As a veteran in the west coast underground scene, taste maker DJ and a member of the beloved hip hop group Jurassic 5, DJ Nu-Mark needs very little introduction amongst those in the know. His DJ "toy sets" are a thing of legend in the community and he continues to push the boundaries of live performance. We recently caught up with Uncle Nu about his development as a DJ and life on the road. Enjoy
What was growing up in LA like? What part of the city are you from?
I grew up in North Hollywood, CA. I enjoyed Los Angeles growing up because they took music, art and culture very serious especially during the birth of Hip Hop, New Wave and the Electro / Freestyle era.
When did you first get involved in music? Did your folks play music around the house?
I don't really come from a musical family. I heard my that my grandfather played the concertina but aside from that there wasn't much music in my family. My mother was also a belly dancer....but traditional Persian music didn't appeal to me as a kid. I started playing drums seriously around 12 years old in Junior High. At that age I was trying to mimic rock drums from AC/DC and Rush etc..
When did you discover hip hop? At what point did you decide you wanted to be a DJ?
When I was in my jazz band class in junior high, my best friend Chris Cooke was a bassist. We use to go back to his house after school and watch his uncle DJ. His uncle would bring all the records from New York and make us mix tapes to break to. Once I saw his uncle dj, I was officially hooked. From that point I started collecting records, bought turntables and when High School rolled around I was doing 2-3 house parties a weekend while working at Carvel Ice Cream.
When did you first meet the guys from Jurassic 5? How you first get involved in the group?
I met the majority of the group at a club called Rat Race in Los Angeles. It was a night set up to let Mc's freestyle over a live band. I was the resident DJ. Cut Chemist, Chali 2na and Marc 7 came through to perform and I hit it off with them right away. They were a group called Unity Committee. Rebels of Rhythm was Akil and Soup who had already met Unity Committee at The Good Life. So J5 is two groups formed as one plus me.
What was the underground scene like in LA around that time?
Truly thriving! There were endless possibilities for groups and solo acts. At one point it seemed like all the local heroes were getting major label deals around us. The Good Life was one of the many catalyst helping artist here in L.A. That era encouraged skill, vocabulary, music selection, crate digging, fashion and over all crews that embodied a good show.
How was it going from an indy underground background to getting signed to a major label (Interscope Records)?
Well, that was also the era of "keep it real" and "no sell out". Some people got those theories twisted and thought that being signed meant selling out. Was always confusing for me....If I open a store full of records, my dream is to sell out of my records. The jump to Interscope was detrimental to J5's career because we had already sold 200,000 records independently so it was time to nurture our brand with music videos, distribution, publicity and promotion. We weren't hell bent on "keeping it real"....we were set on being ourselves. Grass don't try to grow.
You just got off tour with J5, how long were you on the road? How often are you on the road solo?
J5 just did a European tour and a U.S. tour back to back (a little over 2 months straight). We toured before that in Australia as well for a month. I DJ a lot but I prefer to do spot dates here and there to keep it fresh. The Toy Set has kept me busy when I'm not with J5.
Do you guys live on the bus? What is the key to packing for a tour like that?
Yeah, we live on the bus and get hotels from time to time depending on off days. We have a room every night to shower in or we can shower at the venue since we're playing bigger rooms lately. The key to packing is filling the suitcase with as many socks and underwear as possible. A large suitcase and smaller day bag is really important too.
Can you describe how some of the turntable instruments you and Cut Chemist use on the road became a part of the show?
Once the toy set came alive, I wanted to bring a large visual DJ element to the stage since prior to that the elements we used were always small. I thought it would be dope for Cut and I to perform with necklace based instruments like the drum machine, record chain 808 and portable turntable. Some of this we performed in 2003 and now we're kind of remixing these ideas. One major part of our DJ routine is a 5 Foot Diameter Turntable that is operational. It took about 3 months for the set designer to finish it but my vision is here and operational finally!!
When did you first start using toys in a DJ set? How has that evolved over the years?
I started using a toy called music blocks in our old DJ routine around 2004. After the group disbanded in 2006, I was a bit confused as to what I wanted to do as an artist. It was at that point that I decided to fill the entire stage with children's musical toys and wire them into my DJ rig.
Are you still looking for records? Craziest record find?
I'm always looking for records but I don't always look for the most collectable records. The records I choose are chosen because I know that I can make use of them in my production or on stage. I don't really have a craziest find....I was pretty happy to find my 45 of Eddie Bo "We're Doing It"...but now I think nothing of it, I liked finding my 45 of Kourosh Yaghamaei....but since I've sampled it....I'm looking for something else. Don't know, I'm mostly happy when I'm hunting for something new.
What interests you musically these days?
I'm getting more and more into Middle Eastern, Latin and South American music. So much to learn and the instrumentation shows no compromise.
What is your production set up looking like?
Working with Maschine, Ableton Live and my Technics Turntables. Seems to be the weapons of choice. I love Protools for mixing my finished songs.
Where do you see the music industry headed?
Well, I feel like its already gone? There's no real budgets for any genre outside of Pop?? I just feel like the only way to fly is through an indie.
What excites you in a DJ set? What makes a good DJ great?
Energy....all selected songs should have a certain energy embedded in them. Tempo doesn't mean anything anymore to me. I like watching DJ's transition in key and on time with the energy of the entire set building as the set progresses. Doesn't matter the genre of music for me now.
Any advice for the next generation of DJ's?
Yeah, DJs. Stop following these other douche bags that press a button that automatically beat matches the songs, use your brain and be yourself. Express something from YOUR SOUL not the next man's.
What's next for you?
I just finished the Slimkid3 (of Pharcyde) & DJ Nu-Mark album set to drop September 9th on Delicious Vinyl. Our first single is called "Bouillon" and features Del (Hieroglyphics) and Murs (Living Legends). Here's the free download link.
Our latest single is called "Bom Bom Fiya." Please support us on our new adventure and thanks for having me!! Album comes out September 9th!!!!