July 05 2018

Dez Andrés' Shock Value

New York-Le Bain
We chat with one of Detroit's most respected artists and DJ extraordinaire Dez Andrés before he plays Le Bain on Sunday, July 29th, alongside another Detroit legend, Kenny Dixon Jr., a.k.a. Moodymann.

LE BAIN: Tell us about your days spent at Detroit’s legendary Buy-Rite Records store. Your fellow Detroit artist Terrence Parker said to us: "Hanging out in those record shops in Detroit was in itself a social gathering that would rival any current day meet-and-greet.” 
DEZ ANDRES: Well, I guess given the seriousness of being at a record store [at the time], yes. You could find yourself there for hours; time’s just gone. Y’all just up there talking about records. God forbid that’s the day the shipment comes in or some new stuff comes in. It was definitely serious, maybe even more serious than the barbershop. You’re talking about a record store where everyone in the city came to get their music. So, if you caught the right people in there at a particular time, there could be four or five people in there for five or six hours talking about who knows what. It was definitely a place where you wanted to be. 

How did you end up working at Buy-Rite Records?
That store was right around the corner from my house. They saw that I was a young guy who was passionate about records. Kenny [Dixon Jr.] vouched for me to work in there. It was what it was. I had all the hip-hop shit on lock. We were moving records out of there. It was fun, putting people up on shit. To this day, I don’t even work in record stores anymore, and I’m like, “You got this?” or, “You need this!”




"Coming from my school, the b-boy school..."
How old were you?
I worked there while I was going to high school. I left school [sometimes] ‘cause we had in-stores. With Souls of Mischief, Wu Tang... It was epic because I had met Wu Tang [before] at Jack The Rapper through a friend of mine who worked with Steve Rifkind [who signed Wu Tang]. I mentioned that to the GZA and we ended up smoking out front. Crazy. So many people came out of Buy-Rite: Moodymann, Theo Parrish, DJ Assault...

Working or shopping there?
I’m talking about who worked there. Like, literally came out of that store. Everybody shopped there. Make no mistake about that. 

Other than the art of digging, what did you learn from working at the shop? 
I learned how to DJ with no headphones because the headphones would always be broke. Buy-Rite and Buy-Rite’s affiliation changed my life. I wouldn’t have met Kenny.  

In the 90s, you were recruited by J Dilla to become the DJ of Detroit’s legendary hip-hop group Slum Village. Could you share one of your favorite memories of those times with Dilla and Slum Village?
[With Dilla], they were few and far between. He took me to Mongolian BBQ, his treat. Dilla was weird—you couldn’t really gauge him. Weird in the sense you think you can figure somebody out, and just when you think it’s one way, they’ll show you it’s really not. He was one of those people where you’re like, “Hmm,” but then he’d do something, and you’d say it wasn’t really like that. [Laughs.] But yeah, he took me to Mongolian BBQ. I had never been there, I had never seen anything like that.

"The spitting went into DJing, and DJing went into beats."

And Slum Village? 
So many. Probably doing The Dave Chappelle Show and being a part of that. Any time you’re around Chappelle, it’s a funny moment. 

Your friend Kenny Dixon Jr. was the one who suggested that you try your hand at house music, and it has become a fruitful collaboration with you releasing three albums on his labels KDJ and Mahogani. How was it moving from hip-hop to dance music, aside from just playing it?
It was a gradual transition. You can hear it in my early work. What I do like is [that] the whole way through, you can hear and feel the foundation of hip-hop. I’ve heard someone say [about my music], "This guy’s sampling technique is straight up hip-hop, but house with J Dilla basslines.” That sounds good to me! Hip-hop definitely influences my dance music, and I think at this point, vice versa. 

You’re a bit of a polymath. A master of the congas, the MPC drum machine, and DJing. What would you say is your fourth superpower? 
I spit. My rap alias is Sylvio Vega. I’ve got joints. I’m on [a track called] Monument by Phat Kat. Casual from Hieroglyphics calls me “Secret Spit.” That’s funny because he’s a rap god to me. He’s up there with King T. That’s one of the things over the years [where] people are like “He raps?” You don’t need no equipment to rap! Coming from my school, the b-boy school where we did it all – that’s the first thing you learn how to do. That’s why I gravitated to Dilla so much because I didn’t know anyone who rapped, DJ’d, and made beats. When I found out he was taking interest in instruments, too–his father was a musician–I was like, "That’s me! " Everything with music–the spitting went into DJing, and DJing went into beats. 


"I want to make people spit their drinks out.’”

And you were a percussionist in the first place.
I play all Latin percussion. Most people only get to see me play congas, but I play bongos, congas, and timbales. I don’t remember not knowing how to play. That’s how early it started. I remember learning certain rhythms, but I can’t remember sitting at the drum and not knowing anything. That’s why I was bugging out at Movement [Festival] this year, ‘cause I was like, “Damn, the first time I did this, I was three!” It was at Hart Plaza Downtown, and I was playing timbales and standing on the chair or some phone books with the shirts that Ricky Ricardo would wear. 

About your DJing, you once said, "I keep it danceable, but I go for shock value. I want people holding their brains, like, 'What the hell?'" Can you remember the last time another DJ had that same effect on you?
There’s this guy named DJ Billy Bob from Detroit. Not to be funny, but he is probably the only cat that can fuck with me on shock value. My thing is I go off the cuff. I don’t know if he goes off the cuff or he just has them in his brain, but he’s pullin’ ’em out! I’ve spun with him maybe twice, but I can’t remember any of his blends specifically. I’ll give you an example. I’ll do Kenny Dope's "Comin’ Inside," and I’ll blend with "Get into the Groove" or "Runnin" by the Pharcyde–produced by J Dilla of course– on45 [rpm], and I’ll mix that with "Lookout Weekend Madness." A lot of people have some blends, but no one is going for shock value like that. I’m trying to make people spit their drinks out.

You also said, "I don't think people here really realize what Detroit means to a lot of people in the scene.” Is that changing?
I still feel the same. You have to leave Detroit. Maybe I can say that ‘cause I leave so often. So I get to see, you know–I was just at [Gilles Peterson’s] Worldwide Festival [in Séte, France], and all these people shared how they want to come to Detroit, they’ve been to Detroit, or they’ve been to Movement. Something always in relation with Detroit. People [in Detroit] have pride for the wrong shit. They still have no idea.


On Sunday, July 29th, Le Bain presents
Panorama NYC After Party
feat. Dez Andrés & Moodymann
The Standard, High Line | 10pm

Header photo by Marie Staggat