DJ Apt One wears hats. Sometimes it’s just a Pirates hat, reflecting his Pittsburgh nativity. Other times, it’s as producer, DJ, curator and label chief (and occasional PW contributor). As a quarter of Young Robots, the label he co-founded, and a half of his two groups, Skinny Friedman and RCMP, Michael Fichman is on his grind. And with the help of WXPN, he’s put together a compilation that is totally free to download, with the hope that maybe you’ll like it and potentially buy some vinyl that’ll include new material and fresh remixes. While you listen to it, imagine the loveliness of dancing under the stars on the water’s edge, thanks to “Live and Local,” the DRWC’s initiative to get some live music poppin’ at the beautiful Race Street Pier.
PW caught up with the West Philly DJ to talk about the release of his new compilation, Philadelphia Maneto, named for the city’s motto, which means “let brotherly love endure.” We started there.
PW: So, “Let Brotherly Love Endure,” huh?
DJ APT ONE: I don’t think William Penn had any idea how ironic that would come to be.
This is a compilation that you’re doing with some help in distribution via WXPN, but you initiated the idea? What made you want to tackle such a project?
For over a decade, I’ve seen so many talented artists kind of languish in Philly and Jersey or move elsewhere. I wanted to try to create a showcase for people whose work I have appreciated around here—introduce each act to the audiences of other complimentary acts and try to improve everybody’s exposure. I approached WXPN about helping me expand the reach of the project, and they have been really helpful.
Seems like you and all the bands, DJs and producers on this comp are one happy family. What kind of family are you?
I like to think that it’s a happy family; some folks are people that I have been DJing and making music with for years. Some are more recent family members. Robert Lux had just moved to N.Y.C. about a year ago, but was DJing at a bowling alley in Philly every week and sent me some of his work with New Jersey legend Todd Edwards. Others, like SAUR, are people who came to my attention because they have been submitting music to the label for years, and finally this was a place where we could put them on.
You’ve got to be poring over hours and hours of music as a DJ and producer, right? What makes a track stand out for you? Or, at least, what was the common criteria that got these tracks on the comp?
I tend to gravitate towards funky and soulful stuff, but I wanted a fairly diverse selection. Billy W does deep house stuff. Nicos Gun makes Prince-inspired dance pop. NITEWAX brings the jackin’ house flavor, Downtown Club sounds like ESG but with Neko Case-type vocals. SAUR is kinda dubsteppy. But the common threads are that A) all of these things are from here and B) all of these things are of quality in their particular genre. Even if it isn’t something I’d play in my sets, it’s something I can listen to and appreciate the quality.
What exactly have you done with these songs? Are they remixes? Are you just fine-tuning them with the artists to create any kind of coherence for the flow of everything?
There are 13 tracks on the compilation; 10 are originals. There are three remixes that I did of original songs that appear on the record. Hopefully, those three originals and three remixes will appear on vinyl; we’re working on that. Some of the tracks are just as the artist submitted them, and some went through a process where I worked with the artist by providing feedback on drafts until we got to the finished product.
The process of the remix is one that’s not foreign to you. And often, it’s clear, your own work gets remixed by aforementioned family members. What makes a great remix? Do you enjoy seeing how fellow artists have reconceived your work?
A great remix is really just a great tune that happens to draw from a specific set of source material. Some are 180 degrees different from the original; some are little more than tweaks. It’s weird having your own work remixed because it’s like letting your child out into the world not knowing if she’ll become a doctor or an axe murder. But it’s fun to have somebody take your ideas and impart their own spin. The best remix anybody has ever done for me was Pumpkin Patch’s remix of a song called “Mustache Love” by a group I’m in called RCMP.
Are you hoping this comp gets some attention and critical love? What would that do for Young Robots?
I’m less concerned with what this does for Young Robots than what it does for everybody on the compilation. A lot of these guys are going places, and we have always been interested in trying to provide a first step on the ladder for people. Some of them don’t have very many releases, and in an age where anybody can put music up on SoundCloud, etc., it’s useful to have some music you can point to where you say, ‘Hey, this has been vetted by a respected label; I’m legit’ and turn that into some shows, which is where the money is these days. That’s one reason that the record is available for free, as well as for sale—we want it to travel as far as possible. If something really takes off, it will sell units as well, but we don’t retain any rights to the artists’ work, so they can take their hit song and use it to best benefit themselves.
What’s the most exciting thing about this project for you?
I pretty much bullied some of my friends into sitting on some very good work they sent me just to be able to showcase it. The first time I heard Superprince’s “Say It,” I nearly crapped my pants. I made them hold it for almost a year, like, “I need to put this out.” It’s also a great honor to be able to work with Todd Edwards (half of Lux & Edwards). He’s not only a huge legend in the history of house music, but he also has a long history of doing vocals and writing with Daft Punk, so that was very cool too.
Has there been much in the way of DJs spinning on the Race Street Pier? This seems a little unprecedented. Can you talk a bit on how this event came about and what will go down?
Brian Cassidy from Universal Cave mentioned to me that the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation was doing these monthly events on the pier and put me in touch. They are doing local music showcases, so when I mentioned this compilation, it seemed only natural to do something there. The event is one-half Young Robots showcase—featuring Nicos Gun live and DJ sets by Pink Skull and me—and one-half Worldtown Sound System showcase, with DJ sets and live stuff from them as well. Afterwards, we are gonna go party downstairs at Johnny Brenda’s. Shawn Ryan is DJing, and he’s half of Superprince, so like you say, we’re gonna do this with family.
Thurs., July 18, 6pm. Free. With City Rain, Worldtown Sound System, Nicos Gun and Pink Skull. Race Street Pier, Race St. and Columbus Avenue. delawareriverwaterfront.com
PW's Music Issue 2014