With his recent addition to BBC 6Music's roster and a nomination for a Sony award it seems that DJ Yoda is finally being recognised by the establishment as one of the most original talents to grace the British music scene. Of course, everyone who has witnessed a Yoda set at a festival or gig already knew this because the Londoner boasts that rare and most valuable commodity - empathy. Yoda can tap into the mood or create a new one instantly, moulding his musical and visual narrative around outrageous turntable skills and artful video manipulation.
It is easy for a cut and paste style DJ set to descend into a farcical 'megamix' but he manages to fit A-Team theme tunes and Journey power ballads alongside fierce electronic beats and, with the help of his wicked sense of humour, it just works. To see Yoda play records is to witness an event.
It seems like Duncan Beiny has never really failed. Career releases have all been well received, comprising the seminal 'How to Cut and Paste' mixtape series and two albums ‘The Amazing Adventures Of DJ Yoda’, in 2006, which included Biz Markie, Sway, and the Jungle Brothers and 2012’s 'Chop Suey' in which he focused on UK talent - including the likes of Boy George & Roots Manuva.
Whether this success has bred his fearless nature or vice-versa, it is thrilling to see an artist constantly trying new things. His new album sees him take on an 11-strong band and, as such, adopt a completely new way of working. As you would expect, 'Yoda Presents Breakfast of Champions' is a bouncy, hip hop affair, full of tasty beats, where banjos sit alongside computer game bleeps and funky basslines (look out for single '2468'). The latest track, 'Click', designed as a tribute hip hop's early 90s 'Golden Era', is already seeing radio play.
The band came about through a one-off project with Manchester venue 'Band on the Wall' called Breakfast of Champions. 11 up-and-coming hopefuls were selected by Yoda at the beginning of the week and with a completely new band, with little experience, with no material, Yoda had to produce a gig by the end of that week. With reputations on the line, many artists would balk at that kind of risk but two consecutive sell-out shows proved it was not only worth it, but that a formula had been found. Perhaps surprisingly, the same 11 remain, which include Rex Domino and Mouse Outfit members Sparkz & Truthos Mufasa, because fortunately, Yoda says, none of them are dicks.
R$N got him on the blower to ask how on earth that week didn't leave him a nervous wreck;
How has making this album compared to previous albums in terms of method?
Oh it’s been completely different. That was the idea of doing it. It’s the first time I’ve done an album with a band. Everything else has either been a mix CD or the two artist albums that I did have were much more just a case of me making beats and then sending each beat out to a different vocalist, someone different on every song.
So I did kind of have this urge to do something that was a bit more focused and have the same vocalist on every track and have a feeling that ran through the whole album so I put together a band and recorded instruments, which is not what I normally do!
It was a challenge to do that and it was interesting. It definitely keeps things fresh for me to have something different going on every year and that’s what I chose to do.
And it originally started off with a project with Manchester venue Band on the Wall didn’t it?
Yeah it did. It started off in Manchester. Band on the Wall have a kind of annual residency where it’s government funded and they just try and put together a project which is new or interesting in some way. And they approached me to do something and I decided yeah let’s put a band together. So we actually just put adverts out you know 'who wants to be in a band with DJ Yoda' kind of thing and had hundreds of people respond.
Then I had this X-Factor style day up in Manchester where we were whittling down the nutters and just kind of choose who I would like in my band, which is quite an interesting way of doing things, because a lot of bands come together a lot more organically than that - it tends to be four mates that went to school together or something like that. This was much more a case of - oh well it would be cool if I could have someone that could play the banjo. Or I want someone that plays double-bass.
So I just kind of constructed my perfect band in the same way I would put together a DJ set. I want someone that can handle country and western style and someone that can play reggae. It was a really interesting way of doing it.
Is it right that you had to play a gig at the end of the week?
Yeah we had a full week up in Manchester to rehearse, come up with ideas, then at the end of that week we had a gig at Band on the Wall which was sold out. Then we did one more at the Jazz Cafe in London just to check it wasn’t a fluke and that sold out as well. So we thought you know we’ve obviously clicked and this is working so let’s make an album and tour it properly and that’s where we’re up to.
Considering you began the week with no material and a completely new band that’s an awful lot of pressure to be ready to perform for an audience at the end of it...
It absolutely was but that is the best way to get things done. I loved that week - it was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. To have that pressure... no one’s messing around, no one’s fiddling around with phones. Like we know at the end of this week we’ve got to do this in front of a crowd. We’ve got to put together a whole show of new music for a crowd, so no one is pissing around and everyone is focused on the same thing.
Did you not panic at all?
No, I wasn’t panicking. I enjoy that kind of pressure. I think the best kind of creativity comes out of having restrictions and deadlines and boundaries. I find it’s actually much harder to sit down and think well I’ve got all the time in the world to do whatever I want. It’s really hard to make something under those circumstances. It’s much easier to be told “You have to do something by this date, use this”. It’s a better way of working.
So how many of the people who were on that original week are on this album?
All of them! Yeah! There’s 11 of us in total and that was the thing I was most happy about that didn’t feel like there was anyone who was a weak link. There was no one person who were like oh actually that one’s a bit of a dick! Everyone just seemed to be on a level. Everyone’s into the same music, everyone gets on with each other.
You know we had a show in Brighton the other week where it was a great gig, great crowd. But then we all went back to a house afterwards. It was just the 11 of us and we had such a good party just with just us 11 that it was almost more fun than the actual gig! We all just get on really well. So that’s a real bonus.
Can you take us through a day in the life of DJ Yoda? What’s it like?
So random! There’s just no routine to my life whatsoever, literally. Last week I was in Dubai for a week because I had a gig out there and also an old DJ friend Dan Greenpeace lives out there. And that’s the kind of randomness...that’s normal!
So what’s a regular day? There just isn’t one! It depends what’s going on. Sometimes I’ve got like radio stuff to do, for this 6 Music stuff I’m doing, sometimes I’ll be in the studio, sometimes I’ll be out there. It’s so random. And also my sleep schedule and my timezones are completely f***ed. I’m just as likely to be up working at four in the morning as four in the afternoon.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a DJ?
I think if I wasn’t allowed to work in music I’d work in film. It makes the most sense to me. I’ve always been as into film as I have been music. Obviously with all the AV shows that I do - they’re all constructed out of bits of movies I like to kind of re-soundtrack movies. I’ve learnt to do some film editing stuff on the computer and that interests me just as much as music so it would make perfect sense for me to be working in film.
Did you foresee that you would make a living from music?
No not at all! It wasn’t a plan. I never said “Aw I’m gonna be a DJ!”
In fact I tried to do the opposite. I went to university and I had jobs after university and I thought well if I’m gonna keep music fresh for myself it might be good to keep it as a hobby and never do it as my main work. And actually I was working at the London film commission helping people find locations for filming London. So I was doing things like that but also taking gigs. But I’d have a gig in Manchester on a Thursday night, then have to work Friday morning. So I thought clearly I should just be DJing. I should just do it.
And I suppose you must have been earning enough money to make that decision...
Yeah exactly. You kind of reach a point where you say right well I can exist on this, so it’s gonna make more sense for me to just be DJing.
How big is the tour going to be and what’s in the future for DJ Yoda?
We’re hitting all the major shots in the UK over the spring. And we’ve got some festivals booked in for the summer as well. And then we’ll see what happens after that. I’ve no idea what’s coming next. I’m constantly recording. I’ve been making music today which is nothing to do with this band and we’ll see what comes of that. So yeah just one thing at a time.
The one rule I try to stick to is just to do something different every time because it keeps things interesting for me. You know I’ve been DJing all these years and the only thing I can’t do is do the same thing as I did last year. If I’m treading water I just get bored and I’ve got too short of an attention span so I’m all about trying something different and a lot of the time like taking DJing and scratching and sampling out of the traditional places that you might find them. So that’s why I always enjoy working with a classical orchestra or a country and western band, not being in a hip hop club on a Friday night - just trying to do something a bit more interesting than that.