Tue, September 15, 2020
DJ Spooky (That Subliminal Kid) emerged as one of the most noted proponents of turntablism, an approach to hip-hop and DJ'ing whose philosophy merges avant-garde theories of musique concrète with the increased devotion paid to mixing techniques beginning at the turn of the millennium. Influenced equally by and as well as Kool Herc and , few artists have done more to mainstream the DJ-as-artist concept than him. His first album, 1996's Songs of a Dead Dreamer, was perhaps the defining release of the illbient movement. From there, his works have included collaborations with avant-classical ensembles (the Freight Elevator Quartet, ), abstract rappers (, ), dub pioneers (, ), jazz visionaries (, ), metal drummer (on 2005's Drums of Death), and countless others. During the 2000s, he released mix CDs spanning the entire catalogs of labels such as , , , and . While much of his 2010s output consisted of modern classical and soundtrack releases, including 2015's Rebirth of a Nation, he returned to reggae and dub with 2018's Phantom Dancehall.
Spooky was born Paul Miller in Washington, D.C. His father was a lawyer and member of the faculty at Howard University but died when Miller was only three. He inherited his father's record collection, which, along with frequent trips around the world (thanks to his mother's international fabric store), opened his eyes to a wide range of music. Growing up in the '80s saw Miller interested in D.C.'s hardcore punk scene and British ska-punk as well as go-go music. While attending college in Maine, Spooky began mixing on his own radio show and attempted to introduce his tapes into classroom discussions on deconstruction (an idea made quite conceivable just ten years later). After graduating with degrees in French literature and philosophy, he moved to New York, where he wrote science fiction alongside advertising copy and pursued visual art as well. He was still into hip-hop, however, and formed the underground Soundlab collective (with We, Byzar, , and others), a scene that later morphed into the illbient movement.
After an assortment of singles and EPs during 1994-1995, Spooky gained a record contract from in 1996 and released his debut album, Songs of a Dead Dreamer. The single "Galactic Funk" became a hit on the club scene, leading to recording appearances with and remixing spots for , , , and Spookey Ruben; Spooky also began writing regular journalist columns for The Village Voice and Vibe. As if that didn't keep him busy enough, he also released the mix album Necropolis: The Dialogic Project, recorded a Paul D. Miller solo LP titled Viral Sonata, and performed in a new digital version of the composition Kraanerg. His second proper album, 1998's Riddim Warfare, saw Spooky with a cast including disparate indie world figures from to 's . He also mounted visual exhibits at the Whitney Museum in New York and scored the award-winning 1998 film Slam.
One year later, he released File Under Futurism, a co-production with the Freight Elevator Quartet. The year 2000 saw the release of a collaborative effort with entitled The Quick and the Dead. The highly praised mix CD Under the Influence appeared the following year, but the next real album to appear from the DJ was 2002's Modern Mantra. That same year, as part of its Blue Series, released Optometry, a collaboration featuring Spooky with numerous avant jazz artists such as and . Its remix companion, Dubtometry, appeared early in 2003.
In 2004 Spooky teamed with the dub outfit for Riddim Clash, released by . The same year he was courted to remix two different labels' output. A mix of material appeared as Rhythm Science in January, and gave Spooky access to its Blue Series for Celestial Mechanix, released in June. In 2005, Drums of Death, a collaboration with and drummer , came out, followed the next year by the Spooky-curated collection 50,000 Volts of Trojan Records. He then remixed some favorites from the legendary reggae label's catalog on the fascinating 2007 album Creation Rebel.
Taking some time away from recording, Spooky edited Sound Unbound, a 2008 collection of essays on music and art, packaged with a mix CD which was also released separately by . That same year, he made an appearance in FLicKeR, a documentary about the Dream Machine, an invention pioneered by . Returning to his studio work, Spooky issued 2009's The Secret Song, his first new release of original material in a decade. The album featured collaborations with a slew of artists, including a jazz quartet, a chamber ensemble, pianist , various rappers including members of , wordsmith , and . The disc was packaged with a DVD that included his soundtrack to a visual montage of two of the earliest films by Russian director Dziga Vertov.
Two years later, Spooky was featured on composer Anthony Paul de Ritis' innovative concerto for DJ and symphony orchestra, Devolution. The DJ's next project found him reworking and remixing the soundtrack to D.W. Griffith's infamous 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Released in 2015 as Rebirth of a Nation, it featured a new score with contributions by forward-thinking classical outfit . In 2018, reggae label released Spooky's Phantom Dancehall LP, which featured guest vocalists () and Sanjay, in addition to samples from throughout the label's catalog. ~ John Bush, Rovi