1 Listener is Better than None: DJ Natural Nate Up Close and Personal

A true Jedi of the wheels of steel! © N. Lemu

DJ Natural Nate is a true underground force to be reckoned with! Having decades of experience under his belt in the Electronic Music scene, whether it be as an enthusiastic partygoer, or a well seasoned DJ, to being a marvel of a producer with titles on labels such as prestigious Underground Music Xperience out of Netherlands, and of course, as one of the main founders of one of the most influential online entities of the past 10 years, The Lost Art, Natural Nate crosses many boundaries and pushes many limits as he seeks to grow and help grow through the power of music.

In this interview, DJ Natural Nate gets up close and personal as he talks about his past, his trials and tribulations, and ultimately, why this is a mission that transcends cliches, egos and financial gain. It is about one thing and one thing only: Keeping the real vibe alive! Let's get on with it shall we?

Santino Fernandez: Welcome Nate! We finally get to do this interview, it's been a long time in the making. Let's start at the very beginning of things. How did your path in music start? When did you get your first pair of turntables?

DJ Natural Nate: Let me first start off by saying it's more than an honor for you to take interest in my life. There are so many great producers and DJ's out there, that I cannot say how humbled I truly am to be someone you would want to interview. But this might not be the interview anyone expects. This will be a very up close and personal view on every question asked. I have never really looked at myself as a great DJ or producer to be honest, I still find myself learning every day, and feel like I will never master any of this.

I was extremely lucky to have had the chance to get into the underground scene back in 1991. My first show was not what anyone would have thought! I had a friend that asked me to go to a roller skating rink party. I had no clue what this meant or even what I was in for. I ended up going to this show in Denver, Colorado and I hated it! It was so new and so confusing; I just did not get it to be honest. The music was something I had never heard, and I was clueless to understanding what this all was about. I grew up loving the art of breakdancing, and this was far from that type of music.

It took me a few shows to finally get comfortable with this all new idea of music. The big thing for me was just being with good friends, and really that was all that mattered at the time. What really drew me into this music was remixes. In a world of music I had never heard before, I went to a show where someone was using the song “Take On Me” by A-ha (Remix), and it totally flipped my mind! I could not believe that music I knew was being used in something completely different, and that is where I started falling in love with underground Electronic Music. Colorado (my home state) had a serious, serious underground culture! I was extremely lucky to have had the experience of seeing what the true underground meant. I miss that scene and especially the map points to even finding these shows. That was an adventure all in itself.

I was so far away from what a DJ was, and to be honest, I had no clue what the DJ was really doing. I frankly really did not care! By hearing these remixes, I thought that DJ's were taking these bits and pieces of these songs directly from the records and somehow making this new music I never heard before. So I basically thought the DJ's were working so hard to create these incredible songs by mixing things together (possibly with hardware of some sort or as a sampler). I was so clueless to know that this music was factually pressed to the records by the producers and production. For the longest time, I never even cared or wanted to know. I was happy just being a dancer and a supporter of the scene. I was happy to just be accepted as a person and nothing else.

I went off to the United States Marines and ended up being stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina from 1993-1997. As far as the music I was always looking for, this was an incredible place influenced by my real direction of knowing what I really liked and wanted to hear! The East Coast was huge into the Breakbeat scene at the time. I was a breakdancer and was in complete heaven. I had met so many amazing friends and best friends there that were a major contributor to me in this genre. From the Hardkiss Brothers, Rabbit in the Moon, DJ Scott Henry, DJ Misty Kiss (4 Turntables) and more (too many to name), this was out of this world music, and especially the DJ skills. I was a huge supporter of the dancing, the DJ’s and the music. I never intended on being a DJ at all!

Later in the years of being in the NC scene, the music was shifting. Gabber house was slowly taking over as House music was becoming the main-stage. It was getting harder and harder to find Breakbeat shows. I was getting tired of paying $40.00, and end up hearing music I didn't really like. I was buying CD's and finding maybe 1-2 tracks from it I liked. This was getting expensive this way, and I just wanted to hear good music. I had decided I could make my own mixes just for myself and put my money into records I would cherish. All of my friends knew that I wanted to get some turntables. I was warned that if I got into DJ’ing that I would put dancing aside. Unfortunately, they were right.

I finally got a pair of Turntables in 1996. My first record I ever bought was “Delusions of Grandeur”. Still one of my all time favorite records. What people don't know about me is, I factually learned how to mix off of Drum and Bass, believe it or not. I was a huge fan of Jungle Liquid Sky at the time also. I loved Acid Jazz, downtempo stuff and more. Breaks was not my only love for I loved so much other music and genres.

At the time, I had a really good friend that was an amazing DJ from NY. He gave me the best advice possible - counting beats! As soon as he showed me how to count the measures of mixing, it was all over! That fast! Side Note: Once I finally realized that a DJ was not working as hard as I thought they were, with the records already being made that way (remixes), I longed to hear 2 records play and started creating my own remixes so to speak. I fell in love with super fast mixing and long holds to create a new sound from both of the tracks.

After my first month of spinning, the word got around! I was invited to do my first show and did not even ask for it. I never wanted to be a DJ or even compete with the incredible local talent. That was never intended! After that show, as horrible as I think it was, I was completely hooked. It seemed like everyone enjoyed it. There were not enough good Breakbeat DJ's playing this genre, so I decided to become a soldier in this music. I felt a responsibility to help the producers of this music out by supporting Breakbeats and Electro. I just wanted to let these producers know that someone did care about them and their incredible productions. I mainly did this to help the breakdancers have a place in the scene and especially to make them dance!

Going a little deeper into your influences, and just by judging from your style; whether it be as a DJ or a producer, it seems that perhaps you are also as influenced by the early days of Hip Hop, as you are the new school Electro and Breaks sound.

How old were you for example, when Herbie Hancock played "RockIt" live on TV with Grandmixer D.ST, and what kind of impact did that have on you as a future scratch DJ? Also, who are some of the key new school artists that played a role in your development?

Not to be cheesy as this was the same for most other breakdance lovers, but I was influenced the most by Michael Jackson. I was just in pure awe as a kid. Not only was the music influential, but mainly the dancing! Rockwell's “Somebody’s Watching Me” was a huge influence also! You also hit it on the head with Herbie Hancock’s "RockIt". I was 8 years old. When it really came down to serious breakdance battles, Egyptian Lover was always on the main playlist along with Afrika Bambaataa. There are too many others to name!

I would go to skating rinks not to roller skate, but to watch all of the breakdance battles in the corner. I just could not get enough of this! These dancers were so incredible. I really had looked up to the craft and art of breakdancing, I just could not believe that this was possible. It was an amazing way to express yourself and to challenge yourself to be better with new moves. It was amazing times again, being with close friends! I really miss those days a lot!

I did not take a serious road into staying with the Hip-Hop world after breakdancing was not a fad anymore. If that's really what you want to call breakdancing music in the 80’s. I love all kinds of music as stated earlier. I love Classic Rock, Heavy Metal and more. My biggest passion though was BASS! I loved the cars that went boom, so to speak! DJ Magic Mike was another huge influence into what made me love this type of music. I love to feel the bass hitting in a car. I love everything about it! From the bass taking your breath away, to the factual feeling your whole body gets from it. It was something that I never lost along the way. This was a huge influence to me looking for Breaks and Electro-Breaks in the future years. There is no other music that hits as hard as these genres!

A few labels I still look up to would be Dominance Electricity (biggest Influence), Frajile Recordings (James Wolfe, Brice Kelly and all of the producers on this label), Carl Finlow and too many others to name. I'm a huge fan of all of the producers of all levels. I would not be DJ Natural Nate without everyone that contributes to the industry! I have always been a huge fan of yours, also.

As far as scratching goes...I do not even consider myself a real scratch artist at all! I never wanted to be a DMC. Ever. I have the most respect for this style of turntablism, but never was into creating perfect mixes or trying to do a preplanned set over and over and over. It drives me nuts to do the same mix over, and to put a routine together was never in my play book. It's boring for me. The name "DJ Natural Nate" means that I play from a record box or a playlist that is never pre-planned. I naturally just let the records sing together. I never set up a single show or even in some cases, even know the music before playing it. I want to be just as surprised as the audience. There would be times that I would order records and not even play them until the night of the show. This was mainly because I did not want to scratch the records and to have a set with no pops or skips, crazy as that sounds! Priceless actually. I would hear these records and the mix for the first time as the crowd would. I think that was what made it so magical. I didn't even know what was going to happen!

Going back to scratching...I always loved the sound of a backspin! Thought it was the neatest thing ever back in the 90’s. I think this was my own influence to have some type of showmanship. It was not about being perfect, it was about putting on a show and making the people see it was real mixing and real tricks. I will always, always think mixing 2 records together is the neatest thing in the world! To be able to make 2 records talk, sing and make remixes is something I will forever cherish.

I had a friend let me borrow a 1997 DMC Championship VHS tape, there was a guy named DJ Static from Denmark. I could not believe my eyes! I have seen a ton of other DMC’s before, but this was my biggest influence to what a DMC should be! This guy is making sentences out of records. His all around skills to me are unmatchable! I think deep down inside, this was a reason why I never wanted to be a DMC. These guys are so perfect in their craft, that I did not want to even go there.

What I did take from these guys was just not being afraid to try something new and different. Scratching to me is a tool for showmanship, not the whole show. Sometimes it can be too much and my whole purpose is to keep people dancing. So I just wanted to make a mark at showmanship without being too overboard! I have created a few scratches of my own, one being a 3 part scratch. There is a bend scratch that turns into a taco scratch (half of the record bent like a taco), and from there it will turn into a break scratch. From the broken pieces, I can still scratch on one of the pieces of record. The thought and idea of this scratch was the idea that you could bend sound. This was kinda like playing a factual saw blade like a violin. I have worked on the Laser Scratch with a company called Vision Laser (Mark Scurra). This was a custom scratch with a disco ball that reflected the company's lasers at the time. It was super cool and there was once a thought of marketing the balls for other scratch artists!

I know this might also sound super crazy but, I am extremely shy about being a DJ. There are so many great DMC’s, mixologists and turntablists, that it would be extremely hard to ever say you are the best or even can compete. Not even close! There is so much undiscovered talent. I don't ever want to be a master of any of this. If I was, there would be nothing for me to look forward to. I want to always learn. I want to find new ways of mixing records together, I want to learn new scratches and tricks. Mixing records has taught me about life, it's given me a reason to look forward to the next day. It gave me direction. It's made me work for every skill. It makes me think, everyday. It makes me want to be a better DJ at all times. It makes me just want to be a better person!

I totally agree with you there, especially the part of not ever being a master. That is the beauty of life isn't it? The never-ending growing process! Seems to me if you master something, you stop learning, and thus you stop growing.

Anyway, let's talk about the 90's Rave scene for a moment. Sounds like you were a strong part of it, and at one point perhaps did not even know what you had gotten yourself into. What would be some of the standout things that made a particular impact on you from that scene?

I started back in 1991 as stated earlier. It took awhile for it to grow on me, but I'm super thankful that I stayed with it. This music has been my best friend, and it's been my worst enemy. The impact this music and scene has given me has been life changing. It has taught me to be more adventurous. It has taught me how to be a better friend. It has taught me to be very honest. It has taught me to learn from my failures. It has taught me to have an open mind. It has taught me to not be judgmental, because you never know what someone else is really going through. It has taught me how to be a better person. It has taught me how to push myself. It has taught me how to live a better life. It’s taught me how to be more compassionate. It’s taught me how to love. Our lives do come with our own background music, we just have to listen to what it is playing!

The music has literally been a huge guide to my emotions. I have been able to lean on the producers and their amazing productions in good times and bad times. I have been able to find comfort in meeting so many others that felt the same way as I did. I have met so many incredible people through a scene that did not look down on you. It has always been an escape from the real world and the unforgiving standards of society. It's ok to be different. It's ok to have different views and thoughts, as long as it's never hurtful to others. It's ok to dare to try something new. It's ok to be you.

Words of the wise right there, especially in these times of such intolerance and downright hypocrisy!

Moving forward a little, let's talk about The Lost Art, the project you are perhaps best known for. For those who may not know, it is an online radio station dedicated to preserving the true art of DJ'ing, an artform unfortunately plagued by some of the very inherent dangers of so-called technological advancements. Talk about the inspiration behind The Lost Art a bit, what inspired you guys to take on this project and what mission does it all stand for at its very core?

This is sometimes a question I avoid due to the fact of how in depth it really is. This comes with a huge emotion from where I have been, and where I am at to this day. This question goes back to all of the hard work and dedication I have had not only for myself, but everyone around me. This will be an answer nobody is expecting.

I moved back to Colorado back in 1997. There was a huge lack of breaks in the scene and I wanted to be someone that was still representing the art and craft of this music. I will start out with a short intro to my first company that I started.

Bruise Your Body Breaks has been around since 1998. The name Bruise Your Body Breaks came about when Natural Nate was spinning at a party. After his set, a guy came up to him and showed him a bruise that was on the left side of his back. He expressed that "The bass was hitting so hard that it bruised his body". So as stated, “If the dancing does not bruise your body, the music will!”. Other BYBB Members are: Jiggabot (Jenna) & DJ Mike Devious.

Brand Banana Peels was a childhood gang we created not to be the bad guys, but to be the good guys to help others in need. We stood up for those that had no voice and could not defend themselves. It was our version of the Guardian Angels, silly as that might sound. I had lost a few great, great friends and always wanted them to be a part of my life, even when they were not here. I can always hear them saying: "keep going". Big loving shoutout to Mike Reynolds, Joe Chavez, Eric Chavez and Mike Underwood. You will never be forgotten!

I never really knew how much of an impact that Breaks and Electro Breaks were giving to the scene and especially to me. I knew music was extremely important to my life, but really never looked to see how it was impacting the people around me. I had lost one of my best friends in a tragic death. This was shortly after I opened Bruise Your Body Breaks. He was one of my biggest supporters and I had never felt such a loss as I did at this time. I was completely heartbroken and lost.

I had a manager at the time and he had sent out some really crappy mixes I did to a few major labels. I did not know he even did this and one night he brought over some promotional folders and contracts. He said these mixes caught some major attention and I was told to pick one. I was speechless and as nervous as could be. I did pick one of the companies and went through a rigorous signing of a contract. This went on for a few months, and one day I got some really bad news. The label I had picked came to my manager and told him they thought I was a fraud. They stated that nobody could mix records that fast and accurately without it being a computer mix or edited.

Honestly, these mixes he sent were very flawed (worst critic) and I was very shy about what he had done because of this. Some of the other managers insisted I was a fake DJ. A computer DJ. I didn't even know what that meant! I did not even own a computer, let alone knew that DJ's were even making mixes like that back in the early 2000’s. I had no clue what they were talking about, and I lost a major contract because I had no other proof.

After losing one of my best friends, other personal problems, and this contract in a short span, my soul was completely shattered. I began a very destructive life of feeling sorry for myself and wishing I could have done more. I basically gave up for the most part. I still did a few shows here and there and I would play my records on the weekends saying to myself, I almost made it. A very deep and dark void made a hole in my heart that I could not fill. The producer, the production and the music was the most important thing I leaned on to express my real emotions without saying a word. The producers and music saved my life.

A few years later (2003-2004) I had another good friend at the time tell me we were offered a radio show. He stated I had all of these records and I was basically doing nothing with them. “You need to do something with this”, he said. I told him I needed some time. I stared at my record collection for a few months and my first idea about this radio show was to archive all of these records in a more professional manner. I could just make these mixes for myself and if one person was listening, it was better than none.

Going back to the contract I had lost, I did own a computer finally. I was sitting there one night and this hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. A COMPUTER DJ! I was called a computer DJ and was absolutely furious once I grasped the real meaning of what they were saying. Something deeply changed in my spirit that day. I vowed there had to be a better way to mix and to prove that I was really doing these mixes. I decided if I was going to do this radio show, that I was going to video tape EVERY show we did. Good or bad, we would have this archived on a video cassette recorder. I had a new direction in my life.

We absolutely had no clue what we were doing. We had no direct sound into the home recordings, and I was extremely shy about wanting to talk on the mic during a show. I just wanted to spin records. These home recordings were awful but they were so valuable. Even though we did not know what we were doing, these video tapes showed us our mistakes. It showed us what we were doing right. I would watch these on the weekends, over and over as a teaching tool. Nobody really even knew we were doing this, this was just a personal idea and approach to our lives and our accomplishments at the time.

Around 2007, I was up late in the morning on another radio station we had joined. A guy named Tokeyman entered the chatroom. Nobody was around as I should have been in bed, but he started saying something that really caught my attention! He was asking why nobody on internet radio was doing live streaming. With all of the newer technology that had been released such as ustream, why was nobody showing the mixing? I fell out of my chair and pulled him aside and asked him what he was talking about.

He showed me a few sites that were doing live video, and this changed everything. We were already doing home recordings on a video camera but did not know we could factually show this live! We decided to try out ustream, and this changed the way someone was listening to the music live on internet radio because you could see it. You could see the real skills a DJ had vs wondering if it was a pre recorded mix. This was the new bread and butter of the industry, and nobody was using it or knew about it!

Doing live video was not easy at all. We thought the whole world was going to flip over this, and we were wrong! We were pulled aside one day and were told the industry hated us. We were calling out all of the fake DJ'S on radio sites and we were honestly confused. We were told that 60% of the internet radio DJ's were pre-mix and computer DJ's. I was completely blown away. My heart was shattered again. I thought everyone on the internet was a real DJ or was putting in as much hard work as we were. We were enemies of the industry and did not even know it. I had lost a major contract being called a computer DJ, and now the industry was being accepted for being a fake DJ. Funny how the world works!

On the flip side, it was life changing for everyone involved. Good or bad for the industry, live video changed the way Internet radio was heard and now looked at. We were pushing the whole industry to step up. We were pushing DJ's to prove they were real DJ's, we were pushing the boundary of technology. We were able to get major producers to do live shows. We were able to broadcast from around the world and events that we would never be able to attend without the power of live video. We were able to book DJ's for club events in other countries. We were able to hold personal ceremonies.

I was able to set a world record as the fastest mixing DJ with proof of live video and streaming on April 29, 2010. My biggest hope for this was to show that you can do different things with turntables. It was in hopes of keeping the turntables as an inspiration vs technology. It was to help other producers be recognized, especially Breaks and Electro Breaks producers. It was to make my wife, family, friends and the Breaks and Electro community proud. I was able to use this tool to prove that there were real DJ's working hard. This was pushing us to be better and better, every show, every mix.

During the time of doing internet radio, I was able to capture many awards and titles. I am still officially ranked in the top 2159 of all genres. Doing a weekly show really paid off. I was always engaged with social media, and this just grew and grew. Just when you think the numbers are low. Just when you think nobody is listening and watching, you can walk away with world titles. You can change someone's day. You can change someone's life with mixing and music. You can use these tools and really make a difference, even when you don't think anything is working. I had always said, one listener is better than none, and this was the biggest quote and drive for me to do this over 2 decades. Just one person watching or listening can change your life and theirs.

It was rough getting live video DJ's out there. There were not enough real DJ's on live internet radio willing to be seen. We even thought about cross promoting to other stations to fill a full live video schedule, but again, we could not find enough real DJ's using live video on a regular internet radio site, or even willing. I knew in my heart that there would not be any radio station capable of making this new idea and technology work. I finally decided if these internet radio stations could work with little effort, then there was no reason why I could not make a new station.

The-Lost-Art.com was born in 2009-2010. With the help of some really good friends, a splash page and a Ustream account, we opened up the very first real DJ video site in the world: www.the-lost-art.com. What a crazy ride this has been! I had already made a name for myself. I had already taken many awards, world titles, recognition, and a World Record. To be very honest, I was bored. My main theory with the-lost-art was to help others achieve the same thing. I knew how to make top world DJ's. I knew how this industry worked. I knew how to get people's names out there with social media and the internet. This was my biggest challenge yet: How to teach others to be a top DJ with the power of live video.

We searched high and low for DJ's of all levels. You did not have to be a world class DJ to join us. As long as you were proving you could mix, I knew they could and would get better. We even had 2 controller DJ’s on our site, just to be clear. We are a turntable/CDJ site, but if a DJ can prove they are mixing, and have real skills, we have always given them a chance. I think this statement is important due to the fact we are about talent and real skills. With technology that can make anyone a DJ, we have been ultra careful to not book controller DJ's. The Sync button has ruined the whole industry, and seeing a controller automatically puts the term fake DJ into everyone’s minds. Put 2 turntables and a mixer up, and let's see who calls themselves a real DJ. ¾ of this industry would not be standing!

There has been a huge lack of education to this industry. I think there was a really bad crossover of confusion to what a DJ was doing vs what a Live P.A. (Performance Act) producer was doing. I had a good friend that worked for Native Instruments that had coded software programs and more for them. He ended up losing some of the functions of his hands, and designed one of the first prototype controllers. These controllers were to help those with handicaps, such as hearing problems, missing limbs and other problems. The industry soon found out that they could make anyone a DJ with this technology, and thus the controller was born. This has been more about how the industry can make money, than keeping talent in the light. With the craft of what a real DJ is and does being lost with time, it was most important to preserve what was left. As we say, preserving the pitch…

People can argue all day long about this topic. DJ means Disc Jockey. No Disc, No DJ. That is a fact by way of definition and decades of DJ's using records or discs. Nobody thought a site like this would work. Nobody thought anyone cared about the real craft or a real DJ. We proved everyone wrong. At some of our peaks, we had 16 million people hitting our site a month. This was extremely expensive with server costs and site maintenance. We were the very first site to make a custom video with no commercials or spam. We left Ustreams and Youtubes to become the first independent company to use their own ideas and technologies. This was a huge reason why you have never seen too many other sites like The-Lost-Art with custom live video. It's incredibly expensive and is a full time job handling 50 plus shows a week. TLA was incredibly big for its time. Too big to be honest. We knew we had something really unique and special. Our biggest nemesis was monetizing the site. We were bigger than what we could handle to be very honest. This became a huge downfall.

Some of the inspiration to The-Lost-Art was to be the first all genre station. Instead of saying my genre was better, we said come and prove it. We were told this would never work because genres cannot and will not get along. We proved everyone wrong again. The biggest inspiration for the site was to help Breaks and Electro Breaks stay alive. By pushing an all genre site, many others could get to know other genres that they would have never been exposed to. It was a win win for all of the music of this industry! We wanted to be the first DJ site in the world to be able to pay our team for their efforts. We were after big contracts, and this meant a very strict routine. It takes extreme dedication to do a weekly show for 2 hours. It takes a very special person and DJ to have that type of commitment. It takes a very strong team to engage in a huge contract. Everything has to be perfect. From the camera angles to just being a professional, you have to be on top of your game at all times, inside and outside of the website and team. You never know who is watching. There is