Saturday, 30 November 2013

Your Substitute Teacher is: Dj Splattermonkey

Jimmy Smith - Root Down [Verve]
Jerry Van Rooyen - The Great Bank Robbery [Crippled]
Odell Brown & The Organ-izers - Mirar Mirar [Cadet]
Al Hirt - Honey Pot [RCA Victor]
John Klemer - Free Soul [Chess]
Charles Kynard - Boogalooin' [Prestige]
James Brown - Ain't It Funky [King]
Sergio Mendes & Brasil 77 - Superstition [Bell]
Charles Kynard - Reelin' With The Feelin' [Prestige]
Lorez Alexandria - Baltimore Oriole [Discovery]
Jimmy Smith - Got My Mojo Workin' [Verve]
Jack McDuff - The Heatin' System [Argo]

Download Link

On a wan Sunday, as families huddled on street corners in anticipation of Santa Claus parading down Bloor Street, I had the pleasure of spending a cozy afternoon inside my favourite coffee shop/record store, Sublime Cafe, rappin' about music with Toronto soul selector, Mike Luke a.k.a. Dj Splattermonkey. 


HH: Let’s start by talking about your wildly successful Shindig parties. It's a theme night – namely 50s and 60s rock n roll, blues and soul. But you also do theme nights inside the theme night, like a Girl Group night, or a Beach Party or Motown vs Stax. Do you have a theme that you like doing or are you more interested in the classic Shindig night?

SM: I think, personally, I’m more interested in the classic night. We do the themes for draw. It’s also fun to explore those themes. But I prefer the classic night. It gives me the chance to introduce people to the raw, raw early rock n roll sound, the Little Richard stuff.

You’re known for digging for your music. You don’t play Top 40 or flash-in-pan dance music. You’re more into the golden oldies and obscure groove stuff. With that in mind, would you comment on this excerpt from a recent Vice Magazine article - which you may have read - titled “Hey, Fuck You, Dj.” 

Oh boy.

The author bemoans:

"LCD. This is your audience. It stands for Lowest Common Denominator. You are Djing for drunks and cokeheads, and they need the aural equivalent of safety blankets….I used to spend all my time collection the rarest tracks, stuff that when I heard it at home it would totally blow my mind. Guess what? No one cared. In fact, they stopped dancing. Now I stick to playing stuff that I liked when I was a teenager (the Misfits, “OPP,” and songs from John Hughes movies) and I’m golden. When in doubt, go nostalgic."

I would never disrespect my audience that much. Ever. I don’t think of anyone as being the lowest common denominator. I know we’re all intelligent people. Sometimes people are inebriated and stupid. And that’s fine. The going nostalgic thing: that’s why we pepper in as much stuff as we think people know. The Motown hits, the Stax hits. Mustang Sally. That’s a requested song for any deejay. And we just happen to not need a request to play it because we know it’s going to fill the dance floor.

Would you say that you play more classics with obscure stuff peppered in or more obscure stuff with classics peppered in.

The fantasy was to pepper in the hits and play mostly obscure stuff but we quickly learned that’s not a good idea. It’s better to pepper in the obscure stuff. We like to educate but we don’t want to hammer people over the head.

I actually changed the way I deejayed. It’s so typical to start off a night - especially at a house music party - to start off cool, calm, obscure house set. That’s the perfect opening set.  But in this genre that’s suicide. If we start playing the cool, calm, obscure stuff we used to at the beginning of the night it just becomes that much harder to reel people onto the dance floor. Now we go: hit, hit, hit, hit, hit, until they can’t take it anymore. And now here’s something to cool you off.

Every deejaying has more than his or her fair share of gig horror stories. But what’s the best party you ever played? Don’t be modest. It can be one of your own parties.

I wish it were. I really do. But the best party I ever played was Double Barrel in Ottawa. It was a perfect storm. The promoters throw the party at the Ottawa Jail. It’s a hostel now. When the weather is bad they do the party inside. It’s a small venue about the size this [coffee shop]. When the weather is good they do it outside in the square, which is where they used to do public hangings. It’s a big square.  Holds about 300 people. There were about 250 there that night. It was July and if it were hot it would have been a nightmare because there’s no air circulation because the walls are so high. But it was a perfect cool night. 

I had the set I wanted to play and the set I probably would end up playing here [in Toronto]. I did a quick opening set and played a bunch of Stax hits to warm them up. Then Alex and Scott [Dj Magnificent and Dj Bjorn Late] took over and I was watching the crowd and they were playing obscure Northern Soul. They were going all over the place. No big hits. Big hits to me but not to most people. And I’m watching people sing along to old Parliaments records and I’m thinking “Whaaaat the fuck? This is amazing!” And Scott played some reggae and ska, which is part of their format. So I just played everything I wanted. And the crowd just went nom, nom, nom. [That’s the sound of people eating it all up].

That was by far the best gig I ever played. I didn’t even have to bat an eye or think what to play next. I knew exact what I’m going to play next. I’d heard good things about Ottawa. It was good to experience that.

Tell us a little bit about Bruckbeat Radio. It was on CKLN for nine years. It’s now on Regent Radio. Has the transition from one station to the other had an impact? Changed the format? Do you have more opportunities? Fewer? 

It’s Dj Dialect’s show. I don’t try to take over too much. I’m not selfish on that show. I play what I think fits with the formula that was around for eight years before I got there. I let Dialect handle the majority of the programming. I bring tunes to him when I’ve got them. And if I know he’ll dig them and they fit with the format -- which is an open format show but it’s [focused on] new music that’s soulful.

That show really got me into techno. I used to hate techno. I liked some stuff, like Moonstarr’s stuff and some Detroit techno. But that show really changed my mind.

How did you first get involved with Bruckbeat Radio?

Through Professor Fingers, who was known on the radio as Vision. I met him. I was really into turntablism. He’s a turntablist. He’s also in the experimental electronic group iNSiDEaMiND. I went to see them a couple of times. I met them, we hit it off and I became friends with them. He had to miss a [Bruckbeat] show and asked if I’d like to spin a guest set. I met Dialect – who I knew about. I knew about PTR Records, the show.  It was great. I got to meet Dialect and deejay on his show. And then I just kept coming back. I would just show up every Monday and hang out, listen to some tunes. Then they were like, “Okay Mike. You’re obviously passionate about this. We’ll give you a shot.”

What’s your greatest digging story? Maybe a time when you found one of those must-have records from your list. Maybe you completed a set.

I’m not a completist. But good record buying? Pittsburgh. I fell to the floor the first time I saw Jerry’s 45 collection. I just got into 45s at the time. They had five, twenty-foot-high shelves, double-sided full of 45s. Mostly soul.

Good prices?

Good prices. They were priced for what they were worth. The U.S. is where you find beat up used records. We’re blessed here in Toronto for finding clean copies of stuff. That [pointing to a record on the cafe's sale wall] is priced at $24 not just because it’s a somewhat rare record but because it’s clean. You don’t find that in the US. Jerry’s was digging through dirt to find clean stuff but everything was priced fairly.

That’s what I like about the US. I can go and drop a couple of bills and come home with a big stack and feel like I’ve accomplished something. Even if there’s a scratch on this one and that one. It’s still a good way to dig, to educate yourself.

Is there a record on your Holy Grail list that keeps eluding you? A record you’ve been looking for since day one but just can’t find?

It’s all original stuff. I’ve found them. I just couldn’t afford them. Actually! I found it: JimmySmith’s Root Down. That record eluded me for ten years.

Where did you find it?

Ian at June Records bought it at a record sale, brought it back [to the store]. I knew there was a record sale that day but I wasn’t going. I was just going to stop into June to say hello. And I walked in just as he was pulling out the haul. I saw the record and asked, “How much you want for that?” Ian said, “Oh yeah, I just found this. Thought you might be into this.” 

There are few things, now that I’m thinking about it. Curtis/Live! I still don’t have a good original copy of that.

What’s your take on buying records online, on eBay instead of putting in your time at the brick and mortar stores?

Putting in the time is a good way to save money. But then you’ve put in the time. And time is money. Either way, it just works out. 

Do you try to find stuff locally but sometimes you have to go online because you have to have a record? Or do you find that there’s enough good stuff locally that you don’t obsess about finding stuff online?

I like the experience of hanging out in record stores. Socializing with people in stores. I prefer that to researching online, checking Youtube. That’s just so impersonal. I’m not meeting anybody. I see stuff on eBay but I’d rather talk to that seller about that record.

While I ordered a second round of coffee, I decided to conduct a conversational experiment. I asked Splattermonkey to pick out two records from the crates at Sublime: one unknown record that caught his eye and a record that he would highly recommend. 

He pulled Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon and Jimmy Smith’s GotMy Mojo Working, respectively.

HH: [Re: The Sermon] That’s an interesting record. It’s one of the first Blue Notes where they used an entire side for a song. It’s one of the first records to exploit the twelve-inch format in its entirety. I think it’s also one of the first greasy organ records that Blue Note put out. It was really successful and they used its popularity to fill their stables with similar artists.

SM:...It’s dedicated to Horace Silver...I’m glad you told me that. Jimmy Smith and James Brown are my two favourite organ players. It’s weird to say that because people don’t think of James Brown as being a really good organ player.

And the other record I picked was another Jimmy Smith. [Laughs]

What’s special about that particular Jimmy Smith [Re: Got My Mojo Working]?

It’s a jazzman doing blues. And it’s Jimmy’s voice. He doesn’t sing very often at all. I don’t know if he ever sang on a recording before this record. [On this album] he sings “High Heel Sneakers,” “Got My Mojo Working,” and his voice is just rough. He’s like Leonard Cohen with attitude. Kind of like Tom Waits but not as over-the-top. Because he’s a jazz guy he’s chill. And I’d never heard Jimmy Smith’s voice before this record…and the drums…and everything about it blew me away the first time I heard it. It’s a jazzman doing blues. I like that.

Your bio says that you spin mostly: soul, funk and rhythm 'n' blues but that your collection includes: jazz, ska, reggae, afro beat, tropicalia, hip hop, funky breaks, house, electro house, booty house, deep house, future funk, broken beat, drum and bass, jungle and dubstep. 
Are there any genres that you'd like to start collecting but haven't? Is there a reason why?

Those later ones: the dubstep and booty house, those are guilty pleasures. I just bought them for fun.

I’ve got a lot of Dj Funk records, so I’m feeling you on the booty house.

With the direction of my deejay career at the time, I didn’t know where it was going. I was just trying to stay relevant: booking gigs, doing all sorts of different stuff. I bought those records for that. And for keeping an open mind.

Are there any genres you would like to get into but haven’t? I only recently got into buying hip-hop and reggae because I knew that once I started I was in trouble. First you have to catch up on your classics, then you have to find the obscure stuff. And you only have so much money and so much shelf space. If you play records, you have to be selective about what you buy.

I guess I’d like to get into techno. I know nothing about it. Only what I’ve heard through Dialect and from Jay (his roommate, General Eclectic). I don’t know if I’m afraid to step into that realm but some people would be shocked if they heard I was buying techno records. They'd say, “He was the anti-techno guy for so long!” But you can’t say that. Never dismiss an entire genre because of a few things you don’t like. Especially mainstream stuff you don’t like. There are really cheesy elements of every genre and there are also really good, deep elements to every genre.

The next question is a follow up to our discussion about collecting and having limited resources and space. On the NPR music blog there was a recent article by Stephen Thompson titled The Good Listener: Is There TooMuch Music? And in it he answers an email query from a music journalist named Casey Smith. So I’m going to put to you the question that Smith puts to Thompson:

"Sometimes, I just want to take a break from it all: stop buying all the records, stop making all the playlists, stop going to all the shows, stop constantly hunting down new music and new artists, and just sit in silence. Because once this music thing becomes your hobby — and for me now, my profession — it can be really overwhelming, especially now that I can stream almost any album ever. 

"It's funny, because the feeling of being overwhelmed by music seems a lot like the feeling you get when you're being overwhelmed by love: It doesn't feel like, on the surface, a bad thing. But is it? Do you know how many times I've listened to an album once, said, 'Man, that was an amazing album,' and never listened to it again? And here I am, feeling like The Boy Who Cried Great Album, because every week or so, a new record comes around that captivates me. But it is rare that I give these albums proper second listens, and hardly ever do I go back for thirds or fourths.

"My question is: How much is too much? I am a firm believer in quality over quantity, but I lose sleep at night fearing that I'm going to miss something. But am I really missing something bigger by not spending more time with less music?"

How much is too much? I don’t really worry about missing out on stuff anymore.

It’s funny, Jay and I were talking and he’s a little bit into astrology and he was picking apart the fact that we’re both Virgos. We have this urge to organize, categorize and we can get really OCD about things. And – if you believe in this stuff and I’m not sure that I do – I have a double Virgo sign, moon and sun, so I have to overcome double the urge to be like that. I could be this weird guy who does math equations all day or analyzes and organizes and obsesses over records all the time, but my dad socialized me really well through sports.

I’m constantly telling myself to let things go. And I do take breaks. I’m taking a break. The first two years of Shindig I was spending $--- a month on records, or more. In the last year it's down to $10.

Is that because your collection is now complete and you don’t have to spend that kind of money?

Not even. It’s just: how much is too much? If I keep going deeper into this thing I might end up alienating the crowd anyway. I have the tunes that I need to keep this thing going. Now I’m just buying little things from time to time. Stuff that’s interesting. But I’m not obsessing over the collection because if I did I would be eating dirt. You can’t own everything. You shouldn’t. Just be grateful for what you have. Let go of your desires and concentrate on what you need.

I used to be obsessive about comic books. I had to own every Amazing Spiderman. Had to, had to, had to. It got bad. I learned to let go of that before I started collecting records. And with records, it wasn’t so much about the collecting as I wanted to have a record so I could pull it out to listen to later. It was a need to surround myself with good music.
Speaking of surrounding oneself with good music, what’s in store for your Substitute Teacher’s mix?

I think I’m going to go back to jazz-funk-fusion. When I first started deejaying, it was hip-hop. The golden era, early 90s stuff that I grew up with through high school got me into the jazz-funk.

Sample chasing?

Exactly. I started sample chasing, heavy, when I first started to collect records. That’s what it was all about for me. And that led me to stuff that wasn’t sampled but should have been.

I haven’t made a mix of that stuff in so long, even though I’ve still been building that collection.

So we’re going back into your history.

The early days.

With that Splattermonkey was off to sell a copy of The Pioneers’“Papa Was A RollingStone” to a Kensington Market local.  

But you can catch him every last Friday of the month at The Piston (937 Bloor St W) for Shindig!  

Also be on the lookout for the Shindig Skating Party at the Harbourfront Natrel Ice Rink on December 28, 2013.  

You can also here him on Radio Regent’s Bruckbeat Radio every Monday at 9:30 pm and on the Dj Splattermonkey Mixcloud page everyday.


In an ironic twist of fate – given the presence of two deejays and the fact that Mike is an audio-video technician by profession – my recording device malfunctioned for the initial portion of the interview. So I’ll leave it to you to introducer yourself to Splattermonkey the next time you see him and ask him yourself for the story behind his moniker. Just don’t ask him about any of the deejay names he had before Splattermonkey.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

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