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Q&A: Teeko

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Teeks

Local DJ and producer Teeko has been on a hot streak. He was recently featured on A-Trak’s Short Cut series, played a Boiler Room set in San Francisco and his performance on RevoltTV’s 1s and Tuesday is now the show’s second most-viewed episode. Teeko plays keyboard and triggers samples live, whilst flexing his ample scratching and turntable skills over boom-bap beats—creating a sound that is, in some senses, old-school. And yet, Teeko’s work also feels entirely new—especially in comparison to the four-on-the-floor EDM of many of his comparisons.

Teeko’s samples are a far cry from the smooth and glittering samples favored by future bass and dub step producers. Chopped and screwed vocals, fuzzy guitar solos, disintegrating, filthy synth tones and abrupt transitions permeate his recent Boiler Room session.

We talked to Teeko about challenging himself to do more with his live set, learning to let go of control, and the problem with getting all your music from the Internet. He is set to DJ at Return of the Boom Zap this Sunday, November 23rd at the Cardiff Lounge in Campbell.

Things have been pretty exciting for you recently. How did you end up on A-Trak’s Short Cut series?
Yeah the way that happened was really cool. I’ve known A-Trak for quite a bit—early on in the DJ battle community we recognized each other. He was already a world champion and we crossed paths in the battle scene. Early 2010, I was working on Mark Ronson’s album and A-Trak came in the studio and we hung out in New York a little. We’ve always had this “crossing paths” thing. When I did the SF Boiler Room, I got a really cool email from him. He basically told me that he had an eye on what I’ve been up to. He told me that he saw my Boiler Room set, saw some footage of me on Low End Theory and was really into what I was doing and my set up. He asked me if I would be down to remix one of his tracks and perform it on his YouTube video series. It was such a dope email and to get hit with a project like that. I’ve worked real hard on creating the best performance I could and I’m really glad that it came out on video. That performance is really hard for me to pull off live, my homie Ratha Nou did the editing for that video and did a fantastic job.

Since then I’ve been talking with A-Trak a lot more on the phone and we’ve been discussing some things on pushing this artform on a bigger scale for the future. It’s been really exciting because he is capable of advancing this thing to another level.

The Short Cuts episode showcases a very interesting set up. Tell us how you came up with that?
It took me awhile actually. I grew up playing piano and the guitar. Within the last 10 years I’ve been doing a lot of synthesizer work and playing the keyboard, along with getting down on the turntables and producing music. I felt like my 3 biggest strengths were my turntable work, my production and keyboard playing. So, basically, I wanted to put those things together and mess around. It was literally just something I did in my room just to mess around. It was like, “OK, let me pull that keyboard in a little and maybe I can play a chord while I tap some drums, and while cutting it a little bit. It was literally just an experiment with these things that I really liked.

Once I started using Traktor and feeling comfortable with their equipment, it gave me a lot of flexibility to create new and unique things. I just went for it and left my room set up like that. Everyday I would just go in and practice and try to hold down a chord progression, while I’m playing a different drum beat. I was doing something with my right hand, and something different from my left hand—which is something that comes from playing the piano. But it’s totally different when you are hitting pads and scratching while playing chords with your other hand. It took a minute for me to feel comfortable, but once it did, it felt really good. I felt like I was combining my strengths and it was very unique.

It’s different and exciting to see something like this happening for this type of art form.
I felt like it is what we need in the turntable community. Not only the that, but also in the electronic/live performance community. It just kinda felt like things were getting lame and that people were just looking at the computer screen. I knew that I wanted to improve and also show people that you can still do creative things, but you can’t be lazy. It seems like people skip all these steps and all of a sudden they are a producer or DJ—but never really learned how to play anything, except press “play” on tracks.

I’m not hating on that person, but I want people to see what I’m doing and maybe it will click in their head that this is what a real live performance is. The words “live set” have been blurred, and it is not really live at all. People are getting away with calling things a “live set.” So, I’d like to offer a contrast to that. If the bar is set higher, then maybe people will have to step it up.

You have the second-highest viewed 1s and Tuesday episode on RevoltTV; what do you think caused that huge of a response?
I just came out doing something totally different. All the material was my own. I performed one of my own tracks and then I did a “Starship Connection” joint which is me and B.Bravo. A lot of guys that get on there, have their own routine where they play other peoples music or they will cut over something. I was on there representing my own music and brought along B.Bravo to add the live talkbox, because I felt that would set it off even more and make it that much more different. I really wanted to set it off, I even wanted to have dancers. I just wanted to take it far.

Teeko Performs on REVOLT’s ‘1s and Tuesday’ from DJcityTV on Vimeo.

Tell us about the Boiler Room experience.
That 45min set was 95 percent my own material and some people didn’t catch that. I put the tracklist on teekomusic.com and if it wasn’t my own track, it was me and a collaborator. I pretty much had my hand on every track that I played during that set.

They hit me up last minute, I found out the night before. I basically stayed up all night, figuring out what of my material I wanted to do. Then I had to figure out the order and how to break it down. I was careful on how I wanted to represent it—which styles I wanted to cover and what tracks to drop. In the process, I was real hyped and excited to show a lot more people about what I’m doing, on that platform. I’m a fan of a lot of people that have been on there. It was honor to get a call to do it. During the whole set I was really hyped, it was an emotional thing. It was nice to have homies on there and it was dope to take a step back and give somebody a pound.

You talked about the whole process of putting together a set. When it comes to crafting a routine, is it something that occurs to you right away or do you take the time to be meticulous about it?
Definitely meticulous, but sometimes it falls in right away. But especially with a show that is archived and ingrained in history, I knew I had to come through and not mess up. So I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially because I’ve had this little voice in my head. For a few months, before I got the call to do Boiler Room, I had this weird thing where I kept feeling like “I gotta document, document, document…” I realized I was onto something new and it has been a really long time coming. Getting to this point with my set-up, and my abilities have taken so many shapes. I’ve traveled on this road where I have learned so much and had so many different experiences and have re-invented myself.

This voice was reminding me that I’m not going to be here forever. My body might not be able to take performing this long, it’s a lot of work for me. I only have a certain amount of these live performances left in me. It’s not infinite, its finite. There is a point that I’m not going to be able to perform anymore and just work on production and be behind the scenes. When I got that call from Boiler Room, it was like, cool I could take a breath. Like if I died tomorrow, I got at least a couple of videos and people could see what I was doing. My story could get heard. My life has had many ins and outs and so many roads I’ve taken.

I lost one of my best friends three years ago and he was way too young and all that kind of stuff just sticks with me. I don’t take stuff for granted and I feel very blessed to have my abilities and to be able to do what I do.

How has your recent success and the loss of your friend impacted you?
I feel more and more blessed. With every little opportunity, it keeps me going for sure. Just like every artist, I’ve gone through the stages of “Should I keep doing this?” or “Is this the right thing?” or “Maybe I should stop, this is frustrating.” But these exciting things are just a reminder for me to keep going. For example, when someone hits me up to do a remix or even an interview, when people want to actually talk to me and hear what I’m up to, I think, “Yeah! Maybe I should just keep going,” or “Maybe I should make the craziest shit today and give those people something to just freak out on.” I like freaking people out. It’s like watching someone fly. I want people to see that. Something like magic, something that brings back that fantasy element.

Where do you draw your musical inspirations from?
Sometimes I feel like I’m truly making music and sometimes I feel like I’m capturing it. Sometimes it’s more like it’s coming through me and I’m just trying to catch it. Here is a misconception and this why I think I people struggle with writer’s block, because I don’t really have writer’s block: I don’t feel like I’m actually fully in control. A lot of people want to be and feel like they are totally in control of their creative experience. For me, I try to let go of all that and find places that allow me to feel not in control. That is why I love the turntables so much, because there is a lot of room for weird shit to happen. I’m constantly looking for this area that wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s like a happy accident or the sweet spot. I’m listening to where my mind wants me to go, it might lead me to a certain sample or an old record and hear something in that. It’s really letting go of feeling like I’m totally in control.

When I’m making music, sometimes I feel like I’m a painter. Other times, especially when I’m sampling, I feel like a photographer. For example, it’s like I see a tree and the tree is perfect and I want to take a picture of the tree. I find the best angle of the tree when I shift it and move it a little bit this way. That is most beautiful shot and my job is to do that. But I have to see it and figure out the perspective and which angle to shoot it at. See, I didn’t make the tree or make the mountain, but maybe I’m the guy that says, “Yo, the tree should go on the top of that mountain.” I’m just shifting things, moving them and manipulating these things that are already in existence.

I have to stay aware of these signals that tell me where to go. I have to find the true purpose of the piece and I try not to feel like I’m totally in control. That’s the letting go of this ego that says, “I’m the creator. I’m making this music.”

What is something you would change in the music industry?
Basically, the most powerful thing—not only in the music industry—but also for humanity, is the Internet. Since we’ve been using the Internet (and it hasn’t been that long) I feel the way the music industry shifted into the Internet was way off. It was reactionary and adaptive and doing things quickly. The first Internet experience of getting music for free was through Napster, then iTunes came in and made every song 99 cents and it became a digital flatline. Then SoundCloud came in and said anybody can upload. It has then become, like a music industry standard and SoundCloud was not ready for that, nor did they test the delivery method of the music. It was not designed for that. I was at a meeting with A&R at Interscope Records and the A&R guy was scouting on SoundCloud and I thought to myself, “Wow, he is on SoundCloud, listening to some random producer and he isn’t even looking in a pool of professionals”.

We have people manipulating plays and likes, just playing a numbers game on the Internet. It’s fraudulent and it’s just a marketing scheme. Those numbers were never meant to be in front of the listener. The way it used to be, was those numbers were meant for the backend that you presented to your distribution office. Now, those numbers are in front of the listener and they can comment on your music. They can see your wav form so they know when the drop is coming or when something is gonna happen with your music. I feel that the engagement between the music and the listener has to be kept completely pure. Take away all that stuff and just use your ears to listen. That is all you need to appreciate it, blind people can appreciate music.

You’re coming to Return of the Boom Zap on November 23rd and it isn’t your first time. What do you enjoy about DJing at that particular party?
It’s a great crew, great sound system and a big old sign that says “No Requests.” I always look forward to hearing what these guys are doing. It’s good vibes and it’s fun. Plus, I get to test out a bunch of new stuff at that party. I’m gonna drop a bunch of new shit over there for sure.

What is your choice beverage and snack while in the studio?
I got the dark chocolate, walnuts, cashews and an organic apple fig newton. As for a beverage, I would have water and a yerba mate.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Always remember that the desired effect is what you get, when you bring your funky booties down to Cardiff Lounge on November 23rd at the Boom Zap all the way funked out edition.

DJ Teeko Shimon spins at Return of the Boom Zap this Sunday, Nov. 23rd at the Cardiff Lounge.

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