Monday, November 19, 2012

Diggin' for Beat Diggers - Jesper Jensen Interview

Beat Diggin', the original beat digging documentary from the 90's, is available now, for the first time on DVD. I've just posted a detailed write-up on the disc, and even more exciting now, I've interviewed the director (and writer, and everything else) Jesper Jensen to get the whole story.

So, how did this film get started?  Did you know right off you were making a film on beat digging, or more just videoing an interview, or what was the genesis?

Yes, i wanted to make a documentary about digging and beat making right off. I had worked with local TV here in Copenhagen, Denmark, interviewing US rap acts touring in Europe, and made a couple of short documentaries and stuff. I was a hip-hop fan and record buyer, and got the idea to make a documentary about how the renowned producers like Show, Diamond, Beatnuts, Q-Tip etc. actually did their craft.

My brother Ras Beats worked at a record store in NYC called Second Coming; and he was telling me these stories about name producers like Havoc, Premiere, Evil Dee and Godfather Don shopping there, hanging out and telling stories. So I started imagining how to attack it from there.

Did you come to NY for the movie, then, or were you staying here anyway?

Yes, I flew over for two or three weeks to film it., and stayed with my brother there. I did everything myself: planning, filming, interviewing, editing, promotion etc. I had some help with contacts, ideas and inspiration from Ras, but that was it. One man indie guerilla filmmaking!

Nice!  What would you've been shooting on at that time? Digital, DV tapes?

Semi-pro DV cam and tape as far as I remember. I remember Evil Dee said "that's not a real film camera!" I answered "no, its a VIDEO camera!"

Ha ha So, you and Ras basically just reached out to the artists you wound up interviewing when they came into the store?

I contacted some from home via their labels and publicists. Others Ras prepped via the record store. Some were really forthcoming and accessible, others were almost impossible to just get in contact with. Some didn't show up.

Yeah, one of the great things about the film is that some of the guys, especially The Beatminerz, seem pretty open about what they're doing, records they're using... You used to think of old school DJs soaking their records to get rid of the labels and producers keeping their all their samples top secret.  Did you have a hard time getting everyone to go "on the record" or were they all pretty open?

Everybody who appears in the film was very open and happy to talk. Even back then in 1997, Evil Dee said: people used to be secretive but now they all had all the same records anyway, so it was about how you used the samples and stuff. Which was cool for me as a filmmaker 'cause then they would show certain sampled records on camera and stuff. But more than just records, they would also talk about their broader approach to beat finding and producing tracks.

One thing I notice is the Beatminerz mention their work on the Shadez of Brooklyn album... which never wound up coming out. Did you get to hear any hot, unreleased material?

Hmmm... No, just the joint "How It's Done" they recorded that night, which came out as a 12" on Pandemonium around 1998. Wouldn't mind a full album of songs like "When It Rains It Pours," though!

When I first heard of the film, it was pretty exciting, because no one was really approaching hip-hop producers from that kind of angle before... Like really asking them what are they buying, etc.

That's the reaction I was hoping for when I made it. As rap fans and rap record collectors we all have some knowledge of breaks, samples, old funk etc. But I wanted to explore how these renowned producers actually crafted their individual sound. Like how individual producers can make the same sample sound different. Or how they seek out different unknown styles and develop their sound that way.

Yeah, it felt like it went beyond other takes on hip-hop producer, which were more like "for beginners" type interviews. This was in the in-depth look for heads who already knew something.

Thanks..I remember reading an interview with The Beatminerz in Rap Pages' DJ issue sometime in 1996 and a couple other interviews which were inspiring, too.

Ah yeah, I've still got that issue! How hard was it, then, getting the film out there once you'd filmed it? What avenues did you pursue?

It was definitely a labor of love. It felt like an adventure to travel to the home of Hip Hop to film some of your heroes and having creative control over it. Even though it sounds like a cliché, I didn't think that it would reach that many people, so I didn't plan a massive promotion strategy.

First I got the film shown in a few art cinemas and on a few local TV stations. Then over the years, I got interest from film and music festivals both in the US and Europe - more art cinemas and public TV stations. And there's been a lot of requests for a DVD from people. It's definitely gratifying that something you did as a labor of love and out of personal interest over a decade ago still mean something to people.

Yeah, for a real long time, I'd only seen short clips of the film... like 90 seconds of Godfather Don in a record store, never the whole thing. ...I also remember, after clips of Beat Diggin' had come out, another film (Deep In the Crates, then pt 2) came out, definitely in the same lane as yours... I think a lot of heads were probably even confused that they were two different films.  Did you ever talk to those guys directly, or when did you first find out about those movies?

I heard about Deep Crates though the grapevine, and talked to Beat Dawg who made it via email once or twice when he was working on it. I still see cats confusing Beat Diggin' with other beat making-themed films online now! Kinda funny, but it also tells you that your're kinda never finished promoting your stuff, especially if you work independently. There's  always potential audiences who haven't seen your promotion clips etc.

So, now this disc has two versions on it... the original, and the expanded.  I feel like all the content in the expanded version is strong... did you just cut it initially for length? I know it can be tough to place a short film, the longer it gets.

I was happy with the original version but when the feedback and requests for a DVD started coming, I felt it could use some more "weight" or "length." The original was only 22 minutes! But I also rewatched some unused footage of Buckwild and other things that somehow didn't make the first cut. So then I made the 2003 re-edit, which has a better flow and better quality, plus Buckwild and Baby Paul.

Well, the DVD's definitely got more weight now, because it's also got two of your other films on there, and there's some good stuff. Master Ace kicks a killer freestyle in Beats, and Rise's appearance made me want to go through my crates and see what I had by him!

Yes, Ace is a giant. See, as a longtime rap fan I felt confident that if I approached the films as a rap fan they should resonate with other rap fans. So that's great.

To me, it's interesting to see Who's Next? 10 years on and see who's still active and who's not. But also just the hunger of up-n-comers and their attitude towards keeping with the tradition and values of this Hip Hop thing.

I like that you followed up with Queen Heroine (someone who we barely got to see much of in the media, too, by the way) after the Juggaknots performance of their "Dreams of an R&B Bitch" update.

Ha ha, yes that was a funny cut. Breeze kills it with the cocky sex rhymes for 2 minutes and then we cut to his sister for a comment. Haha...

Yeah, you could tell her opinion was divided on that one.

Juggaknots are dope! They released a CD of some of the songs they performed, "M.O.N.E.Y.," "Dreams of an R&B Bitch" and more. All their stuff is great in my opinion. The Use Your Confusion album from 2006 has some joints!

So how did you wind up linking up with Crate Escape for this DVD? Were you looking for someone to put this out now, or did they come to you...?

I came to them. I liked the Kurious and Soundsci releases Crate Escape had put out, and it seemed like a suitable partner for a limited hip-hop documentary DVD! It was sorta in the same category as those records.

Yeah, it's great that this is finally out. I think it was an important film in that it kind of redirected a lot of the dialogue that was happening about hip-hop production at the time... even though a lot of us were just seeing clips from it.

What do you mean by "redirected?"

Just getting deeper into it, or taking a stab at it from another PoV. Even up into the 90's, a lot of hip-hop coverage would still be really basic.  But this film came at a time, also with stuff like Vinyl Exchange, to kind of usher in our little scene, taking the conversation in directions vinyl heads really wanted to go. Like asking Mr. Mixx how he made the beat for "Throw tha D" instead of all the "The 2 Live Crew's raps make parents want to cover their ears!" kind of articles.

Thanks. YES!! I wanted to explore the craft seriously and also show an insights into the mentality and attitude of our heroes who often remain faceless and talk with their hands. There's definitely a trend recently of exploring craftsmanship and history in Hip Hop. Like your blog which is really comprehensive, the Diggers With Gratitude board, my boy Andreas' blog and stuff. I liked your old post about truly random rap where you picked out some forgotten Profile 12"!

Ha ha, yeah I should do that again. Before we finish out, I want to mention too, that I know you've got other films besides these... Tape Masters, Vinyl Heaven... Is there a way for heads to see those films?  Or is anything pending?

No plans for those two. I made Tape Masters before Beat Diggin' and I'm not sure it's up to par, even though we interview Kid Capri and Ron G about mixtapes. And Vinyl Heaven focuses on Danish record dealers, in Danish language. But if there's interest who knows? Right now we're focusing on making Beat Diggin' available to anyone interested. Anyone who watched a bad rip on Youtube or requested a DVD now has the chance to own it on crispy DVD.

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