- Posted April 14, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Photo essays: Your stories in pictures
A Life to the Beat
A Life to the Beat
We're at my studio in St. Paul on a Sunday afternoon, and DJ Naughty Boyy has started to relax a little. We've been chatting about nothing in particular for about twenty minutes. I'm moving lights and shooting tests while we do this, and then, gradually, we both start to change gears as the first setup comes together and we really get to working.
Bang. The strobes start popping and we're off.
“I'm thinking of moving away from dance music,” he tells me. DJ Naughty Boyy has a sideline career as a recording artist, Tori Fixx. He has eight albums under his belt, another about to hit. Its one of the reasons we're doing this; he needs album art.
“Oh? What, its not working for you,” I ask, making another exposure.
“Its getting impossible to make it. Performance is it. Songwriting. Good songwriting. I'm tired of this party party party good-time thing. Songwriting. I've been listening to country music a lot.”
I damn near drop the camera, hope he doesn't notice. “Oh.”
“They can write, some of them. Stories, real poetry. Drama. And the fuckers are funny!”
What about Djing, I wonder. So I ask. He's clearly troubled. Trying to work it out by saying it out loud to me. Watching my reaction as I watch him. The camera sees everything and never really blinks. For all this he's relaxed, away from the pressures of mixing, mastering, remastering, remixing, not to mention recording his own work and all the associated work that goes with that.
Of course, there's the DJ career.
All of it, looking back, leads back to one, place, one man.
In the middle 1990's he landed the dream job of working at the recently opened Paisley Park studios just outside Minneapolis. It was a matter of “right place, right time,” as he filled in for another DJ. Prince, liked what he heard, and had him back. And back. And back. It was an education. “You don't fuck around with him,” he says laughing. “He's a perfectionist, and everyone working with him, for him, you gotta work to that level, his level.”
Two years later he landed in San Francisco and joined up with Rainbow Flava for their second album “Digital Dope.” A year later he released his first solo record, “Impact.” That was 1998.
All that time he was making ends meet as a DJ, working the clubs, getting the mixes down, refining his style.
He had two names, he had a couple careers. He was about to add a third: Producer.
By 2001 he was back in Minneapolis, but he's been, really, everywhere; Japan, Europe, the islands, all over the US. He hooked up with Johnny Dangerous and produced “Dangerous Liaisons” which was subsequently nominated for the 2005 Outmusic Song of the Year.
“Djing pays the bills,” he says. “You DJ at the clubs, that's your paycheck. Get regular, get a following, get more gigs, do a festival, its a good career.”
We've changed setups. The pics are really happening now. He's relaxed in to it, enjoying himself. Its in his eyes, his manner.
“The clubs, though, it gets to you. Madonna, Brittney, whatever's the flavor, they all want it over and over,” he muses. “They forget that you probably played already, or think you won't, or don't know. DJ's listen to everything. We read the lists, we know, KNOW, what you want to hear. That's the difference. The Beasties were right you know, there are too many DJ's, and not enough MC's. But the clubs, they don't get it, they want an MC, but they want a DJ more. They want that top 40 playlist, get the crowds, get the cash, and all that means is the top ten on a rotation...but really, really, its about being a Master of Ceremonies, giving an experience, a total party, mood, sound, light, scent...that's what we do.” He pauses, looking at me, head in his hands. Meaning it. “Its what we should do.”
We switch setups again, he's eyes are animated, passionate about his work, about music. “You get a room going, build it up, set it off, watch it just burn, then it explodes and its over...its excitement, its sexy.”
“Its work, though, keeping everyone happy.”
“But you know about this,” he says. “Its fucking childcare!”
He's referring to my stint in my family's business, a now closed childcare center. I'm resetting the lights, waiting for him to continue.
“Only with these kids, there's booze involved,” he says. “It makes people, not stupid, but...stupid. They want want want, and I give them that, but then, something else. Madonna, Chem. Brothers, Brittany, Peas, then something obscure, mixed with something else obscure, deep house, dub...bring them for a ride.”
I'm totally with him...again. “You walk in to a restaurant, look at the chef and tell him 'Gimmie your best shot, motherfucker!'”
“Yeah! Exactly. You walk in to a dance club and damnit you shouldn't be ordering white bread and chicken noodle soup from a can, you want oysters! Sushi!”
We're laughing out loud. “Don't fuck with the cook!” I say.
“Shit yeah,” he says. “I mean, I'm here to play for you, give you what you want, right, but you should trust me to give you want you NEED. I'm gonna play hits. I do it, its okay, its cool. But let me bring you. Bring you someplace exciting. A new place, where you go home and just. have. got. to. know. who. that. was. That's the best. Have someone come back and ask what the hell was that music, it was great, who was it I need that. And that's it, they need it, but didn't know they wanted it.”
I know I'm done. I have what I wanted. My camera is still on him, and I'm still looking, snapping when I get a look, a motion, something that I didn't get yet. We've moved on to other topics. Magazines, youth-pop, the music over the PA at the local Walgreens; not too long ago it was in the club as the lead in to the DJ.
Does the music business suck?
There is a pause.
“No,” he says, still considering the idea. “But yeah. Its a lot more competitive than it was. Everyone can produce music, everyone can make videos...good ones. Interesting ones.”
He knows I'm done and he leans in his chair, not working, just...being here.
“But you know, its the best thing. I make music. I play it, remix it. Most days, working at the club, whatever club, its a day, but when I think about it, its cool. Its a good story to tell, its interesting. Its got a beat. And you can dance to it.”