What Is a DJ If You Can't Scratch Videos?: The wind was an unseen force, blowing slipmats around.
In the Relm of The Senses
A portrait of a DJ as changing man: a backstage look at Mike Relm
By Todd Inoue
IT WASN'T supposed to start like this. DJ Mike Relm has just finished his debut appearance on the Shoreline Amphitheatre main stage, where he spun between bands at Live 105 BFD last Saturday ("The entertainment between the entertainment," he calls it). He's bumming hard over unforeseen technical glitches. His normally clever routines—which involve brilliant integration of video scratching—is stymied by malfunctioning CDJ units baking in the sun, a suspect sound mix and, most damaging, stagehands checking levels during his set—adding drums, guitar, bass and "check 1-2 check!" through his monitor.
Today was supposed to be Mike Relm's chance to showcase in front of his biggest, most diverse audience to date and to convert them to his wild style. Instead, it could be the longest day of his life. "That was rough," he says, puffing on a Parliament, trying to decompress backstage. "Luckily, I've got four more shots at it."
Relm and his two assistants troubleshoot what went wrong. They decide to bring back the turntables and vinyl and go back to his scratch roots. The second set is an improvement. He blends Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" with the Pharrell's "Light Your Ass on Fire" beat. A Michael Jackson routine goes over well. Confidence restored. "That was a 180," he says, resleeving his records afterward. "I don't even hear them sound-checking any more."
The Daly City resident was handpicked by Live 105 program director Aaron Axelsen for the gig. In the '90s, Relm was as a battle DJ, entering competitions with Supernatural Turntable Artists and winning the International Turntable Federation USA championship in 2000. He split from the STA crew to reshape his DJ identity, adopting and finessing DVDJ technology—spinning, scratching and mixing video clips like records.
At Shoreline, 20,000 people are just being introduced to Relm's unique mixing style. And though he's clearly going over well, a creative shift is taking place. Relm is concentrating on his debut album of all-original music, due in November. He acknowledges his live set might be completely different come next year.
"At some point, I'll have to stop," he says, of his highly amusing integration of vinyl, MP3 and video. "It's great if I can do it for 10 years, but I don't want to do that. I don't want to play other people's music the rest of my life. I want to touch people in my way and not touch them by saying, 'I know a song you like, and I'll mash it with something else and be clever about it.' That's cool and a lot of fun. I want to keep some elements in that. But there's room to explore the visual element and present a show."
A former film student at SFSU, Relm thinks cinematically. He gushes over Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar-Wai, Danny Elfman and Michel Gondry instead of musicians. "I want people to recognize what I do is real original," he says. "It's not like I'm making a film with a soundtrack; I'm making a soundtrack with a film."
Accordingly, his third and fourth sets push the tempo with aggressive torque. Relm manipulates a video of Björk's "Human Behavior" set to Run-D.M.C.'s "It's Like That." He scratches over Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" as Peanuts cartoons broadcast on the projection screens. The Outfield and NWA cross paths in his mix. Led Zeppelin, Nu Shooz, Jay-Z, Nirvana and the "O-Face" guy from Office Space appear in seamless, short-attention-span theater. Before the headliner, Mike builds a hearty momentum with jagged clips of Pulp Fiction, the Cure and Rage Against the Machine and ends with a punctuating stab from Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." It's an appropriate ending that also marks two beginnings. "Rockit" was the first recorded scratch record to break nationwide; Mike's next step—from scratch DJ to video DJ to recording artist—is coming soon.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.