Artist of the day: Thee Joker
Turntable terrorist Thee Joker (a.k.a. Jason Filippini) has been bombarding the Bay area with a deluge of dubstep. He’s no stranger to any stage or scene, having performed across the U.S. and Europe, and has released a multitude of albums on a myriad of labels (most notably EMI’s subsidiary Harvest Records, significant for Pink Floyd’s early LPs).
He performs at Dangerous Fridays alongside Itchy Robot and Nerd Rage with Maze 1, from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. at the Social, 1909 15th St., Ybor City. $10.
Right of the bat, for those who don’t know, what is Dubstep?
Dubstep is a form of bass-heavy music that is an evolution of drum 'n’ bass, two-step garage, and a lot of what’s called grime. It’s a very U.K.-influenced sound.
What got you interested in it?
I came at it from a real natural evolution, starting out playing drum and bass into some of the two-step garage sound. Which was great for me, because it was at breakbeat tempos, but stripped down: the bass line was heavier, the vocals weren’t as cheesy, and there was a lot of grit to it. I generally wanted to play a lot more aggressive and heavy. I did a lot of underground hip-hop, ’cause that’s what I come from. It’s kind of come around full circle and taken a foothold, whereas I can go out and play the nastiest, dirtiest bass-lines, and hardest hitting drums. People are eating it up again.
Speaking of where you came from, how did you get started?
I’ve always played music ... piano when I was a kid, and that progressed into guitar and bass. I played in hardcore bands in and around the scene in D.C. In that urban environment there was never a division between music lovers. I never got any flak for the fact that I was a hip-hop head and playing in hardcore bands. So, after moving up to New York City ...
What brought you to NYC?
Oh, there was never any doubt that I wasn’t going there. My family’s from there, so it was just a natural progression. I was blessed to have seen great bands and epic shows at CBGB, Bond Street Café, Coney Island High ... It was a real cool scene, and great to be part of it. Also, being in and around New York in the early to mid ’90s was a golden time for hip-hop: on the raido, on the corner, and on mixtapes traded among friends. I was introduced to a wide, wide range of music.
That was a great era for NYC and hip hop, whether it was underground or above ground. It must have been highly inspirational to be privy to it firsthand. How did that manifest in your creative process?
I had so many sounds in my head, I didn’t wanna wait for other people, so I learned how to program drum machines, and was into making experimental electronic stuff. I was living with my cousin at the time, and one night out of nowhere he said, “Man, you should just be a DJ. You’re always playing people the best parts of records.” I have “DJ listening syndrome,” which is, “Check this out, check out this noise, solo, or drum beat.” So my cousin was kind of the impetus. I never really thought of that as a performance choice, or as a route to what I wanted to do.
What did you first do to follow this route?
I ended up learning how to cut and do basic scratches before I learned how to mix record one with record two, or match beats. I went about it completely in the wrong direction. I’ve always considered myself more of a turntablist than a DJ, and I still play that way. I can’t just blend one record with the next, or slowly mix. I’ve gotta mess with stuff, whether it’s for my own enjoyment or for the crowd’s.
Where has this route taken you?
I’ve really gone back to my roots as a beatmaker, producer, and turntablist. Through dubstep, I’ve been able to take the culmination of all this stuff I’ve done for years and finally have an audience willing to go where I’m willing take them. I don’t play frumpy, I don’t hold back. There are very few people who play as hard, abusive, or even aggressive as I do. I scratch, cut, jump tempos. I’ll stop a record right in the middle of it, and talk to the crowd to get ’em movin’. I’m not so concerned about every mix being perfect; I just wanna rock the party. If you’re gonna put me up there for an hour, we’re gonna party. The harder the crowd goes, the harder I’ll go.
-- Aaron Lepley, tbt*. Photo: Brian Mahar.