Rok One. What can I say about this amazing man? Well, let’s start small and bring the picture out a little wider. First of all, the man has insane literary skills. What’s that you say? But he’s a DJ. Stop, we’re both right. If you have no clue what I’m talking about clearly, you need to get involved with his email blast- hit up firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list. You’ll thank me later.
Also, let’s keep in mind that Rok and Rox go way back to Pratt days. Many 90s moons ago (but not that many) back when Rok One was but a young graphic design student at Pratt Institute, he caught word of a B-Boy Showdown already in progress. But when he arrived, he was surprised to see some pretty blond, rockabilly freshman chick teaching a group of Breakers how to swing dance. They took turns and returned the favor, showing her basic footwork and how to Uprock. This blond would soon be known to Rok and to the world as Roxy.
Back to the lecture at hand, head of the infamous crew The Bangers, Rok One DJs weeklys, monthlies, and one offs in Europe and New York with legends like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Moby and MSTRKRFT. He’s definitely down for the dance cause, working diligently to make the dancefloor a better place. Dead ass. The Bangers have released some of your favorites, and mine, from “The Mashacre” to “The Bangathon” and “I Hear Dead People.” But as we all know, they can’t stop, won’t stop so make sure to stay up with them at www.myspace.com/thebangers and at www.myspace.com/rokoner . Get involved, rabbitos. And without further ado, Rok One!!!
When you don’t want to “go in to work” what makes you go out there and do it? Do you feel like DJing is a joy or a bit of a task? Basically, is DJing your lover or your spouse?
Haha, good analogy! DJ-ing is both my lover and my spouse, which I believe is the case in any healthy relationship. The lover side represents the uncontrollable passion I feel for the music, and the spouse aspect keeps me in line, and let’s me know when I’m slipping. It’s very much like a relationship in the sense that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Realistically, there’s bound to be some rough patches, but the good always outweighs the bad, and I wouldn’t be involved in this field if it didn’t challenge, nurture or arouse me. I’m always happy to go into work and I try to stay away from the type of gigs that would make me feel otherwise.
How old were you when you first DJ’d a party officially or unofficially?
I was 24, but you could hardly call it DJ-ing. I threw a house party, and was playing various mix CDs that I made on a Sony boombox. Maluca was there (back when she was simply known as Natalie) and she said “Wow Rok, these are some pretty good mixes! Maybe you should DJ.” Soon after, I began collecting vinyl, and when I had enough records, I started to spin at other people’s house parties. It took off from there…
What’s your first music memory?
It’s probably not my absolute first, but the one that immediately comes to mind is back when I was 5 or 6 years old. The 80s were in full swing. I was at my friend Alex’s house playing Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. Thriller was blasting at full volume and my friend’s super hot teenage sister knew all the words to “Beat It.” We thought she was sooooo cool. I remember she showed us the gatefold panel vinyl packaging, where MJ is laying down with the tiger, and the freaky cartoon sleeve inside. She was also into Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Duran Duran. Ahhh Bettina, I wonder what she’s doing now…
How did you get/come up with your name?
The moniker “Rok One” has gone through many different uses. It started out as my graffiti name, but I never had any can control. One time the wind blew spray paint back in my face. That was a tough one to explain to my parents. It then became my MC name, as I was way better qualified to be a rapper. I had a pretty good run with that until around 2001, when I completely lost interest. I then started spinning records and at first tried to go by DJ Roland Rok (Extra Pale) like the beer, but nobody would call me that, so Rok One it is, I guess… It just kind of stuck.
Who has influenced your style? Any moments out listening to another DJ when you knew you had to be the best you could be?
Wow, so many people have influenced me, too many to name without forgetting someone… I came up watching people like Bobbito, Stretch Armstrong, Spinna, Rich Medina, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Premier, Jam Master Jay, Kid Capri, Riz, Eclipse, Scratch, Spinbad, Jazzy Jeff, Z-Trip, Tony Touch, and the list goes on. They’ve all been crucial to my approach to DJ-ing whether it be from a technical or musical standpoint. This isn’t to say that I would ever try to emulate their styles (or that I even could), but seeing them rocking crowds at various points of my life has given me unlimited inspiration which I try to utilize in my own way. There are lesser known DJs that have been more directly responsible to my actual progress, development or improvement - people like my homies Ski-Hi, DP One, Cowboy Mark & Dopewerewolf - not to mention clubland luminaries such as Justine D and Michael T, who focus more on mood and aesthetics than beat matching or mixing. Some DJs widen my horizons from a selection standpoint - people like JDH & Dave P of Fixed, Eli-173, Ursula 1000, Diplo, Nick Catchdubs, Negroclash, $mall Change, DFA and some of these disco re-edit personalities, Induce, Egg Foo Young & the Turntable Lab family, Bangers Nik At Nite & DJ Jaclyn, Mike B, and my main man Eamon Harkin. Also, my partners in crime Woodman & Dimitry!!! always come up with some bonkers ideas - mixes, playlists and combinations that would never have occurred to me. I find it all inspiring. Then there’s super advanced battle DJs who simply baffle me - like the X-Men, Scratch Pickles, Fifth Platoon, Craze and the late great DJ A.M.. I greatly admire these guys, and am humbled by the fact that even if I practiced for the rest of my life, I could never catch up to them. I didn’t aspire to be a technical wizard anyway - my goal is to play music that I love in a smooth and coherent way. So that being said, it’s guys like Eli Escobar, Cosmo Baker, Eleven and Roctakon that make me want to constantly better myself. Their presentation and momentum is flawless, and their genuine love for music history in its entirety is always present.
(ps- this may be my favorite picture of all time, clearly, Rok was just walking into a store to buy a slice of pizza when this happened)
What is the decision making process like from crowd to your head to the tables?
Crowd pleasing is a compromise, and I like to keep the balance in the middle. I generally try to play an even combination of what I like and what I think the crowd will respond to positively. This of course is within the realm of reason and based on the nature of the gig in question. I test the waters in order to determine whether the people at the party are the type who are willing to have their horizons expanded, or are merely the type who want the instant gratification of familiar sounds. You usually can tell pretty quickly if you are going in the wrong direction. My personality is a lot like a mirror, and I reflect back the exact kind of energy that comes at me.
Any predictions for what or who will blow up next?
My guess is that African, Asian, Latin and Tropical influenced sounds are going to start playing a bigger role in dance music. “World Music” in general is on the rise, which hopefully will make up for America’s current complete lack of imagination and creativity.
If you had to bring 5 things with you to a desert island and only one could be a record, what would you bring?
I probably wouldn’t bring a record, because then I would have to bring a record player, needles, a stereo receiver, and speakers. There go my 5 items right there - and there wouldn’t even be electricity! No, instead I would bring an axe, insect repellent, a large net (to catch fish with), a lifetime supply of cigarette lighters (cause I’m not very good at rubbing sticks together) and some durable / functional outdoor clothing…
What’s the biggest mishap you’ve ever had out at a gig and what’d you do to fix it?
Probably my laptop crashing mid-song. Luckily I always bring a few pieces of vinyl with me, and I threw one on while I rebooted. You gotta have some kind of backup music that can be played if your computer fails.
If you could tour with one artist alive or dead who would you tour with?
Without question David Bowie during the mid to late seventies. The guy bore witness to so many different eras and cultural developments, and was such an international jet-setter, media manipulator, and musical chameleon that I would be surprised if anyone could rival his life experience. By the same token, Quincy Jones would also be up there. Nobody’s f*cking with Quincy. It might be fun to tour with the Beastie Boys too, like back in ‘87 with Run DMC and LL Cool J.
If you could play any club in history what club would you play?
Danceteria. I think my tastes would fit in perfectly there.
A lot of times on flyers DJs are billed as “music selectors” but there’s a lot more to it than that. How do DJs influence the direction of music?
Well, there’s many different roles for DJs to fill. You could be a selector, sure, but you could also be a cultural musicologist, producer, radio or TV personality, sonic support for a live performer, consultant for films, television, video games, advertising and retail stores, a club, casino or hotel curator, music teacher, etc. The more that DJs infiltrate society as a whole and not just the world of nightlife, the more the general public will feel their influence. The current mainstream Top 40 dance craze is certainly due to the influence of DJs. These pop artists go to clubs and see what works on the dancefloor, and then they come up with their own dance friendly material which is often horrendous, but catchy nonetheless. Something like Lady Gaga or Black Eyed Peas is a good example. Their tracks are often produced by DJs, or at least someone with an electronic music background. Anyway, the influence of DJs is out there in full force - but now it’s time for people with some class, good taste, dignity and self respect to make the right moves in order to be heard as well.
Et voila, rabbittos! There you have it, the magnanimous Rok One. And just in case you haven’t seen enough of his beautiful face, here’s one last flick for youz.
Yeah, get involved with that. Enjoy and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
-Pebbles van Peebles