By Scott Kulicke
Music won’t – and shouldn’t – mean the same thing to any two people. “Where, When, and Why” is a first-person music series, stories about where I discovered an artist, when they began to soundtrack my life, and why they moved me at that singular moment in time.
MUSIC MAKES YOU LOSE CONTROL REMIX
“I got a cute face/ chubby waist/ thick legs/ in shape.”
I was feeling prematurely jaded after I graduated college. I was bartending and selling sandwiches at a spot in Little Tokyo: a 4-square block of downtown Los Angeles nestled in the intersection of skid row – a still-dangerous tent city – and the warehouse district, which had been taken over by DJs, fashion entrepreneurs, L.A. Underground scenesters, and the whole Skrillex/OWSLA scene. I’d get off work at 1 in the morning and cruise around town under a sky pink from light pollution, stinking like the beef and liquor I’d been hocking to my predominantly first-generation Japanese customers.
The DJ at the bar was a quiet little man named Justin, professional monicker “DJ ManBoy,” large eyes peering out from a mess of black hair and black beard, an untouchably cool creature who would’ve spent his days skateboarding and finding obscure tunes if life didn’t demand rent money. His taste in music mirrored my impression of him: offbeat and cool, jazzy and slick, sonic silk.
He’s the man who, as I explained to the umpteenth customer the difference between the spicy wrap and the zesty wrap, played me my first Flamingosis track.
Flamingosis is a Jersey boy my age who ended up going to college with a bunch of my friends from high school. I’d ask them if they knew him – they had no idea he was a successful musician off playing festivals in Tunisia, they just knew him as that kid who threw down some astonishing beatboxing at a party one time. He has a penchant for crate digging and an ear for the perfect two bars that need to be flipped. I watch videos of him: just one of the old all-white MacBooks and an MPC, dexterous fingers and a headbang that moves his whole body.
As the ubiquitously corny slow jam synth swells and choppy guitar of Spandau Ballet’s “True” swept outwards from the DJ booth, I thought to myself “word, ManBoy’s tryna bang someone, more power to ya dude.” But then something else happened to my ears, and I promptly stopped giving a shit about my customer:
“Music makes you lose control”
It was an effortlessly fly mash up, two songs with universal recognition but totally opposite tones, sex jams from two very different eras. When the beat dropped, double timing hi hats and a short, punchy kick, I did something I’d been told many times not to do: I stopped serving food and started dancing in the middle of the bar.
DOWN FOR THE FIFTH TIME
“Left your mark/ in a distant place/ but somehow it’s all gone now/ good things can never last.”
All my friends had real jobs. They were waking up early, working till 5, cooking themselves wholesome dinners, and tapping out by 11. I was waking up at noon, starving myself till I could eat for free at the bar, drinking during my shift all night, then swinging through the McDonalds drive thru sometime between 1:30 and 3:00 – I knew things had reached a breaking point when the graveyard drive thru crew not only knew me by name, but happily commented “oh, you’re not as high as you usually are!”
I felt like I was both cooler, and much sadder than my friends. I felt like I was going nowhere but down, but at least I was doing it listening to the dopest beats in town. I’d cruise through neighborhoods blessing the sleeping denizens of Los Angeles with seconds of these velvety tunes. I was gonna go out like Fonzie – a star that burnt bright and quick, saying something dope as I rode into the sunset.
Of course, none of this was true, but I was high.
The Bobby Caldwell sample he flipped is fire, somehow landing between dance-y and profoundly sad – a throwback to a distant time with an added modern edge, contemporary enough to feel like it’s our own but never substantial enough to feel like we really own it.
I LIKE IT (INTERLUDE)
I’d take the train when I wanted to drink. The late night L.A. trains were rarely ever as fun as I’d hope – I’d board with aspirations of people watching and sightseeing and feeling like “man, maybe I’ll see a buncha people living tiny little metaphors for life in the big city and I’ll get off feeling connected to the urban sprawl” like I was in a Zach Braff movie.
Instead I’d get drunk teens, workers who were tired and just wanted to get home, and the occasional babe who never seemed to notice me, and invariably I’d end up stumbling the 15 blocks or so home from the station disappointed.
One night, as I let Flamingosis’ acoustic sample of a DeBarge cover run back to back on repeat, I came to an intersection at the same time as an anonymous sedan. I was tweaked and feeling bold, so I charged the crosswalk, staring down the car in a silent “yeah, I got the right of way you sack of shit!” protest.
Halfway through the intersection, the squeal of tires filled the air and I saw the car burn rubber and starting swinging an aggressive u-turn. Then, two thunderclaps filled the air – gunshots.
I sprinted without a single thought in my head – I didn’t even think until I slammed my bedroom door behind me. I sat down and cut two rails, hands shaking, sweating, panting. I don’t even think they shot at me, I think they were just trying to scare me.
It worked. Things had to change.
That night, I hopped on Facebook and sent Flamingosis a message – I just thanked him for his music, told him we had some mutual friends, told him that I was working on my own music and that it gave me some hope and some juice to see him succeeding. His response was short but sweet, what felt like a heartfelt and genuine “thanks brother, keep at it, thanks for listening” (paraphrased). I then texted my brother and sister and told them I loved them and I was happy we were all alive.