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Into another Relm

More than an interactive iPod, DJ, director and producer Mike Relm creates audiovisual extravaganzas to enthrall the audience



Who: Mike Relm

When: Thursday, Aug. 12, midnight

Where: Garfinkel's

Cost: $40 (Deraylor wristband)

There are people among us here in Whistler who have, shall we say, discerning taste when it comes to music: they want it live, and DJs simply don't do it for them.

Well, DJ-haters, shelve your preconceptions about DJs and come check out Mike Relm; his show will change how you think about the craft.

This long-time turntablist has elevated the station of the humble DJ, marrying audio and visual to create one spectacular show designed to captivate the eyes and ears.

"I never wanted to be in a DJ booth just DJing," Relm explained.

Rather, he wanted to put on a show that would put him above the realm of "interactive iPod."

Relm has been DJing for almost 17 years, drawn into the art form after tuning into the Wake Up Show, a radio program hosted by DJ Sway and King Tech.

"It definitely laid the groundwork for hip hop in general and it was the only show where the... emcees would interact with the DJ and be like, 'Yo bust a scratch right now.' It was a true interaction."

"A lot of DJs would try to scratch and the scratching we were doing was like competition scratching - it was like, 'OK, what can I do that makes me look good and is like complicated enough to get points from the judges?'"

But Relm could tell that the focus wasn't really on the sound they were producing.

"To me, that's the trick - you've gotta make it sound good! You've got to be able to close your eyes and go, 'Wow, this is incredible.'"

As a kid, he simply watched DJs work, enthralled by their ability to mix and use vinyl.

"It didn't hit me as something I could do my entire life, but it hit me as something that fascinated the hell out of me, and it was like, 'Wait, wait, wait! How did this happen and how can I do it?'" he recalled.

"Because I didn't grow up in a time when records were like thriving, so to me, it was like, 'OK, can you do that with cassettes?' Then you try it and you're like, 'Wait, this song is a different pace than this one,' and you're bobbing your head."

He struggled for a while to match the beat using a tape recorder before buying a second-hand turntable setup from a neighbour.

"Once I got them, I never left the house because I'd been thirsting for it for so long - it took like a year to save up for turntables and I was buying records at the same time."

He was hooked. By the time he'd reached college Relm had decided that he wanted to make a career out of this passion for music. He began playing weddings and other club gigs. By 2001 he had committed to DJing full-time. But about a year later he had already grown bored. Then he discovered Pioneer's DVJ.

"To me, that was like a huge eureka moment... that moment changed my life, it changed everything. I was like, 'OK, now this offers me something new!"

That tool that allowed him to blur the lines between visual and audio by creating a comprehensive audiovisual show, rather than the traditional on-the-fly DJ set. (Do a quick YouTube search of "Mike Relm live show" - you won't be disappointed.)

"I treat the visuals with as much thought as the audio in my sets, so it's another way to interact," he explained.

"I look at it as, I want to be able to play a show or a festival alongside bands, I don't want to be in the DJ room! It wouldn't make sense - it's a totally different thing!"

Relm took it (literally - he borrowed the prototype DVJ from Pioneer and never returned it) and ran with the concept, building an entire set around the new equipment.

"From there, in the same way that I said no more DJ booths, I said no more audio sets. So for years it was all video stuff! And it was tough because some people still weren't sold on it - it was just me doing it and it's hard to get people to notice it when it's just you doing it."

While the cutting-edge concept was a bit of a tough sell to club managers and promoters, as soon as Relm had a chance to show the clubbing crowd, he knew he was onto something big.

Of course, his technique of synching video clips with specific tunes takes away a bit of the spontaneity of a live DJ set, but now, a few years after pioneering the concept, Relm has managed to unearth so much material - both audio and visual - that his shows are becoming more and more off-the-cuff.

And he's also discovered another new piece of technology that has reinvigorated the concept: an all-in-one system that allows him to scratch on the turntable while controlling the visual components at the same time.

"Serato Scratch Live, now there's a video plug-in and I'm using that now, because now I can go back to using turntables exclusively with it, and nothing beats the feel of vinyl for scratching," he said.

Last Thursday Relm was hunkered down at his home base in San Francisco, getting ready to head out on the road again. This time his destination was Alaska, though late next week he'll be rolling in Whistler again.

"I think with the Internet it helps bring these different cultures to people. Maybe like 10 years ago, I'm sure it was kind of bleak because, where would you get stuff?

"...Seriously, how did we function without this?"

Relm spends a lot of time on the road, so it's vital that he can work remotely. He travels with laptops, hard drives and MIDI controllers - far less of a burden than the crates of vinyl DJs used to drag around with them from show to show.

"The average DJ does not carry anywhere close to 200 songs. That's nothing! But back in the day, that's all we could bring, so in a way it was a great lesson, because you're able to do a lot with less, and now you can carry 100,000 songs, and you'll never play 99 per cent of them, but I think a lot of people just carry that around with them just to feel better. Like, 'If I ever needed to play this polka track, I totally could!'"



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