Mix Master Mike says things have been going surprisingly well as an opening act on Guns N' Roses' tour. Only once did it look like he'd have to use his deftness to dodge flying objects.
"There were some skeptical earthlings out there, and they had to be converted," the Beastie Boys DJ said of the crowd in Seattle at the start of the tour. "At first it was tough, but it only took five minutes. I just showed them that I'm here to have a good time, but also to make them have a good time and show them something they've never seen before."
Mike's scratching style is fluid but frantic, and his grooves pulse with slammin' beats and humorous samples, which he warps, cuts up and transforms into a vortex of unearthly sounds. To some, he's a bridge between the stuttering beats of DJ hip-hop and the visceral punch of hard rock.
His soundscapes are filled with enough percussive flair to thrill the Beasties and enough bombast to satisfy Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose, who personally invited Mike to open Guns' U.S. tour along with metal band CKY.
"Big respect to Axl for noticing and recognizing DJs are actually musicians in their own right and we can open up arenas," Mike said Thursday before heading to Madison Square Garden to play for a decidedly rock 'n' roll house.
Mike said he's stoked about performing for such large crowds, but he's just as excited about being able to showcase his music for people who know nothing about DJ culture.
"I'm up for challenges," he said. "To this day, not enough people know what scratching is. So I'm on a mission to convert people and let them know what's going on.
"Rock musicians have their guitars. These are our guitars right here," he added, pointing to a pair of turntables.
Mike has been spinning as a solo artist since 1996, but Rose discovered him earlier this year after viewing the movie "Scratch," an independent film about the art and history of DJing and hip-hop.
"He saw my parts in the movie and got inspired," Mike said. "He actually came to one of my shows, and then his manager called my manager and got it all formulated."
To vibe with rock audiences, Mike alters his style by tossing in passages by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and other artists the fans are familiar with.
"I'll juggle some stuff they know, but I'll make sure I manipulate it in a way they've never heard before so they go, 'Well, this ain't the way we know it, but we enjoy it.' Like, I'll take a Zeppelin record and decompose it and cut it up."
When Mike finishes the Guns tour, he'll likely enter the studio with the Beastie Boys to work on their sixth studio album, but right now he's keeping tight-lipped (see "Beastie Boys Begin Work On New LP ... Finally").
"It's pretty top-secret stuff," he said. "We are getting ready. We're stirring the pot. And hopefully next year something will be cooked up."
In addition to working with the Beasties, Mike will finish up his next solo album, the follow-up to this year's Return of the Cyklops.
"It's gonna be crazy," he said. "It's gonna have heavier-driven beats [than Cyklops]. [It's gonna be] a more out-of-this-world and psychedelic type of what-the-hell-is-this? type music. It's music for the years and centuries to come."