Kurt Matlin, a.k.a. Kutmasta Kurt, has been spinning and conjuring ill tracks since the late '80s when he was a Cali radio DJ at Stanford's KZSU. His year has been busy with beats for Redneck Olympics (the US release is titled Redneck Games due to legal hassles), his collaboration with Kool Keith on Diesel Truckers, and Motion Man's upcoming Pablito's Way. We checked in to see how he manages a triple life running Threshold Records, producing tracks, and touring as a DJ.
XLR8R: What's the most underrated aspect of hip-hop production?
Kurt Matlin: Having a DJ background. A lot of people make beats but don't have a rep as a DJ and don't know how to rock a crowd. Understanding a crowd gives you a better understanding of how to approach music. If you want to rock a party or play at a club, you got to format your record a certain way. You got a make sure you got the right tempos, intros, outros, and stuff like that. Aesthetically, when you hear a record produced by a DJ there's just a certain feel to it.
You're using the Serato Scratch [MP3 DJ system] to DJ these days?
I've been using that with CDJs. I started using CDJs in 2001 for the Cali Comm tour. I was going to buy a new pair of Vestax, just to have some dependable turntables, and I went in the store and saw the CDJ 2000s. I was like, 'Fuck, no more carrying around records.' For the show, you don't have to be digging around all the individual parts of the records and you can custom burn CDs of just the tracks you need. Then I saw Serato, and I played with that and it felt right to me.
When did you first decide to make beats?
I think back in '86. I found an ultimate breaks and beats record that everyone was sampling from and I was like 'Oh shit! This is where everyone is getting their stuff from.' I started digging for the records that were originally on there, and tried to tinker around making my own shit. I started with a little DOD guitar sampler with like two seconds on it. I'd flip a beat like 'doo-doo kack, doo-doo kack,' and put that on the sampler and I'd take a cassette player, put that through my mixer, reloop, and it would get hissier and dirtier. In the early '90s I started doing remixes. It took me awhile to figure out what to do.
These days I'm still using the Ensoniq [ASR-10] and the [Akai] MPC 2000XL. If I had more patience for programs, I could probably just do that shit in [Apple] Logic, 'cause they have a drum machine. Now your whole studio can be in your laptop, depending on how much processing power you have. It's good in a way because it makes stuff easy and portable, but sometimes it's nice to have an actual machine. I think technology is more beneficial than not–it makes stuff easier, quicker, and cheaper. Right now, I'm mixing, recording, and adding little sounds from Reason or Logic myself.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working on Motion Man's new album; other than that I got to make some new tracks.
Does running a label hinder your musical output?
It definitely gives me less time. There's only so many hours in the day, so you've got to make what you do count. If I'm finishing up an album, I might be in the studio six to ten hours a day for a week; other times I might not touch anything for a week.
What do you do to make your studio more comfortable?
My apartment is my studio. I just make beats in my underwear. It's the way to do it, how you're comfortable. You can't really do that when people are around though.