Hey, DJs: Skratch Bastid and Cosmo Baker

The two DJs and longtime friends chat about political activism, YouTube videos, and Bastid's upcoming barbecue at the Phoenix Hotel.

This Memorial Day weekend, indulge in some serious beats and eats at The Phoenix Hotel as Canadian turntablist extraordinaire Skratch Bastid finally brings his famous BBQ stateside. Featuring an arsenal of talented DJs with sets from Just Blaze, Cosmo Baker, and the former DMC champion himself, Bastid’s BBQ will also have a grill going all day to soak up those poolside libations, accented by his own line of signature sauces.

We got a chance to talk to the longtime friends and veterans of the DJ game — Skratch Bastid and Cosmo Baker — about their rich musical histories, barbecue preferences, and what to play for maximum poolside vibes.

Bastid’s BBQ takes place this Sunday, [5/28] from 12 – 6pm poolside at The Phoenix Hotel.

SF Weekly: How did you and Cosmo meet?
Skratch Bastid: I knew Cosmo from an online forum called “The Hollerboard.” We seemed to be into similar music, so we connected on there. I met him in Montreal around 2006 when he was touring with The Rub, an amazing party he was a part of with DJ Ayres and DJ Eleven in Brooklyn. They invited me down there to play soon after and we’ve all been friends since. Cosmo and I started an annual mix series called “Songs We Listened To In 20xx”, and that keeps us trading and discovering music all year round. Definitely one of my favorite DJs to listen to.

SFW: Cosmo, You have a reputation for being a great storyteller. Tell us a good story about your relationship with Skratch Bastid over the years.
Cosmo Baker: Wow, I didn’t know that I had that rep! And yeah, when you know someone as long as I’ve known Paul, you amass a lot of stories, and most of them are about the times in-between the action. I can talk about gigs and adventures, eating KFC in Azerbaijan, spinning 45s together in Tokyo, and witnessing Paul spin with an actual pumpkin on his head in Brooklyn. But I think the coolest stories are in the downtime. We’d done our “Songs We Listened To A Lot” mix series for years, and we had always worked remotely — me putting things together in Philly or Brooklyn and him in Toronto. It always came together, but this past year, Paul was kind of stranded in N.Y.C. and had an extra day, so he decided to take the 90 mile ride down to Philly and fly out the next day. He came down, and we ate and drank beers at Scratch Philly, and for the first time we got a chance to work on and map out the mix together in a live setting. Being able to throw those ideas back and forth, to feel that energy bouncing around the room, and being totally immersed in the creative process together — there was nothing like it. It made for the best edition of the mix in my humble opinion.

SFW: Bastid, as one of the most well-rounded party-rock DJs, how have you seen that style evolve since you began your career?
SB: I grew up in a smaller town in Canada (Halifax), and due to its small size, I had to learn to play all different types of crowds if I wanted to be a full-time working DJ. But my approach always came from a hip-hop DJ mind frame: cutting it up tastefully and mixing creatively. That eventually became part of my defining style: playing a bunch of different stuff but making it cohesive. People expected the unexpected when they came to hear me play.

When “mash-up” culture became more popular, you saw a surge of that kind of DJing and remixes, but a lot of it felt gimmicky. To me, the point is to find these great musical and rhythmic connections, even if they don’t appear to be similar on the surface. It’s not about putting together flagrant combos like a kid at an ice cream topping stand, but to draw on the similarities and to bring people together to enjoy the music even if they are coming from different places. Now, music is more accessible than ever, and crowds are coming with a very wide array of interests, so it’s kind of takes people by less of a surprise to hear different styles of music because they don’t have to look very far to find it. It’s right in front of their eyes. But the connections between the music are not as easy to find, and that’s where those skills still come in handy and can be used to take things to another level.

SFW: Cosmo, what did it mean to you being raised in such a culturally rich environment, including early brushes with influential artists such as The Roots and The Beastie Boys?
CB: I’m incredibly grateful for not just the road that has led me here, but also for the amazing people, things, and experiences that I’ve encountered along the way. It’s been an especially great ride for me so far, so I feel so fortunate to have been able to see a lot of scenes at critical times, all through the lens of being a DJ. But more so, it meant a great deal for me to have grown up in such a diverse city as Philadelphia. And thinking of all the times that even at a young age I was exposed to different stuff and people, all of that was crucial in the development of me as a DJ and also as a human. I met The Beastie Boys when I was a kid, and it was because my sister was super involved with the Philly hardcore scene at that time (they weren’t The Beastie Boys at that time). So I saw what that world was like, through being involved with the skateboard scene. And with The Roots (who also weren’t The Roots yet, they had just become The Square Roots), it was because the Philly hip-hop scene was super close-knit and we were all kind of creating our own world at that time. So all of that comes back to one thing — community building — which is kind of what we all still continue to do as DJs. We foster communities through the congregations we build as DJs in our scenes.

SFW: As someone who has been an activist and community leader throughout your career, how do you see your political activism intersecting with your identity as a DJ?
CB: Being an “activist” sometimes has a strange connotation because I think people sometimes see activism as marching through the streets, but true activism is more of a lifestyle, and activism and resistance can come in many forms across the spectrum. Recycling — that is a form of activism. Spreading factual information to others who may not be exposed through social media — that can be a form of activism. Keeping your mouth shut and your ears open and actively listening to the perspective and experiences of people who come from a different background than yours, that is also activism in a sense. It doesn’t have to mean physically placing your own body between vulnerable community members and ICE agents —although that’s awesome. As DJs, we also serve as inherent activists, for a few different reasons. First, because people look to the environments that we create for a place of escape and safety, so we as DJs bear that responsibility. Secondly, because of the fact that we are public figures with a voice, so people — whether they realize it or not — look to us to not only tell them stories, but to have their stories told. It’s all part of the greater narrative of DJs as griots maybe. And as public figures with voices, in these times, it’s more important than ever to use our voices. Lots of DJs (and entertainers in general) are hesitant to speak up out of the misguided fear that it would “damage their brand.” But in my opinion, it actually strengthens it.

SFW: Skratch, your Youtube channel, featuring your DJ routines and performances, has garnered over 1 million views. What goes into the creation of a good routine video?
SB: First of all, you have to have something to share. You have to have a good idea. So practice comes first. Once I come up with something good and have practiced it enough that it’s tight, clean, and gets my message across, I start filming. Sometimes it’s done in the first take, and sometimes it takes many more. But if you’ve got the right idea and the skills, it will come together. Then you have to share it at the right time and with the right people. Nothing is guaranteed as far as who will see it and how many views it gets, but with some persistence and consistency, you will find an appreciative audience.

It’s amazing; people from all over the world can watch these DJ videos on YouTube. I’ve had people from every corner of the earth reach out and say “thanks” or say they were inspired by my videos, and that is a huge inspiration to keep going. When I was getting into DJing, I tracked down VHS tapes of DMC battles and scratch videos by people like the Invisible Skratch Piklz, and studied them meticulously. They were hard to get a hold of, but I cherished them greatly, and I think most DJs that came up that way would say the same. Now, those videos are right in your Facebook and Instagram feeds and people can subscribe to get an email when you post one on YouTube. They are much more accessible, but I think the lure to DJ culture is still just as strong, if not stronger, and it helps push DJs and the culture further.

SFW: What finally inspired you to take Bastid’s BBQ on the road?
SB: There’s too much fun to be had to just keep it in one place! I’ve been doing the barbecues in Toronto for seven years now and it has become a major part of my year there. It’s my favorite gig of the year, hands down. Good vibes, good music, and good people coming together to enjoy those things.

People from other cities saw the videos and kept saying I should take it on the road, so I did. We’ve been touring it for three years in Canada, and San Francisco will be our first stateside grill. Every city has a different style, which makes each city’s barbecue unique, and I can’t wait to see how the great city of San Francisco responds to something I am very passionate about.

SFW: What’s the ultimate barbecue must-have food and what’s your specialty, if you are behind the grill?
SB: I think at a barbecue, you first have to take care of the basics: burgers and sausages. Have something for the vegetarians out there, too — I see you! If I’m behind the grill, I’m cooking up some jerk chicken with my Bastid’s Jerk Sauce! I wouldn’t sell it if I didn’t love it. Crowd pleaser, every time.

CB: I could go on for days about barbecue. If we’re talking about traditional Texas barbecue, it’s got to be proper brisket. Shout out to Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, Texas. Or if you’re going to go the Carolina route, a good pulled-pork is the move, but not too heavy on the vinegar base, and make sure your slaw isn’t too watery. As for me, being behind the grill, sadly I’m not super proficient, so I just leave that up to the masters!

SFW: You’ll be poolside this Sunday at The Phoenix Hotel. What are the keys for selecting the soundtrack to a great pool party?
CB: Vibes is everything. And the right Roy Ayers song played at the right time.

Tags: , , , ,

Related Stories