Stretch Armstrong Dishes On His New Doc
From the dorm suites of Columbia University to the infamous downtown club scene, legendary DJ Stretch Armstrong has been riding his own sonic wave in the New York City soundscape since the late 1980’s. After airing a show with his buddy Bobbito Garcia from Columbia’s radio station in 1990, Armstrong’s presence and influence in the musical community has been unequivocally cogent. We caught up with the one-of-a-kind DJ to discuss his Memorial Weekend set at the MBH, how he got started, and his upcoming book and documentary.
You’ve obviously created a space for yourself within the New York DJ scene—how did you first get started?
Once I became old enough to go to clubs and make the connection between the music I was increasingly obsessing over (hip-hop, Chicago house, disco) and DJs, it became – in my mind – an inevitability that I would become a DJ. This was around 1988, and after throwing my own parties, first in Columbia U common rooms and dorm suites, followed by a dilapidated bar under the West Side Highway on 125th Street, I got the chance to bring the cool Columbia kids downtown, first at Big Haus and then MK, the first club where I had what is now referred to as a “residency.”
We love that you blend different musical genres in your sets—how do you decide on the right time to transition from vibe to vibe?
In my mind, every song I play precedes and follows music in a way that makes perfect sense to me. That’s what makes me the DJ that I am. In terms of what genres I incorporate, the relative amount of music I play from one or the other really just depends on where I’m at, though there are certain records and styles that I just can’t seem to shake.
We all know DJs hate requests, but how much impact does the crowd have on what you play?
The crowd is everything. If they ain’t feeling it, I better change something! If I am put in front of a crowd that has mainstream sensibilities, I’ll give them what they want, to the degree that I know they’re happy. But I won’t play anything that I don’t like, ever.
If we wanted to make a Stretch Armstrong Signature Summer Cocktail™ what would we put in it?
Official trademark? Uh oh. Something with tequila, lime, bitters and ginger.
Tell us a bit about your new doc. What does it explore and what do you think audiences will find most surprising?
The film is a look at the radio show that I did with my partner Bobbito Garcia from 1990-1999. It aired on Columbia University’s WKCR 89.9FM from 1am-5am on Thursday nights. But it’s several narratives – the story of the artists who were first exposed to the world via our show (Jay Z, Nas, Eminem, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Redman, Common, Big L, Fugees – who went on to collectively sell over 300 million albums); but equally important it’s about our listeners who were devoted, almost devout; it’s about my friendship with Bobbito who through the ups and downs, remains my brother from another mother; and it’s about our city in the 90’s and the impact we had on shaping people’s tastes.
Are there any up-and-coming artists you have your eyes, or rather, ears on currently?
Not really a secret any more but Anderson Paak is tremendous.
Any news or upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?
Look out for my book NO SLEEP about NYC clubs told through a visual history of flyer art.
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