New Jersey, New York and Detroit. Three of the key cities in the development of house music in the United States. Turtle Bugg was born in Jersey, lived in New York for a long time and now resides in Detroit. It’s fair to say these locales influenced his approach as a DJ, as well as his curation as both a promoter and label owner. He throws parties as part of Sublimate, as well as branching out into festival territory with Smangtasia. He runs Basement Floor Records as part of Soul 2 Seoul with Chung. Last year he put out a series of mixes on a variety of platforms, covering Afro acid, funk and soul, ambient and everything in between. For his Truancy Volume he’s shown his consummate skill as a DJ as well as the a true experience of the Turtle Bugg sound. He also answered some questions on life in Detroit, the celebration of black art old and new and how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting America.
You did a lot of mixes last year, some with themes, some without. Is there a story behind the Truancy Volume? “I find that other folks adhere to very strict genre/style lines whether it be the audience or artists themselves. This inevitably leads to people projecting their idea of what kind of music I play or am into. My mixes from last year were attempts to show off the breadth of my deejaying. With this mix I wanted to create a listening experience that gives you a taste of what one could expect from me, while fostering engagement in a setting that is not a party environment (i.e. the current lockdown status of most listeners). Online mixes are a debased currency so I wanted to present some “rare” records that I am pretty sure most people might not have heard, sprinkled with a few overdubs that have satirical and/or political overtones. There is also a song from an unreleased hip hop cassette demo that I found while working at The Thing. I am fairly certain that this will be the first time anyone besides the employees who were working that day, the peeps that made this, plus myself have heard this song possibly even this group. That is unless you listened to my last mix where I included a different track from said tape. ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)”
Your RA bio reads: “Rave funk. Muscle trance. Blunt house. Ambient soul. Blakk muzik.” It’s safe to say you cover a lot of ground in your DJing. Where does that impulse come from? “My artistic expression is an extension of my personality and upbringing. I’m extremely picky about the large variety of things that interest me, if that makes any sense. My musical background laid the foundation: grandpa owns a jazz club where I worked for years, my dad loves a lot of different music as well with a heavy emphasis on funk (he is a huge Parliament-Funkadelic fan and that was also my first concert that he took me to), and my mother listened to a lot of neo-soul (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Sade, Meshell Ndegeocello, etc.) At different points in my life I have obsessively delved into certain aspects of music and the culture surrounding it. That added to the fact that I get bored pretty easily if something isn’t interesting to me results in my style. The more time I spend in party environments, the more I am disappointed by extremely linear sets so I constantly try to play differently than what the audience may be used to.
“A lot of it is personal preference coupled with my poor attempts at imitation of the deejays I admire. These are artists that have made me feel things that I can only imagine is what made black teenagers start jacking in Chicago. I am constantly trying to make people feel as good as they have made me feel, and if I am only getting it half right then I think it’s a job well done. Those that I have experienced on the dancefloor are Theo Parrish, Marcellus Pittman, Jamal Moss, Kai Alcé, Carlos Souffront, Mike Servito, Justin Strauss, Eli Escobar, Lloydski, Hunee, and Danny Krivit. Also the crew that consists of Willie Burns, Chupacabras, Ron Morelli & Scott Zacharias (one of America’s best deejays) have a special place in my development. When it comes to the founders that I can only read about, learn from others who knew them first-hand and listen to the work they left behind the obvious Larry Levan and Ron Hardy mention has to come, but I am also a big student of Tee Scott.
“So add that up with my Millenial existential dread, questionable mixing skills, a lot of marijuana and voila, you get the Turtle Bugg experience.”
You moved to Detroit two years ago. Has that had any impact on your musical direction? “The history of house and techno is one of my major interests. If one paints very, very broad strokes there are two major geographical centres of electronic musical development as pertains to the history of house & techno in the USA. There was the East Coast; concentrated in NYC with a heavy traffic flow between NJ, D.C. & Maryland as a unit, and to a lesser known extent Florida. This results in Disco/Hip Hop, Garage, “Club” music and Freestyle being birthed in these respective areas. In the Midwest, Chicago & Detroit acted as twin cities exchanging culture at an accelerated rate which resulted in House & Techno. Being 2 of if not THE major cities of the era not located on a coast they had a connection to West Coast culture that was not as transmissible prior to the internet but easily reverberated throughout the MidWest itself. All of this cultural musical development happened in a very short amount of time compared to earlier musical history, more or less 30 years. There are two major facts that jump out about this scenario:
a. All of the areas mentioned were part of the Chitlin Circuit of old America which was the safest, sometimes only place for black people to express themselves artistically for employment with minimal fear of violent reprisal. The Jazz tradition was strong in these parts.
b. The major innovators of these developments were the black youth (of all sexual orientations) of the first generation to experience Civil Rights as law. This was a group whose immediate forebears were extremely more oppressed and suppressed. New things that African Americans had never had time to dwell on such as economic, spiritual, and psychological freedom were being discussed and exercised in tandem.
“For the most part Disco and Hip hop have been starting to get the philosophical respect they deserve in mainstream society. When it comes to house and techno, there is still a lot of debate and not enough respect in my opinion. By immersing myself in the place with the most concentrated amount of black artists who lived and took part in that era I hope to come to a better understanding and help tell the history.
“On both a personal and artistic level it was a necessary change. The area of North Jersey that I grew up in is very entrenched in NYC metro area culture, honestly it felt more like a suburb of the city as opposed to what people think of as NJ. By the time I decided to leave New York I truly felt that there was nothing more for me to learn there. Even though I am still very much new to the city and Midwestern life in general, I feel that I have learned a great deal that will lead to a better realisation of “this thang formerly known as house”. As someone who digs for physical records, it is interesting to find records that I would rarely if ever see back in NYC and vice versa. As I have said to others, moving to Detroit was one of the best decisions I have made in my adult life. If anything, my musical direction has been reinforced.”
Do you miss The Thing? I’ve never been but hearing Willie talk about it on his podcasts and reading the RA piece makes it sound pretty fascinating. “Besides family and friends, The Thing is one of the top things <ha> I miss about NYC. It is something that could only have materialised in late 20th century NYC, I’m not sure there will be places like it again. Although the impact the shop had on my musical direction cannot be overstated, it also reinforced my obsession with history. Besides the amount of music that I discovered and passed along to friends & foes, it was astounding to see how human nature denotes value to things & how drastically, how quickly the value could change. The Thing was a crash course in economics, recycling, human development, class interaction and world history.
“Never has there been a place where that old western saying, “One’s person’s trash is another’s treasure”, rings truer. Shoutout to Willie B (who put my foot in the door there), Entro Senestre, Chase Smith, & Stallone The Reducer who are the current employees. And of course the longest employee/manager/living legend Kerry Martinez, the guitarist from seminal Cali punk band U.S. Bombs. If I could live those parts of my life over again, just the parts in the store, I would.”
You played all night at Nowadays for Dweller this year. Can you talk about the festival? It seems like an important new addition to the calendar (to put it mildly). “Dweller is a new festival based in New York City that focuses and celebrates the influence from people of the African Diaspora upon the creation of electronic music. It is the brainchild of Frankie Hutchinson, one of the founders of Discwoman and a key player in the electronic music scene in NYC. It is only the third time I have played an all night (5+ hours) set in a proper club setting. First time was an afters in NYC that no one came to <lol>, second was last year at Hot Mass <which was dope as fuck except I was on acid and Eli Escobar popped in unexpectedly and I got flustered for a bit haha>. The Dweller all nighter was one of the better dj sets in my short career and I was pleasantly surprised as to how many people showed up. There were heavy hitters lined up all weekend, so it was nice to feel like people actually might care about what I do.
“The bookings at Dweller are all black, which is very important considering black people created this shit but like all aspects of life we are always the last to profit. People of colour, but black people especially, are such a tiny percentage of lineups. It is honestly disgusting. When I was a fresh neu-Bushwhack celebutante there was not a large visible black contingent such as now. Five-to-seven years ago we used to joke about it because you could count the black people under 35 years of age in the “scene” on two hands. That’s not only artists but black people who hung around the parties at all! I was always decrying the importance of black culture upon the parties that white folks so casually engaged in for no more than temporary fulfilment. Frankie and I are homies and we used to talk about these things a lot usually while blazing. At one point I told her there needed to be something like Discwoman but for black people and was trying to convince her to do that as well. Obviously she is way too busy for that, but Dweller is an amazing project, a great thing for black people and I am glad she wanted me to be a part of it. Hopefully I can return in the future not just as a performer but take part in some of the discussions as well. Like Jasmine Masters I have something to say.”
In the description for one of your mixes you wrote “dig suckas, while u still can!” – how have you been digging in the past few weeks? Do you dig online? “Honestly during quarantine I have not been doing much online digging. As all of my income comes from deejaying or usually something event production related I can’t afford to buy new records. Shelter, food and marijuana take top priority right now. Plus I enjoy the physical hunt much more than Discogs, although before the pandemic I was starting to order from record stores and Bandcamp more often.
“One thing that is on my mind is the amount of used records that should be coming into the market. Although the cause (death and financial uncertainty due to COVID-19) is bleak, this will inevitably lead to a time for vinyl collectors similar but different to the mass closure of physical music stores because of mp3s in the early 2000s. Most of the best music on vinyl is the older stuff anyway and since the lacquer supply chain got burned down right before global pandemic this may be the only thing for someone like myself to look forward to.”
More generally, how have you been holding up given the pandemic? “As well as can be expected, although the whole experience has been pretty surreal. The global shutdown started while I was on tour in Europe. Before I left my family and partner all expressed concerns about my impending trip, but I thought I could make it over and play most of my gigs before shit hit the fan globally. I was sure that COVID-19 would end up being a bigger deal than the general population was making it out to be in late February but I figured I’d still be able to get my tour in. I only got to play one gig, the final Pbar before Germany shut down. That same weekend I learned Mike Huckaby, another tremendous influence on me, had a stroke and also my favorite uncle died.
I scrambled to get out of Europe when Trump announced the travel ban, depleting all of my funds & effectively cancelling all my gigs with no way to make money for the foreseeable future. When I landed in NYC my family informed me that it was probably best if I didn’t attend the funeral for fear of infecting any of the elderly attendees with the virus <they were still letting funerals happen at this point>. Although it was completely understandable, it was pretty heartbreaking. So I just came back to Detroit, which is one of the hardest hit places in America right now. Plus in NJ my home county is the epicentre of the outbreak in the state. Huckaby just died and it would seem that both his and my uncle’s deaths were COVID related. This is a giant mindfuck to say the least.
“I am trying to stay positive and get inspired but it is hard. Been trying to:
I. Learn to code. It sounds corny but this time has put a lot of things into perspective. I need a trade that will be indispensable for the future. When I think of today’s society, everyone is too dependent upon global centralisation. If computer science is the future then I need to have a skill that can be useful and provide me with income. This aligns with my anaracho-communist ideology -> that we cannot rely on the government or a service economy to survive. Mutual aid + decentralisation are very important subjects to me that can be implemented with a better understanding of data and machine learning. Plus there needs to be more black people coding.
II. Stay inspired to pursue artistic interests. I am a very moody person so I am hoping to channel my energy into making music, improving my DJ skills, work on visual art and plan out my catalouging of the history of electronic music from a black perspective. All this while still maintaining a sense of humour, possibly focusing on satire in more ways. Have been very interested in Dadaism as of late.
III. Better myself as a person. This new era we are entering has made me realize that I need to get in touch with my feelings and focus on building a strong familial/friend community. I want to focus on positivity and leave behind the bullshit that has built up over the years.”
Last week you said “If the future is virtual only parties Safe to say I’m going into early retirement” – is this speaking as a punter or a DJ? Or both? “I just want to be clear that not everything I say on social media should be taken so seriously. That is honestly one of the bigger problems in the electronic music community today, people focusing way too much on social media. The internet is without a doubt an indispensable tool to foster intelligent discourse but trying to have constructive discussions at the mercy of corporations that rely on ad revenue and manipulating big data for profit seems pretty futile.
“With that being said, make no mistake I will be partaking in a stream when/if the opportunity swings in my direction. At the end of the day, if someone is gonna offer me to perform my job while a good portion of society is out of work I will take what I can get. While I applaud the enthusiasm and support in the electronic community during this crisis, I am wary of more emphasis being put on the spectacle of deejaying rather than the party itself. Like most parts of society, the technological advances being applied in the culture are getting out of hand. People were way too quick to accept streaming as a new wave for music to fairly shitty results. I am uncertain how this new way of life plays out considering what the scientific community is saying about the timeline for vaccines and treatment. But I am afraid of tech bro culture coming in and pushing forward virtual clubbing. I’m really not ‘bout that for the long run. Physical engagement is necessary for the human body and mind to be balanced.”
What’s the first thing you want to do when all this is over? Few things:
1. Throw a Sublimate. We are not always the most trendy or hyped, but I think most will agree that Sagotsky & the rest of the team really put together something special. Besides the joy that playing gives me I need $, parties is my bread & butter!
2. Play a dope party in Detroit with some homies.
3. Cross country trips to South Carolina + California with my girlfriend & dog.
McCulture – No Secret
Otis Clay – Love Bandit Vocoder
Phoenix – Comin’ To Ya
Prelude To Passion – Tempted (To Give In) (Hot Dance Mix)
Levon Vincent – The Thrill Of Love
Billie Holiday – That Ole Devil Called Love (Moodymann Remix)
The DDK – Sunday Night (Dance)
Marcellus Pittman – Unirhythm Track
Merle – Fannie Likes 2 Dance
? – Jack The Floor (Edit T21)
Marcos Cabral – Cassandra
Bob Andy – Feeling Soul
Triplex – Beatbox Piece <unreleased cassette from The Thing>
You can download Truancy Volume 264: Turtle Bugg in 320 kbps by supporting Truants on Patreon here. Your support allows Truants to continue running as a non-profit and ad-free platform. Members will receive exclusive access to mixes, tracklistings, and merchandise. We urge you to support the future of independent music journalism – a little support would go a long way.
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