DJ Vadim Mon March 17
It's an exonerated DJ Vadim who brings his Russian Percussion tour back to the scene of the crime this week. The "crime" in question was local indie radio station KBOO's spinning of "Your Revolution"--Vadim's collaboration with spoken word artist Sarah Jones--back in 1999. The bracing track, which slammed rampant misogynistic rap music upside the head, was inexplicably deemed obscene by the FCC and subsequently banned from U.S. airwaves, while KBOO got tagged with a $7,000 fine. But on February 20th, sensible heads finally prevailed when the ruling was rescinded.
"I think the fact that the FCC singled out that song is pretty embarrassing for them," says KBOO music director Brandon Lieberman. "We ended up spending something like $27,000 fighting a $7,000 fine, but we felt it was a free speech issue and something worth fighting for."
"I guess that's the price of freedom," Vadim sighs. "In the report I read, the decision was very close, so the FCC was still fighting it. It's completely ridiculous."
Such censorship can't help but dredge up ghosts of a past era for the Russian-born, UK-dwelling musician. Though his family emigrated to Britain when he was a child, Vadim is keenly aware of his heritage and, as he tours the U.S., he's witnessing a disturbingly familiar pattern in action.
"There's lots of parallels between what's happening in America now and what happened under the state-controlled Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union you knew you couldn't do certain things and you just got used to it, because if you spoke out, you'd get locked up and shipped away to Siberia. In America it's different because you think you can speak out, whether it's in a song or at some protest, but in reality you're gonna get shut down. They'll find a way to get you. And yet this is called the freest society in the world, while people would describe the Soviet Union as a communist dictatorship. I'm not so much into conspiracy theories, but there's definitely some dodgy things going on."
Occasionally injecting this and other thought-provoking issues into the show (without being too heavy handed) is just one way the experimental Ninja Tune mainstay sets himself apart from the hordes of hoodied turntablists hell-bent on putting us through soulless scratch-a-thons. Vadim can easily wow a crowd with his singular skills and aural surgery, but has instead focused on assembling his Russian Percussion crew--a full band consisting of drums, keyboard, bass, and saxophone, plus fellow DJ First Rate and Brazilian vocalist/rapper Yarah Bravo--to flesh out the abstract hiphop found on such albums as his latest, the phenomenally addictive U.S.S.R.: The Art of Listening. Live, the grooves, tight beats, and lyrical messages take precedence over subtle rhythm manipulations and layers of fleeting samples, making for a different but no less engrossing experience.
"When you're in a club you're relying on a set of bashed up, beer-ridden speakers to recreate something from an album, so you're not able to provide all the intricacies," says Vadim. "I could try, but I don't want people to go, 'Oh Vadim's being self-indulgent and this is a load of shit tonight.' I wanna do my own thing, but also interact with the crowd and make sure they're having a good time."
That's practically a given, government approved or not.