DJ’ing is one of the most individual forms of making music. Introverted by nature, practicing in a bedroom at daytime without an audience, staying at the back of the stage at nighttime. Over the years the craft evolved, and those modest musical monsters came out of the closet with a vengeance. They got their own shows, their own applause, their own groupies. But what happens when you put together a crew of some of the most respected underground DJ’s, and let them do a European tour, like Stones Throw Records did for their tenth anniversary? Then you got chaos theory in practice.
The room was packed, this particular tuesday in the small night club Sugar Factory in Amsterdam. A surprising line at nine, even though there’s always plenty of partying going on everywhere in the Dutch capital. Past the bouncer, and past the front doors is the first surprise of the evening. Percee P, standing at the cloak room, hustling his albums. The Rhyme Inspector is a direct reminder of the fact it can be tough being a rap musician full time. The routine he displayed while selling his “Legendary Status” mix CD, and answering questions about his upcoming album (“Next February or March”), showed he had stood at many venue entrances over the years.
Just a small percentage of the crowd actually recognized Percee P. They were here for the one who saved the old school machine gun spitter from oblivion: Madlib. The Oxnard resident is the most successful Stones Throw export product, because of his collaborations with MF Doom (Madvillain), the now deceased J.Dilla (Donuts), and of course because of his own unpredictable aliases.
The official reason for the Stones Throw camp to be in Europe is the release of the compilation record “Chrome Children,” a collaboration between the self-willed cartoon network Adult Swim, and the rat pack assembled around crate digger Peanut Butter Wolf. The box of “Chrome Children” vinyls at the goodies stand went out of stock sooner you could say “Oh No!”
“We just saw Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf make their way to stage, and they looked stoned as hell!” one of the bystanders exclaimed while he was on his way to one of the bars at the back of the venue. An artist responsible for songs like “Green Power” and “America’s Most Blunted” has a reputation to uphold.
Shoulder to shoulder Dutch locals awaited what was going to happen. Beatjunkies’ funky man J.Rocc had the honour to start off the evening, and immediately went to work in warming up the Sugar Factory. His tempo was relentless, pumping a combination of underground classic and Stones Throw hits through the room. You could tell a lot of the older material, like Slum Village and Lootpack hits, didn’t get as much appreciation as the more recent Jaylib and Madvillain albums. Each time a song of either of these albums was mixed in, a roar rippled from the front to the back.
While J.Rocc did his energetic routine, Stones Throw founding father Peanut Butter Wolf hovered at the back of the stage, and occasionally glared up to see if all his artists had already arrived at the upper platform over his head for their performance that evening. Seemingly unintentional he stepped forward to hand some records, and even did some interval scratching.
After J.Rocc decided the Sugar Factory was heated up to the proper temperature he deserted his turntables for the stage manager. Peanut Butter Wolf (PBW), worth more than a decade of turntablism experience, immediately showed how many differences can be between DJ’s. The pale-faced PBW did a J.Dilla commemoration set much more organic and blended in than his predecessor. Because of the obscurity of some of the material, the biggest enthusiasts at the front of the crowd quieted down a bit, not able to play the ‘which song & which album’ trivia game. PBW picked up on the vibe, and pretty soon Percee P picked up the mic for some lyrical intermissions.
Unfortunately, the duo didn’t provide the crowd with any unheard material from the upcoming “Perseverance.” Percee P allegedly is the longest performing MC without a debut album. The first couple of songs, including his appearance on Jaylib’s “The Exclusive” and Jurassic Five’s “Day At The Races,” were a paragon of aggressive lyricism, but when the crowd’s response turned out to be meager, the rest of his Percee P’s went into autopilot mode. Madlib’s champion, MED, also had trouble getting the crowd into the right mode. He did some tracks off his own album “Push Comes To Shove,” but it was obvious people were eagerly anticipating Madlib. Inconspicuous, the artist in question had arrived already, staring at PBW’s back with a blank look on his face. After fifteen minutes of headnodding, he disappeared into the backstage area for another blunt, perhaps.
When PBW was finishing up his set, he looked over his back to instruct Madlib for his upcoming set. When he realized he wasn’t there, PBW displayed an amusing state of confusion and light panic. He mumbled something in the microphone about ‘wishing to have a stage manager,’ said he would put on a record that would last the crowd for ten minutes, and ran to the stage area to file a missing persons report. After five minutes of entertainment Madlib came back to the stage, escorted by the entire Stones Throw assembly. It almost looked like a royal re-entrance, with four escorting bodyguards.
This was what most people had been waiting for all evening, but soon after Madlib got into his groove, they were let down considerably. Instead of doing his own personal hit-a-thon, Madlib started experimenting with leaden, thumping bass beats, somber Indian singing, and other abstract noised. It was stunning to see The Bad Kid mixing qualities, but for an evening like this, such an abstract set was way over the heads of most paying customers. Only after the “Chrome Children Tour”‘s secret guest arrived on stage, the crowd reclaimed some of its enthusiasm. Planet Asia easily was the most successful MC of the evening with a self-assured stage presence, precise flow, and good atonement to Madlib’s beats. The beatsmith seemed to snap out of his cannabis haze, and started throwing in beats more digestible for the hungry crowd.
Relieved everything didn’t go to the dogs, J.Rocc stepped back into the ring to finish off the evening with some more Stones Throw funkiness. Most of the “Chrome Children” material had been left untouched, some of the artists had gone missing for a while, Madlib’s kid bother Oh No was nowhere in sight, and it was unclear which structure was behind this celebration tour. Chaotic? Yes. But with all these quality musicians, their obvious pleasure in making music, and the internal differences of this oddball collection of individuals, a tightly arranged schedule would squeeze the life out of these performances. Maybe a stage manager would be a good idea, but for the remainder they should keep this tour exactly the way it is. Practical chaos in its purest form.