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DJ Sharkey/'Unravelling The Beat Poetic'
Interview by Alan Sargeant


He's compared to Beck, boasts the production credits of Beastie Boy producer Mario C and Midnite Vulture Mickey Petralia, is given mad love by Wyclef Jean, The Black Eyed Peas, Cannibal Ox and the Pharcyde and still you're unlikely to have heard of him. That's all about to change. Meet Sharkey.


Sharkey is under no illusions as to how he got the name Sharkey. He didn't used to swim off the coast of Africa, wrestle sharks for fun and hand them back to jubliant town's people. Sharkey is simply his last name.

His debut album, 'Sharkey's Machine' is, however, not quite so prosaic. With guest contributions from the likes of Cannibal Ox, The Pharcyde, Jean Grae, Grand Puba of Brand Nubian, Cherrywine, Zooks from The Spark, The GrayKid, producers, Mario C. (Beastie Boys) and Mickey Petralia (Beck, Linkin Park) it's a sparkling ragbag of good time electronica with some tasty slivers of funk, rock, bluegrass, Spanish, jazz, folk, cut n paste and scratch thrown into the bargain. It's hip-hop, Jim, but not as we know it. In fact it's the one thing out of Washington DC that has not failed to throw up Weapons Of Mass Destruction, as the album is veritable minefield of thrills, spills, faultlines and sudden impacts. It's of the Street, but not in it. An intelligent, collegiate grasp of the poetics of hip-hop and music culture pulls it in a direction that would be unsustainable by the usual hardcore screamboys of New York and the humourless tirade of miscreants like the D-12. It's every bit as highbrow and experimental as DJ Shadow - only more analogue - more soulful - and more funky. It also has a discipline and authority that could only have come out of D.C. It also has humour. And you know what they say; humour is the only thing that distinguishes us from beasts. I know, because Sean Connery said this very thing in The Name Of The Rose. And Sharkey does a cracking Sean Connery impression – so he too should know.

Whilst comparisons to Beck proliferate, it has to be said that Sharkey shakes off the flagrant Post-Modernism that pursues the aforesaid hipster like a ferret on grease. He’s the people’s choice, the musician’s musician, the cat in the hat and all that. He needs no introduction to those in the know – but Crud feels a little getting-to-know-you session may be in order for those not privileged to move in such distinguished circles.

Meet Sharkey.

You grew up in Washington DC?

I grew up with my father being a single parent. He was a real go-getter and an entrepreneur. I think that helped train me to go after what I wanted in life. I was the kid that always excelled in whatever I put my mind to. Problem is, it wasn’t usually schoolwork. I used to BMX and skate the hell out of some streets though.

So it’s unlikely you were ever interested in the politics of the city?

Growing up in DC, it’s hard to not share some sort of political view and interest in what’s going on around you. Politics run this city.

So you must have some pretty firm ideas about what’s going on at the moment?

Hmmm. I try not to hate. What’s going on in America right now pisses me off. I can’t stand that someone makes bad decisions in my name. I think everyone feels that way over here. It’s hard to make a difference though when your President rigged the election in the first place. Hopefully things will be different come this election.

But politics runs this city. In fact that DC has never really been able to break through with a music scene. The press doesn’t support it. I have always tried to do my part and more here though. But a lot of artists end up moving out of here and going to New York or LA.

But you did get support from your father, right?

My father had Jim Croce, Beatles, and Steely Dan records around. They made a huge impact on my influences and me. Even the turntable alone. I would always ask my father if I could play his records on it, and he would make a big deal out of me being careful and having respect for this valuable equipment so that I would make sure not to break it. I think that engrained an appreciation for vinyl and instruments early on.

Let’s brings folks bang up to date. Your band The Spark has been touring with Wyclef Jean and the Black Eyed Peas? How was that?

Crazy. We had a lot of fun but it was mainly gorilla style. We would roll up in this small van all crammed up. Four guys, including The GrayKid, and our soundman. Then the Peas or Wyclef would roll up next to us with multiple tour buses. It was hilarious. Those guys are all great though. And they gave us mad love.

So how do you deal with all these split personalities: you have Sharkey, DJ Sharkey, then there’s The Spark. What can you do with one that you can’t do with the others?

I always consider myself just Sharkey. There are different modes that I am in from time to time that do affect the way the world views me.

My record, “Sharkey’s Machine” is my brainchild and was a concept that I brewed up were I am the guy who controls the ship. I drew up the blue prints and built the structure. But within that ship, there are many intricate gears and parts that make up the machine. Without those parts, there would not be a machine. When the machine is on tour, I become DJ Sharkey. Playing a combination of digital and analogue instruments. Using cuts, loops, and mashups from the record and my vast library of sound. With The Spark…there is an idea melded by two personalities. Myself and Zooks. Almost like a marriage of sound. When The Spark performs, we have live musicians that play with us and fill in the cracks.

There’s a different kind of marriage going down on the new Sharkey album, ‘Sharkey’s Machine’. A marriage between sound and something more visual. Elements of Get Carter turning up in ‘Slo-Mo In The Grotto’ and even, bizarrely enough, ‘Skateboarder's Blues’. Was this a conscious thing?

No. It’s just the way that I create. I am a self-taught musician. So most of the time, my ideas are based on more feeling then a technical standpoint. Most of what has always inspired me is music that sets a mood and has the abilities to change an emotion. Like a soundtrack would. So when I create, I think of what beat and tempo feels happy or sad. Or what guitar sound would add to the eeriness of a song. Thank you for noticing.

How do you take the Beck comparisons? You’ve worked with Mickey Petralia of Midnite Vultures fame? How did this come about? Where you looking to funk it up?

Beck is amazing. I will take those comparisons with a smile all day. But when referring to a particular song, I have to assume you are speaking of the track “Little Cabin Song.” Mickey is not actually what you would consider a funky producer. I think his collaboration with Beck melded into that kind of thing. I had the ideas, and structures for that song built and I thought (yes, based on his track record with Beck) that certain song would be good for collaboration with Mickey. So he kind of got typecast for on that one. Sorry Mick. I came to learn that he is a very versatile producer like myself and there are a couple songs that we worked on together for this record that don’t share what you would consider a typical “Beck” sound.

You also had Beastie Boy producer and all round team mate, Mario Calado Jr. contribute to a record like this? What makes a guy like Mario so essential?

I can only speak on my case. Mario’s role may be a lot more present on a track that he doesn’t share production on. I have very strong views and vision on my production and in which direction I want a song to go in. Mario brought the unvalued level of maturity to our sessions. I learned a lot from him.

The Beastie Boys are back in town with new album, ‘To The 5 Boroughs’. Do you see hip-hop and rap artists maturing with greater dignity than people like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones?

I don’t know if they will mature with greater dignity but I think they will share the same level of highness we place on a Paul McCartney or The Stones. Big band and jazz was huge when rock (which was viewed as street music at the time) derived out of it. And like you said, look at the way we view Paul or Mick now. Not like musicians, but like kings. Hip-hop came out of rock so I can only imagine we will one day share the same views towards the Beasties Boys or even a Jay-Z.

We keep using the term Hip-hop but is Hip-hop an adequate term these days? Does it mean more to marketing folks than to the artists themselves?

It depends what your views are on it. Hip-hop to me has always been the fundamental idea of B-boying and its beat culture that originated in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Things that follow that, I consider Hip-hop. Hip-hop was derived from funk and rock n’ roll so even when a genre completely different is blended with it, you still have hip-hop if the guts and influences are maintaining that same true idea. I don’t think that most of the stuff you hear on commercial radio falls under that category at all. It’s just rap music. Some of the old Beatles stuff with the big beat breaks and stuff sound like hip-hop to me.

How did the Pharcyde track ‘Snobird’ come about? That’s more big band than big beat?

I was in the studio joking around with Billy Moon. I thought it would be interesting to do a song with those kinds of rhythms with rhymes over top. So I put together the beat on the spot and Billy wrote the silly “lovers-esque” lyrics. Then Imani and Brown from The Pharcyde came in and wrote their lyrics for it. A lot of the stuff I created for this record came out of just having fun or the mood I happened to be in at that moment. I tried not to put too much commercial thought into these songs and keep them as heart felt as possible.

So what’s next for Sharkey?

I am literally planning my tour as we speak and hope to continue travelling for the next year or so while finishing The Spark record, and starting production a couple new records with some well-known artists. Maybe a big rock record and a hip-hop record. I need to keeps busy or I gets fidgety ya’ll. Keep me busy

Relevant sites:

Interview conducted by Alan Sargeant for Crud Magazine 2004©

04/04 22-20s - Live - Forum, London
04/04 Charlatans - Live - Hammersmith Apollo, London
04/04 Kaiser Chiefs - LIve - Metro Club, London
04/04 The Killers / Departures - Live - Soundhaus, Northampton
04/04 Glastonbury Festival 2004 part I
04/04 Glastonbury Festival 2004 part II
04/04 Hives - Live - Camden Electric Ballroom, London
04/04 Le Tigre - Live - London Astoria
04/04 Madrugada Live - London100 Club
04/04 Razorlight / Bloc Party - Live - London Astoria
04/04 Reading Festival 2004
04/04 Redjetsons - Northampton Soundhaus
04/04 Sharkey Interview - Sharkey's Machine
04/04 Simple Kid Interview

04/04 Summer Sundae Weekender 2004
04/04 Supergrass - Forum, London
Tanya Donnelly - Bush Hall London
04/04 The Open - Live - London ICA
04/04 This Girl - Northampton Soundhaus
04/04 Urban Voodoo Interview - Coordinates

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October - December 2004
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