Photo: Mic to Mic. Click on the photo to view a photoset of pics from the show.
"You girls don't look like you'd go to a hip-hop show."
The doorman at the Highline Ballroom -- a large, black man in a faux-fur purple coat -- eyed my friend and me inquisitively as we exited the venue after watching DJ JS-1, Mix Master Mike, and Rahzel perform.
"How am I not hip-hop?" I asked the doorman.
He lifted my Dr. Who-esque scarf with a limp wrist and rolled his eyes in good humor.
"I'm not from around here," I laughed. "And I don't front."
He bowed to us and laughed.
I have had the pleasure of seeing Mix Master Mike perform solo before, but never in an environment and with an audience like that at the Highline Ballroom in New York City on March 5. The audience was comprised of major hip-hop heads: young men wearing their hoodies over their heads, who studied the turntablists performing on stage with extreme concentration and scrutiny. My friends and I -- major Beastie Boys heads -- were a minority in the audience.
DJ JS-1 began the show with an impressive DJ set. If Mix Master Mike ever decides to retire, Beastie Boys need to call this guy. DJ JS-1's style is very similar to Mix Master Mike's -- a lot of cutting and scratching and incorporating of old skool rap samples.
Later, when DJ JS-1 introduced Mix Master Mike to the audience, he called the Beastie Boys' DJ "his idol" and raved about Mix Master Mike's abilities. "You're in for something special," DJ JS-1 warned the audience.
For Mix Master Mike's set, my friends and I moved to the front of the stage, the exact same spot we had the previous night at the Beastie Boys show at Terminal 5. After our disappointment with the sound at the Beastie Boys show, we were elated with how excellent the sound was at the Highline Ballroom. Mix Master Mike sounded supreme.
Dressed in a Clash t-shirt, Mix Master Mike walked on stage and struck a "I'm the master" pose (arms folded and chin up) before beginning his hour-long set. It is almost impossible to describe what and how Mix Master Mike performs. Watching him perform is like watching a Nascar race. Your eyes can only follow the cars but not understand what the drivers are doing to make the cars move as they do.
Watching Mix Master Mike perform, I thought, "Dang, he really holds back when he's with the Beastie Boys!" What Mix Master Mike does with the Beastie Boys is only 2% illustrative of what he's capable of doing as a DJ. I hope the Beastie Boys know how lucky they are to have a DJ of Mix Master Mike's calibre on their team.
Mix Master Mike's set at the Highline Ballroom was completely entertaining and inspiring. Halfway through the set, a b-boy battle broke out on the floor that drew everyone's attention away from the stage. It's not often you see people breakdancing at a live concert. (At least, I don't see it often!) I imagine inspiring a b-boy battle is one of the biggest compliments a DJ can receive.
My favorite part of Mix Master Mike's set was a section in which he mixed and cut the Beastie Boys "14th Street Break" (from The Mix-Up). My friends and I howled with delight at what he did with the song! Beastie Boys need to forget about a vocal version of the album with other artists and let Mix Master Mike do his thang to the album. It was IN-CRED-I-BLE!! One of the reasons I delayed writing this review is I hoped to find video or audio of this moment of the show. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate any video or audio. The following video, recorded at Mix Master Mike's show in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a fair representation of his set at the Highline Ballroom:
Probably only major Beastie Boys fans would recognize how much of the Beastie Boys Mix Master Mike incorporates in his solo sets. Sometimes it's just a single word sample by Adam Yauch or a goofy noise made by Mike Diamond or Adam Horovitz, but you recognize it. Mix Master Mike has a DJ style that seems improvisational, like he's making everything up as he performs; however, I'm fairly certain that's not the case. I think he's a master because he knows what he's doing in advance and has planned for it.
DJing is an art that is intimidating and a challenge to write about, unless you are a DJ yourself. Most DJs prefer spinning than writing, so it's rare to find informative or insightful reviews of DJ shows. In my search for other reviews of the Highline Ballroom show, I was only able to find one other review at Open Season NYC.
I don't profess to know a heck of a lot about the art of DJing; I only know when I like what I hear. What I heard that night at the Highline Ballroom from DJ JS-1, Mix Master Mike, and Rahzel (a huge teddybear of a man who beatboxes with charm and humor) was fantastic. If you have the opportunity to catch any of these performers live, do it! And try to write about it because these artists deserve to be written about.
If anything shines through in my review, I hope it's my admiration and respect for the artists.
Audio Technician - DJ JS-1 featuring Immortal Technique, Lifelong, and Mix Master Mike (from Ground Original, 2003) (4.14 MB mp3 via Savefile)
Please check out the rare Mix Master Mike album download posted at Wall to Wall.