Mr. Mendel takes over A 5 Mag Mix, 5 Magazine’s signature mix and interview series.
“I know in Chicago it’s like cussing in the church,” Mr. Mendel says, “but I sometimes tell beginning DJs that the blends are not the most important. A lot of people who are just starting out forget it’s all about taste and the vibe and energy you bring. That’s what sets DJs apart.”
It’s that obsession with taste – with selection, with musical knowledge – that we love about Mr. Mendel. Originally introduced to us by Marcel Vogel, the Amsterdam native has been releasing some phenomenal records – the latest, Something Exciting for Marcel’s Lumberjacks in Hell.
As a DJ, Mr. Mendel has been traveling extensively and has played alongside DJs including John Morales, Rich Medina, Sadar Bahar, Rahaan and more, playing dance music that meets but one sparing condition: “as long as it’s good, soulful music.”
Our interview with Mr. Mendel follows below:
From what I understand you started out playing hip-hop; how did you come to dig soul music, disco and afro-funk? Just based on your name and stature, I thought you’d have to be in your 40s, but you’re a young guy!
Hahah, well I hope playing old music doesn’t make me age faster, cause then I’ll be using a cane soon.
I guess having worked at and going to record stores and meeting a lot of music lovers and DJss, exposed me to all kinds of music.
Music from the ’70s and ’80s stuck the most. I like the emotion in the music combined with the disco groove to dance to. And the raw and real sound always appealed to me.
But I like newer music too, as long as there’s feeling in it. Hahah I guess taste is a very vague thing.
How do you describe the tracks on a record like “Something Exciting”? “Edits”? “Re-works”? I think Marcel called the four tracks “re-works”. Everyone has got their own language for this, is there a difference — to you — between an edit, a re-work and a remix?
What it’s called is not really important to me. I usually start editing something when I really like the song, but for some reason don’t play it. Sometimes I end up just extending some parts and leaving some out. And sometimes I add extra things like drums, or parts from other songs. Or I just use a small part from the original and build a new track around it.
I don’t think there are rules for this. But I do always try to stay respectful to the original track in some way.
At what point do you think, “This is something that needs to get out of my bag and on wax?” I’m curious how you decide what’s a free download up on soundcloud, what you keep for yourself and what you put out on vinyl?
I think about releasing a song if I think it’s interesting for other people. Whether DJs would would want to play it… Which I guess means, depending on what I did: if it has added value or how hard it is to find the original.
I got a very easy way of testing this, haha. I usually play the song to Rahaan and Marcel (Vogel). If they both get excited, it’s ready for the pressing plant…
When and why did you decide to become a DJ yourself? And how long was it between when you started and when you were first hired to do it?
I didn’t really make a conscious descission. I think I really started to get interested in music when I was about 10 years old. Searching for other music than was being played on the radio and TV. Making compilations and “playing” school parties.
From there on it grew slowly but steadily as a hobby. The first paid gig in a bar was when I was 15 – it was doing a two hour set with 20 records (I’d just started buying vinyl!)
From there on it gradually got serious. And I think I’ve been doing this professionally now for the last four years or so.
And I’m still doing this because I love finding beautiful music and sharing it with others, who hopefully want to drink, dance and kiss to it.
There’s a movement afoot of people putting out some really great soul music on 45s — like Cherries Records here in Chicago and many others worldwide. Have you been working on anything like this? Because I think you’d be really good at songwriting, based on how you’ve manipulated some of these tracks into brand new song arrangements.
I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you. But I’m afraid it’s not entirely true. I lack the musical knowledge (and maybe other things) to be a good songwriter. But I’m working on music and try to trust my ears when it comes to producing. I’m always trying to find a way to express myself musically and create something that I like and hopefully other people as well.
I think it’s realistic to say that I’ll drop some original productions this year…
A lot of people who come up listening to modern music with perfect time struggle when they have to mix records from the ‘60s and ’70s that had live percussion and a bit of a swing. Did you have that problem, and do you have any tips for young DJs? Or is it just “know your records” and “know music, period”?
Yeah a lot of people don’t realize that it’s something totally different to mix “modern produced” music or trying to mix two recorded live bands. For me it always remains difficult, I still end up in a trainwreck regularly. And some of my favorite veteran DJs do too.
Of course know your music, train your ears and know when to get out of there quick with the fast blend, haha.
I know in Chicago it’s like cussing in the church, but I sometimes tell beginning DJs that the blends are not the most important. A lot of people who are just starting out forget it’s all about taste and the vibe and energy you bring. That’s what sets DJs apart.