“That’s what I love about Detroit. You don’t care if it’s electro, hip-hop, funk or rock. You just want to get down,” RJD2 said following his set at The Magic Stick in Detroit, last week.
RJD2, Ramble John "RJ" Krohn, has built quite a unique following. His music has found multiple niches in snowboarding feature films, in the live music scene playing opening sets for Umphrey’s McGee and The Disco Biscuits and with hip-hop emcees. After more than a decade, he now has own label and with all his collaborations and mixes has more than 15 albums and EPs. Playing live as both a more traditional DJ and a full band, his shows bring out the diversity and the breadth of his musical palette. He came to Detroit, the self-proclaimed birthplace of techno, and it was a sweaty, sold out dance party in Motown on a Friday night.
Opening the evening was New York’s Break Science featuring drummer Adam Dietch and keyboard player Borahm Lee. Dietch and Lee’s resumes read like a who’s who of recent stars in hip-hop and pop-art. Break Science earned a solid foothold in Michigan with brain-melting late night set at Rothbury’s Tripolee Dome last year and they would provide a raucous opening set for the sold out crowd. Their set started with a bit of Lee Scratch Perry, but ran the gamut all over jazz, psychedelia, techno and onto hip-hop with homage to one Detroit’s greatest producers, the late J-Dilla. Break Science toyed around playing “Lightworks” and a few other nuggets from Dilla’s Donuts to rile the Detroit crowd with a hometown hero. Lee and Dietch lock in perfectly as Dietch’s schizophrenic drum changing is matched by Lee’s arsenal of keyboard abilities. Break Science is definitely hard to pin down, but that makes them all the more interesting as they sonically roll around inside your head.
RJ then took the stage to the now feisty crowd as “Commissioner Crotchbuttons.” A bejeweled jumpsuit completely with a crotch mounted wireless pad. ( See him explain it here ) RJD2 channeled his inner MacGyver as he slapped an old Lazy Susan together with an MPC, (Music/Midi Production Center) and attached them both at his crotch of the wireless suit. RJ gets all Daft Punk on everybody’s ass, as a robotic voice in his welding mask echoes to froth the packed crowd before jumping back to his turntable set ups to start the show.
The whole night would transition from RJD2 in his “Commissioner” suit to his more traditional DJ set up with a mix with his four piece live band with drummer Sam Brown, and multi-instrumentalists Derek Dicenzo and Happy Chincester. Sometimes he would be behind the turntables with one or two of his band mates, sometimes alone. He wouldn’t stay in one place for too long as he bounced grinning ear to ear from his electric guitar, to bass and back to his turntable set up as he blended music from across his mounting catalogue including his recently re-released first album, Your Face or Your Kneecaps, a soulful trip through vintage funk, and his latest The Colossus.
RJD2 takes his varied material, funk, jazz, hip-hop, electronic and all in between, and slashes it apart to rebuild it live. Production laden DJ numbers are changed and thrown to full band instrumentation, and vice versa, for a motley and unrestrained take on his material.
The closing medley provides a glimpse into the night as loud thunderous builds came from older production heavy songs like “The Horror>Ghostwriter,” are then balanced by calmer material from the full band with three part harmonies. The sirens and samples crashing through “The Horror” are soon bottomed out, as RJ slides from behind the turntables and a soft acoustic guitar strum from Chinchester starts “Ghostwriter.” The full band slowly builds to a slamming climax horn section with the return to “Ghostwriter” as RJ, dressed in his Commissioner Crotchbutton’s attire, crashes through the ending of the song.
The slow crawl of the encore “Making Days Longer” slowed things down for a bit but soon RJ brought things to a thrashing close with a wide-eyed grin as he ripped his final guitar solo. The wavy ups and downs of the evening were also mirrored on a movie screen onstage speckled with various eye candy for the crowd to enjoy.
RJD2 is on tour supporting The Colossus, and is well worth heading to check out, with most shows under $20, including smoking openers Break Science for the next two Midwest shows before heading to Colorado and out west. Break Science will also be touring with throughout the south with The Pnuma Trio.
Photo by Pietro Truba