Godfather of ghetto set to spin
Brian Jeffries looks like an average white guy from the US midwest. Sporting baggy jeans and a baseball cap, the man professionally known as DJ Godfather certainly doesn't strike you as the leader of an underground music scene.
The movement in question is ghetto-tech. After techno emerged in Detroit, it splintered into various subgenres that took a more minimal and understated route. But back in Motor City, techno DJs, unhappy with the way the music was evolving, started searching for something new - and ghetto-tech was born. Jeffries describes it as 'Miami bass, Detroit techno and electro all mixed together'.
This amalgamation of genres is spun with battle tricks at a blistering 160 beats per minute. For those scratching their heads, that means it features the cutting and scratching techniques used by hip-hop DJs, but at almost twice the speed.
Mixed with raunchy lyric samples that would make Foxy Brown blush, ghetto-tech has ruled club land in Detroit for six years. With song titles like Shake That Ass and Ass 'N Titties, it's often criticised for being misogynistic. 'I just tell people there's a lot worse in different kinds of music, on TV, movies, or even when you go out on the street,' Jeffries says. The idea is to not to take it too seriously. If the lyrics don't appal and outrage, they might give you a laugh.
Jeffries (above) embarked on this path at the age of 15 as a battle DJ. 'The first year I started, I didn't even know how to mix records together,' he says. 'I just knew how to scratch and do tricks. Then I started mixing in clubs. That's when I really paid attention to Detroit dance music.' He'd developed his signature style by the early 1990s and started producing his own music.
His home town of Detroit isn't the sort of place you'd go on holiday. Once a thriving, vibrant city, it has suffered a fate common to many industrial hubs, with grey tones and abandoned buildings now dominating the landscape. It's difficult to imagine such a place as a breeding ground for musical innovation.
But having contributed to the jazz and blues eras, spawned Motown, cradled the rise of techno and inspired the likes of Eminem, Detroit retains a pioneer spirit. 'There's a certain attitude about Detroit people that I don't see in other people,' Jeffries says.
With more than 40 releases under his belt, Jeffries has his own club and two record labels (Twilight 76 and Databass), and has almost single-handedly put ghetto-tech on the international stage. Unlike house or trance, which boast thousands of DJs, there's only a handful in ghetto-tech. Jeffries has been relentless in his drive to promote his music, playing across Europe, South America and, more recently, Asia.
How did he get the name DJ Godfather? 'Right when I started DJ-ing, I learned how to scratch really fast. A few months after I started, I had guys asking me to teach them how to scratch and these guys had already been DJ-ing for years.
'They kept saying if I taught them, they'd owe me one. I just said, 'Oh, what am I, the godfather now?' Then they started calling me that as a joke and it just stayed with me. My being mostly Sicilian probably helped, too.'
After making his Hong Kong debut at last year's Rockit Festival, Jeffries is back in town this weekend, and a little less apprehensive than last time. 'The first time I was here the response was great,' he says. 'But I was a little worried to be honest. They had me follow a rock band at Rockit.'
Jeffries' furious turntable work at the festival caused a sensation, but he says anyone can DJ. 'There are so many good DJs I know who don't play anywhere - it's how you market yourself that's important.'
Session 5 featuring DJ Godfather, Sat, 11pm, Session 5, 5/F One Capital Place, 18 Luard Rd, Wan Chai, $150 (advance, HMV), $180 (door). Inquiries: 2868 3307