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DJ Vadim takes hip-hop minimalism to the max

"If I could get $50,000 a show, I'd bring an entire orchestra," says Russian-born, British-bred DJ Vadim, discussing his emphasis on big production values. "In Europe, we did 72 cities with my band, the Russian Percussion, which includes live drums, keyboards and bass, myself, and ex-DMC Champion DJ First Rate and poetess/MC Yarah Bravo. Unfortunately, we can't afford to bring everyone to the States. But fewer people don't mean less of a show. If I ever have something to do with it, less always means more."

While a symphony orchestra can include more than 100 performers, there can be only one conductor. Similarly, the London-based hip-hop producer orchestrates wafting instrumentation and vocal talent unfettered by political or social borders, echoing his split cultural heritage.

"In the U.K., we have the largest West Indies community outside the West Indies," says Vadim. "So we have a huge African influence and an equally large hip-hop presence. Of course, you can hear hip-hop in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines -- so I have no problem believing hip-hop is universal. The MCs I work with communicate in different languages. Their styles may be divergent, but they all speak to fans of good hip-hop."

U.S.S.R.: The Art of Listening, Vadim's third full-length of original material for U.K. label Ninja Tune, includes 50 instrumentals, all shaped by Vadim's daily walks through the traditionally poorer, largely Asian, Indian, Pakistani and African neighborhoods surrounding his record-strewn East London Victorian home/studio.

"It's like in New York, in that everyone's got their windows down, playing music. And the presence of sound is very intense," says Vadim. "But the sounds are distinctly British in that they're very mixed -- Asian Kyoto strings, gamelan, vibraphone, jungle music, speed-garage, R&B. It's not just Hot 97 -- clowns like Jay-Z and Ja Rule. The way Ja Rule raps now is not how Ja Rule on the street rapped. I've got mix tapes from eight years ago, and he didn't sound like that. Now he's a product. They've dumbed him down and put pretty girls next to him to sell 5 million. Being independent, I can make ends meet without having to be made into a monkey, then get thrown away."

Vadim has always had an excellent reputation for talent forecasting on both his Ninja Tune releases and his Jazz Fudge label -- with acts such as Swollen Members, Antipop Consortium, Dilated Peoples, Sarah Jones and Company Flow. Fittingly, U.S.S.R.: The Art of Listening showcases next-wave talent alongside Vadim's borderless aesthetic. The MC styles featured on its 15 tracks include French timbre (TTC), British tongue-twisters (Phi-Life Cypher), ragga (Demolition Man), battle rhymes (Vakill), backpack (Slug) and smoothly flowing American English (Gift of Gab).

But as important as instrumentation and MCs are to Vadim's music, so are the things that he doesn't include. "When I put gaps, that's for the sound of the environment in which you listen," he says. "There's no such thing as silence. I'm very inspired by the way environment affects what people get from music, but also [by] how music can evoke settings. The way film music builds images, but also the way it breaks down into dramatic pauses, gives you chills; [it] lets you know something is going to happen -- even if no music is happening. I try to put that feeling into what I make as well.

"The ultimate compliment is to inspire -- whether it's to make music, graphics, graffiti, write or travel, as long as it's to explore creative things. There are a lot of talented people who could probably sneeze and a track would sound good, but I don't want people to buy my record because they think it's someone else's. I want it to be because they like my concepts. I've tried to develop a fan base the way I develop a song -- which is slowly. That way, it won't abandon you."

tony.ware@creativeloafing.com

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