DJ AmpLive’s newest single may be “Hot Right Now,” but he has been more than just a commodity item for quite some time. The Oakland, Calif., based artist has been making a name for himself over the past decade as both a prolific and original DJ and producer, in addition to serving as one half of hip-hop duo Zion I. With the release of his fourth full-length album in five years, “Murder At The Discotech,” AmpLive has grounded his reputation even further as one of the most intriguing, imaginative and straight-up innovative DJs out there.
AmpLive’s history in the Bay Area dates back to the late 90s. Prior to that, the Texas native grew up listening to, writing and recording music across various genres. Circumstances led him to Atlanta, where he hooked up with MC Zumbi (his counterpart in hip-hop ), and eventually the two relocated to California (Zumbi’s home turf) where they quickly established themselves as an integral part of Oakland’s music scene.
Speaking of that opportunity to move out to California and pursue music, AmpLive said he took a gamble, particularly because at the time, “underground hip-hop was really big and thriving,” but there was no guaranteed future in it.
“I was…thinking about going to medical school,” he said. “[But] I was just like, ‘I’m just gonna take a chance’.”
Taking that risk turned out to be the right route for AmpLive, who, a decade later, can tout four releases under his solo moniker, as well seven full-lengths and four EPs as part of hip-hop group Zion I.
“Things have taken off,“ he said of how his music has been received. "The Bay Area is very receptive of it.”
Yet AmpLive makes it a point to distinguish that his music is a meld of what a traditional DJ, a producer and a performance artist all do.
“[Hip-hop producers] sort of make the music also,” he said. “I’m from the school of we actually mix and blend…Nowadays, it’s definitely combined because of technology. People can make music and also DJ on it.”
AmpLive said his live setup has traditionally included just him, however he has recently expanded to using live musicians and wants to incorporate even more.
“It’s sort of me on stage…playing beats live on my drum machine,” he said. “And we might have a keyboardist play…I’m also thinking about using bass players and a couple of trumpet plays.”
And although 2008’s “Rainydayz Remixes” propelled AmpLive to a new level of stardom within the alternative and indie rock community, he insisted it was a natural progression in his musical journey and that it hasn’t changed the music he’s drawn to or prone to create.
“I do so much different stuff [and] I think it’s starting to merge a little bit more with this album,” he said. “I think my hardcore fans know that.”
He cited 2005’s “Electrowonderland Vol. 1” as being a more drum and bass oriented, whereas “Murder At The Discotech” (or “Electrowonderland Vol. 2”) is much more electric. And fans can count on the fact that additional albums will be different still, because the tendency to branch out and experiment is part of his trademark sound and something which he prides himself on.
“I might do an instrumental album,” he said, referring to future plans. “And it won’t be anything like [my other albums].”
AmpLive said one of his greatest challenges is not coming up with new material, rather it’s in finding the time and space to make music and avoid getting too caught up in the logistics of being a producer.
“You gotta find ways to channel your creativity, and also get inspired,” he said. “I bring my laptop everywhere with me. I’m making music on airplanes.”
He also mentioned that everything he makes now is released in some format, because he wants it to see the light of day, and not stay on his harddrive where it’s inaccessible to his fans and the public.
On that note, AmpLive said he finds the idea of the release of hip-hop mixtapes in lieu of full-lengths today slightly confounding.
“With mixtapes, it’s original music and it’s not blended together. It’s not an actual album. Then it takes off [and] people treat it like an album,” he said. “I actually don’t know how that happened.”
He likened that kind of release to a “little wall of protection” artists use to release music in a less professional format, for fear of rejection or criticism. But he is personally of the belief that artists should release their music unabashedly, which is what he does.
“[On a mixtape] you press play and people are like, ‘It’s only one song,’” he said. “I definitely like the fact that people are putting out music and warming people up to their sound. I’m just wondering how it changed.”
Part of that answer likely is due to the Internet changing the face of the music industry, which can admittedly be a double-edged sword, considering that music is so readily available, and mixtapes are a good way for artists to gauge the fans’ interest in their music. However, AmpLive believes it’s mostly a good thing, namely because, overall, it exposes him to even more music, which in turn gives him more fodder for his own work.
“Because of the Internet, I’ll just hear random stuff…that’s just tight, and it’ll be inspirational.”
DJ AmpLive opens for Eskmo and Bassnectar at the Fox Theater this Saturday.