It's taken Michael Schwartz -- a k a Mix Master Mike -- twenty-eight years to hone his cutting and scratching chops to perfection. Now he's so busy he doesn't just juggle records, he juggles projects: The DJ's touring with the Beastie Boys through September, promoting his new debut solo CD, Anti-Theft-Device (Asphodel), working on the soundtrack for an upcoming Playstation video game, and recording a full-length CD with his crew, the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, for their own Skratched Records label.
So just how did Mike impress the Beastie Boys enough for him to be invited into the fold? "They knew about me from all my DJ battles," Mike says. Anyone keeping up with the hip-hop/DJ/turntable scene knows that the Piklz have won so many turntable battles that they were finally asked to retire and become competition judges -- you know, to give others a chance.
Second, there's the matter of taste. "[The Beasties] liked my style," says Mike. "It related a lot to the Beastie style. On "Jimmy James," [the Beasties] scratched Jimi Hendrix guitar riffs; I do the same thing. So, it's like the same formula there, the same chemistry. They like me because I show them what comes from my heart and I don't hold nothing back. If I don't like something, I let 'em know."
Third, Mike worked it: "I met Adam Yauch at the Rock Steady anniversary in1995 and, ever since then, we exchanged phone numbers and kept in contact.When he wasn't home, I would leave these crazy scratch messages on hisanswering machine, which drove him berserk. He called me up to work on [theBeasties'] Hello, Nasty. After that project, he asked me to become theirpermanent DJ. Who's gonna refuse that?"
Now that he's the man, do the Beastie Boys ever sort of, well, suggest whathe should play? "Sometimes they do," he admits. "They don't tell me how to do it. They just bring it up to me. It's a suggestion. They put it in thesuggestion box."
Mike is more of an artist than a craftsman, drawing on spontaneousinspiration instead of prepared routines. "It just comes from my heart andhow I'm feeling at the time," he says. "I have so many tricks in my head,and whatever I remember at the moment -- like bend the record or do a lazyscratch here or a one-hand hydroplane scratch here or juggle two records atonce -- it just goes in order of the way I feel. I'm not into sitting in myroom and perfecting the whole DJ set. That's too robotic for me. I likestuff random. I move at a random pace." At a recent performance at the World Trade Tower's posh Windows on the World, Mike busted out with Rush, Hendrix, and countless other barely identifiable song samples that flew by as fast as his hands could cut, scratch, mix, fade, juggle, whatever. The crowd ate it up.
Mike can shift work modes without missing a beat, playing with the Beasties("more mellow than you think") one day and the Piklz ("one gigantic scratchrobot") on another, noting that the experiences are like night and day."When I'm with the Invisbl Skratch Piklz, we're a scratch band, a scratchorchestra," he says. "Being with the Piklz, my hands are constantly movingto keep up the drum beat or scratching a hi-hat or horn riff. Being with the Beastie Boys, I just kick back and let them ride, and wait for my part to come in. I'm more relaxed up there. It's totally improvised. They let me do whatever I want."
What Mike really wants is to help spread the turntable word. "I'm trying topush this whole turntable phenomenon universally just to show the wholeworld that the turntable can be an instrument also. And hopefully, one dayyou can walk into a Tower Records and they'll have their own category likescratch music or turntable music. That's what I wanna do."