San Diego’s DJ Pnutz has been steadily building a catalogue of releases which draw on her love of hiphop and the funk breaks it samples, bringing together influences like Cut Chemist, The Avalanches and Ninja Tune.
Her album ’16 Psyche’ assembled breezy funk and cinematic big beat, as well as an unlikely Christmas-themed song and was called one of the best albums of 2017 by San Diego Citybeat.
That publication wrote: “Pnutz’s beats and soundscapes all bleed together seamlessly in a set of tracks that recall the likes of DJ Shadow, Madlib and RJD2 (before he decided he wanted to sing, that is).”
Following Pnutz’s first physical release, the single ‘Pretty Good For A Girl/ Play That Beat Mrs. DJ,’ Cyclic Defrost’s Jason Richardson sought the woman behind the turntables and shares this conversation with Laura Bolokoski.
Do you remember when you first became interested in music?
When I was maybe 6 or 7 I got a small Casio keyboard for Christmas and it was all downhill from there. I started playing drums at school in 4th grade and kept that up till high school. As a graduation present from high school I got a cheap set of turntables and taught myself how to use them. After a couple years I picked up a used Roland 307 which started me on a production path.
Are there musicians from that time who influenced you? Feel free to share any skeletons in that particular closet!
At the age when I first got my Casio there were a few influences that encouraged me as a female to pursue the paths that I did. The first was Sheila E. I’d never seen a woman playing drums before. Another influence was Spinderella. My mother encouraged me in a lot of ways when she saw these two people as well. When we would see them on tv she would say “You should do that”, I guess I took that to heart. Even though female percussionists and DJs were not too common then I think that the encouragement from my mom made me feel that I could do anything.
Another influence that I didn’t realize had such a big impact on me until later in life was Art Of Noise. This was something I listen to from an early age and was so intrigued by making music using sounds rather than instruments. I had a friend that got a keyboard that same christmas as as I did. Hers had a sampler in it and we would record her cats meows and play songs using the meows. I liked to pretend that I was Art of Noise creating another masterpiece.
If we are unveiling skeletons I guess I can tell you about a fun activity that I supposed could be considered influential. As a kid I loved recording my own radio shows using a radio shack microphone and dubbing music from the actual radio, or playing made up songs on my keyboard. Now as an adult I do that all for a living haha. I recall visiting my grandparents once and recording hour long shows with her organ. It was an awful noise but she was kind enough to sit through it and shower me with compliments.
Your skeletons aren’t so daggy. Was Spinderella your gateway to hiphop?
No, my gateway to hiphop was ‘The Message’. The kids of my Dad’s coworker were listening to it and I asked what kind of music that was. I saw the video on TV shortly after that.
Was it the edginess that got you interested in the music, or did you embrace hiphop culture?
I can’t say what I liked about the music. I was too young to understand anything about hip hop culture or what was revolutionary abut the music. It was just something that was fun. I mean don’t get me wrong, like most little girls in the 80s I was still obsessed with Madonna and Barbie. I had a wide variety of musical tastes. I don’t think it was until much much later in life that I began to respect hip hop as more than just music that I liked.
So fast-forward a bit, how did you get started remixing and producing music?
Making remixes was something I had wanted to do since high school. Learning to DJ was, what I thought at the time, my way of making music. As I advanced in DJing I began to desire an increased ability to play with the sounds and fit them together. I initially wanted to do mashup/remixes to incorporate into my DJ sets and things basically progressed from there.
My first piece of “gear” (I use that term lightly), was a Yamaha keyboard with a 10ish second sampler. It was geared towards DJ types haha. I bought a Roland 307 a year or so later. I began recording into sound forge and playing around with acid. I eventually got a copy of Ableton from my future husband and it was on from there. My production improved overnight and became more of a focus than my DJing.
That’s sweet. Did you two bond over Live?
Funny enough he doesn’t really use it. He also DJs.
So how long have you been releasing original music? What are the milestones?
My first technical release of original music was in 2011 with a DJ mix I did with all my own tracks. The next year I put out a record called “RACKMOUNT”. Since then I have released 1-2 albums a year either on my own or with a rapper. In 2015 an album I produced called “Treel Tales of Number Running” with rappers J.Treel and 1019 won the San Diego Music Award for Best Hip Hop album.
I was also nominated this year for best Hip Hop artist, which I believe was one of the first times a female producer was nominated in the category. Every year brings a new milestone for me, it’s been very exciting. This year I also released another record with “Pretty Good For A Girl” and “Play That Beat Mrs. DJ”.
I’ve downloaded a bit of your music over the years and it’s upbeat and suited to a party. Does that seem like a fair description?
I want to make people feel happy lately with my music so I make things that me happy. I make music based a lot off of emotions I’m feeling at the time and the season. Over the past couple years I’ve also drawn a lot of inspiration from break dancers. There are so many amazing plugins that simulate instruments very well so I’ve been experimenting with creating more of a live band sound and creating a modern take on classic breaks. (Or trying in any case) I’ve always liked listening to a faster tempo music which I think in turn influenced what I choose to play as a DJ and what I like to make. I have been focusing on a specific sound for the last album and record as a way to create a cohesive narrative of music.
You’ve also been part of the Remix Chains that developed on the Ninja Tune Forum, including kicking off the Infrasonics 723 release. Thinking generally about remixing, what do you gain from manipulating the material of other musicians?
I love doing the remix chains. I enjoy dissecting what other people create to form something new. Everyone hears sounds in a different way. I can learn from other people’s processes. By tearing things apart you can find out about how they are constructed. Sometimes the source material can be challenging to work with which is what helps me grow as a producer. You want to respect what person before you created but also showcase your own creativity. I’m the type of remixer who likes to use as many elements of the original as I can but completely transform them. I feel like the same things can be true about remixing, sampling, or even DJing.
Anything you’d like to mention that hasn’t been covered?
The only other things to mention would be the recent record release and an upcoming album. I think I’ll also squeeze out a drum and bass EP before years end too. Thank you very much for this interview experience, I’ve truly enjoyed it.
Do you want to talk on how your music promotes women in music? Having a release titled ‘Pretty Good For A Girl/ Play That Beat Mrs. DJ’ suggests you might have something to say.
I’m tired of people assuming I’m a man. I feel like I have to smack people in face with the fact I’m a girl. I had a couple of releases with female-oriented titles. On the next release I gave it a a non-gender biased name and had several reviews referring to me as a male. I’m proud of the fact that I am a female that makes music but I wish that we lived in a world that it wasn’t an issue.
You can find Pretty Good For A Girl/ Play That Beat Mrs. DJ here.