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After literally looking death in the eye and recovering from serious cancer, DJ Vadim has faced his own mortality. In 2008 the ocular melanoma that grew in Vadim’s eye had the potential to render him blind but after a lengthy operation that saved his life and a lot of soul searching, shortly after two months he was back in the studio creating the superb ‘U Can’t Lurn Imagination.’ A testament if any that ‘what don’t kill you makes you stronger.’
If you’re a first timer to the wonders of DJ Vadim’s music you have a lot of catching up to do.
Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia but raised in London at the age of three, Vadim has been making sound-tastic beats for over 15 years.
Starting his professional journey close to UK hip-hop, his debut dropped back in 1996 with USSR holding the instant classics ‘The Terrorist’ and one of our favourites ‘Life from the Itchy Side.’
A well travelled man, indeed more so than Phileas Fogg, his albums reflect eclectic experiences and musical documentation from the world’s furthest continents. It’s one of the main ingredients that make his music so profoundly exciting and all the more dope.
His musicianship, charm and strong opinions have gained him admiration and respect from polarising branches of music – fans and artists alike.
Far from the average around the way producer, it’s also Vadim’s vodka courage to approach extremities of music that really get your soul moving. From a heavy dose of Reggae or Hip Hop to electro and indie, his finger trickery production always creates stimulating, uplifting and in parts funky and infectious music.
Producer, DJ, promoter, record collector, radio presenter, occasional painter and writer, it’s fair to say my man is committed to the cause. So getting the opportunity to explore the mind of the ‘John Coltrane of Hip Hop’ is an education in itself.
As we sat down with the White Russian for a lengthy chat we asked the real topics, from life after illness, industry politics, the new album, future musical projects and of course artists to watch out for in 2010 and beyond.
It’s been over ten years since your first album back in 1999, which was mainly Hip Hop. Are you still motivated by the genre compared to then?
I’m more motivated and inspired now then ever before. Has my vision of music changed? Yes.
I’m 36 now. When I started producing in 92, I was 19.
At that age I was bang into Hip Hop. That was my world.
I’ve seen everyone play, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Wu-Tang, Eric B and Rakim and all that back then. I remember Rock the Bell’s – Run DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J at Hammersmith Apollo and when used the extracts from that concert for ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions.’ That was 1988 and I was 15. I was do or die for Hip Hop.
Now if you ask do I feel that way about hip hop? I’d say nah it’s different
.Has Hip Hop lost its way or is it a matter of whether it’s relevant?
I loved it, and I still love it but it’s different now.
Now Hip Hop, as the media define it, is more about your commercial sales and your boardroom skills then what you actually do on record.
So for me when people go on about Soulja Boy – So ok if you’re a nine-year-old girl you might be in to him but really I don’t give a flying shit what a nine-year-old girl is into.
MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Puff Daddy or 50 Cent – all of those people are like one million percent better then Soulja Boy. I’d rather listen to all of 50 cent’s albums back to back then listen to one track of Soulja Boys’ and really I’m not a fan of 50 cent (Laughs).
Growing up in London the place where you homed your craft you were also very much in touch with the UK Hip Hop scene right?
Yeah I remember when High Jack where huge. Like when Ice T came to Brixton academy and they opened up for him. Half the audience left when they finished. Everyone was really there for Hi Jack (Laughs). They had that song ‘The Terrorist Group’. I used to love that.
You still share that love for UK artists on a lot of your work.
Yeah. There’s a song on the new album called Soldier, the first single. We did a remix with Wretch 32, Scrocher, TY, and Pavan (Orifice Vulgatron) from Foreign Beggars.
I also really like what I’ve heard from Kyza recently. ‘Love n Music’ is an incredible song.
You work with a lot of unsigned artists as well. Which has become your signature.
It’s not like I’m the oracle of all information. I’ve bought a house and can afford to eat. I’ve even bought a bicycle with success! (laughs)
I work with unsigned, underground people simply because they have an energy that I’m attracted to.
The problem with working with established artists is that sometimes with a level of success follows arrogance and a complacency.
Like when Nas came out. His first album was banging on all cylinders. Come the second album everyone told him he was so amazing that he got lazy. The squeal wasn’t as good. It happens to a lot of artists. Wu-tang – they came out hungry, growling and barking, demanding your attention. 36 chambers was a classic. Look to the third album it’s nowhere near as good.
How important is it to build relationships with the artists you work with?
Yeah and that’s the other thing. It’s about building up a team rather than just buying an artist. It’s about getting the people I work with to deliver something special. I don’t want them to spit their 16 bars for me and do the same for someone else like DJ Hairy not DJ VADIM.
From your world tours is there anyone you can recommend we should really be plugged into?
The Astronote. Such a dope producer from the old Orleans, south of Paris. He remixed Jay-Z’s Black album when JAY-Z put up all those acapellas. Called it the Blue Album because he used all blue note samples.
There’s a huge Reggae influence in your music. Is it fair to say that’s music you’ve always enjoyed?
Hip Hop was the first music I feel in love with, then came Funk and Reggae. I’ve been listening to it for 20 years now. Roots Reggae, Lovers Rock, Ska, Dancehall. I think Reggae has always been in my heart because musically I was brought up in the UK.
A resident in both cities, what’s different in how people absorb music in New York compared to London?
A lot of people in the UK have a more diverse taste than in America.
America is dope and if you go there for a week, a month you’ll be blown away but if you lived there for more then two years you’ll notice certain small differences. The music is one of them.
In America people put music in boxes. Like you’re into RnB, Hip Hop or House nothing else. There isn’t really a reggae culture there either. They look down on Jamaica. There’s a black on black racism in America where African Americans look down on Africans and people from the islands. You’d think reggae would be huge in America but it’s not at all: you’ll clear a dance floor if you played it.
It’s bizarre because it’s completely the opposite in England. Here if the DJ selects to play Sizzla, Damian Marley, Beenie Man anything like that, the dance floor would be packed more than any Hip Hop tune.
Why do you think this is?
Geography and immigration have a major influence. A lot of the immigrating first generation where from West Indies, which influenced a lot of the music in England.
When You think of all the black music coming out the UK, so much of it came from the reggae scene.
I moved here 79 when I was 3. So in summary Reggae Ragga is a huge influence (laughs).
Your studio is ordered chaos. Are you a big perfectionist?
Yeah I am. I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect what I’m doing and letting songs brew.
I remember reading this thing from DJ Shadow along time ago and he said when he did a song he would finish it and not listen to it for a month, let it brew and then come back to it. If he still likes it after a month then it’s a winner.
The point in that is when you do something creative you can get all caught up in the moment, and it covers everything creative not just making music. You can get in this zone and lose perspective. With the light of day you can then step away from it and be more critical.
What’s must important to you when producing new music?
I always think about wanting to make music that will live on, music that withstands the test of time. But this is something hard to do because there is no formula for time.
I remember when Ninja Tune brought out Run Come Save Me. Everyone at the label thought ‘Dreamy Days’ would be the next big tune, like Pharcyde’s Passing Me By.
It’s a brilliant tune but the track that launched Roots Manuva into the mainstream was Witness the Fitness. Not even Roots could predict that success. It’s something that at the time for whatever reason it just works for people.
You look at great albums that sound great generation after generation they all have slight faults. For example the sound briefly is distorted or the production is missing a beat somewhere. But in that imperfection is perfection.
I don’t feel I’ve ever reached that. You need the people to say that’s the classic. And sometimes music isn’t immediate because your mind isn’t at that place.
So which albums affected you?
I remember when Portishead and Massive Attack came out. Both those albums started a triphop movement spawning generations of fans. But that week those albums came out I had no idea those would be so influential.
The same with Three Feet High and Rising (De La Soul) or It Takes a Nation of Millions (Public Enemy).
Taking it back to ‘Imaginashun’ and your battle with cancer leading up to the album. Where most artists would retreat or turn their back on the industry, music didn’t stop coming out of you.
When tragedy knocks on your door, there are only really two things you can do. Let tragedy overcome you, or you overcome tragedy. I went into the operation thinking I have a 30% chance of dying – it’s better then 50/50 (laughs).
To be honest when I was going through the cancer for about month all I could do was think about death. It’s a dark subject. It’s a really hard topic to talk about and for anyone to read about because death is a morbid thing. But death is really a beautiful thing.
If it was time then so be it. But I woke up from the operation and I recovered. I felt so energised and super positive. Like now is that time to make the album.
We live in fear of death, but if you live everyday on earth like it’s your last day then you’ll appreciate life like never before. Taste food like never before, hear music like never before, make love like never before. All these things that we take for granted.
How has the experience changed the way you work?
I want to be like Tupac and keep releasing after the grave (laughs). Now that I’ve had cancer I have a high change of getting it back. So if it ever comes back 99% of the time it will be terminal.
So right now I feel super energised to release music and be super positive and try to enjoy life to the max.
What would you say is the best thing about being DJ Vadim?
One of the greatest things I love about my job is to travel around the world.
And gaining fans around the world along the way.
It’s because I’ve toured literally the world. I’ve never wanted to put all my eggs in one basket. Look at the scene in the UK: indie Hip Hop ain’t that big anymore. Whilst it’s taking off or flourishing somewhere else.
Ultimately for me it’s a great accolade to have if your music can transcend language barriers, colour and culture barriers surely that’s the best kind of music there is.
Any last words sir?
You know life is all about the journey not the destination.
I’m on a journey to make the perfect beat. Wherever I’m going I want to enjoy getting there and along the way not work with a bunch of assholes. (Laughs)