Fresh from his flight from the Oklahoma Backwoods Music Fest, Los Angeles’ own DJ Cuscino sat down and shared his world with us. He shares his inspirations, music tastes, and his favorite ice cream, among other things.
Holding many titles under his belt, Cuscino is also the host and curator of FutureSound, a weekly radio show highlighting producers and artists from around the world who continuously explore and challenge the soundscape of music.
We are proud to feature the second, and most recent, installment of DJ Cuscino’s summer mixtape series. Listen to City Nights Vol 2: The Ramp below, as we dig deeper into the man that is Cuscino.
1ACCORD: Who is Cuscino?
CUSCINO: I am an artist/producer, DJ, and weekly radio show host from Los Angeles. I also create scores for films, TV and plan to crack into doing this for video games as well. I have released EPs and singles internationally on Fashion Sells Musiq (Los Angeles) as well as Dirty Cat Records (Germany).
1ACCORD: How did you get your start in DJing? How many years have you been DJing professionally?
CUSCINO: I started writing/producing music and performing live when I was a teenager. Back then, I was a part of an electronic production duo called Paragon Null, and we were performing live and releasing albums before I could drive a car. Our sets then consisted of a live mix — or “live PA” as we used to call it — a hybrid set of our music mixed with tracks from Portishead, Hooverphonic, Tricky and the like off vinyl. Our live setup included a keyboard (Roland XP-50), a Sony MiniDisc player, an SP808 Doctor Sample, a four channel mixer, and a Gemini turntable. At some point we also added a Roland MC-303 which at the time, was blowing our minds with what it was capable of. There were no sync buttons in those days, haha!
That was almost 20 years ago. I was making electronic music back then, and then veered off into being in several different bands for a long while, putting out records where I played guitar, and integrating the electro angle, my turntable, and my sequencers into our live shows.
After the lives of these bands ended, I got back into producing electronic, trap and hip-hop, about 5 years ago, and have been going strong ever since as CUSCINO. DJing is just another way for me to get out to the people and perform in a variety of settings, like mixing my tracks with other artists’ I dig in a live setting, just to get the people vibing and moving. At the end of the day, I’m still a music producer first and foremost.
1ACCORD: Are there any DJ’s that inspired you to DJ growing up? If so, who?
CUSCINO: I was drawn into electronic music, and in turn, DJing, way back in the day by artists/groups like Underworld, Massive Attack, Tricky, the whole Metalheadz crew in the UK (Goldie, Grooverider, etc), Dieselboy, Crystal Method, etc.
Those groups were all producers and performers first, and their live shows had that element. That’s something I strive for in my own work as a DJ and producer, especially when DJing for a live crowd. There was a ton of crossover between “DJing” (and it was all vinyl then) and producing, but I remember seeing the artform in really interesting ways, like when I saw Ming & FS (OM Records) perform with FOUR turntables while I was in college on their Hell’s Kitchen tour. That absolutely blew my mind as I was only used to seeing artists/DJs use two turntables prior to that experience.
1ACCORD: What is the most challenging part of DJing? Most rewarding? Most unexpected result of being a DJ?
CUSCINO: The most challenging part of DJing is creating a storyline and building a mood on the fly. And the crowd is different every single time. They’re in a different mood, exposed to differing things, listening in different settings and responding to different tracks each and every time. You really have to be nimble and agile to be able to respond to a crowd and be in tune with what they’re feeling, and what they’re not.
For example, I just DJ’d at a huge music festival in Oklahoma called The Backwoods Music Festival, where the headliners were Odesza, Porter Robinson, Dieselboy, Com Truise, etc). I don’t always plan my sets, but this one I did to an extent. I hadn’t planned on it, but I decided to drop a dope Tech N9ne remix during my set because I wanted to show love to the midwest. I knew the crowd would love that because the mid-west goes hard for Tech N9ne (and I’m originally from Kansas City, so I’ve been listening to him since he started out). Sure enough, they went nuts for it. That was a split-second decision I made.
And that’s what’s rewarding: when you are able to take a left turn during a set, and everyone follows you there, and go nuts when you drop that track you know, as a curator, is a gem.
The most unexpected result of being a DJ is getting a front-row seat to try out new tracks of my own and test things out to really get a good idea of what people are digging, which is different too when you’re DJ’ing in different cities/regions like I am.
1ACCORD: What is the idea behind your City Nights projects? How does Vol 2: The Ramp differ from Vol 1?
CUSCINO: The concept behind my City Nights mixtape series is to bring people into the sound of the city, mostly Los Angeles since that’s where I live, and expose people all over the world to what’s popping here as we get a lot of the new stuff here first – because it’s often created here. It’s the sound of the city. The sound of the night. And the nights for me when I’m DJing are like a second day within a day; a whole other universe I venture into. I want you to feel the deep city, the grit of the street, when you listen to each release in the four-part series.
Vol. 2: The Ramp is different from Vol. 1: The Liftoff in that Volume 2 is hour two of a four-hour long live set I did in downtown Los Angeles, so the intensity is ramping up compared to the first hour. Things start to get even more lit after that.
1ACCORD: What is the relationship between Hip Hop and Electronic music for you?
CUSCINO: As a genre bender, the relationship to me is now more blurred than ever. Tracks like “Ni**as In Paris” from Jay-Z and Kanye are living proof of that. That track has a drop that’s a bit-crushed banger of a breakdown that couldn’t be taken more from the pages of the electro/EDM/trap world. The more danceable, up-tempo direction hip-hop’s been taking lately, especially here on the West Coast, is further evidence of that. The whole world of trap, which is heavy in the EDM/electro scene right now too, and something I love, started out of the Dirty South rap sound that happened in the late 90s and on into the 2000’s (see T.I.’s “Trap Muzik” album from 2003 for a great reference point of when that really bubbled into the mainstream). That vibe is still going strong in hip-hop today.
1ACCORD: Who is your favorite Hip Hop artist of all-time/ currently? Lol Favorite Electronic artist of all-time/ currently?
CUSCINO: My favorite hip-hop artist of all time is Jay-Z, without a doubt. His lyrical skill, flow, production choices and also his business acumen are all part of my admiration. I love the fact that he’s not a businessman, he’s a Business, man!
My favorite hip-hop albums of all time:
+ Jay-Z – “Reasonable Doubt”
+ Black Star’s classic “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star”
+ Nas – “Illmatic”
Current fav on the mainstream hip-hop scene is Drake. He’s versatile and consistent, musically and lyrically, and has added some much needed depth to the scene as far as I’m concerned. I love the deep production style sound he launched with (props to Noah “40” Shebib, his producer). And he’s not just popping out a single here and there either. He’s still making albums, and those albums aren’t propped up with tons of features. Under the radar (and I’m probably biased, but I’m always watching for who’s next up) would be Nuutrino from Los Angeles. I’m producing a number of tracks for him, he’s got an incredible flow and something to say beyond the same old shit. He’s about to hit the radar.
My favorite electronic act of all time? I have go with Underworld. I’ve always loved how they made more than dance music. They made an experience: from the packaging, the heavy design aesthetic throughout, their visuals, everything was there, and still is. That European influence is heavy in my musical roots, no doubt. Definitely the forefathers of anything you’re seeing happening in EDM today.
My current electro favorites are Diplo and Flying Lotus. I consider them kindred spirits because they really carve their own lanes and couldn’t give a fuck about a genre really. I’m the same way. I approach producing the same way, whether it’s a hip-hop track, trap/electro, or something entirely different. I’m not creating for a genre, per se, or to please the heads in that scene. I’m just building on what is my sound. That CUSCINO sound. Something new. Something ahead of the curve. Something not derivative of others’ sound really.
1ACCORD: Outside of the music, how do you stay in tune with the culture you create for?
CUSCINO: I’m an absolute culture sponge, period. I listen to commercial radio, underground radio, UK radio. I watch films. I dig crates (mostly digitally, like Soundcloud) in search of the newest sounds. While staying in tune with what’s going on right now, I’m able to multi-purpose when finding tracks for the next episode of my weekly radio show and my DJ sets, so it all folds together nicely.
1ACCORD: What do you believe is the impact of local music vs popular music on culture?
CUSCINO: I think it is interesting the impact that area has on sound, and the sounds that come out of that culture and sometimes mesh with other locales. Crews like Soulection here in LA have defined their own sound. Even though they’re really a collective of many producers, it all fits together and makes sense. Probably because they’re all drinking the same water here in LA. I love that.
Same with the Do Hits label in Shanghai. They have a sound, and while probably still pretty unknown, I suspect they’ll continue to break ground and get known more for their sound as a collective. I’m stoked to get out and DJ more internationally, pick up even more influences like this from different regions, all while exposing what I curate as LA’s sound to the crowds I play to. And that sound, whether “local” or “popular”, those influences bleed into mainstream more and more. I mean, I really never thought I’d hear Justin Bieber and Skrillex x Diplo on the same track, but it’s magical and genre-breaking to say the least.
1ACCORD: How did the FutureSound Radio Show get its start? What is the idea behind the name and the content?
CUSCINO: FutureSound is a weekly 1-hour radio program that I produce and host. I created it earlier this year after catching wind that a station in North San Diego (KOPA 91.3FM) was looking for new content, and the idea was something I’d been kicking around in my head for awhile, but I didn’t have an outlet for it. I reached out to the station manager, pitched the show idea and they were thankfully open to it. And here we are: Episode 18 will air this Saturday at 11p PST to midnight, and the station is linked up to iHeartRadio and TuneIn, so my show can be heard globally, which is super cool.
The idea behind the name and the show’s concept is what I define as “FutureSound,” a sort of a genre of genres. The show is designed to feature artists and producers exploring new sonic ground, pushing genre boundaries, and creating movements in sound around the globe. You aren’t going to hear a bunch of the mainstream EDM stuff that’s played over and over again, but rather fresh new tracks (oftentimes ones released the week of my episode that I’ve found) from fresh new artists that deserve the shine, in my opinion. It’s music from the bleeding edges of electro and hip-hop and trap and everything in between. It’s what I curate, not what some corporate suit who knows nothing about music tells me what to play because of advertising dollars. It’s very, very, pure.
1ACCORD: What advice would you give to young DJ’s looking to carve out a spot for themselves?
CUSCINO: Really study music first. Understand how it’s made; the origins of it. That’s what really makes a DJ stand out in my opinion, and not just being someone who’s loading a couple tracks and tying the ends together. The deeper your understanding and knowledge of music, the more interesting and diverse your sets will be. DJing isn’t about just playing some music. It’s about curation, study, and creation on the fly. It’s about the love of music. Don’t go to these DJ schools that are popping up. Instead, go to music school and learn to play an instrument. The gear is all secondary to your fundamental understanding of rhythm and creativity.
1ACCORD: What music do you listen to on your downtime?
CUSCINO: You might be surprised! Everything from old school jazz, hip hop classics, mainstream hip-hop radio like Hot92 and Power106 here in LA (to keep an eye on what’s going on – Even when I’m not working, I’m working and studying), and even some metalcore stuff (I grew up on it as a straight-edge skate kid).
1ACCORD: Final question: Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry ice cream?
CUSCINO: By now you should know the answer: All three, together, of course.