“Latvian Connections” on meie uus seeriapostitus, kus Jānis Lipšānsi alias Pikaso tutvustab meile kõike tutvustamist väärivat, mis toimub Läti hiphopis. Pikaso hingab, köhib, elab sealset hiphopi kultuuri. Värsked artistid, albumid, filmid, üritused – kõik see, mis on meile nii lähedal, ent ometi nii kaugel. Estonian-Latvian connections, baby!
Hardly a day off, but a lot of people rushing to the theatre. We sneak through the backdoor of one of the most distinguished theatres in Riga, shortly crossing paths with the man himself – the director of The New Riga Theatre – Alvis Hermanis, and then head on upstairs. As we search for a suitable place to crash, we end up in this little room stuffed with all sorts of requisites, but it feels comfortable. At one point during the interview I hear Oleg humbly speaking his mind over a question asked, “…I never really had a proper interview before… where I would be asked all these kinds of questions…”
Hereby, I give you one of the most distinguished DJs from Riga, Latvia representing what’s worth playing music for – Dj Legz.
Give me a sense of how and when you picked up the needle for starters?
It was DJ Krii at Xtreme events around the end of the 90s. I would see him behind the decks doing his thing – that really made me go “Hey, what is that?” Of course the scratching technique, all the unknown to me at that time. Earlier on, all that incubation period at home was about listening only to hip-hop, collecting CDs, cassettes, recording my own mixes together with friends. But nothing too serious, until I saw Krii at one of those Xtreme events, and I thought to myself, “damn, this can be done also in Latvia!”
Speaking of Xtreme – it’s not about extreme type of music, I assume, even if it’s something alternative – the spirit of freedom of some sort…
Yeah, so-called extreme sports i.e. skateboarding and so on, those were popular, and that is where I spotted Krii. I also remember seeing Gustavo (Gustavo n.k.a. Arstarulsmirus) from the rap group Fact on another occasion in Sigulda where he was playing vinyl, and that made it even more appealing. So, I was saving money till I finally could afford to buy my first vinyl decks and Krii became like my first master, who inspired me in DJing. I even scratch in reverb as he does – there are normal people and then there is me and Krii in reverb [laughing] – he taught me that. But from the musical aspect I guess it is really up to one’s personal taste.
Should we reminisce of music from back in the days and what You would start the set with back then? Who where your first musical influencers?
It was around year 89-90 when I came over to Riga to pay a visit to my grandmother and I switched on the TV and there was this broadcast “Braun presents: MTV Top20“, that shaving gear for men Braun [laughing], but it was still the Soviet Union at that time, with first appearances of MTV, you know. And that is when I got a glimpse of Public Enemy on TV and my reaction to that was, “What the fuck was that?!?” I mean, dudes with fucking clocks hanging down their necks… To a Soviet Union citizen growing up in a grey society, I mean, my grandma had that clock-work up on the wall, but these dudes wore them on their necks!?
But I wouldn’t say they were my favorite group. I liked House of Pain at that time, boom-bap, the hard knocks. Naughty by Nature. I found the truth of it by coming across DJ Premiere with Gangstarr over some hiphop they were playing on channel VIVA.
Tell me more about your approach and mentality towards DJing.
In a standard scenario I would be at least 2 hours behind the decks every day practicing. Mandatory. I would come home after work and hit that routine. My fingers and hands ought to be trained to remember the moves just like the fingers of a violin or guitar player. I wouldn’t get concerned about parties and relaxing because that is where I was to come play music. I must admit I have not been practicing that much now, but I kind of compensate with experience. My approach is more of a freestyle, I never have my set ready beforehand or have vinyl lined up in order for the particular night. At times it could get a bit messy, but for me it is the freedom of being able to improvise and play what I really feel like playing at that given moment.
Is there a musical background in your family?
Absolutely none. It all came through my own calling and experiences. See, my dad is Russian and he would have those old style vinyls. I would play a lot from “Кино” (an iconic Soviet post-punk band) and other music. He did not have pop music. It was all alternative. I just liked music and I would put it on replay. That is where I would get a sense of “must have physical copy on me” – something that is mine, so that I could always come back to it whenever my memories would play a trick on me or I’d get that calling.
There’s no academic type of musical education behind you and it’s been pure self-taught evolvement fed by love for music…
Pretty much! The funny thing is that I am sending my daughter to music school and trying to pick it up from her these days.
Alright, and when did you realize that you can get paid by DJing?
To really get paid and earn a living by DJing here in Latvia – it would mean just replaying stuff non-stop 4 days a week. That’s how you lose your touch with music. Jukebox. Earning so you can survive. This type of approach is unnatural to me. It’s better when I get 2-3 events a month and I do it with pleasure and excitement. Not to be pressured, and I don’t have to push it. To the most part I had DJ AG to set up gigs for me wherever it was possible and that was very humbling. I appreciated that and I would get my little income on a regular basis, but I never wanted for it to become my main occupation. Never allow yourself to get caught up in boredom, try to balance it out, no sinking in a routine with it.
Which brings us here – to a theater! Now, I understand music being an essential part of a theatre, but hiphop is not your usual theatre genre, so how did you land here, for how long have you been working here and what have you been doing?
Back in 2004 friends called me to come and help. For two months I worked as a stage crew member pretty much dealing with stuff like moving decorations around. Not a fan of that job honestly, but then I heard one of the guys from sound engineers was to leave and I figured I’d come front and propose myself as a DJ, who had the knowledge to compliment the vacancy. Not sure if a lot of people know this, but actually it was DJ All-Viss, whom I happened to exchange that position with. So one might discover rather interesting facts about your favorite DJs if you dare to ask! [laughing] And there I was, started working as a sound engineer, and I even got a part as a DJ in one play. AG & Raitis had made music for a play called ‘LV‘ directed by Andrejs Jarovojs – I had to do some beat juggling and scratching on top of music. It has been twelve years now…
As a DJ, you are the director of the evening. How would you describe what it is that you do with the listener?
I get a sense of the aura in each place and that is what it is – there are places where it is dark and dirty, which dictates your repertoire and then again it depends on the money I get for the evening, so I just get that job done and get going. Then there are places where I really feel the bright aura – the vibe is light and I get to play whatever I like. The “7 funk records, basically to give them positive vibrations is what I am up for.
DJing as a culture and with respect to vinyl, how important is it to you to keep that thing going, to sustain the movement?
I would say these days we are trying to explore, expand with it. Develop rather than trying to survive. Say, people returning to DJing on vinyl nowadays – I see our friend Ozols coming back to it and really doing this thing – making an effort by carrying vinyl to play. It is hard to argue with hard drives and file sharing vs vinyl, but might as well get packed with those “7, “5 records and make it happen.
In context of hip-hop, DJs were the ones who used to produce beats for rappers to spit on – have you done any?
There was a time when me, Krii and Emīls were making something. I was working at an advertising agency at that time and we would record stuff after work – smoke some and make recordings every single night. That was some dope shit coming out, but there are only 2-3 left and the rest was just somehow accidently deleted. Yet, it was not exactly me making the beats on my own, but I am going to try to become better musically now that my daugter is attending music school – pick up on that knowledge of harmonies and composition.
And who could you refer to as someone to look up to producer-wise?
As someone who grew up in the 90s, I got love for that boom bap sound, I have to give it to the golden era – DJ Premier, Lord Finesse, 45King. Then again, with the 21st century a different sound was introduced – Madlib and J Dilla were just wow. I mean, so much soul and jazz in it. Hi-Tek. There are French guys, Hocus Pocus with 20Syl as their producer. If we are talking nowadays, I hit Soundcloud or Bandcamp all the time, because there is so much good music. I am open to all sorts of genres. Well, maybe except metal, that’s simply not for me.
What are you up to?
Going to New York soon – the mecca of hip-hop – we are staging our Baryshnikov / Brodsky production
I leave, being stuck in a transition for there is so much more I would want to ask about the theater. I mean, there is so much more to the dimensions of the art of sound, though I cannot get enough of those good old soulful vinyl sets that make you appreciate music and what it all started from. Legz maintains both and you can’t blame him – it keeps him going.
Take a look at DJ Legz doings from here: