DJ Three

by Matthew Bedard

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Grind the Axe Before the Axe Grinds You
If there’s but one critical thing to recall when you’re snuggling with the speaker—or is/was it a summer-honeyed Finnish co-ed with his/her finger ’tween you and your Calvins?—in the nutritive, cavitary uteri of a bewitching DJ Three set during, say, the final hours of Japan’s eerily legendary Labyrinth Festival, or a gossamery sunrise closer at Burning Man, it’s the chirp chirp of Ecclesiastes, which sang: “If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength.” You look up into the mist, Mt. Fuji still snowcapped, the Black Rock Desert freckled with its annual orgiastic array, and behold the focused face of Three, now two-plus decades on the decks, grinding the proverbial axe. But this is different. Because Three grinds so silkily, so coolly, that it’s well apparent the axe needs no sharpening, the labor is in its intuition, and it slices through time and space, churning both into a sort of auditory butter. Now spread it.

Enigmatic, mysterious, and rarely up for the recording of his live sets, Three is that rare form of artist whom the heads consider a head. Known to have taken an interest in dance jams due to the neighborhood roller rink in Florida as a kid, Three has chalked up collaborations with the likes of UNKLE and Doc Martin, been lauded by Laurent Garnier, turntable fodder for Seth Troxler and Loco Dice, crossed towns with the Crosstown Rebels, and will soon see a release on contemporary dance floor anchors, Visionquest (Spring 2015). This October, you’ll have the privilege of enjoying a decadent compilation slice, Phono Obscura, from Hallucienda, the latest iteration to Three’s fabled, erratic, and always freak-out friendly, hallucinatory label efforts (previously Hallucination Limited, Hallucienda, and Hallucination Records, respectively. Seeing things yet?)

In the flesh, tonight penthouse-posted above the LES at NYC’s Sixty Hotel, Three is a warm, reserved, and eloquent guy, acutely mellow. As the drinks flow, we remark on the stumbled upon, off-the-stacks, lo-fi Haitian radio jams soundtracking our evening, an obviously ether-pumped NYU grad student issuing the play-by-play. A few subdued moments float by—barring the shoot’s stylist getting a little out of hand—and suddenly, in a lightning bolt-like freeze frame, Three leaps out of his seat, fist pumping his way across the hotel room, abjectly tickled at the track that’s just commenced. He makes a hasty note in his phone and sits back down, a Cheshire-like grin stamped on his mug. This particular ultra-rarity is not unfamiliar—he spun the bejesus out of it some 15 years prior, but lost the thread along the way—and its re-entering of his orbit is that type of blessing a true ephemeral head lives for. You’ll be hearing it soon, no doubt, if you happen to be on site. For that which lives, dies, returns, and will forever move the people. Now let’s hear Three sharpen that axe.

Is everybody just working for the weekend, Three? You’ve got the real world during the week. And on the weekend, some people go play basketball. Other people go dance. And I think an escape is great to have, especially one that’s so artistically driven. And dance music seems to be one of the first entertainment music business things that really is kind of smashing the age model. At the end of the ’90s, I heard all the young journalists calling for the heads of all the older DJs. They’re still here; they’re doing the best work they’ve ever done. And I don’t see them going anywhere.

Call it ergonomics or stress, but we tend to wear the grind as people. How’s that translate to DJ life? I think as an entertainer, especially, whatever’s going on in life has to be personally shelved. Girlfriend broke up with you, family member sick, whatever. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play. And that comes easier when you’re just being yourself musically. Not a responsibility to pander... But you have to use it as an exercise, not as an emotion. Everybody. Rock n’ roll, DJs, whatever.

Is there value in rituals? Absolutely. I think for some people it’s more spiritual and ritualistic. But whether it’s exercise or meditation, I think it’s important because it helps people be centered. Before they go to work, meet up with friends... this world’s chaotic and, moreover, this lifestyle’s chaotic. And I think anyone that does, they shouldn’t be faulted for whatever keeps them together. Sounds cliche, but life’s hard...

In the spirit of the grind, do you feel like people are more entrenched in the grind than ever? Liberation? End point? I do. I think everyone seems really dug in right now, and really motivated, but for all the right reasons. Everyone’s just excited to create. It’s a buzz to see so many creative people just doing stuff. And especially the ones who are not afraid to be themselves. That’s the real true hallmark of any great artist, isn’t it? It’s someone who does what they think is right and let the cards fall where they may. And certain DJs run hot and cold—we’re living, we’re going from moment to moment the same way the audience is. Sometimes you have to trick people into that, you’re having a great night. I also learned a long time ago to just smile and take a compliment. There might be a night where you would’ve rather eaten glass than finish that set but everyone’s like, “You were amazing!” But you don’t want to get in the habit of telling people how much you suck because people do want to hear what you have to say and eventually they’re gonna believe you.

How would you define “work ethic”? Work ethic has always seemed more of a puritanical concept, and I haven’t necessarily had the best work ethic my entire career. Discipline is something that I’ve learned much later. And I think it’s just out of a desire to be able to be creative and just get shit done. It’s just been a long, slow, steady extension. I’ve never leveled off, or gone away. You’ve either heard of Three, and these labels, or you’ve never heard of it at all. I don’t think that’s necessarily been a bad place to be. It’s maybe just a matter of connecting the dots. Obviously, it comes down to the amount of effort and the desire to do it. I like what I do more than I ever have. I love DJing more than ever. I feel really compelled to do this with a label now. I feel like it is a way to validate and tie together what I have been doing with my life for the last 20 years. And in a way where the present is entirely linked to my past and history...

 

 

Photographer: Standa Merhout at StandaMerhout.com. Fashion Editor: Joshua Liebman at JoshuaLiebman.com.