I had the opportunity to sit down with Johnny Igaz, known by many in the Bay Area as Nackt, and dig into his career as a DJ after his recent set at Public Works. Johnny’s passion for music goes deep. He’s been a member of the Oakland music scene for the better part of fifteen years, now branching out across California with releases on labels like 100% Silk. His roots are in hip-hop, but now you’ll find him playing alongside the likes of Bicep.
This is his story.
Tell us about your roots in music.
I grew up playing jazz. I was a jazz saxophone player. That was what I wanted to do, but at a certain point I realized that era is gone. I’m not going to be John Coltrane. I’m not going to be Gerry Mulligan. I’m not going to be those dudes I was idolizing. So I started producing hip-hop. I could sample these jazz records, flip this loop and make a beat.
What year was this?
The year was 2000. I got into DJing because I was already collecting records. I would play house parties because I had records. This was before YouTube or iPods, so if you wanted to do a party you were playing CDs on a boombox, or you had a turntable with records. I was playing Paul Simon and Tribe Called Quest next to Parliament-Funkadelic, it was house party shit. After that I got a regular bar gig at Ruby Room, which is a landmark Oakland spot. I was doing two days a week, 4-hour slots. I played mainly soul 45s, some hip-hop, rock, mixed it up a bit. I did that for 2 or 3 years, playing basically the same as I would at a house party. I wasn’t doing 90-minute sets—I was there all night—so I learned how to keep a broad range.
Who were your inspirations when you first started?
For DJing it was Invisibl Skratch Piklz for sure. I’m half Filipino, and to see Filipino DJs in the 90’s winning the DMCs… Mixmaster Mike, Q-Bert, Apollo, Shortkut. These guys were crushing it. Every year they swept it. To see Filipino DJs doing that, and from my area, was inspiring. These guys were all from the Bay Area. For producers, I learned how to use my MPC from DJ Premier and Pete Rock, it was all 90’s New York hip-hop. Dilla was a big influence a little bit later, but Pete Rock and Premier, those were the big early ones for me. I learned how to use the MPC, how to chop a jazz loop, how to sequence drums. Since I had those records, I had those samples. I was just mimicking exactly what they were doing.
Who are your biggest influences now?
It’s tough to say because the dance world moves so quickly. A year or two ago I was 100% about Swamp 81. I love Swamp 81 and bass music, but I play that less right now. There’s a lot of local DJs I respect, the whole Honey Soundsystem crew I learn a lot from as far as lineups and programming, broad range, etc. That’s a crew where each member has their own lane. Other local producers and DJs I love are Roche and Cherushii who do the Run the Length of Your Wildness party. It’s been great to link up with them. Bicep is big for me, which is why this gig is a huge treat for me. Midland is another producer I really love. Omar-S is a big influence, it’s tough to nail down just a few.
How about the most inspiring live acts for you?
On the Swamp 81 tip, Boddika is up there. He’s a great DJ too, but as a producer he’s someone I follow really heavy. He never comes to the US, so he’s someone I would really love to see live. A lot of the Hessle Audio crew. Ben UFO is someone I always love to see when he comes to town. I respect that he has the range. He’ll open with reggae tunes. Last time he played for Honey in SF it was right after the Baltimore riots, and he played Baltimore club that night. It was such a moment on the dance floor, there was this tension in the air like “should we be partying right now?” and it felt weird, so this was a moment where we acknowledged what was happening. We weren’t pretending in the party that the real world wasn’t going on. We were letting go of that shit—getting it off your mind for a few hours. Four Tet I haven’t seen live yet, but want to soon. Project Pablo is someone I’ve been digging a lot lately, I would love to hear his live set.
What’s your take on the double standard for DJs to produce?
That’s why Jason Kendig of the Honey crew is a real inspiration. He does produce, but very sparingly. He built his DJ career on DJing, which is rare in this day and age. Mike Servito is another one that does produce a little bit, but he’s known as a DJ and he built his career on that. I have a lot of respect for that. I do think it’s weird because a good DJ might not be a good producer, and vice versa. You shouldn’t have to do both. But if you just produce, there’s no money in selling tunes. If you want to make it a career, you gotta tour on it and DJ or do a live set. I feel lucky because I like producing and I like DJing. It’s fun for me to do both.
But it is hard to have an income solely from producing. I think there’s a lot of ghost producing that happens that we just don’t know about (that’s fine by me). I don’t like the deceit and I don’t like people lying about it, but I don’t think there’s a problem with hiring someone to help produce. When I look at the producers who influenced me in the grand scheme of my life, it’s the old producers like Quincy Jones, David Axelrod, Creed Taylor. These are the producers that if you know, you know Quincy Jones did all the hot Michael Jackson records. But to the average person it’s just a Michael Jackson record. There was nothing weird about hiring Quincy Jones to produce, arrange, write tunes, nobody was bummed about that. I wish there was more transparency in the dance music world, but it really doesn’t bother me. I wish people could say more often “I co-produced this with this person, I called some shots but they were the main producer.” I would love to be Quincy Jones, but that time is gone. If you want to make money producing, you gotta be in the pop world.
You gotta get other people to play your stuff. There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle. You could be the best producer in your bedroom, but if you don’t know any other DJs and you never leave your bedroom you’re going to be making that good music just for you. Part of the puzzle is meeting other people, getting help from others, and being part of a scene. For better or for worse, that’s part of the game.
What was the biggest breakthrough for you?
My biggest breakthrough so far was probably releasing a tape with 100% Silk in LA (shout out to Cherushii for that one). In the mid-2000’s I had my MPC and turntables for a while, then I got a Juno-6 kicked to me from a buddy, and I bought a 505, which is a pretty rudimentary Roland drum machine. I thought to myself, “if I just get another couple pieces, I could really start to do this!” I traded an old bass for a Access Virus synth, that was my digital synth. I got a 606, and I started to see how I could do this live. So around 2005 is when I saw the vision of where I wanted to be, but it didn’t come together until almost 10 years later. It was a decade of me going “okay I just need this one thing,” but the real breakthrough was finally getting my studio to that point a couple years ago. My “Virex” release on 100% Silk was when I finally got there, those sessions were all live takes and I was able to start playing live sets with all hardware.
Do you use Ableton now?
I use it sparingly, I’m a Pro Tools guy. I had a previous hip-hop group, Ill Mondo, and that’s really where I learned a lot. That’s where my studio knowledge comes from, from my partner Jeff Smothers and Greg Howe at Wide Hive. That was where I got to learn about mics, mix on a real board, learn outboard gear, and navigate Pro Tools (which had the best mix engine). I liked Ableton’s work flow, but even when I made beats in Ableton I always bounced it out to mixdown in Pro Tools.
What are your top tracks right now?
Speaking of Honey Soundsystem, I’ve been playing “D. Quelle” a lot lately. It’s this 12-minute epic tune that I really love. Project Pablo, I’ve been playing a lot of his recent stuff. Sage Caswell too, I played one of his tonight that I’ve been really loving, “99 Goodbye” off his 2MR record. One of my favorites that’s always in the bag is “Nyiduonge Drums” by Owiny Sigoma Band. I play that one a lot. “Stay” by Black Madonna always works. I’ve been playing a lot of “Shoes” edits lately, too.
What’s the best live music experience of your life?
The most life-changing music experience I had was my first proper campout rave, Chillits. This is an ambient campout they used to throw in Willits, California. My first one was 2008. I had been to shows, dance music events, hip-hop shows, but Chillits was another world. It was all ambient, all weekend. I missed out on dance music in the 90’s, so by the time I was going to raves, the chill room was a thing of the past. So going to Chillits, this long-standing campout where everyone is there for ambient, that was a real special one. The lighting crew, Radiant Atmospheres, is always amazing. Pretty much everyone who attends also volunteers to help. That was the first time I thought “oh, we’re all in this together!” I’m playing for them next month. I’m excited and honored for that, for me it’s a real homecoming.
Looking back at it all, would you change anything?
When I really look at it, I wouldn’t change a thing. This is exactly the path that I needed to be on. That said, I would say for a lot of people, college is not necessarily the way. I did learn a lot in college, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I had there, but it was a lot of wasted time and a lot of wasted money. Like when you get out of school, you’re back to square one. You have to intern, you have to do your studio time. Where I learned my real world shit, that was in bars, that was in studios. The academic world is not really representative of the real world. So for me, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I would say for a lot of young people: consider that college is maybe not the only path. It opens doors in the square world, but for me that’s not the jobs I want, I’m not trying to climb a corporate ladder. Maybe you don’t know what you want to do when you’re 18, but if you do know, just do it. Life doesn’t wait.