I have never seen so many pieces of DJ equipment on one stage in my life as I did at the RJD2 show on July 12 at The Belmont. Everyone’s gear was pre set-up in an organized jumble of knobs, wires, screens and blinking lights, and I counted five tables (FIVE DAMN TURNTABLES), three mixers, five laptops, a few micro synths and at least five drum pads among the mix of sound-spewin’ electronics. Just looking at that monument to music you started to imagine the massive variety of noises that could be made with it by a creative minded crew, and I have to say that the night did not let those expectations down. A slew of Austin’s finest beat junkies came out to open for the legendary turntablist, and it was a night that showcased the three pillars of hip-hop music—rapping, spinning and producing—in a big way.
On the rap side of things was the 512-based Kydd (aka Kydd Jones), who was backed by Cory Kendrix and DJ Charlie. Kydd is an up-and-coming true rapper, with a lazer-accurate flow and none of the pop-rap hooks of the kinda party hip-hop you hear on the radio. This was some real head-bob worthy hip-hop, with Charlie spinnin’ and scratchin’ some great horizontal beats and Kydd and Kendrix trying their damndest to get the crowd energized. It was an early show (started at 7 p.m.), and the audience was still in a post-work, sunset-induced chill mode, which seemed to frustrate the MCs a little. At one point Kendrix even said, “Charlie’s trying to pull out ancient records right now, but I don’t feel like performing,” though I think he was mostly kidding, and they all admirably kept it going strong despite the crowd not really getting pumped until the last few tracks. Kydd has a great style and smart rhymes on fun beats, and I especially liked the many Austin references (“I come from the city where the hippies dwell”) and his track “Hall Pass,” which he did with Yelawolf. Watch for this kid to get big.
Once Kydd and the crew had got things moving, the sun was truly setting and Applied Pressure took to the stage. If you ain’t heard AP, they’re a music collective here that includes producer BoomBaptist, DJ/producer Hobo D, DJ Kid Slyce and producer/VJ 4th Wall, and they specialize in what they call “dirty, grimey, filthy beat music for the brain.” That’s a pretty damn apt description of the show these guys put on as they played in various combinations of the first three, with 4th Wall constantly playing with the visuals behind them.
Baptist’s shit was especially killer, sounding kind-of Dilla-ish but with his own wild, creative style of sampling thrown in and dangerously sick beats that jumped around all over the place. This obviously passionate dude was goddamn fun to watch, as he tapped out mad, fuckwild beats that he bounced up and down with, grinning like crazy the whole time. His energy was infectious as fuck, and the crowd loved it when he’d grab the mic and rap along a few bars or point at the breakers on the screen behind him and say “I can’t do that shit.”
After a bit of Baptist’s personal stuff, with Slyce backing him and scratching on a table, it was Hobo D’s turn to show off. D’s beat style was a lot more straightforward hip-hop and less wild than Baptist’s, but no less creative or fun to jam to. He kept his productions simple, but tweaked to a weird, intelligent level that I enjoyed the shit out of. Hobo D pulled from a lot of different genres for his set; I heard some heavily fucked-with club hip-hop, some funk samples, a bit of dubby/reggae shit and little parts of tracks like Hudson Mohawke’s “Cbat,” The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” (which got a big cheer), and even a little Portishead.
The whole time D was onstage, BoomBaptist and Slyce were hanging out on the side, dancing and obviously havin’ a damn good time. I saw probably my favorite moment of the night when Kydd and Kendrix joined the two on the side and all four went crazy for a track D dropped, jumpin’ around and throwing water all over themselves. It made me feel good about Austin’s beat-producing scene that we have these unpretentious, talented dudes who do it because it’s a damn fun thing to do and not just to get famous or laid. A seriously badass few sets was wrapped up when Kid Slyce and BoomBaptist got back on stage for a last few tracks, including a blues-based beat and a tweaked up, chopped up version of “Look at Me Now” that got the crowd amped right the fuck up. As Baptist said at one point right before dropping into an 8-bit heavy version of “What’s Your Fantasy,” “It’s 8:30 and we make it feel like 12.”
Where the AP crew was all about how production, DJing and visuals can mix together at the same time to make something bigger than all three, RJD2 himself showcased first turntablist skills, then a little beat production, and then mixing, with a little of each mixed in to the others. But, before we got down to the business of watching a true virtuoso DJ show us that deadmau5 was wrong about all DJs just pushing play, we got to see Commissioner Crotch Buttons put on a crazy little performance in his head-to-toe black suit with silver accents and welder mask combo. Like the Daft Punk robots’ raunchy, mentally deranged cousin, the Commissioner is RJD2’s alternate personality that features a working drum pad that can spin mounted on the suit’s crotch (“modifications to the cock and balls area,” as he calls them), which he uses to snap out ultra fast, wild beats while talking in a lo-fi robot voice that pronounced every syllable VE-RY PAR-TIC-U-LAR-I-LY.
After saying, “When you think of robots with crotch upgrades, think Commissioner Crotch Buttons. When you think dope beats and scratches and all that, think RJD2,” the man ran back to his decks, stripping off the suit and going straight into the dope beats he promised. We then saw four of the five tables that sat on stage that night get used, sometimes all at once, in a masterful display of mixing and scratching that put sets from “just push play” DJs to shame in mere seconds. RJ used real records and no laptop assistance, choosing to stick with the original DJs tools of table, mixers and drum machines for his massively impressive set, which at first stuck to his own productions. Included in these were all of his most well known joints, such as “Ghostwriter,” “Smoke & Mirrors,” and “1976,” with a non-stop slew of intelligent hip-hop played between and cheers going up each time the crowd started to recognize one of their favorites.
Some of my favorite moments of the night were when he got goofy and fucked around, such as when he busted out a Mario puppet on one hand and a Goomba on the other, and tapped out a Mario melody on his pad, using the Goomba to chase the stuffed plumber away. I also loved that he had a Star Trek record sitting on top of his stack, and was particularly impressed with his rapport with the crowd, who seemed to surprise him with their enthusiasm for his beats. After a while of playing his own tracks and messing around with the puppets, the man played a short set of funk and soul spun together, turning the night from a display of skills to a dance party that was just as much fun.
It was a pure joy as an electronic music lover and hip-hop freak to see RJD2 play his complex and obviously very difficult to play style of live music with almost no mistakes at all. The dude was using every single second at his disposal to do something with the music; whether it was setting up the next record, engagin’ in a little knob twiddlin’, tapping out a beat, scratching or playing a sample, the man did not waste a moment. At some points the guy was tapping out a beat at the same time he was stretching as far as his arms could go to reach a table to mess with the record. And all this was done in front of a video production that wasn’t just the colorful, screensaver-like stuff you usually get at these shows, but instead a long series of shots obviously produced and/or picked out specifically for the show. At times he’d flip the vid to a camera that was on his beat pad, giving us a closer look at the mad skills the guy has in the beat creation department, which was also a lot of fun.
Here’s what I’m going to say about RJD2, and I’d invite anyone to take me up on it: If you ever hear one of those annoying purists claim that DJs aren’t musicians, or if you’re one of those people yourself, get thee and any other naysayers to an RJD2 show. If you can watch this guy put on the show that he does and still believe that simply using turntables and mixers makes DJing less of an art than playing a guitar or a violin, well son, you ain’t never gonna get it. For the rest of us, there’s simply no better way to justify our love for the magic of beat-based music than an RJD2 show. And that’s a fact, jack.