DJ Spooky – Biography
DJ Spooky is the creative vision of NYC-based conceptual artist, author, musician and multimedia performer Paul D. Miller. A true artistic renaissance man of the digital age, DJ Spooky has remained active on the global music scene since 1995, continuously reshaping and challenging the notion of modern-day art. He is known around the world for his large-scale, multimedia performances and installations, which regularly engage fans and viewers in social, political, and global topics via his immersive projects that openly explore diverse musical genres, international culture, and environmental issues. Through his ever-evolving art and creative output, DJ Spooky stretches the concept of composing and creating to new, uncharted dimensions. On his latest musical release, DJ Spooky Presents: Phantom Dancehall, he approaches these same world issues through the lens of a DJ, producer and composer.
Phantom Dancehall—set for release April 21 as a vinyl-only exclusive for Record Store
Day 2018, with a digital release scheduled for later this summer, via VP Records— is DJ Spooky’s first full-length album since Of Water and Ice (2013). Collectively, Phantom Dancehall is a return to form that sees the producer and musician diving headfirst into the dancehall sound with unhinged experimentalism and complete futurism. With Phantom Dancehall, DJ Spooky elevates the beloved genre to innovative heights, breaking boundaries in art and progressing the development of sound as he’s always done.
Album opener “Enter the Arena,” featuring DJ/producer Walshy Fire from the globally chart-topping Major Lazer, hits with immediate dance floor gusto via a percussion-driven beat and high-octane riddims. “Dash It in the Mirror,” featuring Jamaican breakout artist Sanjay, features hypnotic vocals layered atop pounding yet rhythmic drums, while “Phantom in the Dancehall” is a dubbed-out trip through the clouds. Album closer “Jah Dub” is exactly that: a heavenly stroll through dub and space, colored with striking piano melodies and piercing hi-hats only to be blasted into the future via an electronic-heavy bridge. The album is rounded out by standout tracks “Hot Gyal,” “Why I Come,” “No Return,” “Music of the Time” and “Showtime.”
For Phantom Dancehall, DJ Spooky pulled from a diverse array of cultural and musical cues, most notably the eponymous dancehall sound. His mother, a lauded critic at the Jamaica Gleaner in Kingston, Jamaica, originally introduced him to the style, one he would later fully digest during his family’s yearly trips to the island country.
“Dancehall is every genre in one style: hip-hop, dubstep, electronic,” says DJ Spooky. “There are so many layers that all trace back to the DNA of dancehall. Phantom Dancehall celebrates a love of rhythm. The way you think about hip-hop, techno and dubstep—all the styles that are the bastard children of reggae—it’s all about patterns. The whole album is political. It’s about the politics of sound and the way it influences how you think about everyday life and the way you think about sound.”
DJ Spooky’s musical guides are as varied as his wide-ranging creative projects, counting everyone from contemporaries Diplo, Peter Tosh and The XX to Jamaican reggae and dancehall heroes Yellowman and Ninjaman as influences. It’s this expansive sonic palate that feeds the genre-defying sound of Phantom Dancehall.
“My whole style as an artist is between a lot of styles,” he says. “I think of it as music about music. It’s not just one genre, as I don’t fit into any one genre. This is where me and normal DJ culture part ways, because I really am all about mixing every style.”
As much as Phantom Dancehall is a celebration of dancehall culture and its luminaries, it’s also DJ Spooky’s clarion call to break free of today’s digitally dominated music industry of preprogrammed playlists and automated algorithms. In partnering with VP Records, the largest indie reggae label in the world, for Phantom Dancehall, DJ Spooky remains a fully independent artist.
“In this playlist-driven music culture these days, most people are just trying to fit into whatever style is of the moment. I am all about being post-playlist. I don’t want a computer algorithm to tell me what style of music to listen to. My style is anti-digital. At the end of the day, I’m a rebel against conformity. Whatever that rule or formula is, you’ll find me on the other side.”
As DJ Spooky, Paul D. Miller has carved out a long-running career as a multifaceted artist and thought leader. His boundless creative canon outside of music encompasses a string of thought-provoking projects that merge art, music, science and technology
into the same school of thought. Most recently, Miller was the 2017-2018 recipient of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission Award, which will help launch the Sonic Web, a multimedia performance and an installation based on the history and evolution of the internet; it’s
set to premiere at San Francisco’s Internet Archive January 2019. In 2014, Miller was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, which recognizes visionaries at the forefront of global problem-solving, for his work synthesizing art, music and data to spotlight environmental issues.
As a writer, his work has been published in Village Voice, The Source, Artforum, and several other reputable publications, in addition to his role as editor of Origin Magazine, which focuses on the intersection of art, yoga and new ideas. Miller is also an accomplished author, with a growing bibliography that includes: the award-winning Rhythm Science (MIT Press, 2004); Sound Unbound (MIT Press, 2008), an anthology about electronic music and digital media; The Book of Ice (Random House, 2011), an experiential visual and acoustic portrait of the Antarctic; and, most recently, The Imaginary App (MIT Press, 2014), which explores the cultural and technological shifts that have accompanied the emergence of the mobile app.
Miller’s work has also appeared in the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC; the Venice Biennial for Architecture; the Ludwig Museum in Cologne; the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; Art Basel in Miami; and many other museums and galleries. His large-scale, multimedia performance pieces include Rebirth of a Nation; Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica, commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the Next Wave Festival 2009; and Seoul Counterpoint, written during his residency at Seoul Institute of the Arts in 2014. He was also the first Artist in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, where he premiered his A Civil War Symphony in 2013.
Phantom Dancehall is the next installment in DJ Spooky’s extensive universe as a multimedia creative and visionary. It updates his lifelong quest as an independent artist to show the world what art can do for society at large and to spark global thought on the issues of the worldwide society, whether that’s through a book, a film, an art installation or an album. It’s what’s set him apart all these years.
“With Phantom Dancehall, I want the listener to realize that another world is possible and to really get people to open themselves to the possibility of all the different sounds and styles that are going on around the world.”
DJ Spooky Presents: Phantom Dancehall from DJ Spooky is out April 21, 2018, as a vinyl-only exclusive on VP Records for Records Store Day 2018, with a digital release scheduled for June 22, 2018