It’s Thursday night, and I’m here at the famed Federal Bar, located in the NoHo Arts District on Lankershim and Chandler Blvd, surrounded by an array of eclectic dancers, artists, and lovers of music. Deejay Anthony Valadez spins everything from reggae to salsa to 90’s hip-hop, while emcee KG Superstar keeps the crowd hyped up, smiles on faces, drinks in hand, grooving to the beats. Suddenly, a battle breaks out in the middle of the dance floor between several dancers as they try to out-jerk, out-reject and out-pop, lock and drop one anther. It’s a truly entertaining and inspiring sight for dancers and simple mortals alike. I find myself in a conflicting position, though, not sure where to focus my sight; I’m captivated by the dancers and the amount of energy, focus and careful precision they put into their moves. But at the same time, I’m equally as hypnotized by Anthony’s allegiance to his turntables, and his devotion to entertaining the crowd- a promise he delivers on every time he steps onto a stage. “I love seeing the reactions of the people,” he says in our interview, “and also keep in mind that a lot of these people have day jobs that they hate, some were hit hard by the recession, so when they come here to dance, they forget about all of that stuff.”
I can personally testify to this statement, assuring that Anthony speaks the truth as I’ve already forgotten half of the questions I wanted to ask him before we step outside to a quiet corner to chat. He has a contagious energy that he, no doubt, projects to his audiences, and, yet, a sense of modesty that surely does not come with the job. A Deejay, producer, photographer, playwright, and teacher, Anthony is self-effacing when he confides, “I just consider myself lucky, and to finally get recognition is nice, but all I do is see what’s going on around me and take pictures of it. And if people are making great music, I’m just playing it- so I’m not really doing anything, it’s doing itself.”
I take his word for it, but find it hard to believe that a man who spins at three venues (The Federal Bar on Thursday nights, Zanzibar on Friday nights and Little Temple on Saturday nights), hosts a radio show Tuesdays, 12am-3am, on public radio station KCRW (89.9FM and KCRW.com worldwide) and volunteers his knowledge and time at outreach programs like Grammy Camp isn’t doing anything. In fact, to say he’s doing a lot would be an understatement, but that’s just Anthony’s way. “I think we’re all artists,” he says, careful not to give himself too much credit. A trait I imagine he’s had all along since he was a kid growing up in North Hollywood, where he first discovered the advent of radio.
Coming of Age
“To me, radio was very mysterious,” he says. “As a kid, I can remember there was a show on KCRW where they used to mix political speeches by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King with hip hop beats, and I can remember thinking, ‘What is this?’ It wasn’t just a radio station playing songs, it was a show that was dedicated to mixing conscious speaking with beats, and I loved it.” In fact, he loved it so much that, shortly after, he purchased his first set of turntables with the money he made working for his grandfather over the summer- dedicating himself to learning everything he could about the artistry and technical aspects of spinning. “My first gigs were in High School,” he says. “I remember missing 6th period at Grant High, hopping the wall, walking over to the local community college radio station and doing live sets there at the age of 17. It was around that time that I figured school was secondary to me. But at the same time school was still important.”
So important, in fact, that even though he was throwing himself into his new hobby, taking advantage of any opportunity to put himself out there as a Deejay- he still managed to go to college, doing a semester at California Institute of the Arts, then transferring to Cal State Northridge where he studied theater. And even as a student, where many of us can barely see past the looming midterm exams, Anthony’s goals were visionary and altruistic. “I didn’t get into theater to become a movie star,” he recalls, “I wanted to utilize theater as a tool to empower communities, and be a voice to raise awareness.” Clearly, Anthony hadn’t forgotten the social awareness KCRW brought to his community when he was a kid, and he saw theater as a means to continue that thread, but his interest in music was also a constant factor, fighting for his attention like a combative mistress.
“Even in college, music was my main focus,” he admits. “I was a student by day, but at night I was spinning records and doing gigs, and sometimes it was a sacrifice and I had to make a choice between going to class, or making $700 for a studio session with Sprite because they needed a DJ.” And although they were tough, these were the decisions that inevitably led Anthony to booking long-standing gigs at venues like the Temple Bar in 2003 where he opened for musical heavy weights Les Nubians and Meshell Ndegeocell, and later performing in the presence of personal icons Stevie Wonder and Prince, and ultimately touring with the likes of Talib Kweli, Jean Grae and Res. “I really enjoyed touring with Res, Talib Kweli and Jean Grae across the US,” he confides. “Res was signed to Interscope Records at the time, and I played a lot of her samples on the MPC and turntables, and it was just a lot of fun incorporating all these sounds with a very talented, full-on band. It was also a great time just vibing with other musicians who did this full time, and it gave me the inspiration to pursue music full time.”
And pursue he did, continuing to tour all over the world from Europe to South America, and booking gigs all over Los Angeles at places like The Ford, Nic’s Martini Lounge and The room to name a few. Then, in 2008, came the opportunity he had been preparing for. After years of listening to inspirational programs on KCRW as a kid, then creating and hosting his own radio show Table of Contents on the open-format station KCSN, where he interviewed everyone from local community leaders to visual artists- he came full circle, landing his own show on KCRW. “I’ve been listening to KCRW since I was a kid,” he says, “and I love it; I love my show, and I love what I get to do there.” Then, not one to take naps, the following year in 2009, Anthony conquered new territory by producing and recording his debut, full-length album Audio/Visual: Sounds Inspired by All things Visual, a mixture of hip hop, instrumental, ambient and electro. But before he could properly congratulate himself, yet another major success hit when the production of his modern adaptation of the Greek tragedy Antigone, originally written by Sophocles, was invited to Shanghai, China. “I wrote this play, and it was really my life story about growing up in North Hollywood and Van Nuys,” he says, “and then performing for the people in Shanghai was amazing. And I scored it live on two turntables.” Anthony’s version dealt with inner-city culture and the penile system, no doubt a reflection of his childhood growing up in the “hood” with a mother whose substance abuse eventually led to her incarceration.
When it Rains…
As to be expected, Anthony made a name for himself at KCRW, playing three-hour sets of new music every Monday night into Tuesday morning- and by the end of 2010, he was set up for Deejay infamy, booking regular gigs everywhere from the Natural History Museum to the Downtown LA Artwalk. Then, in 2011, came the collaboration that would forever connect him back to his roots in North Hollywood. “My friend DJ Roarkyd mentioned the Federal Bar to me and I had no idea what to expect,” he confides. “He took me there for a night and I had so much fun playing so many different sounds and genres; I played just about a full range of music from Columbia to NY and LA to the UK.” And because of his natural, raw talent and fierce ability, the Federal Bar continues to be the go-to place for music and dancing every Thursday night.
Today, when Anthony isn’t spinning records or recording albums, he spends a great deal of time maintaining his website www.anthonyvaladez.com. “The majority of my time is spent on a lot of social networking and utilizing my blog,” he says, “and I’ve learned that utilizing photography and taking pictures at my gigs are good ways for me to document things that are happening in my life, which I can put on my blog.”
He’s also added educator to his list of responsibilities, accepting a teaching position at the Miguel Contreras Learning Center in Downtown Los Angeles earlier this year. “Every Tuesday, I teach Intro to DJing, and the kids have interesting minds,” he says. “I’m teaching them things I’ve been learning and practicing for 20 years, and they’ll do something amazing in 5 minutes. That’s the interesting thing about working with kids.”
And something else sure to educate as well as entertain is Anthony’s next album, due out June 5th under independent record label Plug Research. “They’re putting out my album and it’s me collaborating with live musicians and vocalist, and I’m producing,” he shares. Not bad for someone who, despite all of his success, doesn’t consider music to be his passion. “I never really had that epiphany where anything is a passion,” he says. “I’m still surprised I pay my rent through records. It was something I did in college to make extra money- and, somehow, it became my main source of income. But passion? I don’t know. Passion is something Michael Jackson had; I just love it.”
Yes, like many artists before him, Anthony Valadez has spent most of his life, and all of his career trying to shape the world through creativity, but despite all of that, here’s what he had to say in response to my failed attempt at getting him to momentarily drop his modest behavior: “I definitely don’t think I’ve made it, but I’ve done some good things that I’m proud of.” Well, if this is an implication that he’s only just begun, I’m excited to see the state of things once he’s finished.