Cut Chemist wins again with Sound of the Police
by David Ma
Cut Chemist’s selection has always worked in lockstep with his techniques. On Sound of the Police, his latest project, he uses a foot pedal and one turntable, looping breaks and portions of rare African records to make the mix. Like past work with DJ Shadow (Brainfreeze, Product Placement, and The Hard Sell), it’s more of a live set than an official follow-up to his 2006 studio album, The Audience’s Listening. The routine in fact debuted last year at a concert with Mulatu Astatke, a towering figure of Ethio-jazz, and the release itself was recorded live: no postproduction, just records and swaths of detail. The response was “so overwhelming,” according to Cut, that he thought he’d make it official and release it.
Sound of the Police is in line with recent explosions of interest in African records, evidenced by books, reissues, and the Broadway musical Fela! Since Wax Poetics first spoke to Cut in Issue 16, he’s done cameos in films and still shows interest in different genres. Disco Is Dead (1973-1979), a recent internet-only mix, sounds like a drunken dance party—highs, lows, sloppiness, and all—and has been incessantly downloaded.
When asked what he’s been into lately, he says, “Can’t go into specifics, but I’ve been digging early industrial cassettes from France circa the early ’80s. Really great music with primitive drum machine textures.” Here’s my recent talk with Cut Chemist, still on top after all these years.
Were the records on Sound of the Police accumulated from your collection over time or were these recent finds?
These were records I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve been into African and South American music ever since being in Ozomatli. Being in that band made me explore different sounds from around the world, as that was the group’s mission.
What are some of the technical things you did on this that possibly may have been lost on the average listener?
As a listening piece, not a performance, the listener may not realize that the mix is live with one deck. It still holds up as a nice mix of music, but everyone might not appreciate how difficult it actually was to record it. This is why I would like to perform the set live.
What was the first African joint that got you hooked?
I collect everything. I chose to release this collection of music because I intended it to be just a performance opening up for Mulatu Astatke at the Timeless concert series. The first African record that really moved me was the Mulatu of Ethiopia LP. The chords were very different from anything I heard in the past.
Which are your favorite tracks from Sound of the Police?
I really like what I call “Ethiopian Skank.” It’s very jazzy and skanky. The music is very emotional.
What is it about African rhythms that is grabbing heads worldwide? What do you attribute the recent boom to?
I attribute the recent boom of African sounds to Miles Cleret and Will “Quantic” Holland. They have really been doing a lot of work excavating and releasing music from different regions of the continent. I get a lot of my knowledge about the music from these two.
Who are some African artists fans of this mix should check out?
Mulatu Astatke and anything Ethiopian.
Will there always be an element of scratching or turntablism in your music or will you ever move to just production?
There will always be an element of performing whether it’s scratching or something else. I don’t ever feel comfortable doing just production.
What are your thoughts on the Flying Lotus/Gaslamp Killer/Low End Theory scene currently coming out of L.A.?
Love these guys! They’re doing big things for the L.A. hip-hop scene.
What was the general reaction to Hard Sell? It was great, but seemed to almost be purposely off-putting to some.
I think, once again, the selection of music was so different from the first two projects [that] it threw people off. It had a lot more of everything in it as well as ’90s rock. We always try to make people ask, “Damn, that was released on 45?” They need to think about that when they listen to the mix.
Would you collaborate with a rapper for a full-length? With whom would you do a full-length? Ever thought of working with Edan again?
I’m currently doing some work with Edan and Lif on my follow-up album to Audience’s Listening. I will always look forward to working with them. They get the direction I’m always trying to go in and kill it every time.
Speaking of collabs, describe the process with Shadow. Who starts off with what? How do you come up with the looping routines?
The routines Shadow and I come up with are very involved. The first couple of weeks we dig through our collections and shop for things we might need. Then we start putting together sections and then arrange the sections. The looping pedals were a tool to recreate famous hip-hop songs. Then we started using them to create our own songs. It was just another element to add to our eight turntables that made it more versatile and, yes, complicated.