World-class DJ Cut Chemist masters the art of curation

The producer and turntablist discusses some of his fondest record-digging memories and the pleasure he gets from combining food and music.
Cut Chemist (middle) came through the studios to chat with KHOL's DJ Echo (left) and music director KnewJack (right). (KHOL / Kyle Mackie)

by | Sep 7, 2022 | Music Interviews

Turntablist and producer Lucas MacFadden, aka Cut Chemist, has been recording and performing for nearly 30 years. During his long and distinguished career, he’s continually pushed the boundaries of what music is, what it can be and where it’s going.

Cut Chemist has released landmark albums with hip-hop group Jurassic 5 and Grammy Award-winning Latin funk outfit Ozomatli, as well as critically acclaimed albums as a solo artist, including “The Audience is Listening” and his latest record, “Die Cut.”

In advance of his show at the Mangy Moose at Teton Village on Thursday, Aug. 18 with support from KHOL DJs, the mighty Cut Chemist joined us in the KHOL studios for a conversation with music director Jack Catlin, aka KnewJack, and Brandon Whitesell, aka DJ Echo.

The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Thursday, Aug. 18.

JACK CATLIN/KHOL: What inspires you outside of the DJ world to keep pushing the boundaries of what a DJ is and can be?

CUT CHEMIST: Well, art, visual art and movies. I went to school for painting and so I kind of [combined] the two in college, just the sensibilities of having your own narrative speaking to people as an artist. I’m a DJ who is a performance artist. I’m not a DJ service. I’m not somebody that, you know, I’ll do the wedding and stuff like that. [T]hat’s not what I do, normally. I like to express myself. And so that comes from going to art school and then using the DJ medium to do just that. Now with that, it gets a little convoluted because you are in front of an audience and I do want to please them. I’m not like, ‘Yeah, forget them, they’re not here. It’s just me.’ That’s self-indulgent. But I understand when artists do that, too. And I mean everybody’s different. But I think that there’s a balance between the two, where you can give them a little bit of you and give them a little bit of them.

JACK CATLIN/KHOL: So as DJs, we all love the art of curating a vibe, a unique and exciting environment. You’ve come up with this really cool concept called ‘Digs to Dine To’ where curated music and food pairings come together as a ‘date night download.’ Can you expand on that for us?

CUT CHEMIST: Just before the pandemic, Edan from New York—he’s an incredible emcee, incredible DJ, incredible producer— and I and my girlfriend collaborated to do this dinner music idea where we feature an album to listen to and we pair it with a coursed-out meal. The first record that we did was from The Red Crayola [called “The Parable of Arable Land.”] It’s a 1967 record from Texas that’s very psychedelic with little hints of Indian [music]. There are all kinds of things [in there]. But when you think of psychedelic [music], you think of things like ashrams that make their way musically and tonally into this record a little bit. And so we did a dinner that paired with that. We did a hybrid Indian and American coursed-out meal. And you don’t listen to it and eat at the same time. You eat first then you go to another part of the yard and you listen like you’re watching a movie, but you’re not watching anything. You’re in darkness. And you’re listening to this record in surround sound. And like I said when you don’t use your eyes and you’re just using your ears, it’s like you’re in a sensory deprivation tank with this messed up music. People walked out and they [were] like, ‘You know, I’ve got to rethink my life. This made me really contemplate if I’m doing the right thing.’ So that is the concept, to bring music and food together. This is a little bit more of a meditative kind of situation where you’re sitting down and you’re in the dark. It’s like, ‘So what, are you going to torture us? What’re we walking into? Oh, this is my last meal.’

We do the candlelight set in my studio so you can go on the website, look at if you’re going to be in L.A., and give me the dates. Will I be in town? And then we work it out, you know, do a little corresponding. ‘Okay, this date works. Yeah, let’s do it.’ You can pick between genres of music. So I have a list when you go to the site, cutchemist.com, and you can pick like world music or Ethiopian jazz or psychedelic dirges, soul ballads, etc. And then, you know, we sit and talk about the records.

BRANDON WHITESELL/KHOL: As we know, you have an incredible collection of vinyl. What genres are you collecting now and how big has your collection gotten?

CUT CHEMIST: I’m buying records strictly for this candlelight thing. I love it because it’s not like I’m buying in bulk or I’m going after things that I think are cool to have because they’re rare and they’re trophy pieces. This is a situation where I’ll do a little bit of research. I’ll give you an example: If there’s a record I think has a cool stereo imaging, that will be very impactful for the listener on this surround stereo system, I’ll check it out on YouTube first and plug it in and listen to it on there because there are mono versions [and] stereo. There are later presses that might have a better stereo mix, remasters, etc. It’s all about finding the best version of that record. Sometimes it isn’t always the first pressing. And so I will do some research on that. Find out which one I like the best. Go after that record specifically. Pay a premium for it. I don’t want to wait. And so the last one I remember doing that with was Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera. It’s an English psych record from 1968 and I have the mono mix. ‘Boo.’ Yeah, it’s rare, but I know that stereo English copy is like you’re sitting and they’re just like, ‘Oh man, this is going to transport [me].’ And then, you know, it has a little bit of a like a [Black] Sabbath vibe. And then I was like, ‘Well, let’s try [Black] Sabbath.’ So that’s going in. That’s going in the set on Monday I’m playing that, I don’t care. You know, it’s funny because it is this guy and his wife. Yeah, they’re getting the bro stuff. I’m like, ‘Is it cool if I, like, go heavy on y’all?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s totally cool.’ ‘All right, well, hold on!’

Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Cut Chemist.

This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.

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About Jack Catlin

Jack is KHOL's music director. He says all music is in some way connected no matter the style and his mission is to provide listeners with a unique and memorable experience each time they tune in to KHOL or see him DJ live.

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