When I recently interviewed European DJ impresario turned folk musician front man Fink, the bloke had a lot to say. Of particular interest to this scribe was how he became a folk musician from his first exposure to the performance side of the music business as a DJ. Actually his first exposure in the business was on the business side; when he worked at a record company as a suit. (Hear his tune “Biscuits” to get a handle about his experiences as a corporate monkey). But how could a DJ; spinning records actually become a folk musician? The influences, I’m afraid, became clear enough from his alliance with Ninja Tune.
Ninja Tune records is an independent record label based out of London which focuses almost exclusively on DJ music. Fink, starting out as a DJ fit well in with the overall sound of the label. However the wear of being a DJ soon caught up with the man, as he said in our interview.
It was this affiliation with Ninja Tune; an affiliation which remains to this day; which first opened his eyes to the possibilities of the variances in musical influence. “It wasn’t like I was a house DJ or a techno DJ; I was a Ninja Tune DJ which is kind of a broad church. And a Ninja Tune DJ has to be anything but normal.” It was this break from normality which set him off on his musical journey he’s still currently exploring. However this foundation of being a DJ is not lost on the singer/songwriter; his music continues to grow as a result.
One of the things which really struck me about Fink’s exposure to music is his broad and rich appreciation of all cultures and all music. While some more simplistic ideas about DJ sets existed in my mind, Fink was quick to dispel these:
“…I mean back in the day you used to go on an international gig before the days of digital storage you’d have your box and there’s a finite number of records you can fit in that box and you don’t know if the kids in Budapest are going to like Drum & Bass or if the kids in Paris are going to like trendy electro, you don’t know if the kids in Kiev are going to like R&B; literally you have no idea before you go out! But if they’re coming to a Ninja Tune gig then you’ve got a rough idea; but who knows?”
It was this broad understanding of audiences and “giving them what they want” which really made the transition to being a singer songwriter that much easier. “The great thing about a(n acoustic) gig is that everybody’s into that stuff. I remember in the early days of doing the Fink gigs it was a real pleasure to know what you were going to play. When you’re a DJ you totally don’t; if you’re a good one you don’t. You rehearse little sections or you rehearse 20 minute bursts but with Ninja the pressure is pretty heavy so you have to be polished.”
Still remembering my Rogers Park Middle School dances or the rote repetition of my own experience as a top 40 FM overnight weekend DJ, this type of freedom and responsibility was totally foreign to me. (I once played the Mighty Bosstones at 3 in the morning because the single had found its way into the studio; I got a call from the production director, the stations owner, and the programming director; all in the course of the three minutes that the song was playing!) I emphasized; you really don’t know what you’re going to play at all? How do you choose your records? Fink continued: “… you know it’s in your bag. And you road test of the first 10 or 15 minutes; you just have a little schmorgesborg and see what everyone’s into. Every ninja DJ writes a custom set every night.”
Wow! That’s got to be tough. Surely you must have been able to fake it a little bit from city to city? Fink shot down that thought with the statement; if you wanted to keep spinning sets, you had to be on your game, “because the hard-core fans will call you out. Before the blogs there were the newsletters and the forums,” and apparently the real hard-core fans they knew.
Whatever the future holds for Fink, it appears as though the past is the past. Though Fink does still do some DJ work on the side, he’s a lot more focused on the singer/songwriter stuff he’s been so successful with. For now, anyway. Because as everyone knows, nothing is forever; Fink’s recollection of that time was definitely fond: says Fink about his DJ work: “I really was part of that revolution.”
And that’s really something to be proud of.