Getting Perpendicular with
“Being experimental is talking about change, and change isn’t moving parallel with what’s going on at the moment. Change is about being perpendicular.” So says DJ Vadim, a hip hop artist on the Ninja Tune label who’s ignoring barriers, genres, and the fickle whims of electronic music headz to produce the dope shit his way. If you’ve had a chance to listen to Vadim’s music, you already know that he’s at a right angle with the world of mainstream hiphop. Informed by obscure beats, strange noise, and a constant desire to innovate, Vadim creates sounds that reward the listener whose ears are open to the future. But even though Vadim’s music is forward-looking, an enriching sense of history pervades his tracks, bringing back the inspiration of the old school.
After the release of his latest CD, USSR Reconstructions, DJ Vadim will be coming to the Southeast in mid-April, as a part of the Ninja Tune Funkungfusion Tour. Appearing with him will be the Herbalizer, Chocolate Weasel, Neotropic, and local DJs that will vary from city to city. Funkungfusion will come to New Orleans on April 11th, Gainesville on the 12th, Miami on the 14th, Orlando on the 15th, and Atlanta on the 16th. The tour will feature the famous Ninja Tune sound that specializes in “left-of-center hip hop, jazz, and funk.” After a recent phone conversation with Vadim (a DJ whose name really is his name!), I found that the thoughtfulness one hears in his music extends to the man himself.
Born in Russia, Vadim moved to England around the age of four. Although a British citizen, his upbringing in a different culture seems to have influenced his music. Vadim relates, “because I am Russian, I feel less compelled to conform to the values given by the music industry in this country, maybe more so than if I was English. I don’t feel I have to respect tradition or heritage.” You can clearly hear this lack of tradition in his music. Beats are woven together piece by piece in a sophisticated funk; crackling noises from records, live instruments, and sources too obscure to figure out are added to complement the mix. You can almost sink into the depth of sound, not from layer upon layer of simple loops, but from the aural brilliance that results from careful crafting.
In electronic music circles, Vadim’s kind of downtempo, intricate, grooves tend to get slapped with the triphop label. Yet despite his experimental side, Vadim’s music remains part of the hip hop tradition that spans back at least 20 years. Back in the day, DJs would cut up records into their constituent breakbeats, releasing new sounds that hitherto had remained dormant in the old vinyl. Always trying to one-up each other, DJs would search for the most obscure tracks possible to vanquish others in battles of originality. “The breakbeat is important, and if that’s what hip hop is, then that’s what I’m trying to do, ’cause I’m trying to find original breakbeats, original sounds, and the whole manipulation of the beat… if you dig below the surface and look at soundtracks, classical music, reggae, and a lot of obscure records that never made it anywhere, there’s a whole wealth of sound yet to be discovered.” Vadim says.
Vadim takes pride in the fact that his music is created not by lifting large segments from previously popular songs (as the commercial rap producers are wont to do), but by painstakingly creating new breakbeats by sampling their individual components. “Every kick, snare, high hat, roll, it’s all from separate records, and I spend a hell of a lot of time around the world hunting for drum breaks that haven’t been used,” he says. Claiming that the looping techniques of Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa are old technologies, Vadim points out that a lot of breakbeat-oriented (i.e. hip hop, drum n’ bass, etc.) groups “are not doing very much with breakbeats because all they’re doing is buying sample CDs of old James Brown loops, Kool & The Gang loops, looping them — in the case of drum n’ bass — just looping them at twice the speed, and it goes around. . . . We’ve got to move on from that.” It is because of his drive to push hip hop forward, rather than take it off on another track entirely, that Vadim allies himself more closely with turntablist scratch DJs such as the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, DJ Krush, and Cut Chemist rather than the whole “triphop” genre.
Nevertheless, Vadim seems to have grander plans in mind. Claiming that his currently small discography doesn’t begin to represent his skills, Vadim says that people are going to have to wait to really find out his true musical nature. “When I come out with my future releases, they’ll see that what I’m trying to do is create my own form, my own genre where I have rapping, I have poetry, I have spoken word, I have scratching, I have instrumental tracks, and the thing that pulls everything together is the beats.” Until then, we can only speculate about what DJ Vadim has in store for the future.