you’re kind of a big deal. How do you stay so humble?
I like to say I’m humble, but see, but once you start talking about how humble you are, you’re not really humble.
But I asked you.
It’s called humble bragging. I think a big chunk of it is ‘cause I’m older. I remember a lot of people in hip-hop. It’s a young sport. Like Pete Rock was seventeen when he got big. He was a kid. So, if you’ve been treated a certain way since you were a kid, of course you’re going to act a certain way. And I’m not saying Pete Rock is not a humble dude. Same thing with athletes. Same thing with celebrities. Like kid celebrities, if you get treated a certain way. So, I guess being older, just kind of realizing priorities.
At the end of the day, they’ll always say stuff like, “The DJ saved my life.” And all that stuff is nice, but this is one small little cog in the whole universe of things. This is nothing. I’m not inventing anything new. I’m not curing cancer. I’m not literally going and saving people’s lives. It’s nice. I am happy that I get to make a living off of my passion, but there’s way more people who do more important things out there than what I do as this type of artist.
What can we expect from your set tonight?
You know what? I don’t know. I think it really depends. I think these days, most DJs, especially the DJs who get booked for this event, have to have a wide spectrum of music knowledge. It really depends who walks in the door. Anyone who says that they already know what they’re playing – that’s probably not a good thing because who knows who’s going to be there. So, it depends. But I think everyone’s goal as a DJ is to get the crowd moving. There are some people who are like, “Alright, I play this type of music.” They take a very dictator attitude. “This is the best music. I’m only gonna play this. And if you don’t like it, there’s something wrong with you.” And that’s fine, but I think I grew up with a different mentality.
My job is I’m a servant. That’s really my job to take care of a bunch of people who are fighting with their girlfriends, fighting with their boyfriends, had a crappy day at work and just want to unwind. They want to meet someone new. They want to forget about their problems for five minutes, for two hours, for three hours and just have fun and smile. That’s my job. So, if there happens to be a bunch of little kids out there, I’m gonna play teenager music. If it’s an older, more sophisticated music crowd, I got you. I can play that as well.
It’s great that you’re flexible.
Definitely in this market, I think you have to be. It’s really rare, like the people who get pigeonholed, it’s really hard to find consistent work unless you really just build your own brand. It’s a constant hustle. It’s a little difficult.
Do you have any big plans for 2015?
You know, I’ve never been one of those “five year plan” type of guys.
Do you have anything coming down the pike that you can talk about?
Yeah, for sure. Well, my main thing always was making mixtapes. So, when you’re performing or if you’re doing a party, that’s a situation where you need to be a president. Our president is a servant. He’s not a dictator. But when I do my mixtapes, that’s when I’m like, “Well, if you don’t want to be here. Turn me off. But this is what’s going down.” And I’ve been really lucky. The type of stuff I’ve done has always been able to find an audience. So, I did a mixtape where, you know, I am a hip-hop DJ, so I’ve done hip-hop stuff. I did a mixtape where it was all “rock music” – you know, that’s a wide genre as well. I didn’t do mashups at the point when everyone was doing mashups. I just mixed the songs together. I did a mixtape that was all music that was made by synthesizers.
I did a Valentine’s Day mixtape that had everything from The Cranberries to Al Green on it. I’ve done a lot of stuff like that, and I’ll always continue to do that. The unfortunate thing though is people just don’t buy music anymore, and technically back then, I wasn’t really “selling it.” Mixtape culture, there was a point where I didn’t have to gig. I could just make mixtapes and make money off of that. That’s just not how it is anymore. I love the art form. I have just a large music base and knowledge and love. It’s rare. Like, I can’t play a Smiths song usually, but I like that stuff, so I’ll make a mix of stuff like that.
I mentioned the food stuff. If you just look across the board. When I was a kid or even when I was twenty-five or thirty, I didn’t eat for pleasure. I ate for sustenance. I’ve put Kraft cheese on rice just ‘cause I was too lazy to do anything or I couldn’t find anything to eat or things of that nature. But, if you look at your average kid now, I don’t know if it’s ‘cause of social media, ‘cause of Instagram. But again, the same people that like Kanye, the same people that follow blogs like High Snobiety and stuff like that, people who like sneakers, they also like food. It’s universal.
So, I’m trying to kind of leverage what I’m doing now and apply it to that world but also bring the music aspect in. So, one of the cooler things I’ve been doing is this series called “Dinner & A Mixtape.” So, instead of “Dinner and a Movie,” it’s “Dinner & A Mixtape.” The idea is when I come out with a new mixtape, I’ll partner up with a really cool restaurant, and for that night, my mixtape will play. And they’ll do like a really cool DJ Neil Armstrong dish or something cool like that.
Like restaurants in the city or all over?
So far, last year, I did one in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Toronto, Hong Kong, and I’m doing another one in the Philippines before the end of the year before Christmas. You know, I mentioned kind of how music in clubs is changing. Of course, that depends. You have 80s clubs, you have rock clubs, you have punk clubs. But your average, when you say club, the type of music that’s played even in a place like tonight, has changed. There was a point where I could play, if I really wanted to, in the earlier 2000s, late 90s, if I wanted to play Stevie Wonder at 1am, that was totally fine.
I just saw him at the Garden. Did you go to that show?
After performing with Jay, I just don’t really care to go to shows anymore. I don’t know. When I was younger, I was that kid. I would get there, ‘cause I was a dorky little kid, I would get there when the doors opened, so I’d have no problem getting in. I’d stand in front waiting, and I’d be there until the end. Now I’m just like, “Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve done that already.” But I would have loved to have gone to that show for sure.
But, you know, there was a time I could do that, but unless it’s the right crowd, or it’s a party that is really advertised a certain way, doing something like that is extremely risky. You run a large chance of losing the crowd. Even in hip-hop, a staple song to me would be like a Biggie Smalls “One More Chance” or something like that. But that song was made in 1993. Kids in clubs weren’t even born. They have no connection to these things.
So, of course, music has changed, but a lot of people my age who are forty, thirty-five – they might not go to a club anymore on a Thursday. But they’ll go to dinner, and they’ll bring their kids. They don’t need to go crazy. They’re not trying to dance on the table. They’re having a meal, so that’s perfect music to play like Stevie Wonder. That’s perfect to play, you know, old soul joints and hip-hop original samples and slow jams. That’s exactly the right place to do it. So, knowing that the market has changed, I’m like, “Alright, well, this market has changed. So, let me create another market. Let me find the people who would like to hear this.” And after spending, in New York, like what? Your average person’s gonna spend one hundred dollars if he has a date on dinner? Spending ten dollars for a mixtape is like, “Yeah, sure. Here. I haven’t heard this song in ages. Let me get that”
That’s genius. I would be all over that.
Well, you gotta come to the next one. So, you know, I’ve been doing stuff like that, and like I said with the Renaissance thing, I love cooking. I’m kind of trying to really incorporate those two worlds together, which I don’t think has really happened. I mean, like Questlove used to have a restaurant, and he had these dinners, but there’s a guy named Eddie Huang that does a show for Vice. I don’t know if it’s still on. He does web stuff. He’s kind of like the street version of Anthony Bourdain. He’ll be at the back of a restaurant in Shanghai rolling a blunt. Things like that.
So, it’s kind of funny, but I was really trying to approach the parallels between music and food in a little more technical aspect. And obviously, the idea for this came about with, you know, artists, cooks – I think we’re kind of similar characters. So, my idea was I was gonna teach a cook, a chef at a restaurant. I would teach a chef how to DJ, and he would teach me how to cook. We would exchange skills essentially. So, those are projects that we’re working on that will hopefully be out soon
Is there anything else that you want to share or promote?
Social media is big. I’m all over it. Just come find me! DJ Neil Armstrong, a lot of my stuff that I’m really proud of like the mixtapes, and I have Soundcloud. There’s a website called thefuture.fm that I work with, and all my stuff is online there. And you know, come out and party with us! Obviously, this is going to be in the past, but yeah, I hope you guys are here to hear my set tonight!
How long have you worked with AMNH?
Ten years next March.
Do you know what sparked the idea for the One Step Beyond event series?
The desire to bring in a specific demographic (21-35yrs) – a group that, at the time, felt they hadn’t been to the museum since they were a child.
Do you feel One Step Beyond draws a large crowd comparable to other events the Museum?
In all likelihood, it is the largest given the generous proportions of the Rose Center for Earth and Space. We hosted 1500 people for Questlove on November 14th – one of our best attended since the series began in 2007.
What is the process in putting an event like this together? How are the acts chosen?
The key for us is the talent. The headliner (or the headliner plus the two opening acts) must have a strong fan base. We need to sell more than half of the tickets in order to break even. We don’t have any sponsors.
Are there other events like OSB at the Museum?
There are external events or parties at the museum, but as far as similar AMNH run programs, I would point to the wildly popular SciCafe, and the newly launched (and extremely popular) adult sleepover program “A Night at the Museum for Grown- ups.”
What are some other major exhibits or events coming up that you would like to promote?
We just opened Nature’s Fury: The Science of Natural Disaster. The annual favorite, the Butterfly Conservatory, returned this month and will be on view through June. Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs and not to mention, the tried and true forty-five halls, which house spectacular permanent exhibitions, such as the Millstein Hall Ocean Life.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Come visit – you won’t believe what these twenty-five buildings, built over one hundred forty years ago, have in store for you and people of all ages.