An Interview with Blair Stafford;
DJ, Boogie person, and Straightup Head Honcho…
Q. In your own words, what do you do?…
“Well, in 2005 I started straightup.com.au (Australia’s first internet radio website) just for fun, and as a way of making a broadcast forum available to artists. It has since spiraled into something a little bit bigger!
My day-to-day is a real mixed bag, I still DJ a lot around the country, manage Straightup Recordings (a spin-off digital record label established at the start of this year with artists like Edseven, Onur Engin, Deep Street Soul and others), and I also run the Straightup Agency. The Agency started last year as a response to people calling me up to act as a go-between for venues and artists; we do event management, DJ and band bookings and festival stage co-ordination. I have also just taken on the role of Musical Coordinator at ‘MoMos’ when it opens this summer in Melbourne…
On top of all this I run a small web design agency, and am full time daddy to our two kids, as my wife has a busier life than I do!”.
Q. Where are you based?
“I (and my family) live in Melbourne, have done for a few years now. I spend a fair bit of time traveling around the country touring now though.”
Q. Online presence?
“Straightup, straightup straightup.”
“Straightup Recordings. I started up this digital label as a passion in early 2008, to get tunes out there of artists that were sending me CDRs. It has been hugely successful to date, with our next release from Edseven coming out in early November - a collaboration with the Exposure Crew out of Tokyo. Edseven was also our first release, and is one of Australia’s hottest producers (in my opinion).” (and mine actually…. Check the EP launch this Saturday 8th Nov – The Brighton, Sydney and 28th November - Southpaw, Melbourne – check the events page for details..)
Q. Regular nights - Where & when?
“Jazz Lounge in Brisbane, Perth (November)and Hobart (come January). At home in Melbourne I spin at Bossa Bambaata, South Paw (we are launching our Straightup Sessions night there on November 28th), Curve Bar at The Victorian Arts Centre, and a few other places around town.”
Q. Live shows / tours / favourite venues / cities?
“Favourite venues? Too easy. I love playing in Japan, particularly at Tree. I love Japan! In Australia, my favourite places are Workshop, and Curve, in Melbourne. I dig playing to a listening audience at the moment, and these venues offer the ability to play for hours on end, building sets from the bottom up.”
Q. How did you get started?…
“I started DJing when I was about 16 at school dances. My earliest memory of DJing is of playing on a river boat cruise that was organized for our year, and having to continually pick up the needle and start the record again; who would have thought that the wake of other boats would effect the stability of the decks?!!”
“After that, I started a small Northern Soul night in Brisbane called ‘Soul Bin’, where I did my last two years of school after moving from the southern Coast up there with my mum. Out of this came my love of funk and then jazz and another night called “Funk-olution’. It all snowballed from there really… I’ve been DJing now for over 20 years in Australia and around the world.” (and he’s still only 21?! ☺ )
Q. What inspires you? (people /places /things /music /anything that gets you..)
“Inspiration comes in many forms. My life was turned around at school by two history teachers in my last two years of school, who taught us to look beyond books and at lessons learnt from history that play out in the modern world. That sentiment has never really left me. Consequently, in my lifetime (and I know this sounds cliché), the one person who inspired me heavily was Nelson Mandela. I was quite involved as a teenager in the anti-Apartheid movement in Australia and when I see someone like Mandela forgoing violence and preaching peace and reconciliation I cannot help but think; there is a better life for us all if we could just reach out that little bit for it…
Musically, my inspiration always came from Jazz and Soul. I studied Jazz in Berlin, and had some amazing tutors there. As far as performers go, I found the freedom of artists like Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman and their compatriots of the late 60s jazz movement awe inspiring. Coupling that with soul artists like Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield, pushing the limits of the civil rights movement… what a period of music!!
The one place that I find incredibly uplifting is Australia. The bush. The desert. I am fortunate enough to have bought a piece of land that I have worked now to the point where it’s a little get-away. To go up there on the odd day, and just listen to the dozens of species of birds that are in the area, watch the wallabies and kangaroos hop out of the bush in the morning to feed above the hut… it’s like having one’s soul refilled. I was there last weekend with the family, and my neighbour took me out to see two ‘Powerful Owls’ with two young chicks. They were enormous! Even the chicks stood almost half a metre high! There are only several hundred breeding pairs in the whole country and I felt so privileged and humbled that they’re in our backyard.”
Q. Are there any causes /movements that you are passionate about?..
“I think, like most, I am mostly very concerned with how the world is run. In general, until now, I’ve looked around me and failed to see anyone in power who has anyone’s interests at heart other than their own. A classic example is watching how the Republican Party in the States ran their election campaign and, once again, played to the fear in peoples minds rather than the hope in people’s hearts. It is for this reason, that when I hear President Elect Barack Obama talk, I garner a bit of hope for the future of the world. Time will tell. Because in my opinion the clock is ticking ever louder every week…
My main passion has always been the environment, and it is for this reason that, in Australia, I support bodies like The Wilderness Society on a national level. I also work on a local level with organizations like CERES (where we go to shop every week), and Friends of the Earth. For me it is very important to be aware of where one places one’s spending power. A junkie on the street is, in effect, financing the lack of education in Afghanistan - a wearer of sweatshop merchandise is denying workers in the Philippines basic rights in their workplace. We forget about this too easily.
Also close to my heart is the work of Medicin Sans Frontier. I find it utterly inspiring that people will put their lives on the line to help others. I have, in a past life as photojournalist, been to war-torn zones, and seen the horrors that man can inflict on man. It tears me apart when I think of such things, so when I see organizations like MSF going into conflict areas I can not help but reach for my wallet… it’s the least I can do.”
Q. Who /what changed your life? (Someone /somewhere…)
“In 1993 I got caught in the middle of a gun battle in my neighborhood in Berlin coming home from a gig. One minute earlier I was talking to the two parties, trying to diffuse the argument. I quickly got the idea that I should get out of there when they pulled out pistols and starting blazing at each other. It was all over scratching a car door!!
I grabbed a girl off the street and pulled her into a doorway, just as a bullet zipped past our heads and shattered the doorframe. A car she had gotten out of seconds earlier pulled up, and I threw her into it and they tore off (understandably). I never saw her again after that night.
I took away a very valuable lesson from this. You can make a difference. If I had not grabbed that girl, she could have ended up in hospital, or worse. You just have to stand up and act in the moment. Life is about moments, and only moments. If you do not act on your instinct, you will regret your life and just watch it glide past you, or worse…”
Q. What do you do to escape /chill?..
“Well.. this morning I got up and went for a 30km cycle - from where we have the block of land an hour and a half out of Melbourne - to the railway station, put the bike on the train and came into town to work…
There is a massive veggie patch and mud-brick hut, surrounded by bushland; this is where I go to chill out with my family. It’s absolute bliss. Kangaroos hopping around, fruit trees, the whole deal. In summer, I hit the beach and crack a wave or two as well (it’s a bit more difficult now though with small children in tow), or go for a cycle like this morning. Otherwise I kick back in my studio and lay down a piece of vinyl, have a beer and just soak up new music…hopefully all while the sun is shining.”
Q. Who are you feeling right now?.. (genres /artists - not significant others!)
Hi-Fly Orchestra, DJ Mitsu the Beats, Paper Plane Project, Shere Khan (South African cat now living in Perth, who just signed to Straightup Recordings – watch out massive hip hop artist right here!). Quasimode, anything on Jazz and Milk Recordings, B-Burg, Edseven, Jazz Juice, Samon Kawamura. I can feel summer kicking-in… basically, I am listening to a lot of down tempo hip-hop, nu latin and broken jazz. Always the jazz!!
You have to work hard in this game to make a difference. Finding new music, packaging it, and making it available is Blair Stafford's remit. Digital, live and always soulful, the Straightup brand brings you a platform that didn't exist in Australia before. Musically, professionally and motivationally, this B-Boy is making headway to bring you the freshest tunes, artists and accessibility on a number of levels. The Straightup brand continues to grow and the audience in Australia keeps expanding as people push the boundaries. Soulfoul music, in all it's guises, historically has huge international appeal, and finally, thanks to the hard work of peeps like Blair Stafford, it seems Australia is catching on...