Skooby Laposky is a Brooklyn-based DJ and producer who has held down a residency in the lobby of Ace Hotel New York every Wednesday night in February as Pocketknife. He just released a tribute mix of one of the last centuries greatest undiscovered artists, Arthur Russell — a cellist, vocalist, composer and disco artist who died of AIDS-related illness in 1992, leaving an overbrimming gem cave of unreleased material (many of them obsessive remixes of his own work) in addition to the four albums he released during his lifetime. Six more would be released (to date), compiled and produced by those devoted to his work.
Many of us are — there is an inexplicable spin cycle of revelation and effervescent melancholy that accompanies every phrase of Arthur’s cello, every flared-leg, platform-shoed beat galloping alongside his rich, vulnerable voice. Skooby is one such devotee — not only has he befriended a group of Arthur’s friends playing both well-loved and previously unreleased songs in their band, Arthur’s Landing, but he’s helped produce a couple of the tracks. He’s now working with some of Arthur’s old equipment (a few drum machines and an effects pedal) to create an EP, coming out this fall.
This resurrection of equipment used to create something held as sacred reminds us of Cornelia Parker's work — chopping up playing cards and lady's gloves with the guillotine that beheaded Marie Antoinette — and speaks to the importance of Arthur's work. Skooby, who's been DJing for the last 18 years or so, has played with a chamber music group and worked with the likes of Temper Trap, Lykke Li, Adele and other artists. He spoke to us about Mr. Russell, and the impact of who he was and what he made.
What drew you to Arthur Russell, or did you have a moment of discovery?
I’m trying to think of the first time I heard him… The thing about Arthur’s music is that he did so much stuff that I really heard it all at different stages. I don’t think it was like I got the compilations that Soul Jazz put out or something. I think I heard the disco stuff first, just from being in that community — the Loose Joints stuff, the Dinosaur L stuff — and then much later on, I heard the more avant pop stuff that he was doing. When I found that he was from Iowa which is my home state as well, you know, I guess his music kind of started resonating more with me. He came to New York from Iowa, I think he was in California first. But there’s this kind of Iowan — I guess he wasn’t a farm boy — but he was this Iowan guy that had some larger ideas that he wanted to seek out wherever the cultural center was, and I guess it was New York at that time.
Yeah, I didn’t really hear everything together. Of course, I did end up getting all of his releases, all of the compilation. Then, I started listening to every little song or piece I could hear that he had done.
He was so all over the place, and he moved between all these worlds. He was a cellist and a vocalist, totally into disco, and kind of revolutionized what that could be. He made dance music into something you could think about and have feelings about. Arthur was also really obsessive and prolific, and left over a 1,000 tapes of stuff that he recorded — this isn’t even his releases — and 40 of the tapes are actually just remixes of one song. He seemed more concerned with process and exploration that he did with finishing a product — he wasn’t concerned with having intelligible lyrics, or even sexuality or musical genre. He was just so in his own experience. I wonder how you, as a producer and a DJ, see that has having affected the world of electronic music, or disco, or just music in general.
Well, in terms of version and variations, and listening to people’s remixes — it seems like in the past maybe 5 years, every band, it doesn’t matter if they even have any anything to do with remix culture, there’s a remix of their song. Which I find interesting, you know, that you have these stems, these tracks that have this continued potential to become something else. And now, pretty much everyone has access to the same equipment because it’s so cheap and available. It’s great that there are people getting these ideas out there. Some of them may never happen or be fully realized like a lot of Arthur’s stuff, but the great thing about him was that he was doing this before — you know, it was pre-digital. It’s so easy to makes tons of variations of one thing when it exists digitally, and he was doing it all laying it to tape.
I’ve never really stuck with one genre. It’s funny, when I get booked for tours, for promoters to describe my style is hard because I don’t really stick to a genre. Even the Arthur mix is a perfect mix for me because I can go through a lot of different styles I like. That’s something that he did, so I was kind of trying to, in some way, trace his life. That’s the nature of how I DJ and how I produce. If you were to listen to, like, five of my remixes they would all sound like…some Spanish gypsy remix, and the next one is like a pretty straight-forward club track, and the next one could be a combination of the two. It’s never been my thing to be a purist. I know some people stick to their genre or their style, but the stuff I usually gravitate toward is stuff I can’t really pinpoint, or stuff that’s so purely its genre that I can see the brilliance in that, but a lot of times I am drawn to stuff that sort of falls between everything.
I don’t think you need to be loyal to one genre to be authentic as a DJ, you just have to have the courage to work with what moves you and inspires you, regardless of what’s cool or what’s expected of you. Arthur’s music is so much about emotion and vulnerability and being really present in that way. How has his music affected you personally — what kind of emotional imprint does it leave it on you?
His music has so much emotionality. The music and the lyrics have so much feeling. The song of Arthur’s that I listen to most is “This is How We Walk on the Moon” — just listening to it can inspire you so much. If I’m having a bad day, listening to this will totally bring me up. “It’s a talk in the dark, it’s a walk in the morning…” Which one is that? Wild Combination. Such an incredible song — if you’ve ever had that moment, experiencing that with someone you love. He really tells these moments in his music.
Photo of Skooby by Mariah Brinton