With skills to pay any bills, Dexter has made a massive name for himself as Australia's most ingenious hip hop DJ. After an unbelievable second place in the World DMCs behind DJ Craze in 2000, Dexter famously joined the Avalanches as their resident DJ. And now he's going back to basics with his XX tour! Celebrating twenty years in the game, this veteran still looks as young and fresh as ever, refusing to rest on his laurels and finding a new beat. We were fortunate enough to be invited into the Dexter lab to scratch it up one time with this national treasure on the eve of his tour to talk kicks, beats and wax....
Wowza, twenty years and you're looking fresher than ever! What's the secret?
I don't know what it is because I've been doing it for so long, you just do it... now it's second nature to me! I think it's just being able to find the people who like how you spin!
Let's take it back. When and where did you first discover the turntables?
My brother Kuya taught me, he started when he was 12. My sister's husband's cousin had some decks, and he would wag primary school grade 6 to go and mix - now that's GHETTO! We only had one turntable for a whole year, because my brother asked for one belt drive from Tandy and we would try and mix over the radio. That's how we learnt...that was just our way.
Is it true you had a mobile DJ business with your bro? You must have been racking in the cash from a young age!
Yeah man! We started the mobile business together - we did everything, like friend's christenings, birthday parties etc. My dad used to cart everything around for us in his Datsun with the trailer and tarp holding all our gear!
Hahaha, awesome! And from there, when did you actually start spinning in clubs?
The first gig I did was hilarious; I was only 16 (I'm 32 now) at the old West End Markets in Sunshine. There was a club there called Tigers - commercial dance downstairs and hip hop/rnb upstairs! I did it for a month...I was just playing party jams (r'n'b, hip hop and everything in between)...same as now really! The foundation is always there, that's been the key to my longevity, and because whatever trends are happening that foundation allows me to have solidness. It's fine if you want to follow trends as there are always different crowds to satisfy. But I always knew my place.
I remember in the late ‘90s not a lot of clubs were playing hip hop and it was rare to even hear the music played out...
It was pretty rare! There was only really Kuya, myself and Jams (James De La Cruz who I ended up working with in The Avalanches) and Peril. The three of us holding it down.
From clubs you moved onto DJ trick competitions. How did you become involved with the DMC comp?
James De La Cruz's brother showed me some videos in '96 of QBert and Mixmaster Mike and Shortkut, and I was like, "oh yeah, right...cool!" I could scratch but I couldn't perform any full turntable tricks. It was from '94 that I first saw videos and then I practised and was like, ‘ok I'll enter.'
We're you packing death when you started placing internationally?
Back then I did, because I was just so young, especially that 2000 show (where Dexter placed 2nd in the world behind DJ Craze). I really wanted to set myself apart as far as beats and technicality (not one hip hop song or beat was used). People don't even realise with that set I invented the 6/8 juggle... a completely different time signature, and to this day I haven't heard anyone still be able to flip 4/4 into 6/8
How the hell do you manage to invent your own scratch/juggle/trick?
It was just something I worked on...I mean there are so many time signatures you can discover. Kuya invented the half-time juggle. He's got this routine with ‘Try Again' (by Aaliyah) - he juggles it and then he flips it and all of a sudden he's juggling 140bpm half time and prior to that no one had ever done that.
Well one would suspect you had great musical training?
I got sent to piano lessons - I hated it! I didn't like the music. It just didn't appeal to me whatsoever. At such a young age, I already knew what I liked and what I didn't. My neighbour was a breaker and it was in '82 that he played me electro and hip hop for the first time and I was like "this is it!" - I was only 5 years old.
What's with the upside down mixer that you had?
Hahahah, that's cos they didn't have the reverse switch back then! It was all about practicality!
Is it hilarious to go back and watch just how your style has developed in that time (from FuBu to AC/DC tee shaved head to afro!) Do you put much emphasis on what you wear?
As long as it looks good, I'll rock it. It's the same with sneakers. I am a b-baller, so most of the collection revolves around basketball kicks. The Burgundy Jordan Vs are my favourite, but to play in it's gotta be the Huaraches.... And what Philo kid didn't play basketball growing up?
Tis true, tis true! The musical style you forged in 2000 laid the foundation to your work with The Avalanches. How did you come to be part of the group?
It was '97 and I was there from the beginning. They saw me at the DMCs in '97 and wanted me to do support for their 7" release of Rock City, so I did that and we became mates. From that gig, I ended up joining the group as their DJ. It was awesome touring, so much fun. But they didn't want to play live anymore, so we went our separate ways and I just moved on, because I really liked the live element
And from there you teamed up with Grrilla Step for a whole new level of Dexterism! How did that all come about?
Travelling up north, doing workshops and music festivals. That was during the time when what I was playing wasn't in demand, because the scene had changed and our generation had gone on, so I started to travel and do workshops. I eventually met up with Gorilla Step and they moved down to Melbourne, so we got together.
Was it hard to find yourself ‘not in demand'?
A little bit - but I never flogged it! I've done a lot of overseas stints, like 30 gigs in 6 weeks - it was fun at the time and I wanted to know what it was like, and I did it and it was great. The energy is always so different too. You can play your favourite sections to two different places and get two completely different reactions. It's pretty heavy.
You're working with kids now too, teaching them the Dexter way...
I get called to do workshops every now and then, and I worked with the ABC for two weeks. These kids knew nothing when they walked in. They were on CDJs and I got every single kid mixing two tunes in 10 minutes, because I just simplified it - I got rid of all the coloured lights and the fancy stuff and told them not to even worry about bpms and everything...'just listen'. And then just tap away!
Shazam! Before I forget, whatever happened to your record store you ran with Kuya back in the day?
Vinyl Soldiers? Oh my god, I loved that place! I wanted to keep going but doing DMCs and having the Avalanches record just drop, I just wanted to go have fun. It was so well placed in front of the old SMC skate store!
I know, it ruled for buying killer hip hop vinyl, which was so hard to come by at the time. Speaking of vinyl, how has the transition for you to Serato been?
It's been great for krump stuff cos none of that stuff is available on vinyl. I've been on Serato for around four years, but it just still doesn't feel the same. I mean it's awesome for the cue point stuff, and you can do a lot on it. But there's nothing like the sound of wax - there's so many frequencies to hear and play with, plus the full roundness and how it just fills the room cannot be compared!
Preach on! We better talk about your upcoming show before we get carried away...Do you know your dates first up!?
Hahaha, May 7th at HiFi Bar in Melbourne, next Friday (faaarrrrk, that's so soon!) and then the 13/14/15th in Coolingata, Brizzy and Byron and then the 28th in Sydney Oxford Arts Factory.
What can we expect?
I'll be working on everything, my favourite bits of routines from DMC stuff, plus I'm making up new parts, new sections of the old! I'm breaking it up with Gorilla Step, Curse Of Machines and me and Kuya as well. It'll end up being a two-hour to two and a half hour party!
Sick! And if you could pinpoint just one highlight in twenty years of Djng...
Touring with Public Enemy, they are my favourite hip hop group, producers... everything. They totally lived up to all my expectations. When Fight The Power dropped in '89 I had just started Djng. It was the first 12" I bought and it just spoke to me production-wise, everything-wise - the vibe was just amazing. At 12 years old, I was just so excited by it!
Make sure to follow all the Dexter XX Tour news on his twitter here!
Images by Sneaker Freaker.