A profession that has come under more scrutiny in recent years than both politicians and bankers, the DJ is an esoteric yet crucial occupation. It’s hard pleasing a room full of drunk people all of the time, and as international mix master DJ Cobra confesses in an interview, it’s very easy for the crowd to turn against you. With an abundance of hats he must wear form time to time, DJ Cobra is much more than your typical DJ.
DJ Cobra, you are currently working on a new album. What can you tell me about it?
Well, my last two albums were an homage to pop culture where and consisted entirely of samples. The new album is more focused on original content.
How did you construct your other albums with just samples?
It’s a pretty tedious process. There are over 300 samples on either CD. You isolate the vocals, the drums, the guitar, and then rearrange them like a puzzle. Some are very clean cut, like on Chili Pepper’s “Other Side” where the guitar plays by itself for about 8 bars. So, there was a bunch of collecting of samples before I got to lay them down, brick by brick, and create the albums.
I’m sure that had an effect on your live mixing, which by the way, is some of the best I’ve ever heard.
Yeah, there are so many different elements to DJing. I started with records so I’ve always DJ’d in the traditional sense of the word. Every song is an equation and the songs have to support each other appropriately. The journey from one song to the next is something entirely different. As a DJ, you can have extreme transitions in songs. Even subconsciously, I am still effecting the mood by mixing. It’s almost like mixing colors. I am finding the next song in the best capacity but also making it fit well; there has to be an activity between everything I am doing.
Like a jigsaw puzzle.
Exactly. At the same time I’m catering toward what is popular now and what people in the room want to hear. I don’t plan my sets and have no idea what I’m going to play. Based on the feedback I am getting by watching the room and how they respond decides what I am going to play next. It’s more like a chess match. I am five or six steps ahead but based on what my opponent does next I alter my game.
In a way your audience is also your enemy.
[laughs] That might be the wrong choice of words, but in a sense. The crowd can turn against you. My job is to seduce the crowd.
Like any game, you aim to win at your DJ sets.
Yeah, I aim to win over the crowd. Unfortunately with the open format, you get some of your fans to show up but you also get the guy from out of town who might not be into the nightlife. I want him to leave thinking, “My God, that guy is the best DJ I’ve ever heard!” If I could do that then I know I’ve done my job. I’ve had 50 year-old women come up to me before and say, “I’ve never really got DJing until I heard you.” Those type of comments are great feedback.
Very affirming. Back to the album, what was the biggest hurdle in creating this original content for you?
It’s definitely still a work in progress. I don’t know when it’s going to be read. It’s very much in the infant stages.
No release date, then?
No release date. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When I’m [recording music] I tend to make room for the creativity and let it play out rather than questioning it as it’s happening. I think the biggest hurdle is discovering the process and to let it happen organically rather than premeditated.
High energy, feel-good, party music.
That is the same way I would describe your live performances.
I’m not trying to be super edgy or whatever. I just want to have a good time. When I’m DJing there are certain songs I don’t enjoy playing. It’s all about energy while trying to keep it as high-brow as possible. I don’t necessarily have one genre that I would call my own. Not even just popular U.S. music, but from all different cultures as well.
I love some good world dance beats thrown into a set. Do you have a name for this album?
I do not.
It spans genres, then, does it?
Yeah. I also want to incorporate live guitars, cellos, things like that. I like the concept of both of those worlds, digital and analogue. A lot of producers now do things “in the box” which means all of the sounds are already on the computer. I just like to do things a little differently.
Cobra, you also run an interesting business called Drink City.
Yeah! Well, I made this app and basically we have an online/offline business model, which allows consumers in San Diego to login and look up their favorite restaurant, bar, or nightclub on our site and for $5 populate a name for the electronic guest list and get 50% off your bar tab. We call it the happy hour any hour.
While a lot of bars don’t really need our services, we are maximizing their business during slower hours. So these bar and restaurant managers now have the opportunity to create these happy hour any hour for anything they want. There are ways to incorporate specific specials and certain liquor companies – a lot of different components. So, we’re reverse engineering the alcohol consumer while at the same time providing extra resources for venues. It’s a full service and it’s very flexible.
About how many venues currently participate with Drink City?
We recently did our hard launch with 25 venues and we are expanding aggressively and expect over 100 venues in the next 6 months. It’s about expanding smartly and not jumping at the first opportunity. We want to do this in scale to avoid hurdles.
While in San Diego, all of the Bars in within close walking proximity, but I would love to see something like that in LA.
The one thing we don’t do is the venues that discriminate against the door, which is ironic because those are the places I tend to play. We don’t want to be offering people deals and not have them be able to use it. San Diego, historically, has always been a good launch pad for brands. Also demographically and financially, there is a good benchmark for how we will do in the rest of the major cities. You have all the great communities there, the downtown community, the beach goers, the hipsters, it’s all there!
It sounds like these next 6 months will be very exciting. What upcoming shows will you be playing?
I have so many shows already booked! The best place to find out where I will be performing is at my website, www.djcobra.com I have an Asia tour, then Hawaii, then New York for fashion week… I probably do 250 shows a year. I’ve even been cutting back with the production lately. That’s the way I like it, though. I would rather be busy than to not be busy.
Wow, well, Cobra, thanks for speaking with me and we hope to hear your album as it comes along.
Thanks! We crushed it, man!
“Good luck at Bootsy Bellows tonight. Legend has it they have the hardest doors in Hollywood.”
Disregarding the advice of a good friend and fellow EDM enthusiast, I strut over to the entrance of the elegant new club on the very west end of Sunset Strip around 11:30 p.m. only to find it a complete clusterfuck of Armani, silicon, and precocious pretense.
What is most surprising is the sheer volume of would-be patrons Bootsy Bellows attracts considering the nightclub only re-opened its doors just over a month ago. Nevertheless, its proximity to Beverly Hills insures that slews of locals are intent on being seen within the posh destination. Although the crowd is prone to cliques, on this night everyone seems` particularly friendly.
The interior is typical of a Hollywood nightclub. It’s not very roomy unless you’re at a booth with bottle service, of which there are many. The sound system, hidden within the ceiling and walls, is nice and loud with a high functioning sub; good as any nightclub of worth. Best of all are the marionettes. Bootsy Bellows also boasts roving puppeteers, whose only job it is to wander the dance floor and play with puppets. A novel spectacle, but excellent addition to the aesthetic décor, which includes LED lined walls and ceiling,
All of that is superfluous to the main attribute of any club or venue – the music. On this night, the entrepreneur from San Diego, DJ Cobra, takes the decks sometime around midnight. With deft precision and timing that no metronome could afford, DJ Cobra’s mixing is among the best I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing. Granted, I’m no Disco Donny, but I’ve been club hopping with the best for nearly a decade now and can’t make it through the week without seeing at least three live music shows.
His song selection is decent, in a gotta-please-em-all sort of way. And that, he does. We hear remixes of Nicki Minaj, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even some Nelly and Ludacris in addition to the great underground dirty electro, dubstep, breaks, and bass addled techno over 120 BPM. As he gets deeper and deeper into his set, DJ Cobra wears his influences on his sleeve. Posh Beverly Hills socialites are getting up on tables to dance, people crowd in front of the DJ booth with eyes transfixed on Cobra as they wildly jump up and down, and Bootsy Bellows is turning into a regular, old school rave.
DJs often pride themselves on their ability to control a dance floor, which is a talent Cobra has in spades.