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A-Trak: Live at The Independent

 

Last Thursday A-Trak took over the Independent in a strobe light storm as he stopped in San Francisco during his 10,000LB Hamburger tour. Maybe it’s the intergalactic back lights, or maybe A-Trak’s future seems so bright because he wears stunna shades at night. To date, A-Trak’s checklist looks like this: 1) Youngest DJ to ever to win the DMC tournament (Check) 2) Member of the infamous Invisibl Skratch Piklz (Check) 3) Tour with a megastar as Kanye West’s personal DJ (Check). With all this success you’d think A-Trak would just coast, but no--instead he chooses to prove himself in an entirely new genre of music. With his most recent mixes Infinity +1 and FabricLive.45, A-Trak surprised many fans of his hip hop by mixing with all types of electronic music. While Kanye’s 808 & Heartbreak album might seem like an experiment, A-Trak’s switch of musical genres could be termed genius. With the growing popularizing of revitalized soul, 70s disco, and 80s music into cool, A-Trak’s switch is not only strategic, it’s trend setting.

With auto-tune music slowly reaching its demise, a new progression of electro music is arising as a club favorite. Bands like MGMT, Passion Pit, The Knife, La Roux and Phoenix are some examples to name a few. Within this context enters A-Trak, a hip hop DJ now pushing himself into the forefront as the poster boy for this dance craze. Using his already new fame of being “Kanye’s DJ," A-Trak has placed himself into a growing popular scene. If Girl Talk is the king of mashups, A-Trak is the connoisseur of mish mashing.

“Are you guys ready, without further due, I am going to do whatever it is I do,” said A-Trak as he began his set. What he does is teach. His sets are like history lessons in electro dance music. His ability to seamlessly transition tracks enables him to blend so many genres and periods of music. Throughout the night A-Trak played classics, mixed them with obscure techno beats and created sonic combinations that on paper would appear wrong to the average reader. Some songs he played: Miami bass Tag Team’s “Whoomp (There it is),” Whitney Houston’s “I’ll Always Love You,” his recent Nike song “Say Whoa,” Method Man and Redman’s “Da Rockwilder,” and Daniel Papini’s “Church of Nonsense.” He has an incredible ear for what sounds compliment each other, as is evident on FabricLive.45 where within the mix he blends a Nigerian pop song with a Baltimore club hit.

Not only does A-Trak have good taste in music, but also in talent. Also featured on the tour is Treasure Fingers, signed to A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold label, began the night with thick Daft Punk funk flare. Treasure Fingers’ treasure chest was filled with energizing mixes of funk, disco, and the occasional hip hop beat. Treasure Fingers also served as the DJ for Theophilus London, whose performance was unimpressive though his dance moves were top notch. His fast rap over techno hip hop beats sounded at best like Dizzie Rascal’s new song with Armand Van Helden.

I mentioned lightheartedly the pricey stage lighting that A-Trak is touring with, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. The lights were amazing if only because they brought flashbacks of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There were approximately six light structures, each about six feet long, all angled differently but direct at the DJ booth. As A-Trak cut and stabbed the records back and forth, the lights would parallel his quick movements. Like bugs reacting to blue zap lights, during the show two fans tried to climb on stage just to be able to get closer to the lights, before quickly being pushed off by bouncers with A-Trak exclaiming on the microphone, “Yikes.”

Before getting lost in dance, I noticed to the left of the stage DJ Qbert, one of the founding members of The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and described on Wikipedia as, “The Jimi Hendrix” of turntablists. I asked Qbert what he thought of A-Trak’s new style, which he responded “It’s not my cup of tea. I’m here to see his [DJ] skills.” Which is something special about A-Trak, even if you can’t enjoy the music you have to appreciate when he does--“whatever it is” that he does.

- David Johnson-Igra

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