This month’s underground stars are the trio known as Ultimate Downhill Machines: Kingsbaby, JWreck and their mysterious third member, Keybot. With a collection of tools that includes turntables, drum pads, synths, vocoders and several JazzMutant Lemurs, Ultimate Downhill Machines play house music that can bring a crowd into a dancing frenzy or a chanting chorus. This Omaha, Nebraska group formed in July 2009 and since then they have consistently delivered a popular podcast and garnered a number one spot on Reverbnation.com just two months after they formed their crew. Kingsbaby has over 13 years of experience as a turntabalist, playing alongside Jam-Master Jay and Run DMC. More recently he has been collaborating on a track with the father of Electroclash, New York’s Larry Tee. JWreck is the scratch master and controller enthusiast of the group. Together, Ultimate Downhill Machines are the creators an exciting live show that Ableton and Serato have deemed worthy of sponsorship.
Can you tell a bit about yourself, how and why you got into music, a bit about your history and how you became successful ?
Kingsbaby: In high school, I found a dusty, unused music studio in our technology lab. It had two turntables, a mixer, and a reel-to-reel recorder. With the help of a few old records, I became a music junkie. Just 3 years later I played shows with Outkast, Run DMC and other incredible acts. I was a turntablist from day one, but I realized after a few years that I could express myself even more creatively with the incorporation of instruments. I set myself apart from other acts by learning more details about music itself and performing as a DJ and musician at the same time.
Jwreck: One day while skateboarding around in California I ran into Kingsbaby. We both loved skateboarding and anything adventurous. After a few weeks of bombing hills on various boards, I realized that Sean was a DJ. I have always had a deep love of music but wanted to develop a more personal relationship with it. Sean showed me a new way to both listen to and create music. I instantly delved into DAWs and controllerism and obsessed over all the different ways that I could perform music creatively. As a team, Sean and I were able to do things that we could never have done separately.
How did you discover Jazzmutant’s controllers?
A friend sent us video on Facebook of somebody playing with a Lemur. The multi-ball looked amazing. The music on the Lemur demonstration video wasn’t that great, but we could see the possibilities immediately. We were very slotted with other controllers but they were cheap and we went through a few dozen of them. We burned through a lot of time and resources learning about and testing controllers and just to get rid of them because they didn’t meet our needs. We decided that we needed a Lemur so that we could put together an interface that could control loops and cue points for turntablism, play our virtual instruments, and control effects all at once. Our search for a controller that could do all of this led us to the Lemur.
Why did you choose to use it above other products on the market?
Kingsbaby: The price of the Lemur was prohibitive for us at first but we knew that we were tired of using products that could not meet our needs. We were not sure how we would actually get our hands on one but we talked about them constantly. While in an airport in California, Jwreck called me from Vegas. He explained that his girlfriend dumped him on the first day of their trip and to burn some time, he tried his hand at gambling.
Jwreck: I had no idea what I was doing, so I took the 60 bucks that I had in my pocket and headed to the roulette table. It looked like the game with the least possible skill involved. Five spins later, I had enough cash to pay for two Lemurs. I can’t thank my ex enough for what she did for me. I think that it was a more than fair exchange.
Kingsbaby: I agree. Jwreck called me and I screamed that he needed to go back to his room and sleep before he spent all his winnings. We immediately ordered our two Lemurs when he woke up the next day. We read the manual and watched almost all the instructional videos about Lemurs well before we got our hands on them. We even picked up a third one since then.
How has using the controller changed the way you work?
Kingsbaby: Instead of playing music based on the way that our controllers were designed, we can now design our controllers based on the way that we want to play our music.
This has made a huge difference in the way that we can express ourselves. We have become very efficient at making an interface for whatever situation we find ourselves in, though I will admit that Jwreck does the vast majority of the JZML design.
Jwreck: I find that I get to the creative part of production and live performance design much faster with my Lemurs than I did in the past. I never have to come up with work around solutions for controlling sound because I can just make a new interface when I need one. I use two Lemurs while Sean uses one. I find that with one Lemur available to launch clips in Mu or drum or play sounds and the second one available to control effects, I can do way more in a live show than I ever could in the past.
What do you find most useful about it in terms of features?
Jwreck: We don’t have to rely on a laptop display anymore. We can create an interface that will give us whatever information we need so that we can simply play music and not play with a mouse. Also, I can take all of the strange ideas that Sean gives me for making sound and create an awesome interface for us. I have learned the usefulness of relationships, functions, tension, and other physics over the last year and I find that I can design a JZML that can control sounds in ways that may be impossible without the Lemur.
What would you like to see in future revisions of the software?
Jwreck: I would love to see a better manual. True, the new manual is an improvement, but I haven’t yet finished my PhD and until I do I probably won’t be able to understand everything. Despite the fact that I have mostly memorized the manuals for the Lemur and have studied scripting, and learned the lingo, I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of what a Lemur can do.
What are your plans for the near future?
Kingsbaby: We are waiting patiently for the release of Serato and Ableton’s Bridge. Once we have that, we will be able to create an amazing interface to control the combo of my turtablism and Jwreck’s controllerism in a way that will make us unstoppable on stage. We also plan to share some of our knowledge about using the Lemur to control a DAW and digital DJ software by doing some demos at a few cities here in the US over the next few months.
Jwreck: I plan to take my new girlfriend to Vegas whenever you come out with new hardware.