L.A. raised DJ and label owner Randy “Hotthobo” Ellis was in town guesting at Toronto’s Modern Funk Fest, and our hommie Famous Lee of Love Handle fame thought he’d be perfect for a Cratery episode. It’s always a pleasure to connect with real music lovers. And like many real music lovers, Hotthobo has dedicated his life to music. While his west coast roots have certainly informed his taste for funk, Hotthobo isn’t defined by a single genre. His first selection on this month’s episode, Las Grecas’ “Bella Kali” (used on Gonjasufi’s “Cowboys and Indians”), is a far cry from the lo-fi handclaps found on Adam Chini’s “Don’t tempt me”, released on his own Hobo Camp label earlier this year. But admittedly, like many of us, soul and funk music is his first love. And Randy’s got the goods to prove it. It certainly explains the inclusion of the Ted Coleman Band on this episode. As well as Zodiac’s “Miss you”, which I added to my Discogs wantlist without shame before he was even done playing it. Trust me – it’s always a good sign when that happens during an episode. Audio and tracklist below.
You grew up in LA? What got you hooked on music?
Yeah, specifically “the Valley” (aka the San Fernando Valley). My dad is a musician and composer, who has produced commercial and TV music throughout the years, among other varying and wildly random music projects. So it started with birth more or less, I can’t really remember a time not having music be pretty present.
How did your obsession with vinyl begin?
I was always into music, especially cassettes and CDs, and my dad and I would hit The Wherehouse and Tower Records in the Valley quite regularly…it was something I always looked forward to. So the obsession with albums/consumer music started pretty early on, but when I was around 15 years old, my parents let me raid their record collection, which was mainly a lot of classic rock, classical, fusion, and jazz. I found that Freddie Hubbard record “Red Clay” in my dad’s records which is still to this day one of my favorite LPs… it contained a Tribe Called Quest sample, who I was really into at the time, and I made that connection that hip hop producers sampled records to make beats. I didn’t really understand that up until that point, and so it opened up this world to find all the stuff that the hip-hop guys sampled, while I was also looking for current hip-hop and jungle records. Obviously I tried scratching for the first time on a single turntable, and that was just like this rad new way to interact with music, and I would try to play stuff over a portable tape deck and then scratch the record on my parent’s soundsystem. Moby Disk, a record store in Sherman Oaks was walking distance from this school I went to, and they had a very cheap used record and cd section and one of the clerks was pretty nice to me and would point out stuff to check out, so I started to slowly buy records.
Tell us a little bit about your labels: Hobo Camp and Voltaire Records. Most people would find running one independent label ambitious. Why two? And what’s the difference between them?
Well Voltaire was started in SF a little over 5 years ago with my buddies Dave and Matt. Dave was already producing stuff under the name “The DMV” before that, which then became “Loose Shus” and him and my other friend Amy started to teach me basic production techniques on Ableton. Generally we were just really into music, dj-ing, skateboarding, and partying, and we knew a few producers through MySpace or mutual friends who had great tunes and nothing physically out, so we set out to try to put out a compilation record which ended up being Affairs-Online. We actually didn’t finish that project until after our first release, as my buddy Nathan from the band Tussle heard I was trying to start a label and put me in touch with Publicist (aka Seb from Trans Am) who had an EP of tunes ready to go that we were immediately stoked on…that ended up being the 1st Voltaire release. Now we’re on our 15th release now and have done tons of videos, trips, shows, etc…and its been really great…still is. Anyways, I moved from SF about 2 years ago, and when I did I found that the dynamic of the label had changed a bit, mainly as I wasn’t physically there to go hang out and talk shop. We still work together now, but it’s mostly via email, phone, Skype, whereas before we’d meet all the time at various bars or at home and work everything out in person. We are very particular about the projects we choose, and we all have to be in agreement to go forward on stuff.
I’ve always tried to keep in touch with the producers that I really like and reach out to those that I want to meet, so I was getting great projects and demos pretty regularly, and I wanted to start a label that I would have more control over with a different look and vibe. I’d always loved Dyami O’Brien’s artwork, and I’d known him from going to Funkmosphere and seeing his work on Instagram or his website, and I’d occasionally DJed with him in LA when i was visiting from SF. He was down to handle the graphics for Hobo Camp, and my buddy Brit was also down to help get it going, so we just went from there. So now I do both labels, and it’s just a different crew and a different process for each. I think any fan of either label would like the other, but I do see Voltaire as being more refined and collaborative, and Hobo Camp as being a little more raw with me having more direction.
It feels like funk has been woven into the fabric of LA. Why do you think funk feels so at home in Los Angeles?
Funk has a home in LA backyards, garages, record stores and DJ crates. It’s one of those relatively underground music genres, at least at this point, that just kinda remained in LA, the stuff that older siblings, uncles, and cousins got down to and passed down to the next generations…but it evolved through genres and now its back around and is clearly influenced by the sound palate and gear of a specific era. The Boogie-Funk music that I’m obsessed with, after having its day in the late 70s/early 80s worked its way into electro and rap stuff, then into west coast g-funk, and now its coming back around via the Modern Funk genre and in many others as well…but none of those other sub-genres ever really went away, producers have been making them, or weird combos of them for the last 30 years to varying degrees. For the last ten years, I think funk has felt at home in LA thanks to nights like Funkmosphere, Rap and G-Funk Anthems which get relatively constant radio airplay in LA and SoCal (many of which sample classic funk tracks), random DJs keeping funk playing at house parties, in garages and clubs, and there is a nice cohort of LA based producers that have always kept it alive. Also in the 90s the whole rare groove thing was really in, and to a certain point got really well established…and that sound was rooted more in the 60s and 70s, and a lot of folks moved further on toward electro, boogie, and disco, which were genres that used to be completely ignored by most diggers…if only I was ahead of the game then!
I say the same thing to myself all the time. What other cities have you played that really appreciate the funk on another level?
SF is where I came to truly appreciate the Disco/Boogie/Funk sound, thanks to the weekly night, Sweaterfunk, which took the blueprint of Funkmosphere, moved it to SF, built up a crew of very devoted DJs and developed their own unique night and vibe. San Diego is definitely an upcoming funk city at the moment, with some killer producers/bands like Brian Ellis and Reflection, Adam Chini, Throwback Zack and nights like the Boogie Down at the Hideout. Santa Ana and Orange County in general has a ruling boogie-funk scene, thanks mostly to the ever dominant Funk Freaks crew. From personal experience I think Toronto, Oakland, Austin, and Sacramento all have great scenes with some very dedicated heads involved. I’ve heard that Portland and Chicago are also amazing and I’ve met great DJs from those spots, but I haven’t been to either yet. New York City felt super ripe for the funk the last time I was there…but I was told otherwise?!? But I don’t know man, people there seemed pretty with it.
One of the chief benefits of traveling is digging in other cities. Any favorite stores / digging experiences in your travels you’d like to share?
My favorite stores are Groove Merchant and Rookies in SF, Cosmos in Toronto, Record Jungle in LA, Superior Elevation in Brooklyn and Beatbox in San Diego. Basically any store with a cool owner that figures out your tastes, puts you on to great jams and constantly brings in new records is good on my end…also the cutty spots where you gotta put in the time. Any time I find an amazing record or am turned on to a epic track for the first time is a good digging experience for me.
What are some of the challenges you face as a working, traveling DJ that people simply may not be aware of?
The biggest for me is just handling my own booking, and traveling with vinyl. I really need to be on it to create my own destiny there, and if I drop the ball I’m gonna be the one without a place to sleep or an easy way to travel, or without any money from a gig. The vinyl thing is just the pain of carrying records and personal luggage on planes and from place to place mostly, not really a big issue, but a lot of professional DJs kinda trip on me when they hear I don’t do the Serato thing on trips.
We definitely have to give it up to the guys who are willing to go the extra mile in the name of records. Give our listeners 5 modern funk jams that you would consider essential.
I’ll give a couple more, cuz 5 is too tough for me: Moon B – II, Psychic Mirrors – I Come For Your Love/The Witching Hour and Nature of Evil, Turquoise Summers – A Touch Of Turquoise, Brian Ellis – Reflection, SASAC – Future Disc, Dam Funk – Toeachizown, Private Function, XL Middleton – Tap Water, Zackey Force Funk – Money Green Viper, Benedek – Test Press, K-Maxx – Supadrunk, Social Lovers – Enjoy the Ride…I could keep going but thats a nice list.
You’re also a sweet soul and two-step fan. What is it about soul music in general that you connect with so strongly?
I really like deep music, that connects directly and honestly to emotions that feel myself or have felt in the past. Quality soul music always feels real and from the heart, and when the beat or the band is in the groove and the vocalist is really laying it down it rarely gets any better.
Loving the “Thread Count” mix (just one of many) on your Soundcloud page. Where else can we check out your mixes and keep up with all things Hotthobo?
If you wanna check out my DJ mixes, the Hotthobo Soundcloud page is the best spot, but also check the Voltaire and Hobo Camp Soundcloud pages which have a lot of rad tracks and mixes. I’ve been putting out Cassette Tapes recently on the Hobo Camp Bandcamp page along with our 7″ and 12″ releases, so that is another good place to check out the stuff I’ve been doing. I have a new project called RELISH for which I have an EP in the works (realistically in 2017) which will have some original productions that I’ve been working on, and of course you can always check the project that I collaborated on with Dave from Voltaire, called “Loose Shus” on itunes, soundcloud or youtube. Thanks again.
1. Las Grecas – Bella Kali
2. Chayns – You
3. The Collectors – Howard Christman’s Older
4. Archie Whitewater – Cross Country
5. Frederick Robinson III – Love one another
6. Batiste Brothers Band – It’s all about the family
7. 9th Creation – He’s Coming
8. Spirits Rejoice – I’m so strong now (what does it matter)
9. Ted Coleman Band – Due consideration
10. Bill Summers and Summer Heat – London Town
11. Dr. Music – Two can play
12. O’Conner – Too sweet to lose
13. Zodiac – Miss You
14. The After Hours – I don’t wanna cry
15. Chico Hamilton Quintet – A Rose for Booker
16. Horace Silver – Who has the answer
17. J. Reddick -When you call my name
18. Todd Rundgren – Prana
19. Blair – Night Life
20. Sir John Roberts – Do you believe in fate ?
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