On The Record: DJ Monkey
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
For Kevin Cruze, aka DJ Monkey, the recipe for musical success consists of equal parts dedication and knowledge with a healthy respect for the art form.
Engulfed in the surge of the Bay Area rave scene in the 1990s, he took an instant liking to breakbeat and bass. House, techno and rave music inspired him to become a DJ, but Cruze quickly gravitated to the funkier aspects of hip-hop and old school soul instead.
ART+FLEA: ‘FLY ME TO THE MOON’
» Where: 1020 Auahi St.
SECRET RECORD STORE
» Where: Downbeat Lounge, 42 N. Hotel St.
“I love classic soul and funk,” he said. “A lot of it was given new life and a new wave of interest from music fans in hip-hop’s golden era of sampling. A smaller, more specific subset of that served as the foundations for a lot of drum ‘n’ bass and breaks styles.”
Cruze entered the DJ world at a time when paying your dues was the most common route to success. Carbon copy sounds and cookie-cutter styles weren’t as prominent in a time before Serato and YouTube tutorials.
“If you’re not learning from other DJs when you play out, you’re doing it wrong,” he said. “Playing with others also adds a little sport to it and inspires you to step up your game. Or it should, anyway.”
In a local scene cluttered with newcomers, Cruze’s role as a student of the art form early in his career has progressed to where he now finds himself one of Honolulu’s mainstays. Halloween will mark 20 years of work as a DJ, with 13 of those years spent in Hawaii. While he has witnessed music trends come and go, he has been able to adapt with the times while never deviating too far from the core grooves that initially sparked his desire to become a DJ in the first place.
“Whenever new sub-genres emerge in electronic dance, there is always this nerdy historian in me that wants to understand the roots and origins,” he said.
Cruze also happens to be an avid record collector, starting a popup record store business that frequents Kakaako and Chinatown. The vinyl renaissance man will both spin at and host his Secret Record Store from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday at Art+Flea and 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Downbeat Lounge.
Secret Record Store patrons can expect a “fulfilling record store experience, vintage collector classics and new underground music complete with a listening station, cool CDs (and) DJs spinning everything from new electronic dub, to vintage reggae to indue and punk.” Cruze launched the popup concept with fellow vinyl aficionado John Friend in June 2013 and found their efforts to perpetuate vinyl culture in Hawaii have turned into a winning endeavor.
“We are now featuring new records and new music, not just used,” Cruze said. “We have to stay lean and mean so we try to feature only truly compelling, quality music and stuff that people really want.”
Simple and subtle is preferred over manufactured glitz and glamour, he said. From both a DJ and social point of view, it takes more than a chic atmosphere to inspire his music appetite.
“I like venues that focus on offering something different or unique that sets them apart (and) have a come-as-you-are attitude and philosophy,” said Cruze. “(Venues) that are down to let DJs and promoters pursue a creative vision, at least some of the time; as opposed to ‘dress like this because we tell you to, buy this drink special because it’s what our liquor supplier is pushing, and dance to this music because it’s what the Billboard charts say is hot right now.’