Interview by J Gutierrez, AKA March4th
DJ Phatrick is a staple in the west coast music scene. He was born in Texas, moved to the Bay Area at an early age, then relocated to LA. He is an all around DJ, most notably the DJ for hiphop group Native Guns, a politically charged group of filipino emcees. He is also a tastemaker, founding/hosting several hip-hop, soul, funk, latin, boogaloo and everything in between nights like Devil’s Pie, Motown On Mondays, and Libre.
“People really underestimate the creativity of someone who has nothing.” -DJ Phatrick
You are of Chinese descent. How does that impact your music?
I identify as Chinese American, 2nd generation. It’s that concept of I’m not American enough to be American here and I’m not Chinese enough to be Chinese when I’m in Taiwan where my family emigrated to after the Communist Revolution in China. It’s not so much a direct causality with ethnicity, it’s more about being a person of color in the United States. Growing up in Sugarland Texas, there wasn’t as many Asian Americans as let’s say, California. Because of that, I felt a strong minority immigrant experience. Therefore, I started listening to hip hop that spoke to that. Even before that was spoken word poetry. Asian Americans in the late 90’s and early 2000’s got really heavy in poetry. There was a huge movement of spoken word artists and it was really powerful. In most spoken word groups there was always a rapper or beatboxer that would do pieces with them.
How did you get into DJing and when/why did you move to the Bay Area?
I was already Djing in high school back in Texas. I started around the summer before my Senior year. In our community, we became the djs who did all the Chinese American house and youth club parties. During senior year, I worked, near downtown Houston but I lived in the suburbs so it would take an hour to get back home. In that hour I would listen to the drivetime mix show, which was the on the local hip hop station. I would listen to DJ Steve Nice’s mix show and he was amazing. I got into hip hop culture because I was learning the craft of djing, mixing and scratching, but I knew nothing about the history or cultural significance of hip hop.
In 2000, I moved to the Bay Area for college. When I got there, I was still passionate about DJing so I was still trying to link up with folks and do parties. The folks I linked with were hip hop heads. I remember my roommates, ironically this white guy from North Carolina and this other Chilean guy from San Jose were my hip hop guides. They introduced me to ‘90’s era hip hop like Gang Starr and The Pharcyde, and I started learning more about the culture. This all paralleled the politicization I was experiencing through my academic studies and my involvement in social justice activism. I started learning about Asian American history, which then led me to taking other ethnic studies classes. My DJing led to knowing about this organization called Students For Hiphop, which led to throwing events and block parties that grew into discovering the progressive elements on campus like the student of color recruitment & retention. I started linking up with them, becoming a cultural worker, and helping them out.
After I graduated from Berkeley I linked up with a local Dj called Treat-U-Nice. The homies were like y’all should link up ‘cause we can call y’all Trick-N-Treat DJ’s! We did tons of parties in Oakland. I also founded a party called Devil’s Pie in San Francisco. That was me making a space for myself and personal interest as a DJ. I wanted a space where I could spin whenever I wanted. What I loved was that feel good soul music, but soul in a broad sense where we would play hip hop along with old school soul.
I just wanted a spot where you don’t have to worry about making folks dance. It’s more about the music appreciation aspect. So, that’s how Devil’s Pie started.
The name came to me first a long time ago ‘cause of that D’Angelo song.
Just backtracking a bit, but before you started doing monthly’s and having a huge impact you got involved with organizations through hiphop and empowering youth.
Teaching youth has been my main day job for most of my adult life. In 2004, right after graduating from Berkeley, I co-founded a program in Oakland called the Bay Unity Music Project (BUMP). Through all my activity in college, I somehow in senior year ended up interning for a small media arts non-profit called Youth Sounds. They were mainly doing video work with youth in West Oakland, but when I joined they were starting to try out music with these kids. There was one substitute teacher called Matt Meschery, who was actually a former rock star. He hit up the Executive Director of the program, Ken Ikeda about teaching kids how to make beats and record. That was around the time I first started interning. What I did with that situation was bring in my community organizing skills from college. I brought in MC’s from all over the bay to talk to the youth and do workshops with them. The ED liked what I did and said, “When you graduate I’m giving you a job.” So he gave me a fresh out of college newbie novice a job. One of the things he said from the start is, “If I hire you, you’re going to have to teach music production.” And I was like, “I don’t know how to make beats.” So he was like, “Well, you gotta learn.” Basically, I had to learn over the summer how to make beats and make music.
Ever since then I’ve been running digital music programs for youth primarily in low-income neighborhoods. I teach music production, recording, and performance.
In 2008, I moved to LA and adopted this program called Sessions LA, which was at SIPA. At the time it was on hiatus because there weren’t any adults available to teach it. I brought in all my experience from the Bay area organizing and teaching youth and revamped Sessions. Our goal was to use music and technology as a means to develop youth. We wanted to use music creation and analysis as a means to develop our young folk’s critical thinking. Hip hop is a great tool to get kids to think critically. The way you analyze and break down lyrics, beats, samples, history, etc etc.
There are several monthlies that you host. Can you speak on that?
That’s just the life of a promoter/DJ. If I’m not getting hired, I’m gonna make a situation where I’m DJing and making money. It’s that independent hustle. Devil’s Pie is one of the first things I started. I’m blessed to meet and work with some good people in LA. Libre was a continuation of what Kiwi of Native Guns started in Frisco. Basically, he got handed this friday night at one of the more poppin venues in Frisco. What was dope about it was it was all about the music, a friday night turn up party. Because of who Kiwi is and because of who I am the people who came were the community, the activists, the teachers, the musicians, and the hip hop community. So, it was having a space to party with all the folks that you trust. It was just great vibes, family. So we took that concept and defined it as the afterparty of the movement.
It’s where like minded folks can come together with no need to worry about inappropriate males on some machismo tip.
We didn’t need to worry about out of pocket out of control MF’ers. It’s about community and family and having that space and that was what we tried to do.
Do you ever think about how many baby’s have been made to your sultry sets?
Haha! That’s the thing though. Music is a powerful thing. It’s about creating a space where we don’t have to have a guard up anymore. We can be free to show our love for one another. You know as people of color we always have a guard. We rarely have access to public environments where that force field can be taken off.
Name your top 5 favorite vinyl records?
If it’s been a great night I always end it off with “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. If I play it at the end of the night it means I’ve had a good time. It’s that family feeling. Another song I play often is “Prototype” by Andre 3000. Lately, I’ve been playing the original sample Kanye’s song called “Bound 2” at a lot of gigs. The original sample is by the group called “The Ponderossa Twins” and the song is called “Bound To Fall In Love.” No matter what kind of party it is, everyone enjoys it. I’m also playing a lot of rock now, one of my favorite songs to mix in is “Maps” by the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Lastly, and I’ll claim this, I was one of the first DJ’s to play “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar at a party. I played that at Motown On Mondays. I stopped the music and I was like, “Hey, I’m gonna go off format for one song, do y’all mind? And folks were like, “Nah, do it” and folks loved it! Ever since then, I’ve been playing “Alright” at most of my gigs.
What do you think about DJ’s that only play Mp3’s and Serato?
If you’re a kid and only play mp3’s that’s cool. It’s ok ‘cause that’s what you grew up on. I grew up in an era when there were no mp3’s or Serato. I had to learn specific skills you can only learn from spinning with vinyl like how to cue a record so it doesn’t skip, or how to quickly back cue it, and how to not look at a screen. Nowadays, a lot of music is dj’d or produced with the eyes. However,
music is about listening with the ears, that’s the primary sense.
I love vinyl, but I don’t think using it is defines DJing because DJing is an action. It’s a way to play music. However, it has it’s roots in vinyl. So, if you’re a DJ you should go and get some vinyl and practice with it and hone your skills that way. But is it necessary? No.
Where do you think Hip Hop will be in 10 years?
Hip Hop has gone through so many stylistic changes over the years because it’s a youth driven artform. The term hip hop is so broad now. Hip hop has always been dictated by the youth and by what resources they don’t have. People really underestimate the creativity of someone who has nothing. That’s when they’re the most creative and the most hungry. The youth who are most oppressed and hungry are gonna dictate what happens next with hip hop. It’s also about not biting. Because you have these multi-million dollar corporations that took over, creativity is their biggest threat ever. They wanna keep goin’ with what makes money and what makes money is what the previous creative guy has done, so they want a bunch of biters of that guy. The kids are gonna react to that and gonna not want to do what everybody else is doing. That’s why you have all these folks like Odd Future come up and make a splash.
Musically, production is crazy right now. Some really futuristic stuff. You got trance on the pop side and on the underground you got industrial kinda gothy sounds. That’s what trap is. Industrial sounds with crazy 808’s.
The bass will never go away that’s for sure.
The 808 will live forever, but maybe some instruments might come back in. Stuff like Fly-Lo, the kids might be into that. It’s hard to tell. I can’t predict it, but I do know it’s gonna come from the hood.
You’re a busy guy. You host several Dj nights. Mondays – Motown On Mondays at The Short Stop. 3rd Wednesdays – Devil’s Pie Soul at Lock & Key. Saturdays at Mrs. Fish. Odd Fridays – Wolf & Crane. 2nd and 4th Thursdays at Verdugo Bar. How do you do it after this long?
I need to feed my family. MOM LA is Dj Expo. He’s the main man behind that. I’m very thankful he asked me to be part of the team ‘cause I’m with a bunch of dope ass DJs. Monalisa, Jedi, Sloe Poke, and the legendary C-Minus. I’ve been blessed to have been hooked up with these gigs so I can feed my family with.
I’m a dad in the daytime and a DJ at night and it’s dope. I love it.
I love being a father. I don’t have much time to do my own music, but I love being a dad. Somebody told me this a long time ago before I was even married, “The greatest change we can make is to raise our kids right.”
Dope, but why is Layla more popular than you on The Gram though?
She’s got hella personality and takes good pictures. Ha! She’s a cute girl.
Where do you want to see yourself as a recording engineer?
I have a good ear, I can say that. but what I need to do more of is work with more people. No matter what you know, experience necessary. I hope to work with more folks and help them to be better artists. Everything I know now as an engineer/producer/musician was all learned by teaching kids. I didn’t know anything before that. At BUMP, Matt Meschery taught me how to use Pro Tools and I honed my engineering skills working with our kids and helping them make their music. I also want to produce more. In hip hop the term “producer” has become synonymous with “beat maker,” but that’s a distorted usage of the term. Historically, the producer is someone who puts everything together and helps make the final product. Michael Jackson couldn’t have made “Off The Wall” or “Thriller” without Quincy Jones.
You have someone who can look at things critically and be more objective than the artist.
Producers have an ear for a certain sound, style, or trend. The first major product that I produced was Bambu’s Party Worker album. I did everything from recording the vocals, arranging the songs, to adding musicians/instruments, to mixing everything down, to putting skits in. Ultimately, producing is what I love to do and hope to do more of that!
What future projects do you have on deck?
Bambu and I are starting to work on our next album soon, so look out for that. I’m trying to get back into building the DJ Phatrick brand a little more so I’m working on new mixes too. The last mix I released was “Float.” I conceptualizing a sequal to that.
A little oldie from Bambu and DJ Phatrick. (Below)