By Randy Alberts
If you listen to funky breaks, funky house and West coast breakbeat music and grew up within range of KROQ during the ‘80s and ‘90s, then you remember DJ Spinn. He was responsible for all those rare Depeche Mode, New Order, EMF, and Erasure radio mega-remixes on the groundbreaking Los Angeles, CA radio station, and he played the freshest electronic dance tunes as a mix show DJ and co-host for the Mars FM Top 30 Countdown with electronic radio DJ icon Swedish Eagle.
His early days spinning on L.A.'s leading alternative station were phenomenal. But soon after Spinn re-dubbed himself as Simply Jeff as a way to convey a very personally important statement for this soft-spoken DJ pioneer: Respect Jeff simply for himself and his music, not for the popular radio station he used to spin for.
These days Simply Jeff is recording new music and running a very successful breakbeat label (Phonomental Music) and DJ Culture, a one-of-a-kind music, technology, and culture store in Huntington Beach, California. The store is the largest breakbeat record store on the West coast and carries a wide variety of other dance ‘n' scratch genres to help top spinners like DJ Rap, Charles Feelgood, DJ Irene, Donald Glaude, and all of Jeff's regular customers in their endless quest for beats.
Whether he's hosting events at DJ Culture or spinning and producing new tunes with one of his longtime music heroes, Simply Jeff always has much love and respect for anyone he is near.
"He's the top dude on my list, you know, the one man I've always wanted to meet since I started out," he says reverently about working last summer with Afrika Bambaataa. The tracks they created together represent a musical and cultural culmination of sorts for Simply Jeff - and it's some of the best work he has ever produced. TASCAM's TT-M1 CD Scratch Controller and X-9 DJ Mixer were used extensively during the production.
A TASCAM Pioneer
Simply Jeff also writes breakbeat singles reviews for BPM Magazine and produces his fellow Phonomental artists. Described as "a pioneer for the Funky Breaks/West Coast Breakbeat House sound" in Simon Reynolds' novel Generation Ecstasy, Jeff's lately been blazing new trails with his TASCAM TT-M1. Never one to call himself a turntablist, he's lately been scratching his head over just how real he can keep it using his own records, his existing Technics decks, and some innovative new CD scratching technology from TASCAM.
"The really good turntablists are the ones who have made it into an art form," he says. "I'm not a turntablist. I'm a DJ and I mix and do some stuff, but for the most part my role is to keep people dancing. Whenever I start scratching and they stop dancing, it's like, ‘No, man, don't kill the vibe!'"
He embraces computers and software in his music production tool belt, but when it comes to performing live Simply Jeff is plenty happy with his new TT-M1 - and not a laptop in sight. For him, it is much more about the passion of life than pushing a mouse around when it comes to making music as a DJ for a great club crowd.
"When you're not throwing down a piece of wax or looking through your whole vinyl record collection to find just the right music to put up there, man, I think you're just losing out on all the sexiness of being a DJ."
As every guitarist feels with a Strat or Flying V in their hands, is the sensation of touching treasured vinyl for a DJ akin to bending six wires on the neck of a trusty Les Paul?
"Exactly, that's a great example of what I mean," says Simply Jeff. The action of the TT-M1 rollerball feels real to me; it feels like what a guitarist must feel with their strings. It's crazy because that little roller ball is so on-point that you don't even need a record on top of the slip mat to scratch with it. Using a TT-M1 is as natural as using a real record to scratch or to mix with, it's like you never leave the analog realm. And, you can call me old school, but I use to hate mixing on CD decks, too: Now the TT-M1 allows me to still do my job without losing that feel of vinyl on my Technics, and to me that feeling means everything."
DJ Culture In Costa Mesa
Somehow between all of his early KROQ and live DJ sets and new music studio productions, Jeff managed to add "retail experience" to his already long resume, too. He co-founded Dr. Freecloud's Mixing Lab in 1994, a record store, before opening his "cultural technology" store in Costa Mesa, DJ Culture. This unique store stages live in-store radio shows each week co-hosted by Simply Jeff using TASCAM's latest DJ technology products - including the TT-M1, X-9 Pro DJ Mixer and CD-X1500 and CD-X1700 DJ CD players - that DJ Culture offers for sale, as well.
"I can flip the roller ball up on the TT-M1 and use my finger right on the ball to scratch the CD now, which is crazy," Jeff laughs. "I bet the TASCAM engineers didn't think about using it like that! I love it when the coolest ideas just happen without thinking about it. I normally don't scratch that much, but this tool actually makes me sound like a pro when I do."
It seems that all Simply Jeff needs to do is simply show up in a studio, on a tour, or at DJ Culture for the most beautiful musical accidents to start happening.