Quentin Harris - How I DJ
Raised in Detroit & now residing in New York, Quentin Harris has become one of the most in-demand remixers in the world, adding necessary club sheen to R&B vocals, house tracks and frequently turning the proverbial turd into a polished diamond. No wonder he’s been called on to remix everyone from Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey to Femi Kuti and Blaze. In addition to “Don’t You Forget About Us” from Mariah, and “Not Like Crazy” by Jill Scott, one of his benchmark rubs was a sneaky re-production of Leela James’ “My Joy”, transforming her dynamite blues jam, into classic deep house. He says he never thought it would cause such a splash. “I had no idea that “My Joy” would turn into what it turned into. The records I really loved and had the most fun working on, like Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around,”, stayed under the radar. You know, I never know. I just do what feels good.”
Harris’ success has been built on the rare ability to straddle genres effortlessly, with productions that gracefully sit between the soulful end of the Shelter and the tougher sound that many European audiences demand. Danny Tenaglia called it Hard and Soul and Quentin surely lives up to it.
His latest remix work can be heard on Muted Trax new release out now on Traxsource. And with that, it was the perfect time to ask the man himself to divulged a bit about his DJ preferences when he plays out in clubs across the globe. This is how Quentin Harris DJ’s.
Are you more of a DJ or Producer — or one in the same?
I consider myself to be (In this order) A MUSICIAN, PRODUCER, DJ. I am not a producer turned DJ or a DJ turned producer. I have been playing musical instruments since age 5. I have been making and producing my own music since age I was 12 or 13 years old. I have always had records and I was allowed to play my parents records as longs as didn’t scratch them up. Just like my good friend Honey Dijon we had basement parties in our home and sometimes I was allowed to play records (mostly Motown, soul, funk & jazz), which was not the norm in a black family household where typically children were supposed to be seen but not heard. I was very shy as a kid anyway and music was my major form of communication. My father used to say to people that I wouldn’t respond or speak to anybody unless they had a music not attached on their forehead. I kind of still do.
Describe what makes a good DJ in three or four words.
What makes a good DJ to me in my opinion are the ones who know how to ENTERTAIN, INFORM and EDUCATE with EMOTION (Trying to make the listener feel what he or she if feeling.
Who or what inspired you to become a DJ?
Well there are really 3 things that made me want to DJ. The first is my Father who really inspired me unknowingly. I didn’t know it at the time, my Dad play music or be a SELECTOR at our basement parties, family get-togethers and his Motorcycle Club In Detroit. Music was everywhere in my home and he was the first person who I ever saw with a DJ mixer and very strange setups of turntables. They were belt driven, no pitch, and they also were not a matching pair one was the kind of home turntable that has the device that holds the 45’s on about 4 a time and would automatically drop them when the record that was playing came to the end. (I have inserted a photo of one so you understand) Imagine having Technic 1200 and record player like the ones they used to have Audio Visual Room in my school. Even if he wasn’t beat matching and slowly using the fader to bring in the next record while the previous one was ending you kind of felt that the next one was going to be better then last one. What that taught me and I learned at that young age of about 6 years that music is and will always be about a feeling and emotion and conveying it and more importantly it was about PROGRAMMING and I wasn’t necessary to mix (beat match) to do so.
The second was a little club in Detroit Michigan called Heavens where the Resident DJ at the club what DJ Ken Collier. The place was very dark, and hot from all the bodies on the dance floor being whipped up into a frenzy by Ken. He was all about energy and boy did he give it. The walls were sweating up in there and the place was notorious sometimes for fights. I have many mix tapes from Heavens mix cut out and you hear “Security To The Dance Floor! Security To The Dance Floor” The first time I went there I was hooked. The Sound System was great and Hearing songs like Kathy Brown’s- Turn Me Out, Ron Trent’s-Sometimes I feel Like, Aaron Carl’s – Down, Those Guys – Tonite in that dark cavernous place made want to start playing more house and dance music. I guess Ken Collier would be one of the major reasons why I play with so much energy!
Describe your main and preferred DJ set-up.
My preferred set up when I play is first and foremost space and not a million people standing behind me or in the booth for I tend to be nervous every time I play and If I walk into a booth that has a lot of chaos It makes it hard for me to relax and concentrate. Now as far as the tricks and tools for the trade I like 3 Pioneer CD2000 nexus CDJ’s. I really prefer playing with a rotary mixer such as the Urie or Allen & Heath Xone V6 or Alpha Recording’s Rotary Mixer. Unfortunately rotary mixers are hard to come by in most of my gigs so I as channel mixer I like to have the PioneerDMJ900nexus mixer. My reasoning for liking rotary mixers is because most of them are just those Mixers. When you have microphone inputs and on board EFX and processors I feel you are not getting the cleanest sound. I like to use an Isolator such as the Dope Real 3300. I am a big fan of System By Shorty’s ISO-Q2 but until I get the money to splurge on that or Shorty hook’s a brother up with some kind of a discount (hint) I use the Dope Real.
Do you use a laptop? If so, what platform/program?
Yes I do use a laptop. I am Ride or Die Apple running Traktor Scratch Pro 2. With an X1 Controller and the Audio 8 or 10 audio interface.
Why do you choose this way of playing?
I like playing this way because a lot of my ideas for Re-Productions or song ideas most of the time happen to be born in the club. I approach DJing from a musical point of view. I like having most of all my music with organized and ready to go and me. So, when I am in a special place and want to play something like “Did You See Me? By the Bus Boys” because I saw a bus boy in the club walk by the booth picking up empty drink glasses earlier, I can. I have played on many formats and they will and always constantly change and evolve. I know when I was playing CD I hated burning and labeling them and trying to keep them organized, I don’t know how many times I burned a song for no reason because the idea hit me about playing the song and I was already in my CD book. USB Sticks are cool but I don’t know how many times I have lost them or had them swiped out of the CD player. I am also really don’t have the patience putting things in Record Box and setting cue points etc. With Traktor I love the many on board EFX and seamless looping but I don’t beat grid I have been told many times that it is easy to do. I just feel that its just another process getting in the way of what I want to get to and that is the music. Features the fly.
Any special, unique, crazy things on your rider?
Actually as we speak I am currently updating my rider because it’s a little out of date. But, if there is something one might find strange or off the walk as far as request go. For my rider it would be requesting to Open the room or play longer then 2 hours. I have reasons for this.
1. If I haven’t played a venue before and I don’t get to sound check. The first hour is usually devoted to trying to address possible sound issues and figuring out where I can and cannot take the crowd.
2. If I feel that I know where I can take the listener and I am over my nervousness and start feeling relaxed and comfortable the second hour will be reserved to feeling as if I am trying to cram a ton of things in a small time window. Trying to Entertain, Inform & Educate with Emotion only to have to stop in 20 minutes is like writing a fragmented sentence for me. I really start to feel as if I am I’m not giving the people who came to hear me enough.
Beverage of choice while playing?
I have a shot of Tequila to take the edge off if that is how I am feeling. Most of the time its Water, Ginger Ale, Orange Juice and Vodka.
Favourite country/club/city to play? (Feel free to name one of each)
My favourite club to play is Red Zone Perugia Italy, My Favourite country to play is Japan.
Do you Sync, What’s your view on this? Has it leveled the playing field for the better or worse?
I will use sync totally when I am making podcast mixes on the airplane to past the time. I usually don’t use sync when I am playing in a live club setting unless some crazy idea pops up in my head and it requires me to play 3 things at the same time. As far as the debate weather or not syncing is cheating, I feel 1st the listener isn’t going to run off the dance floor because a DJ uses the sync button. 2nd, DJing has never really been about perfectly beat matching to tracks it has always been about PROGRAMMING! A monkey can mix 2 records together. To me the music/records are the words I use to tell my story. We all use words to get our points of view across. Most people who want to make music, take photos, DJ or produce music pretty much all have access to a lot of the same materials legal or otherwise so its up to the user to use those same tools to get his or her message across that connects on a more personal level. I don’t think that computer software with sync capabilities undermines this. Some people use it and do some amazing things. Some don’t and still do some amazing things – Tasters Choice.
Favourite or “go-to” EFXs while playing?
My favourite EFX are pretty basic. Delay and Reverb. I really use a lot of sound EFX and Movie sound bites (I am kind of a fanatic about that)
Read the crowd or just pound it out?
I read the crowd always. I have been a people watch all my life.
Big festivals or intimate clubs? Why?
I talk about this all the time to my peers. I have done festivals and some have been good but most of the time for me they haven’t. I think it’s because of my point of reference. I have always been a club kid. I love my dark cavernous spaces with a great sound system. With Most festivals I sometimes have a hard time connecting. Usually I am very far away from the people. And I can’t really get their energy. I feel that maybe because of my musical background (and this is just my shit) it’s strange to see 20,000 people facing a DJ, which they really can’t, see. Most of the people are not really dancing (as far what I am used to) and for the most part I feel that I am expected to play all of my own music. I don’t mind playing my old stuff or any of my music but there are really great people making music besides me. I love intimate clubs like Djoon in Paris Paradox in Baltimore or clubs the size or the Roxy NYC or Red Zone because there is a different between having a party and putting on an event.
Ever miss the CDs or Vinyl days?
I don’t miss burning and labeling CDs, I don’t miss caring heavy flight cases of vinyl, I do how ever miss being able to have album artwork and credits for the artist, songwriters, producers, and musicians who had a part in making the music. I do miss the ability to break records because the shelf life of tangible items such vinyl is not disposable like a file.
How do you maintain your music library?
To the best of my ability. As categorized as it is I still find myself forgetting about really great music that for the most part I don’t get to play that much.
Wavs OR MP3 — WHY? Is there a difference?
Of course I would say Wavs but I can’t travel around with a ton of extra hard drives. So the highest 320 mp3 will work also. With any form of compression you will loose something.
Any Tips for aspiring Young DJs?
Entertain, Inform and Educate and Always play from that place deep inside.
Do you do any of the Obligatory DJ Poses?
I think I know what you mean by this. Not really. I have been told that I wiggle my ass while I play. I really love to dance. If I can’t be on the floor I will dance in the booth!
How do you combat the “Everyone is a DJ” mentality?
I don’t think about it much because everyone’s story is different. I try to tell my to the ones who want to listen to what I have to say.
Quentin Harris latest “Doin’ You (Mama’s In The Kitchen)” remixes are out on Traxsource.