My favorite interview from Turntablelife.com

So a couple years back, my buddy and I had this idea to do a DJ lifestyle site (kind of what DJ City is now I guess).  Back then we had more ambition than time, so it never really went anywhere.  We did have one great interview with A DJ I really respect, Graham Funke, which I wanted to make sure was always available to the world.

GFKevSS

Without further adieu …

What was the first genre of music (if anything specific) that you remember being exposed to?  How did what you grew up listening to ultimately affect your life as a DJ?

Early memories include my mom’s Beatles and Neil Diamond records, in addition to the popular disco songs on the radio in her 1969 VW Bug. The first few tapes I was personally in possession of were ABBA’s Greatest Hits, “Purple Rain” by Prince, “Ice Cream Castles” by The Time, and, like every kid in the mid-1980s, the behemoth known as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” I’m pretty sure the first vinyl I purchased was “Golden Shower of Hits” by The Circle Jerks, though I clearly remember the first song I ever spun as a disc jockey was “Party Train” by the Gap Band. At the time, I thought that long dramatic train station intro was really setting things off! At any rate, I still play cuts from every artist I’ve mentioned above; Yes, including Neil Diamond, the Jewish Elvis. The goal is to transcend genres, but seamlessly and cohesively. Every song is related; pinpoint what they have in common, and mix accordingly. Also, ackrite.

Tell us about the early days of Graham Funke’s DJ career.  How did you learn?  What were your first gigs?  What was “payin dues” like for you?  When did you realize you had a talent that made you stand out from other DJ’s?

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of DJ Mike Messex, who might be considered, along with DJ Sean Perry, as the godfather of Los Angeles DJ culture. We would give Mike Messex a ride to the all-night underground parties in downtown, and I would carry a crate of records in with him. Being 16 years old, I was acutely aware of the attention he received upon entry, the free champagne afforded to him, and the female attention bestowed upon him. I wanted it. I started collecting records, consisting of the rock I was raised on, the rap classics I would hear on KDAY 1580 AM, and the funk, disco, and house prevalent at these underground parties. When I was a freshman in college, I got my chance to shine as the DJ on “The Funke Fly Stuff” radio show at KZSU Stanford University. The show after ours was “The Drum,” hosted by Kevy Kev and his DJ, Kutmaster Kurt, then just a local Bay Area name. I was in San Francisco from 1993 to 1999, playing a really eclectic mix of stuff, doing my weeklies with my then DJ partner J-Boogie of Dubtronic Science. On my nights off, I might sit in the DJ booth at Nickie’s BBQ and takes notes from Andrew Jervis and Casper from “On The One” Magazine, you know, rare groove and jazz funk. Just before I left town, I was the resident at 111 Minna, which was definitely on the cutting edge of culture as far as Northern California was concerned, and I only left town because my Dad (special effects maestro Alex Funke) was moving to New Zealand to begin the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. With relocation and a college degree, I actually put DJing to rest as there was no money to be made then. But I didn’t sell my records! I kept them! They had played a huge role in the person I was. In 2000, I was visiting my buddy Liam, a bartender at North (now Hyde) in Hollywood. The DJ in there was lackluster and in passing I asked what they paid the guy. Liam says “Two hundred bucks plus dinner and a bar tab.” Back then, that was a million dollars! I asked if he could put a good word in with the owners and let me try out, which I then did one monumental Thursday night. Fifteen minutes into my set, the owner asked me to do Thursdays and Saturdays. I was back to DJing, playing bugged out shit that I didn’t really hear anybody else doing, though we know now that there was a handful of DJs pushing the envelope of what was to be heard in a club. I worked at Les Deux, Nacional, Downtown Standard, White Lotus, Spider Club, and every other club you can name between 2000-2004, when I was squired away to Las Vegas to open 40 Deuce at Mandalay Bay. The Sin City exposure led to all the crazy traveling and guest spots I’ve done in the last 4 years, all of which meshes into one memory. It’s a blur.  I’ve been all over the USA and played in Korea, Spain, Japan, Mexico, Guam, Poland, and Norway. I can’t really list what makes me stand out from the next guy; I use creative programming and competent execution. I just try to deliver a solid set, make everybody happy, justify the paycheck.

Can you describe when and how you “made it” as a DJ?

This business is so new that we have yet to establish what “making it” entails. Would it be Paul Oakenfold at the height of his popularity, playing at Wembley or demanding $50k on New Years? Probably not, as Oakie is in his own lane. So for me, I would hesitate to say I’ve “made it,” regardless of the residencies or the money or the travel.  But I will say that there have been people and venues that have been instrumental in my career, that have been stepping stones to success. Rick Calamaro and Reggie MacDonald brought me into Nacional in Hollywood and had my back for the 3 years I worked there, which happened to be the timeframe that it was regarded as numero uno, the focus of a “Vanity Fair” article, no less. Around the same time, I started working for Ivan Kane, owner of Deep and 40 Deuce in Hollywood,  who then relocated me to Las Vegas in 2004 to assist with the success of 40 Deuce at Mandalay Bay. Both enabled a certain prestige, which granted me access and an arena to show tastemakers, shotcallers, and deciders what I could do.

Is the art of DJ’ing evolving or devolving in your mind?  How much of your answer has to do with the advent of Serato?

This is a complicated question, the kind of topic that ends up as a seminar course at Stanford in 10 years. It exists equally as le bien et le mal. The upside is that we don’t have to carry the heavy crates of vinyl anymore, we have access to any song at any time, we can play stuff we produced or edited, and we can get more creative much quicker with a few keystrokes. The downside is that Serato has eliminated the incubation period. There was a time that a DJ needed to spend hours in his bedroom honing his craft, hours at the record shop scouring the bins, hours in a nightclub studying what works. Now, somebody buys a laptop, steals mp3s from a friend, and distinguishes the volume levels from the crossfader. Instant rice. No practice, no education, no nothing. Even the competent newjacks are so busy focusing on the soundwaves that they might as well be playing “Guitar Hero.”  Serato is a curse and a blessing. The prestige of a DJ used to be about execution and collection; it’s now become about manipulation. 

A couple years ago, classic rock and hip hop blends got hot in Hollywood clubs, and you were at the forefront.  Do you see anything else like that emerging anytime soon?

It was never about classic rock; It was about good songs, regardless of genre. It took a long time for clubs and crowds to come around and accept that format. Some people call it “mash-up” (a lame and misunderstood term, currently a buzz word for the Wall Street set) but I’ve always called my style “cross-genre.” The ironic thing is that if you were to study the history of DJing, you will find that this is not a new concept! The forefathers–Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Flash, etc–all played rock songs in their sets! And funk and international and electro! If it moved and you could dance to it, they rocked it! It’s that same concept, and many claim to subscribe to it but few actually understand it. In layman’s terms: A good song is a good song, period. And all songs are related in some way. Discover what connects them. Create cohesion.

All of us have their all time favorite things to spin; what’s yours?

I love opportunities to play early 1990’s hip hop. The songs mesh so well together and the musicality was exquisite, where as much of today’s hip hop lack those elements. Even a song like Tim Dog’s “F–k Compton,” which I find to be poorly produced given his associations, is heads above (insert current top 40 hip hop song here). There are many reasons for this, the main one being that rappers now record songs to sell ringtones instead of constructing an album that will survive the test of time, that might be included in a retrospective years from now. That said, both rappers and DJs should make the effort to experience those songs of days gone by, as an architect does not build his own home without studying “De Architectura” by Vitruvius.

What do you feel about the direction of hip hop lately?  Do you think there’s anything bound to be a hip hop classic that’s come out recently?

It’s disposable. That’s my take on it, as well as the forward-thinkers I consort with. It’s unfortunate that an artform that has had an uphill struggle to gain mass acceptance is being decimated by shallow hits with four-syllable hooks, crammed down our throats, every hour on the hour, by the media powers-that-be, ultimately having a negative effect on me nightly as the slew on newly-21-year-old females make their requests. The guys who did their time, and stuck to their guns, they still have the potential to make a classic. It’s like DJing: the ability to assume the forefront is intrinsic or you just do what the last guy did and sell a ringtone or two. I won’t name any songs because it serves no purpose to give them any more shine as they will not even be a footnote in 12 months. But I’m not knocking people’s hustle. We all have to get money. Me, too. Shout out to Primo and Guru, though. Gangstarr. That’s hip hop.

Are there any DJ’s coming up lately that you’re expecting great things from?  Any plans for a Graham Funke protege?

I’ve never had a protege, per se. But I have certainly helped a number of today’s DJs get their career going, even if they don’t like to admit it. I won’t name names. Not yet, anyway. When I started DJing, there wasn’t any money, wasn’t any fame. We did it because we loved it. Any DJ I meet now, I have to question his motivation, find out if he’d still do the job if the mention in “US Weekly” or the Beamer wasn’t an option. This is how I choose who comes into my fold; I have to make sure they “get it.” I have crossed paths with a few in my travels. Off the top of my head, I enjoy the massive potential of Marshall Barnes in Los Angeles, DJ-R in Phoenix, Rick Rude in Boston, and Danny Daze in Miami.

You put out a CD called Trabajo recently, and went on tour to promote it.  Who’s idea was the CD and what inspired it?  Who’s idea was the album art?

I had done some successful promotional mixes in the past and it was time for a new one. Stonerokk, who is my partner in Captains of Industry, had never done a mix CD ever in his life, even though he was in demand around the country. His thought process in creating mixes is pretty complicated so he was against recording them and handing it to other DJs on a silver platter. But the moons were aligned eventually and we set to work making “Trabajo,” which has, to my calculations, usurped anybody else’s claim to “Best of 2008.” Many DJs said they expected more from us, though I’m quick to point out that the CD is not for other DJs; it’s for girls to work out to and club owners to hire us. Nonetheless, if you are an intelligent person, you will realize that there are mixes on the CD that are advanced, from a conceptual standpoint. As for the term “Trabajo,” it simply means “work” in Spanish, and we needed artwork to coincide with that theme. It started out as a simple visualization of the “workman” and somehow, without any discussion between myself and Stonerokk, the project ended up somewhat homo-erotic. Based upon this and the escapades Stonerokk and I enjoyed on the 40-odd city tour, many speculated as to what our orientation was. I’ll say this: regardless of what I do on the clock, I know what I like when I crawl into bed. Ask my girlfriend. Anyway, a new CD will be dropping in Fall. The programming is a bit more obscure and the presentation will change the game once again, as far as the promotional mix CD goes.

10. Finally, where can any turtablelife.com DJ’s that wanted to be awed by turntable artistry find you playing during a given week?

I have a hard time keeping track myself! If anybody is really that interested, they should do what I do and check myspace! I do spend quite a bit of time working in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but I definitely get around. I usually document my findings on my blog www.mustcaheride.com but to see my calander, visist www.myspace.com/grahamfunke

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