For his new album, Mix Master Mike conjured up frightening figures like vampires, villains, monsters — and television sitcom families.
Bangzilla, the October 19 release from the Beastie Boys' resident DJ, is a collection of samples and clips from popular TV shows, movies and songs that are mashed up, sliced up and tossed onto a backdrop of 1950s horror-flick instrumentals, supported by steady beats.
The product of three years spent in and out of the studio, Bangzilla opens with a typical score used in old thrillers to signal the approach of a villain, then shifts seamlessly into the melody used for the entrance of the film's hero. A soft voice says, "Begin," and the 13-track album charges out with scratches, pops, beeps, squeaks and a collage of samples and sounds, including the frequent plea of one famous TV mom: "Mike, do something!"
"You know, I have so many ideas going through my head every day," Mike said. "This was like a stop and start process. I would make a beat and put it away, make another beat and put that away. And so I had this map of different beats. I just had to figure out a way to color them in and strategically place them in their right order."
Still, Mike said, when the samples were in place and the album was finally completed, he knew immediately.
"I guess when all the parts and all the moves and all the segues fit together as a puzzle, you just know," he said. "You know by listening to it what it needs and what's left to do. I just felt like there was nothing left to do, and I felt like this is it. I finally exorcised it out of myself."
That structure, though highly planned, is subtly hidden from the listener, who is pulled through a tunnel of sound with windows opening on either side into clips from old shows, movies and soundtracks. Rather than simply cutting and pasting from archived pop culture, Mike takes the samples apart and slips them into the folds of a spooky backdrop, adding alternating fast and faster beats to move the listener deftly through the album.
"The art of sampling," he said, "is if you're going to use it, you have to flip it your own way where it's your own composition. So a lot of the stuff I use on this album is stuff I made a point to make unrecognizable. I kind of compose to decompose. Gotta be a ninja of the art."
That artistic ability helped Mike win the lifetime achievement award from the International Turntablist Federation and notoriety in the turntablist community. The DJ has spent years honing his skills and cultivating his style, from his time with his turntablist crew, Invisibl Skratch Piklz, to his work with the Beastie Boys, whom he met in the late 1990s and collaborated with on Hello Nasty and To the 5 Boroughs.
"I met Adam [Yauch] at a rock anniversary back in '97," Mike said. "We exchanged numbers and addresses and stuff. I used to send him DJ battles. When he wasn't home, I'd leave him these 'scratch' messages: 'Yo, Adam, check this out — the first banana scratch, twig scratch.' That pretty much set it off. That phone call. It sparked the journey for me and them to be together."
Mike has been in the mixing business for more than a decade, and his fourth album shows that he's confident of his role within the scene. Sound bites like "There can be one man rising above," "He's got the whole world in his hands," and "You are the man who has come back to lead us — you must know what to do" are found throughout the album.
"I would say, yeah, I'm probably the last of the Mohicans, doin' what I'm doin'," he said. "There's a fine line in [transforming] yourself from a DJ to a musician. I've been fortunate to do both."