West Philly and Worldwide – Breaking it down with Matthew Law

by Chris Burrell // @Chri5B_

Matthew Law FKA DJ PHSH is a man that really shouldn’t need an introduction.

He’s rocked pretty much every spot in Philly, and has been moving asses in clubs before he was even allowed to drink. He was the tour DJ for Dave Chappelle’s Oddball Comedy Tour, the Northeast champion of the 2013 Red Bull 3Style Contest, and has spun numerous highly acclaimed gigs including LA’s the Do-Over and Low End Theory.

DJ Lil Dave and Matthew Law
Matthew Law on the 1’s and 2’s at his July Friends and Fam party, as WKDU’s own DJ Lil’ Dave vibes out.
Photo cred: Tim Blackwell, Shots Fired

It seems like forever ago that I sat down with Matt, and since then, he’s recorded the official Roots Picnic Mixtape and opened up the annual PSK event for J. Rocc, Rich Medina, Cosmo Baker, Cash Money, and Questlove – amongst his normal crazy schedule.

Peep his dope set from PSK, and read our chat to get hype for his 3rd annual PHSH TANK Block Party this weekend.

Matthew Law LIVE at PSK 7.3.2014

CB: Who are you, and what do you do?

ML: I’m Matthew Law – you might know me from before as DJ PHSH. I’m a DJ, producer, vision guy – I have a lot of ideas.

CB: What were your first musical memories?

ML: My parents had a theatre company together, up until I was 14. I grew up with that, and also played violin for six years.

Growing up in West Philly in the 90s, the hip hop and alternative rock stuff was really poppin, so I remember that. My Dad liked the modern rock too, so we’d go on drives and listen to Y100 or WMMR and joke around. I still remember being like 7, and listening to Pearl Jam and making fun of Eddie Vedder with all the aaayyyyy-eee-yayy-yuhhh’s.

CB: Y100, RIP! I remember them making fun of Creed also.

ML: Oh Y100 would rag on Creed so hard.

It’s a weird segway – but I remember there being such a weird feeling of race separation once I started hearing Beastie Boys and Eminem on Y100, but not any other rap. I was like, “Oh so I guess if they’re white guys it’s OK for them to be on Y100?” I thought that was really strange, and even at 12, I boycotted them for like two months. My first concert was at Veterans Stadium with Dave Matthews Band, The Roots, and Santana. I was 10, and I came for Dave Matthews Band. I had no idea who The Roots were.

I don’t have any older siblings, so when it came to hip hop, the reason I probably attached to it so much, besides a few key people, was that I really had to discover it on my own, and make it my own.

CB: So how’d you get into DJing, and what was your first set up like?

ML: I saw Scratch, the documentary, and I was like, that’s what I wanna do, I wanna try it out. I didn’t really have anybody to show me anything up until I met Illvibe Collective. It was just watching Scratch over and over again.

It’s funny because on the special edition of it, Z-Trip gave a 20 minute tutorial on how to be a DJ for the most part. Last year, I was DJing at Output with Rich Medina, Questlove, and Z-Trip, and I was like, “Yo, you were my first DJ teacher!”

My first set up was the Stanton STR 880 DJ in a box. The first pair of turntables I saw in person was from this kid I went to Hebrew school with, he got those for his Bar Mitzvah. His Bar Mitzvah was after mine, and when I saw his, I was like, “Man, I shouldn’t have gotten a guitar!”

Matthew Law, King Britt, and Questlove
Two generations of amazing West Philly artists unite – Matthew Law, King Britt, and Questlove.
Photo from @djphsh Instagram

CB: How did you start to build up a name for yourself in Philly and beyond?

ML: I started DJing the Gathering, the longest running hip hop event in Philadelphia. When I was 18, I had my first consistent gig in a club at Medusa Lounge on Tuesdays. I didn’t try to drink, and I think I got a way with a lot of stuff because I knew I was there to work. I wasn’t there to party – I was there to make the party happen.

Then in 2009, everything blew up with my first party, Superdope. Nose Go, Yis Goodwin, had a magazine called McJawn with Gwen Vo, and Leah Kauffman had just started the blog Phrequency. Sammy Slice had his party Mo Money Mo Problems, and while we were somewhat in competition, as far as the kids that were our age, we all were working together in some way.

I started Superdope when I was 20, still not drinking, and on my 21st birthday, there was a thunderstorm. I thought nobody was gonna come out, and we had over 350 people that night.

CB: How was Low End Theory when you spun out there?

ML: Low End Theory was great. It was the first time in a while that I understood that a large crowd of people might not be there to dance, cuz it’s beat heads. So they’re just looking at you like, yeah, you might hear a ‘wooh’.

CB: Let’s talk about the Matthew Law name change.

ML: My full name is Matthew Lawrence Fishman-Dickerson. I came up with DJ PHSH in 10th grade chemistry – I just needed a name. I’m producing now, and I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about what I’m capable of, so that’s why I’m going with Matthew Law.

Plus, a lot of my mentors go by their names, Statik is now Mr. Sonny James, King Britt’s real name is King Britt, Rich Medina’s real name is Rich Medina, and I thought I’d get on the bus.

CB: Tell us what to expect from your new EP.

ML: I’m currently working on it. It’s a storytelling record. Originally it was like oh I’m breaking up from DJ PHSH, but it ended up being like oh I’m breaking up with a girl and then going into a new relationship, new girl. Each track is it’s own thing – it’s a score to my own short film in my mind. I just got a bass player on it, there’s some funky samples and modern funk electronics, and a slow jam with a really ill guitar solo from Joe Jordan.

CB: Favorite closing track:

ML: Between two records.

I’m always the first one there and last one to leave, somebody better be going home with something.

Mos Def – The Pannies

Or, Jaco Pastorius – A Portrait of Tracy

It was sampled for SWV’s – The Rain.
*editor’s note – I linked to the live version of this song because it’s the shit*

CB: What’s something interesting about you outside of music?

ML: I grew up watching a lot of anime. Not like oh Pokemon’s on, Dragonball Z’s on – no, I watched Akira in a dark room by myself when I was 11. I saw Ninja Scroll when I was 9. I think it’s really funny when people try to rag on anime and act like that shit’s for nerds – it was the foundation for your entire childhood! All those cartoons you used to watch were outsourced to Asia, stop bullshitting. Do not front. I take the strongest approach possible when it comes to defending watching good anime.

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An Interview with Nashville funk nonet Dynamo

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Wil Schade: I’m here in the studio with a very special band Dynamo, who just killed an in-studio performance at WKDU. I am joined by Kevin [Gift Jr.] and Ryan [Connors], the bassist and pianist of Dynamo.

Ryan Connors: Thanks for having us.

Wil Schade: You guys are from Nashville, Tennessee. You’ve been on tour for two weeks now. How has it been?

Ryan: It’s been great man, a lot of different types of venues. One of the cool things we’ve been doing on the road is giving clinics and master classes at high schools and middle schools. Those have been really fun too. We usually do those in the mornings on weekdays. Those have been a blast, and once again different scenarios at every one of them. You never know what to expect.

Wil: So what has been the craziest moment of tour so far? I have to ask that question.

Ryan: Craziest moment of tour? Man, that’s a tough one…

Kevin: That we can say on radio, or..? [Laughs]

Ryan: Well, one story that comes to mind actually happened right before the tour. The night before we left, our drummer’s van, like a utility van, basically broke down and couldn’t start. And this was the night before we had to leave for the tour. So we basically towed it away that night, took it to the shop, and then got it two hours after we’d planned to leave that day. So we were running late to a gig in Columbus, ran into three hours of traffic, so we got there literally right before we had to play. Everyone was really stressed out but everyone played really well because they had a lot of aggression that they had to get out. [Laughs]

Wil: You’re a large group. So, what are all of your different musical backgrounds and how did you guys meet, at first?

Ryan: Seven of the nine members went to Belmont University down in Nashville Tennessee. Four of us that went there actually got our Masters in Music. We graduated just last week or two weeks ago. So that’s sort of the story there. We come from all over the map, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Illinois, and upstate New York. Our keyboard player/trombone player is the only one actually from Nashville Tennessee. So we all just kinda came together from really different backgrounds like you were just saying. Kevin, our bass player, plays in churches. Some of the guys are just straight ahead jazz players. The guitarist can play, like, a country gig if he needs to. We’re all kind of well rounded, but we all enjoy this style of music I think the most. Everyone’s on board with making really great music.

Wil: You guys just released Live at Ocean Way, a live in-studio album for an audience of forty members?

Ryan: Yeah. We did three shows that day, December 8th 2013. We had three shows so that we could each have three different live takes to choose from. Each show had forty different people in each audience, so a total of 120 people attended that concert that day, and we did eight tunes at each show. Actually the album is a compilation of the last show, the 8 o clock show. So that’s what you hear on the album, that’s what you’re getting.

Wil: So how was the recording process? Was it difficult with the live aspect and getting the perfect take?

Ryan: It was extremely difficult. We didn’t make it any easier on ourselves because we actually brought in a lot of outside musicians. If you listen to the album, that’s actually 24 musicians taking part. There’s a string quartet, we beefed up our horn section so there’s a baritone, tenor, alto [saxophones], trombone, trumpet.

Wil: There’s an EVI [Electronic valve instrument] on one of the tunes I heard.

Ryan: Yeah the trumpet player also plays EVI so he took a solo on one of the tunes, which was awesome. Actually that’s Joe Anderson from Philly. He just graduated from U Arts. So two of those horn players, including Joe and Ben Ford our trombone player, showed up basically that morning and sight read the charts all day. We’re already trying to get a lot of people together to play somewhat difficult music and that didn’t make it any easier [laughs].

Wil: Speaking of difficult music, you write most of the tunes. What are some of your influences? I know when I watched the YouTube videos it looks a lot like Snarky Puppy to me.

Ryan: For sure. I think everyone in the group is a very big Snarky [Puppy] fans, myself included. I actually had a chance to go to Snarky Puppy’s live recording session for GroundUP.

Wil: ….I recognize your face now.

(Ryan’s face is the thumbnail photo for Snarky Puppy’s “Thing of Gold” video)

Ryan: [Laughs] Yeah, so I had a chance to talk with Michael League [Bassist and frontman of Snarky Puppy] and some of the guys in the band. Ever since then at live shows they’ll see me and recognize me. Their music was a big influence, but also the way that they carry themselves as a group. They’re really positive, really into music education. So that to me was a wake up call on doing things independently. Like understanding that you don’t need a tour manager and you don’t need to be signed to a record label to make good music. So that’s more of what I got out of seeing those guys, and that was their influence on us.

Wil: What has been the hardest part of being such a large band? Do you have side projects, or stuff you do other than Dynamo?

Ryan: Yeah. We’re all freelance musicians, but I think overall we pretty much make time for this group. When we’re down in Nashville we play a couple times a week at some of the venues down there, and so far we haven’t had any conflicts. I mean, if someone can’t make a gig it’s more like all or nothing. But if there are guest musicians that want to sit in that’s always something that’s cool for us to do.

Wil: I guess you guys have a large network of musicians. I mean, all the musicians you brought in on Live at Ocean Way plus if you’re in a crunch on the road and you need an extra musician.

Ryan: Yeah totally. And actually these are areas that we’re revisiting. I did my undergrad at West Chester University and so did Kevin. So while we’re in this area we’re probably going to meet some musicians that we went to school with and we’ll have them sit in, like Joe Anderson and Ben Fords. He’s out in Harrisburg so he’s going to play with us on Saturday night. So just letting people know that we’re coming through. Then if they want to come and play then by all means please do.

Wil: You guys are a fairly new band, coming together in late 2012. What was your strategy for getting yourself out there? It seems like you’re well on your way, but did you go in with any preconceived notions of how you were going to go about things?

Ryan: No. Basically my mentality was just write as much music as possible, play as many gigs as possible, and put ourselves in situations where we’re uncomfortable as much as possible. So that way we just keep growing constantly and we’re always writing new material, always trying to book a tour, and just basically challenge ourselves over and over again.

Wil: This is your first tour?

Ryan: Yeah. We did a short run-out last May, where we did one clinic up in Oswego, as well as two shows. But in terms of a fully booked tour, this is the first one.

Wil: So what’s next for you guys?

Ryan: June and July we’re actually taking a break, so you won’t hear anything from us then. But when we get back in August we have some gigs in Nashville. We’re hoping to do some run-outs in September through the fall. So run-outs to any area that’s close to Nashville like Chicago, New Orleans, North Carolina, Atlanta, any cities that we can get to and that it makes sense to go to. And then we’re probably looking at recording another album at the end of the year.

Wil: So you guys have been making new material. Have you been recording consistently? Are you guys in the works of a new album?

Ryan: Yeah, I would say we’re about halfway through getting some new material for a new album. But along the way we’ve been recording on the side with singers that we love to feature in our live shows. So the aspect there is doing covers and their arrangements of different covers. We just went in the studio right before we hit the road with Abby York and Ariel McFall. They did a version of “Rolling in the Deep” and “Sunny”, the jazz standard.

Wil: Awesome. Do you guys accept social media followers?

Ryan: Yes sir, we do.

Follow Dynamo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.