For the latest installment of our weekly series, Soundcheck, Chris chats with Kevin Miller, a.k.a. DJ Belly, to discuss dubstep, the local DJ scene and more.
Smile Politely: You’ve been DJing for seven years or so, how has the culture locally changed in that time?
Kevin Miller: Mainly new faces and some familiar faces have moved on. Luckily the DJ culture in CU has maintained the vibe it had when I was first starting. All of the DJ’s in town who play on a regular basis know each other quite well. For the most part the veteran DJs in town kind of help the newer ones along, giving them advice and tips to hone the craft. This is something that hasn’t changed one bit. The main changes are of course in the styles of music and the gear available for DJs to choose from to play. Luckily the skill level of most the DJs in this town has remained quite high since I started. Champaign has always had an exceptional amount of talented DJs.
SP: Are the changes positive from your perspective?
Miller: As for the different genres of music I think its been great. The emergence of Dubstep really opened the doors for new people to get into electronic music and DJ culture. New genres of music are being coined on the internet daily. Did you know “Twerk” is now a genre? Check out my boys Free Drinkz to see what that is all about.
Conversely, the “cheese” factor of a lot of electronic music is at an all-time high. Any time you have something the kids are getting very into that is “underground” you get a lot of people trying to imitate the sound and style without really knowing about what the vibe is about. This is how you end up with the Top 40 on Beatport sounding exactly the same. Its difficult for the upcoming producers/DJs to really push the sounds in new ways if the only way to gain exposure is to make dance floor “bangers.” When dubstep first was hitting the states the sounds and styles were so different and unique to each producer. I could play songs for you now that you would never say was dubstep, but in turn were some of the largest tracks at the Massacre back in the day. Unfortunately most of the mainstream fans have latched onto the cookie-cutter sound. Same thing applies to trap and hip hop as well.
As for the local scene, you will always find DJs in town pushing the more unique styles—DJs who truly dig deep to find something new and fresh and push new sounds to the scene. Thats the thing that most certainly hasn’t changed and and that is a hugely positive thing.
SP: Are you still in residency at Soma? How is that going or how did it go?
Miller: Unfortunately, my residency at Soma only lasted about a month. The owner of the venue was not seeing the increase in numbers he would have liked to see.It was rather difficult to get people to go into a club on a Thursday in prime beer garden weather. I still play there occasionally on Saturdays and its a fantastic time every time I do. I have to play a more club-styled top 40 set then I usually break into, but I think that really pushes me to be a more well rounded DJ. If anything Soma has taught me about being able to play to any crowd. Its a great dance floor and great staff there, I’m glad I got to play the space regularly even for a short time.
SP: How often do you release recorded music?
KM: It ends up being about once a month I drop a new tune on Soundcloud. Every once in a while I actually get together a bunch of new songs and do a self-released EP or album. Its been quite some time since that happened. The last album I put out was a twelve-track release that was only available at a specific show I played in Chicago. You can still find most of those tunes on my Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages. Sometimes I will go six months without releasing anything. I’m always working on things, its just a question of is it good enough for people to listen/download it yet.
SP: Is Dubstep Massacre still an ongoing thing?
KM: Dubstep Massacre ended quite some time ago. The last show we did was at The Highdive in 2011 when we had Noah D to town. The monthly event I have been putting more time into recently is Certified Dope. Carlos Hernandez, Mikey Karbal and I decided to start working on this night about year ago and we have managed to have semiregular shows in Chicago, Champaign and Peoria. We have been pushing dance music that stems from a more hip hop base. The night centers on Trap, Juke, Baltimore Funk, Jersey Club, Hip Hop, and NOLA Bounce. If you aren’t familiar with any of those genres look em up now because you will be. If you haven’t been to one of this nights I strongly suggest you come check it out. The vibe is fun and people have a blast.
SP: What kind of new stuff have you been working on lately?
Miller: I have been working on a few projects at the moment. More than I am used to, that is for sure. First and foremost, I have been working with a group of fantastic musicians from the area in a live hip hop band called The Struggle. We have Isaac Arms of Withershins/Heirship Records on bass, Ted Faust, who plays in The Dirty Feathers, on keys, Jesse Greenlee from Sun Stereo on drums, and I back these fine gentlemen up on the turntables and sampler. Basically we recreate local MCs tracks for them to perform live. We have been working with Swords, Jay Moses, Klevah, and Harsh to name a few. You may have seen us at the Summer Stage block party on Green Street over the summer. If you haven’t witnessed The Struggle, catch us the Saturday night of Pygmalion Music Festival at the Highdive, we will be done right as everyone gets done tweaking to Major Lazer.
On a more individual front, I have been working on a new EP of some styles of music I personally enjoy a lot and are mainly not meant for dance floors at all. The EP will be based more on chilled-out, downtempo, relaxing vibes. I have dabbled in making more chill music but always tried to keep it relatively dance floor friendly. This is the first time I am throwing that completely to the wind. For this project I will be releasing it under the name Homestead. Think of it as a departure from what you typically hear from me when I make tracks and DJ. I am hoping it can live in its own space. I’m honestly very excited about this project and I feel as if it is some of the best music I have ever written. I will be looking to shop around the EP to a few labels and hopefully find a proper release for it by this winter.
I also have a couple of remixes I’m currently working on under the regular moniker. Be on the look out for remixes of The Widdler and Young Blu coming soon.
SP: What has been the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a DJ?
Miller: I mean, thats a simple one. The best part about DJing is when you are working a packed room completely on the fly, no preprograming. When you play the perfect song at the perfect time it is easily the most rewarding thing as a DJ. The looks on peoples faces, the energy through the roof, its the best feeling ever.
SP: If you could work with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Miller: DJ Shadow. That guy is amazing, I love where he draws his inspiration from and what he can do on the decks. I wouldn’t even want to work with him per say, more just have him teach me his ways.
SP: If you could work with anyone locally who would it be?
Miller: As far as making music goes I am very excited to be working with Megan Johns on the new Homestead project. She has a track in her email and we just need to sit down and work on it when our schedules manage to line up. I am really excited to hear her voice over some electronic elements. Its new territory for both of us and I imagine the end product will be fantastic. Also I would really like to make some tracks for Klevah. That girl is amazing on the mic. Luckily the same song that ended up in Megan’s inbox is in hers as well. Look out for that coming soon.
As far as DJing, hell, I’ll sit in with any band anytime and find something cool to do noise wise back there.
Photos courtesy the artist’s Facebook.