Interview: DJ Politik
Before video killed the radio star, DJ Politik’s mother often found him fiddling with audio equipment and recording his favorite songs with a tape recorder. Years later, Politik had his sights locked on hip-hop videos whose culture not only opened his eyes to what DJs really do, it also expanded his sites to neighboring genres and how each differently controls the vibe of a party. At the young age of 15, the one-day prolific DJ grasped onto his first DJ equipment and like in the movies, a church choir descended from the sky and sang Hallelujah while Politik’s hands glowed and two doves landed on his shoulders. Something like that.
Flash-forward, Politik is now the President of the United States - wait, I went too far, let me back up a little. Over the last decade, the star DJ has held residencies in each of the country’s hottest nightlife destinations including TAO (Las Vegas), LIV (Miami), Marquee (NYC), to name a few. He’s consistently providing sounds for top names in entertainment, fashion, and publishing, including private bashes for the celebrity elite and even producing remixes for Top 40 bands carrying record deals with the majors. In other words, this jack of all trades continues to break records and exceed expectations, only to then do it all over again. I think that’s what sets him apart.
We caught up with Politik to ask him some questions leading up to his performance at this year’s coveted Neon Carnival, Brent Bolthouse’s exclusive celebrity-driven affair held during the first weekend of the infamous Coachella Music Festival, and covered everything from his typical day, his travel survival bag, and what's left on his bucket list. Here’s how it all went down:
1. Thanks for taking the time out to talk with us, Politik! Your accomplishments are inspiring not only to your fans and music lovers alike, but to young aspiring DJs. How do you divide your time to tackle everything on your plate? What’s a typical day in the life of Politik look like?
Thanks for the love! To be honest, it's quite the challenge these days. I think it's a common misconception that DJs live this glamorous lifestyle and just get fat checks to show up and play some records. The successful ones are hustling 24/7. Juggling gigs, creating content & marketing opportunities, social media strategies, networking, and most importantly, investing in themselves & their brand. All while continuing to hone their skills and staying on the bleeding edge of what's hot in music & pop culture.
So my days generally consist of doing something along those lines, usually at my new studio, mixed in with some activities like hiking, training, reading, and exploring the food scene at home or wherever I'm at on the road.
2. With your demanding tour schedule, what do you keep in your travel survival bag? Does that bag include any extra special add-ons for your Neon Carnival set this year that we can look forward to? Any peeks into your set that you can share with us?
Laptop, iPad Pro, current book I'm reading, Advil, Purell, ear plugs, and at least 5 phone chargers because I probably hold the world record for most chargers lost.
Can't reveal all the add-ons (you can use your imagination) but def a bandana and some wet wipes in case the winds pick up. I remember a couple years back during Kayper's set it got super windy and she could barely breathe through all the sand blowing in her face.
As far as the music goes, the great thing about Neon is although it's a massive party with thousands of people who are there to turn the f*ck up x 100, it's a relatively tasteful and open-minded crowd. Almost everyone has an above-average musical IQ so you can really take them on a journey. I approach it like a Vegas/Miami style club set, fused with an eclectic, fashion/awards afterparty vibe, that builds energy concurrently with the amount of Don Julio 1942 entering my system. If that makes any sense.
3. Speaking of Neon Carnival, what’s your most memorable moment from years past? What are you most looking forward to this year?
There's so many. I still think the first one was the best. I remember standing up in the DJ booth with Brent at 4am, slammed at capacity with hundreds of people still outside trying to get in. It was a spectacle no one could have imagined before. He said, "This is a fucking party" - um, yeah it was. He created a monster.
2009, the last year that it was still inside the hangar and branded as the T-Mobile party, was definitely a special one. DJ AM, Steve Aoki, and Danny Masterson were in charge of music. AM had played the festival earlier that night with Travis Barker, so he was pumped. Hands down one of the most memorable AM sets I'd ever heard.
These past few years have definitely seen an increase in stage production so I'm excited to see what they've cooked up this year. I've heard it's bigger & better again.
4. Will you be attending this year’s Coachella Music Festival? If so, what artist(s) are you most looking forward to seeing front row center?
Front row center for LCD Soundystem and Ice Cube. The special guests Cube is bringing out are supposed to be bonkers.
Others I'm excited to check out: Disclosure, Miike Snow, A$AP Rocky, Flume, Major Lazer, Baauer, RÜFUS DU SOL, Run The Jewels, The Chainsmokers, Jack Ü, AlunaGeorge, ZHU, Grimes, Snakehips, RL Grime, Gallant, among others.
5. For someone who has traveled the world and graced the stage of so many incredible venues, was there a particular moment along the way when you had to pinch yourself to make sure it wasn’t all a dream? And is there still a venue out there that’s on your bucket list to play?
Not trying to get all sentimental, but my entire career up to this point has felt like a dream. There have honestly been countless "pinch me" moments along the way but since we're on the topic of Coachella, this one tends to stand out--
It was an event for Details Magazine & Hennessy in 2013. I was DJing and Nas was set to perform. I had played with Nas a couple times before that night...in Vegas and at Sundance, so he kinda knew who I was.
He did his thing and at the end of his performance, he gave me a completely unexpected, major shoutout with a big hug. I dropped "It Ain't Hard To Tell" immediately after for the encore. Being a die-hard fan of his growing up, it was one of those surreal moments that I got to share in front of lots of friends & family.
6. I’m sure there are many, but who was your all-time favorite pop act growing up? Why were they everything to you? Would you say they were your biggest influence to date? If not, who holds that crown and why?
Without a doubt, Michael Jackson. He was the first artist I could remember listening to as a kid that really introduced music into my life. I specifically remember being obsessed with "Bad" at a super young age. He just had the total package, from the music to the videos, to the dancing and showmanship, it was impossible not to be mesmerized by him as a kid.
My biggest influences, as far as my DJ career goes, are the DJs who essentially introduced me to the art form - the ones who I would hear scratching on my favorite hip-hop records. DJ Premier, Jam Master Jay, Mix Master Mike, DJ Babu, Cut Chemist, and The X-Ecutioners.
As I grew older and started venturing out into the nightlife scene, I was heavily influenced by many local club DJs who opened up my understanding of what being a DJ was all about - reading a crowd and rocking a party. Getting creative with mixes, blending multiple genres, and telling a story with the music. Guys like DJ AM, Z-Trip, Adam 12, StoneRokk, Graham Funke, Vice, and DJ Spider, among others.
7. Lastly, the obligatory question of What can we expect from you in the coming months/year ahead? Anything exciting on the horizon we should know about and share with the universe? Do you promise to tell KKS next time you play in LA? Pinky promise?
Music, music, music. I've been blessed that my DJ career has really enabled me to take my time & figure out the direction I'd like to go with original production, and it's starting to take shape nicely.
I've also founded an independent music group consisting of management/development (we're currently developing 2 exciting new artists), production team, and a record label/publishing group. All of this goes down at our brand new studio in North Hollywood.
I don't play in LA much these days BUT -- the birthday turn-up shall be real on Thursday, April 21 at 1 OAK. See you there ;)
Listen to Politik's latest 'Politiks As Usual' podcast, below!