Ninja Tunes

Trip through your wires: Charissa Saverio is DJ Rap.

DJ Rap (born Charissa Saverio), perhaps the only electronic artist in the world who holds an orange belt in ninjitsu, has moved from California to Chicago to finish the followup to Learning Curve, her debut album. And when she's not laying down tracks, Rap is spinning on the PlayStation 2 Dual Play tour with Ferry Corsten, starring in a new TV show on Spike TV, putting out tracks on her new breaks label, Inta-Talent, and opening a Chicago branch of Hush Hush, her L.A. club night. She's diversified; she's already huge; now she's trying to go massive.

Andrew Vontz: What did you learn from making Learning Curve?

DJ Rap: You can't make a record in a studio and make a live act. It's a whole different concept when you take it live. It's amazing how synthetic it sounds if you don't use live instruments. If you're making a dance record and don't have live instruments, it will work on the dance floor, but when you're making songs and something that's going to translate live and you don't have guitar, bass and drums when you're making it, it sounds thin. The new album -- I wanted to worry about the production and producers last and make sure I had strong singles and an album I was feeling acoustically, and then we could bring it to life with production. I know this album will work live. The last record was covered with tons of effects, but this time I want the vocals to be more realistic. There's no need to hide. I am who I am, and I'm not worried about my voice anymore. If Britney can do it, I can do it.

Since your last album, the electroclash movement has succeeded in creating a scene with an identity and a focus on live performance -- areas where most electronic-music crossover genres usually fail. How has that influenced you?

Anything that evolves and keeps moving is good for music. With electroclash, a lot of people feel the stuff sucks. But even if it does, it's probably going to evolve into something that doesn't pretty soon. The process is hugely important, and I'm all for people experimenting and doing stuff, or you'll never get to anything good.

But is it evolution if people are emulating the fashion and sounds of an era that's twenty years past?

If it makes you feel good to wear leg warmers and glow sticks and chew gum and be Cindy Lauper and you listen to music and it moves you, who cares? It's more important that people are going out.

DJs like Sasha and Oakenfold are having problems crossing over with their albums, while electroclash is succeeding. Why is that?

It's one thing being a cool DJ behind the decks with your cap down, just playing, but to me, that's boring. I don't want to pay to see someone unless their music is so fucking good that I can't hear it anywhere else. A lot of DJs, the excitement is in the records they play, not in the personality. Who cares about looking cool? Getting on the stage and jumping around giving people a good time is what it should be about. DJs who are trying to be artists find it's one thing to play records and another thing translating your soul to a crowd. That's why Fischerspooner is my favorite live act. I don't know many DJs who would have the balls to get up and do that.

People are initially drawn to electronic music because it's focused on an experience and not an artist. But now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and DJs literally want to be rock stars. Where do you want to take your career?

Since I was five, I've wanted to be in a band and be touring. The whole DJ thing is just something that happened from my love of music, period. When that came along, it was natural, it was fun -- but it was always, in my mind, a stepping stone to where I wanted to go. Anyone can put songs out; it just depends if they have something to say or not. I might fall on my face, or I might not. It just depends if you say something people can relate to. That's not for the artist to know. If we all knew that, we'd all be making hit records.

You're doing some acting now. How does that fit into the bigger picture for you?

My father was quite a successful actor in Italy, and my mother did four big movies in Singapore. Opportunities are coming to me because I'm a DJ. It's not something I started out to do. Scripts are coming to me, and a lot of them are turned down because they're cheesy rave scripts. I've been offered a part in a new Wes Craven movie, and I've been offered a role that has nothing to do with music or deejaying. It's just trying to find small, interesting things that can stretch me. I also just got a TV show called The Remix; it's the Iron Chef in the music sense.

What's it all about?

It's going to be on Spike TV. They get up-and-coming producers and DJs and give them two songs to remix in a short period of time, and they have to turn it into a hit with basic equipment. The judges are really famous music-industry people and stars. It's credible; it's not cheesy shit.

More important, how has your ninjitsu training impacted the music you're making?

I've been doing it for five years.

Wow. Can you make yourself invisible yet?

That's the art of being a ninja, isn't it? I'm going to tour with the Art of War, a martial-arts group. The whole show is choreographed, and I do all of the music and incorporate some of those skills as well. It's really amazing what these cats can do. It's like watching The Matrix set to dance music. But what I'm really excited about is the club, Hush Hush at the Monday Night Social in L.A. DJs come to the club and play stuff they've never played before. People know they're going to see all the DJs there having a laugh and getting drunk, just having fun. It's where we can let loose and have a lot of fun.

Are you releasing tracks online?

Yeah, on Inta-Talent. I'm feeling passionate about breaks because I'm spinning so much, and it has to do with me doing the club night and wanting to do something different, and I've got radio shows on XM and on Q101 in Chicago. I fell in love with the whole breakbeat thing and started making it. It's something I'm doing for fun, and, as usual, when you do something out of passion, it ends up being a good thing.

There seems to be a lot of genre-blending going on in your work.

I've been doing this since 1988. My first album had songs on it. I've never been about playing one style of music, and that's why I continue to push the envelope. I wear a lot of hats, and I like lots of different music. I don't eat the same thing every day, and it would drive me fucking crazy if I had only one style of music to work with. Boredom is my worst enemy. I start drinking and getting all fucked up, so I need to entertain myself and keep myself busy mentally.

Are you bored with drum and bass?

Sometimes it's good, sometimes it isn't. It's increasingly hard to maneuver in that scene, what with everybody being so precious about a fucking dub plate, which leads me to be more creative in other areas.

How has that community responded to your new music?

I couldn't give two fucks how people respond. So long as the people I'm playing to respond, I don't give a shit. It's not a scene where people care about each other or get together and try to create something. There are probably five people in that scene that are really great to work with. I work with more people in the house scene than I do with people in my own genre, which probably speaks volumes.

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