MIXED CHEESE | A Conversation with DJ Harry

Photo by Todd Radunsky
The worlds of improvisational and electronic music continue to weave amongst each other while raising the eyebrows of music fans everywhere with the intertwining of various sounds. From the mountains of Colorado, there is a DJ who is exploring further into tying these two scenes closer together by fusing the funky breaks and steady builds of House music with a flavor of energy from live samples and mixes of the improvisational music genre. DJ Harry’s recently-released The String Cheese Remix Project (Instinct/SCI Fidelity Records) mixes together these dimensions by capturing samples of The String Cheese Incident’s live show and mixing it in with the textured and spacious sounds of House music. Last spring, audiences found them selves grooving late night to a mix of beats and samples as Harry kept festivities going on after various West Coast SCI shows, including a memorable overnight boat party in San Francisco after the Cheese’s three night Warfield run. This summer finds DJ Harry spinning records into the night while following The String Cheese Incident tour from coast to coast, including a an upcoming New York City collaboration with SCI keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, as well as another San Francisco boat party in early August. While back in Telluride last week, DJ Harry took some time to talk about his busy summer on the road and the merging scenes of House and live music.

Powers: You’re back in Colorado right now taking a quick breather from the circuit of your post String Cheese late night gigs. How’d that last one go in Wisconsin?

DJ Harry: It went pretty well. Somerset was the venue. I did the after show. The venue was very cool. A lot of times you walk into these old bars that were put up and done up back in the seventies and you find them pretty seedy, but this place was pristine. It had quite the authentic seventies’ vibe to it. The gig was a fun one. I debuted some of the new mixes of Cheese’s "Wake Up" that are coming out on vinyl soon.

Powers: A different mix than what’s on your record, The String Cheese Remix Project?

DJ Harry: Yeah! The new remix of "Wake Up" comes out next month on vinyl. The original mix is going to be on the record as well, but I’m also going to have a new mix, more of a progressive house song than the original mix on the record. It will be a bit faster than the one I did on the album. Gavin Hartkiss of San Francisco also did 2 mixes too for the vinyl release of "Wake Up."

Powers: How did the guys in String Cheese react to you putting out your new album of mixes of their material? Was it a tough sell to someone like Bill Nershi on an album of Cheese samples and House beats?

DJ Harry: Billy gave some of the mixes a listen originally. I had run into him backstage at show and that’s where he gave me the thumbs up on it. I think Billy was probably the hardest sell, because he’s really into bluegrass.

Powers: I would love to have seen his initial reaction of his vocals being sampled on the mix of "Texas" on your album.

Photo by Marla Price
DJ Harry: (laughs) Yeah, Billy liked it. Kyle said there were some parts that stuck out to him that he really liked too. The biggest fan of the remix album may be Keith’s daughter. She actually absolutely loves the mixes on the record. (laughs)

Powers: You’ve spent some time spinning in Telluride at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. What’s the scene like for House music in a town like Telluride?

DJ Harry: I showed up in Telluride and helped introduce it to the town. Most people hadn’t heard House and I was just starting to DJ then... back in ’93. Everyone in Telluride is mostly college-educated and everyone is there because they want to be there. People are really into the outdoors. They’re really involved with their lives. The Telluride crew would go out and go skiing or hiking all day and then come into the bar ready to go. There was a good party atmosphere in the town and everyone would love to dance all night. I was psyched to spin and keep everyone dancing until the sun would come up. (laughs) We did that on and off for a couple of years.

Powers: Was String Cheese the first band with improvisational skills that you attempted to remix?

DJ Harry: Well, I got into House around ’92 and started spinning in ’93. I had actually started to work on a Phish remix in ’94. The reason I hadn’t considered mixing something of the Dead was because the Dead to me seemed like too much of an "untouchable" back then. The Dead had a different vibe.

Phish on the other hand seemed much more cutting edge at the time. They weren’t extremely huge yet and Phish projected more of a House vibe at the time to me. It just felt more like the House music vibe. I thought that somehow I could mix the two together. In fact, I had experimented with a remix of "Tweezer" and "Down with Disease." I played those around for awhile in ’94 and ’95. At the time, sampler memory was too expensive and the technology just wasn’t there so I kind of gave up on pushing the Phish stuff further. I actually did get backstage one time and mentioned to Page what I was doing, but he hadn’t heard of House music and he wasn’t too sure of what I was talking about. (Laughs)

Powers: When did your involvement with String Cheese begin?

DJ Harry: Jesse Aratow, who now works for SCI-Fidelity, gave me a gig at a Cheese show last summer. He used to work at the bar in Telluride where I was spinning House a couple of years ago. He saw the whole transformation of the combination of the House and jam band scenes going on in Telluride. After he started working with String Cheese in Boulder, he set me up with a gig Djing after one of their shows at Horning’s Hideout outside of Portland last year. I took it upon myself to remix a couple of songs just off their cd before going up there. I showed up at Horning’s and played the mixes in front of around 4,000 people and everyone loved it. At that point I realized even more that these two different worlds of House and jam bands could be woven together. I think at first the members of String Cheese were a bit hesitant, since they weren’t really too much into House... bluegrass is more their style. (laughs) Eventually as the mixes progressed and got better, they really ended up liking it a lot.

Powers: I heard that it was a pretty crazy moment when you got on stage at Horning’s with the band. Was Dr. Didg up there too with you?

Photo by Woody Carroll
DJ Harry: Yeah, it was pretty chaotic. (laughs). There was a fire dance going on... a complete circus atmosphere everywhere. Musicians were just coming and going on and off stage. At one point it was me on stage with the band doing a couple of songs with them and I added some scratching and some samples. Later on the band faded out and I faded in spinning a couple of records. Dr. Didg was up there as well. It kind of rotated and then as the Cheese remixes started to take off on stage, the band kind of came out and started to play on top of it. I think the audience was a bit unsure of who was playing what. (laughs).

Powers: You’ll be back up at Horning’s Hideout this year as well, right?

DJ Harry: Yeah, I’ll be doing a late night thing at Horning’s that Thursday night for all the early campers. Hopefully we’ll be dancing until the wee hours.

Powers: Will there be any collaboration with the Cheese on stage this year up there?

DJ Harry: Ah, we’ll have to see. That’ll have to be a surprise.

Powers: I hear that Kyle Hollingsworth is going to be performing with you after SCI’s New York City show at your late night gig. How will that work?

DJ Harry: It’s going to be a little different than the usual Djing. A lot of times when you hear a house record in a club, it was produced on a large amount of equipment in a studio. Now when people bring that equipment out to a club or venue to perform the music from the equipment, that’s called "playing live" or "live PA." Essentially one person can control all the parts... kind of like a conductor for a band. So what I’m doing with Kyle in New York City is bringing all the gear with me, writing seven or eight new tracks and then I’ll have drum lines, bass lines and melody lines laid out, but I’ve left holes in the melodies for Kyle. Kyle’s going to be playing into the music. I also have a loop sampler set up so that he can play a chord or a couple of notes... loop those and continue to play on top of those.

Powers: Have you done something like that before or will this be a first using all that gear?

DJ Harry: I actually did the same thing with Keller Williams about a month ago at Telluride and it was fantastic. Jeff Coffin of the Flecktones sat in too. Dr. Didg and I are doing somewhat of a partnership like that at Berkfest in August too. We’re also talking about having me do some mixes of his new record as well down the road. Hopefully we’ll be getting together for some of this "live PA" stuff and get some cool results!

Powers: So you’re back in Colorado right now before heading out to New York and then you’ll be out west as Cheese finishes thing up the West Coast...

DJ Harry: Yeah, I’ve got late night gigs in Southern California and then the big overnight boat party in San Francisco during the Cheese Berkeley weekend. The last boat cruise after the Warfield run was such a good time. I can’t wait for round two in a couple of weeks.

Powers: What was that like spinning overnight on a boat while cruising around the San Francisco Bay? You kept the post Cheese festivities going on for a lot of people with the House beats and live Cheese samples.

Photo by Marla Price
DJ Harry: The boat party after the Saturday Warfield String Cheese show last March was absolutely amazing. I had never done a boat party before and I was blown away with the energy of the crowd. The boat was packed and it took off at about 2 AM. It was just a beautiful night on the San Francisco Bay. The boat would rock back and forth and my turntables would rock right with them, but they never skipped. I was amazed. It felt like I was spinning records in the bathtub. (laughs) The real cool thing about the boat was that people could check out the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge from the top decks. The fog would roll in here and there, but yet there was all this energy in the main room... the main cabin of the boat. There was such a good vibe being out there on the bay and everyone was having such a good time dancing and partying. It got so hot and sweaty too from everyone grooving. You could wipe the glass clean of the condensation and see right out on the water as we cruised by the San Francisco skyline. It was rocking! (laughs) Then of course I turn around and sure enough we were pulling back to dock hours later. It was one of those moments where time had just so quickly passed while having such a great time. It was a blast. I’m ready to do it all again right after the Saturday Berkeley Cheese show! See you out there.

DJ Harry brings his fusion of House and live elements to New York City this Saturday. He returns to the West Coast to keep fans dancing into the early morning hours as the String Cheese Incident wraps up their summer tour in early August. Album and tour date information can be found at www.djharry.net.

Mike Powers | San Francisco

Thanks to Carrie Lombardi and Tony Rhein!

[Published on: 7/19/01]

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