According to DJ Vadim, “The way to keep going as a musician is to always try new things, try new forms of expression. You can’t keep making the same pasta dish night after night. If you do you’ll get bored.” Judging by his discography, including his most recently release, Don’t Be Scared, Vadim is in no danger of getting bored.
This week RapReviews caught up with the producer extraordinaire to talk about all things music. Vadim also discussed politics, growing out of love with a lot of hip-hop, and how an unfortunate Google autofill associated with his name is causing him a massive headache while attempting to get a Visa.
Adam Bernard: Let’s start by talking about Don’t Be Scared, which has some really interesting imagery on the cover. Why did you decide to go with the blindfold and gun to your head?
DJ Vadim: The gun to the head is related to the title, Don’t Be Scared, and that’s… sometimes you need to die to be reborn, if that makes any sense. This album is trying to have a sort of resurrection in that sense because a part of the reason I called it Don’t Be Scared is because as children you’re not gonna find, at least I never encountered it, children who have very particularly strong views of race, or creed, or color, or prejudice, or this, or that, but as adults the amount of times I’ve had people say “I don’t want to do that,” or “I can’t do that,” and often I just think, OK sometimes you really don’t want to put your hand in a fire, fair enough, but the times when people say “I don’t want to do this,” they really have no reason for saying it apart from they’ve never done that thing, like take a holiday. I’m not talking about extreme things. I think there’s something about growing up, there’s something about being adults, it stops us from really being ourselves, and that’s part of what the album title’s about, and the cover imagery.
AB: Is the title Don’t Be Scared also representative of your relationship with musical experimentation?
DJV: Yeah. The titles that I use are always a little bit open to interpretation. I could make an album and just call it One, or Square, and there’s only so many ways you can interpret that, but with Don’t Be Scared, or You Can’t Lurn Imaginashun, or U.S.S.R. Life from the Other Side, with these titles you can interpret them in lots of different ways. I was talking to someone the other day and they were talking about the gun (on the cover) being like Russian Roulette, with only one bullet in the chamber. Every time I release an album I try to do things a little bit differently, I try to push the envelope on myself creatively as a producer, but in doing that also I may be stepping away from more familiar ground and shooting myself in the foot.
AB: So what’s different this time around?
DJV: When I say different, if someone wanted to be very pedantic they could pull apart my last album and this album and go “what are the technical differences?” The differences are not huge. It’s not like I used to make heavy metal and now I make classical music, but I’m trying different tempos, different feels. I’ve always used ethnic instruments. I’ve always dabbled with Indian and Asian and South American sounds, so that’s not new, but for me it’s kind of new in the way that, some of the harmonies, some of the rhythms, the way I program drums. The way I actually produce is different. I came from using MPCs to now doing it all on my laptop, and that gives me different possibilities and different ideas. I’m into different music now than what I was before. I grew up on hip-hop. I remember buying The Source magazine and you would read the top ten lists of the year, and buying it in 1990, 91, 92, and being like “I’ve got all the ten, I love all of them.” Then gradually over the years, from the early 90s, it would start to be I only like 9 of the ten, 8 of the 10, 7 of the ten, and now if they did a top ten list of their favorite albums of 2012, I pretty much doubt I’d like anything. I’m not saying there isn’t good hip-hop out there, there’s lots of amazing hip-hop out there, but it’s not in The Source, and it’s not on mainstream radio. It’s somewhere else.
DJV: Yeah. Sometimes I wonder about kids who come into music (today). Two years ago I went on tour with Bassnectar in the US and I witnessed the explosion of this thing called dubstep. It went from nothing to huge really in the space of one year. The numbers even within that year were doubling, tripling, weekly on events. You would start a tour and get 200 people, in two weeks time it would be 400, then 800, 1,200, 1,600. It was such a rapid thing. I think about the kids now coming into music and I think they have no idea of what happened in the past, how things were. They don’t know a world without the internet. The internet is an amazing thing. I can look up any group, any video from any country, as long as it’s there, because my region lets me watch their video. Sometimes you have that region protected shit.
AB: I’m in America and I can’t watch videos on MuchMusic’s website because it’s Canadian.
DJV: Yeah, I hate that. It’s such bullshit. But back in the day, you would go somewhere, you would go to a party, you would go to a jam, and you’d meet people and you’d stay in contact with these people and you would share information about whatever you were into. You would go to these places and you would find people who are so knowledgeable, and I’m not talking about going to some specific nerdy convention, I’m just talking about going to a show. Nowadays you go to a show, and do people really know much about anything? People think Skrillex is dubstep. That really says it all. The guy’s made a couple of tunes which are kind of dubstep, but he makes electro, so it kind of beckons, do people even know what dubstep is? Do people know what hip-hop is? Do people know what electro is? It’s kind of weird, like how can we be getting dumber with so much more information?
AB: Is it almost like there’s too much information and there’s so much being thrown at people now that they don’t know what to focus on?
DJV: That’s what people say. I don’t know. I think that is part of the answer. I honestly think education has gotten worse. I think newspapers have gotten worse. I think our politicians are not as well spoken as they used to be. Political debates, all these things have been really dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, basically just swearing at your opposition instead of having actual rational conversations about issues and things. I think all of that, in some way or another, affects the fact that people nowadays can’t distinguish between whether something is called classical music, or something’s called dubstep, or are the Beastie Boys a hip-hop group or heavy metal? It’s kind of bizarre. Again, maybe the people who were born before the internet are able to deal with information better than the people who weren’t, because I don’t feel like I’ve got an overload of information, but I know what to read and where to look. You’re right, though, it’s like being a digger, you have to know, as a consumer, where to go, if you care, but it is a mission, because you can’t just turn on your computer and have the answers.
AB: Yeah, it’s not just sitting right there unless you have a very specific set of RSS feeds.
DJV: Unfortunately, I think the majority of people really don’t care. That’s the real sorry state of affairs. Life really is about sex, violence, and power. It’s the simplest denominators of our life. People don’t really care about how intricate something is, how beautiful something is, the value of something.
DJV: Yeah, like I said, I think politics is a big part of it because, whether we acknowledge it or not, we look up to our leaders in society, and the way they act, and the way they converse does affect us, and you have political debates which end up “I don’t like you because your mother’s fat,” and then people are like “yeah, I’m with that guy because that guy’s mother’s fat!” Wow, are we really gonna choose a president, or a leader, based on that? What about some real issues, and that’s not just an American thing, we have the same thing here in the UK. People are just not asking the questions and you have to wonder why. Why aren’t people interested in why there is more terrorism now than there was twenty years ago? People never ask that, and the media is kind of in bed with the government, in bed with the police, the army, the wealthy land owners, all those kind of things, so it’s hard, and all of that trickles down to the point where if you’re going to say “I’m gonna vote for this guy, his jokes are funnier,” or “he’s swearing more,” why are you even gonna give a shit about music?
AB: That is true, and I want to take it back to your music for a minute. Because of one of your most popular songs, when someone types your name into Google one of the first suggestions is “DJ Vadim Terrorist.” How do you react to how Google’s treating you there?
DJV: Since I did that song the word has changed connotation. It’s changed meaning in my lifetime, not that it didn’t mean some of the things people think about now. Motion Man said it (in the song), but it’s about a musical terrorism in the sense of him doing whatever he wants to do over you verbally, as in wordplay, as a verbal assault. It has nothing to do with blowing people up, or killing people, or 9/11, my goodness no, but unfortunately, like you say, in Google those things come up. You know what the irony of it is? At the moment I’m applying for a US Visa.
AB: That Google autofill can’t be helpful.
DJV: I’ve been turned down twice, and this is my last application. I’m sure it’s possibly because of that, and maybe because I’m quite outspoken politically. All they have to do is Google my name and that comes up and for a dimwit person, they might think “oh my God, this guy’s down with Al-Qaeda, there’s no way we’re giving him a Visa,” without thinking any more about it. There’s nothing I can really do about that. I’ve been waiting for five months, let’s hope I get it, but if I don’t it’s because of that.
AB: That’s a current struggle you’re having even though you’re a star now, you’re known, you’re worldwide, but I’m wondering, do you have any other struggle stories from when you were coming up in the ranks that really illustrate being on the come up?
DJV: When you say on the come up, or I’ve really made it, or I’m really famous, all of that is very relative to who you compare me with. If you compare me to your next door neighbor, unless you live next to Jay-Z, maybe I am very famous. If you compare me to Jay-Z then no, I’m not famous at all. I’m a little blip on his shoelace. In all honesty, coming up, everything I’ve ever achieved in music I’ve had to struggle for. Back in the day, when Ninja Tune was doing really well, I was never in Vice magazine like “oh my God, DJ Vadim.” I never had hipsters after me. All of the fans I ever had were people who discovered my music. Everything I’ve achieved has been by touring, talking to people and connecting with people. I never felt like I had that lucky break. I see people get it all the time and yeah, I’m like aw fuck, I wish I had that break, but if this is my life I’m not complaining. I still have a beautiful life. To be able to go around the world, and play music, and talk to people and meet people, I think that’s a wonderful vocation.
AB: Yeah, and if Jay-Z’s my neighbor he needs to stop monopolizing the laundry room because I can never get a washer when I need one.
DJV: Well there we go. He’s probably got a very big wardrobe.
AB: And that’s probably why the dryers are always broken. He’s putting all the fancy stuff in there.
DJV: All that bling and gold chains and what not he’s got all the stains on from all the funny business he might be getting up to in his illuminati meetings.
AB: And Blue Ivy’s cloth diapers.
DJV: Exactly. I think you need to write a letter to Def Jam.
AB: Maybe the head of Def Jam will be like, “c’mon Jay, send your stuff out for dry cleaning, here’s an extra million.”
DJV: I think he can afford it.
AB: Finally, you had a rare form of ocular cancer. After this hit did you have any especially memorable encounters with fans who were going through, or had been through the same thing?
DJV: Firstly, before I had cancer I didn’t know anyone who had cancer, personally. After I had it I met everyone and their dog who had cancer. People would come up to me – my sister has it, my uncle has it, this happened, that happened. I was like wow, I had no idea. Virtually every second person I know, or every third person, could tell me “yeah, I know someone who had it,” or “I had it.” Also, hitting the 3-0, I met a lot of people who suffer from depression, from things that just happen in your middle age, and I’m just like wow, what happened to those days when we were happy, when you were 18 and just running around buck crazy. I guess life hits you. Those dreams that you had when you were 18 of doing this, that, and the other, you kind of realize when you’re 30, maybe I’m not gonna be that football player, or that pop star. People give up on those dreams. You see a lot of pain and suffering.
AB: Do you think some of that comes back full circle to people being scared?
DJV: Yeah, I definitely think so.