London born DJ Yoda has become something of a legend in the DJ circuit and the Hip Hop scene, amassing two albums, thirteen mix CDs, a DMC DJ of the year award and countless live shows over a career spanning three decades. With a style like no other, he cuts and chops hip hop bangers among soul classics with a dash of just about every genre you can think of and a healthy sprinkling of samples from cult TV shows that reveal and let the audience share his light hearted approach to music. Never one to take himself too seriously, you can expect to hear the Indiana Jones or The Muppets theme tunes spliced into his sets which have proven themselves to be some of the greatest at involving the crowd and rocking any party from the underground to the skies.
Around 2003 he helped to pioneer Audio Visuals in festival and club settings as he chopped up films and youtube clips, first re-scoring classic American film The Goonies. Blending his dance floor prowess, genius scratch hands and the added element of showmanship and crowd participation created by the AV element, his AV set is a true sight to behold and it comes to Village Underground’s Videocrash night on the 1st November (more info here). We decided to track him down to see what he’s got in store for us under Village Underground’s towering arches.
Hi Yoda, thanks for dropping in. What’s been taking up your time of late?
Lots of festivals! Just coming to the end of the summer festival season, and making the transition back into clubs instead of fields again. Plus I just released my latest “How To Cut & Paste” mix – this one is “The Asian Edition”.
I’m sure you know of desert island disks, what would be your three essential records if you were stranded on an island?
That’s a very hard question for a DJ. I’d go for albums (more music) and probably something more instrumental like jazz or classical for lastability. I don’t reckon I could listen to the same lyrics again and again on a desert island. Not a very specific answer – sorry!
Fair enough, so do you have any guilty pleasure tunes you just can’t help but love?
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures at all! I think you shouldn’t feel ashamed about any music, film or art that you love. That’s why I made a whole mix of my favourite 80s pop – I wasn’t trying to be ironic, it’s just music I love.
You’re playing at East London’s Village Underground for Soundcrash on the 1st November. Have you played there before?
Despite always being around that area, I’ve never been to Village Underground before – so I can’t wait to check it out – I’ve heard great things.
It’s dope! For those not in the know, what can we expect from your set on the night?
I’m going to be performing a live AV set – so I’m mixing and scratching video at the same time as DJing. Multi-tasking!
Do you find you play in different styles depending on the city/venue/night? Is this something you plan in advance with guesswork as to what the crowd will be like, or something you simply read on the night?
I do play slightly differently depending on what city and country I’m in, and it’s a mixture of the two things you just said – I have some pre-conceptions – like Drum & Bass doesn’t really work in Ibiza, but then I’m also trying to read the crowd on the night and take it off in the direction that’s gonna work best.
Your mixing is very fast, throwing in samples and tunes left right and center; do you think this is indicative of your personality?
I think it’s indicative of the style of hip-hop DJing I grew up on. All my favourite hip-hop DJs would run through music really fast, throwing in samples and moving on to the next thing. I guess I also have that in my personality too though – I can’t stop flicking channels if I’m watching TV.
It’s been well over a decade now since you first made your name on the decks, how do you feel your sets have evolved in that time, both in terms of selection and mixing style?
I think the genres of music that are fashionable have changed loads, and the technology is changing every year too. When I first started DJing I was playing just rap records on vinyl – this year I’ve been playing trap and twerk on mp3 and mp4! Crazy when you think about it.
Speaking of evolution, you’ve become known for pioneering audio visual sets, what inspired you to want to start working video into your mixes?
I guess I was always dropping in little audio samples from movies I liked into my mixes, then the technology changed to allow me to mix and scratch the actual movies themselves, so it just kind of made sense for me.
Before that, you honed your craft through DMC, winning the scratch category back in 2001, is that a scene you still follow? If so, which DMC DJs are you feeling at the minute?
No I think that era has come and gone, and battles aren’t so important in 2013 for a variety of reasons. To be honest, I was never much of a battle DJ anyway – I don’t think I have that competitive nature where I feel I need to prove I’m any better than anyone else.
There’s a healthy amount of British humour in your mixes, chopping in things like the Emmerdale theme tune for example, do you think this is a result of your DMC past?
I think I just like to keep aware that DJing is entertainment, and it’s just as important to see a crowd smiling as dancing. I don’t really dig miserable DJs!
Obviously a scratch routine is very different to rocking a crowd at a club night, have you ever had experiences when the crowd just didn’t seem to be into your selection? What tricks or tunes have you got up your sleeve to liven up a sleepy dance floor?
I’m not the kind of DJ to go heavy into some turntablist routine in a club – people are there to dance, not just experience a barrage of scratching. But every DJ has shows where things don’t go right, and every DJ has a kind of emergency record to play too – I think as a hip-hop DJ 45 King’s “900 Number” always works.
Many of the tunes you play are cult classics from earlier decades. What tunes from recent years do you think will stand the test of time and be viewed in a similair light years from now?
Good question! This year – I reckon TNGHT’s Higher Ground, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines will still be being played in 10 years time.
Amongst all your mixes, you’ve released two albums of original material, The Amazing Adventures of DJ Yoda and Chop Suey. The vocalist features on them are as eclectic as your sets, from Soom T to M.O.P, how do you go about selecting collaborators?
I start working on beats first, then I sit back and think about which vocalists would sound right on each beat. Then it’s a slow process of approaching artists and trying to lock them down to it!
So would you say you approach production in a similair way to DJing? Do you feel the two heavily influence each other?
Sometimes. Some tracks I’ve produced aren’t really designed for the club, but those that are, I’m thinking about with my DJ hat on too.
Lastly, what else is planned for the future of DJ Yoda?
I’m about to head off for a tour of Asia, playing in China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore, so that will be exciting. And Australia at the end of the year as well. And in between all this starting work on my next artist album too.
Yoda, it’s been a pleasure, any final pearls?
Just to let everyone know that I’m having chicken soup for lunch today.