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But to date, the finest recorded evidence of Mike's expertise can be found on 1998's fabulous Anti-Theft Device, an Asphodel effort that bubbles over with inventiveness and humor. "Ultra Intro" kicks off the proceedings with a sci-fi fanfare that leads directly into the slamming hip-hop of "Ill Shit" and the cheeky "Unidentified," in which an announcer intones, "Attention everyone: This is an emergency broadcast. The unpleasant noise you are about to hear coming from your radio is not a mistake. Please do not turn off your radio, but turn up the volume on your receiver as high as it can go, so that you can make the sound we broadcast as loud as possible." (An instant later, the disc pumps out a space burble overmodulated enough to blow any speaker available -- but what a way to go.) Other highlights include "Billie Klubb," in which Mike's scratching seems to duel with a wonderfully dorky guitar figure, the ultra-aggressive yet consistently witty "Can of Kick Ass," and "Black Level Clearance," with its "Walk This Way" beat and creative deconstruction of a certain slang term for coitus.
"Mixing things up like that is totally what I try to achieve," Mike says. "Like I take something from left field to right field, something from right field to left field, and something from right field to home plate -- trying to blend three entities into one form. But I also want it to hang together. Like sometimes when I'm doing a scratch hook, I'll scratch the same horn over the course of a song, so people can identify it. They'll go, like, 'Yeah, it's that song.'"
This mix of underground sensibilities and commercial savvy makes the Mix Master the ideal DJ for the Beastie Boys. But it took him some lobbying before he won the gig: After meeting Adam Yauch in 1995 and glomming onto his phone number, Mike kept leaving scratched snippets on his answering machine until Yauch finally caved in. The last message is now preserved as the opening to "Three MCs and One DJ," a highlight of Hello Nasty.
In contrast to the club and theater shows to which he was accustomed, the Beasties dates staged in Nasty's wake generally took place in arenas or stadiums; Mike was thrilled by the chance to spread the turntablist gospel to such throngs. "I was like the messenger," he says. "I'd get on my bike and tell 'em what was going on." But hanging with the masses hasn't caused him to lose his taste for smaller-scale performances where he's completely in charge. "When I do my own show, it's not really planned. It's like I'm going up there trying to come across kind of like John Coltrane playing his horn. You know, free-flowing, kind of feeling the crowd, putting myself in their shoes -- thinking, 'If I came to see this show, what would I want to see? What would flip me out?'"
At the same time, he enjoys the challenge of facing audiences made up mainly of turntablist virgins. On New Year's Eve in Miami, he and Perry Farrell, of Lollapalooza and Jane's Addiction fame, provided the music for a Todd Oldham fashion show attended by patrons who weren't exactly hip-hop regulars -- "but that was the great part about it," he says. "There was this satisfaction knowing that none of these people knew what was about to hit them. It made me try even harder. Like, okay, check this out."
The Master brings the same attitude to two forthcoming solo recordings for Asphodel. First up is Eye of the Cyclops, an EP due to hit stores within weeks; he calls it "an authentic piece, a scratch painting" that will serve as the perfect introduction to Terror Wrist, a followup to Anti-Theft Device set for a September release. The full-length, which will include a guest spot by Rage Against the Machine's Zach de la Rocha, whom Mike met during the Beastie Boys' jaunt, is more mature than its predecessor, he says, "and there's a whole lot more action -- action-packed sound coming in from every direction without colliding. I'm like a scratch traffic controller, dealing with things coming from everywhere, and noises coming out of nowhere. There are a lot of really obscure jazz samples on it, and even some accordion samples if you listen closely. And beats, man. Banging beats. Heavy beats."
Should Terror Wrist take off, Mike hopes to use its success as a platform to start a label devoted entirely to turntablism. "I want people to be able to walk into Tower Records someday and in the sections, right by blues and jazz and whatever, there'll be a scratch-music section," he says. "That's what I'm waiting for. I want to build a whole scratch empire."
And there are plenty of kindred spirits just waiting for such a revolution, he believes: "Back in the day, kids would be breakdancing and b-boying. But now a lot more kids are staying in their bedrooms, mixing shit. They're becoming hermits."
So parents who want to keep their children out of trouble should encourage them to become DJs?
"Definitely," Mike enthuses. "It'll definitely keep 'em out of trouble."