Record-collecting is an art form, and those in lifelong pursuit of it will find solace in Downtown LA’s Artform Studio. Situated on 3rd Street in LA’s Arts District, the hybrid record store/hair salon appears unassuming from the outside. Yet, stop by, and you’ll understand why the “Cream of the Crop” mural on the east wall of Artform’s building is so fitting; it’s an extremely well-curated record shop, designed with diggers in mind. Without a doubt, it’s been established as a goldmine for rare and classic material, but it also offers itself as a creative platform with a unique neighborly ambience as well. This ambience is attributed, in part, to DJ Mza and EBO, the dynamic duo behind Soul Circle Radio, a weekly music show broadcasted live from the Artform Studio.
DJ Mza originally started Soul Circle Radio three years ago with the intent of pushing past genre boundaries and exposing the untapped sounds of the rest of the world to Los Angeles. A few years later, after being a guest on the show, EBO joined as a co-host, and it’s plain to see that the duo is doing something right. Soul Circle has earned a great reputation in the LA music community for their original track selections, as well as their commitment to our favorite analog medium: vinyl. The show and the studio both nurture the art of collecting and discovering new sounds, which makes sense. The Artform Studio was, after all, co-founded by DJ/Producer/Composer/Crate-Digging Extraordinaire, Adrian Younge, and Mza is a long-time friend and collaborator of his via the monthly Hip-Hop event, Bridges.
If you visit Soul Circle’s website, you’ll also find that they’ve had quite the reputable guest list, hosting the likes of Freddie Joachim, Question, Free the Robots, Nikko Gray, J-Heart, and today’s guest, Detroit Hip-Hop ambassador, House Shoes. After vibin’ to some Waldir Calmon and Clubcasa Chamber Orchestra, I was able to catch up with Mza and EBO to find out more about their music selections, favorite places to dig, and how the show came to fruition.
Sash: Tell me a little about Soul Circle and how it got started.
Mza: I wanted to do the show for a very long time and when I was contemplating, I wanted to have a show with not just only stuff that you always hear. There’s the radio that plays a lot of garbage, and I thought I’d just have a show where I’d play this kind of music and this music would be more soul, Hip-Hop (but good Hip-Hop), from House to Drum ‘n Bass. There’s no limitations on what we play as long as it’s soulful and tasteful. That’s pretty much it.
EBO: We tell people that come on the show to play whatever they want. There’s no limitations on what they play. And if we choose somebody to come on the show, we know that they’re gonna play something no one’s heard. It’s eclectic music. We do popular stuff, new and relevant stuff. Nothing that’s on the radio.
Mza: We keep it underground. Very tasteful. If you were to tune in, sometimes you’ll catch an old soul track or even jazz. You’ll hear Mile Davis, then the next song will be some Hip-Hop, J Dilla stuff, and then we’ll play some House stuff, even. But in terms of uptempo music, we keep it tasteful and soulful.
Sash: That pretty much answered my question. I was gonna ask you, do you have any specific rules for what you play?
Mza: We don’t wanna have any limitations. We like to play that music that we like, that we think is good, soulful. I think a lot of that element is gone nowadays, and we feel we have the obligation to carry this music out because a lot of it came from the 60s and 70s. Not to say that we only play 60s and 70s music, but we do visit that time period every so often so people know and don’t forget where this music comes from.
Sash: How did you link up with The Artform Studio?
Mza: They’re family. We’ve known these guys for over 10 years. I’m good friends with Adrian Younge and that’s who I met. Him and I do this event called Bridges, which is a monthly function. Been goin’ on for ten plus years, and that’s how we met. Then him and his wife opened up the Artform Studio here in Downtown LA, and we talked. They were like “Hey, why don’t you come and do the show here?” and we’re like “Alright, perfect.”
Sash: You mentioned that you don’t really have any specific criteria for what you play, but what songs have been in frequent rotation here at Soul Circle? And what are your favorite new releases so far?
Mza: A lot of the stuff that we’ve been playing here lately would be a lot of stuff coming from different countries. These are a lot of what I call “the future of Hip-Hop.” “Beatheads,” I call ‘em. A lot of the style that we’ve been playing here is stuff from the Netherlands, Europe just to name a few. This guy named Moods, he’s from the Netherlands. There’s this kid named fLako, he’s from the UK. Funkommunity from New Zealand. They’ve got some wonderful talent out of New Zealand. In Japan, there’s DJ Mitsu The Beats, DJ Krush, Grooveman Spot. There’s DJ Cam. A lot of the new style is what we’ve been playing. Tall Black Guy is a phenomenal producer. He’s killin’ the scene right now. He’s notorious for doing a lot of amazing remixes, and that’s how he’s getting his name out right now. He’s just an amazing talent, and we play a lot of his stuff.
EBO: We play local stuff too. A lot of the artists that we have on the show are local.
Mza: It’s a blessing to be in a city where we have cats that are all in LA. We do play a lot of Afrobeat, Reggae, House, Funk, Soul, and Jazz as well.
Sash: Who has been your favorite guest so far and why?
EBO: My favorite show was when Bency came on. We just had a big-ass party in here (laughs).
Mza: The thing that’s cool is we broadcast live from the Artform studio, and it’s a blessing to be here and to have the space that we have. It’s cool because when we had the show with our friend Bency, there were other folks there that day as well. We just kinda have an open door policy where people can come in and hang out with us. We actually encourage that. It’s not a typical radio station. This place is a salon and a record store and we incorporate our radio show in here, so there’s a cool ambience. If you ever come and hang out, you’ll see that it’s welcoming, and that’s pretty much our whole vibe.
Sash: Are there any radio shows, past or present, that you draw inspiration from?
Mza: Oh yeah, definitely, to name one, KCRW. It’s one of the most eclectic radio stations in the world. I would say one show, that’s been on for a very long time would be Chocolate City with Garth Trinidad. I don’t know if it’s still called Chocolate City. There’s just so many great shows. There’s my man Jeremy Sole, and then there’s Anthony Valadez, there’s Jason Bentley, Raul Campos, there’s so many wonderful DJs. We draw a lot of our influence from them.
EBO: We’ve been having artists come in and perform. We had Joey Dosik come in, and he played and sang. Raquel Rodriguez came in, she played and sang. We’ve had J Mitchell. So that’s something that we’d like to implement too, the whole live performance aspect with our show along with our interviews.
Sash: There’s so many music outlets now and so many different ways to find new music through technology. What do you guys feel is your biggest challenge as an independent radio show?
Mza: That’s a good question. There’s probably a lot of radio shows like this out there, but they’re not necessarily playing what we play, and I think that’s one of the advantages that we have. It is a challenge competing, but at the same time, we don’t care. We do what we do, and we have a good fan base, and I think we’re continuing to grow. We’ve been doing this for 3 years now. I used to do this out of my apartment living room, so we’ve come some ways. We still have a journey to go on, but that’s the cool thing ‘cause I feel like every year, it progresses in getting better and better, in terms of quality, energy, everything. I think with those elements in place, we’ll definitely survive, and stand out a little bit too, so that’ll help over time.
EBO: The technology’s been very, very successful for us because we can upload our podcasts and shows right online. Anybody could go and listen to them. Mixcloud has been very beneficial for us in getting out our shows to our fans, to our audience, to our listeners. I think a lot of our listeners are attracted to other shows on Mixcloud, and these people navigate to find new music avenues, rather than just going on Pandora or those types of radio stations where there’s not an actual DJ. I think this is just a different avenue for people to find out what we like to listen to, but also to find out what their favorite artist or favorite producer likes to listen to. We have Soundcloud where people can be really hands-on with what we’re doing. We have the video stream as well, so we’re streaming through Ustream and people can watch it. When someone’s doing a live performance, there might be like 3 people in here, but we have a whole audience of people listening.
Sash: You guys are obviously huge record collectors. Where are your favorite places to dig around LA?
Mza: There’s really not too many. I mean, there is and there isn’t. You have your record stores that are popping up here and there in LA, and they’re cool. They’re really cool, but I think my favorite place would be the swap meets. You can always get them for cheaper too. Just to give away one of our secrets, Adrian Younge’s as well, for those that know Adrian Younge, most of his inventory here at the Artform Studio is from swap meets.
EBO: Record Surplus in Santa Monica is the one that I always went to. There was something about that place. They had an attic up top, and it was just 99 cent records. They have a new place on Santa Monica, but it’s different vibes—it’s not the same vibe. I feel like everything’s more expensive. And then here at Artform Studio is a dope place to dig. I get a lot of records from here now that I’ve been here, because I’ve been only doing it with Mza for a year. I was actually a guest on his show because I’m in a band called Balance and the Traveling Sounds, so that’s how I got connected with Mza to do the show. I pretty much just wanted to see how it worked out. I was just kinda curious and wanted to be involved in something like this. Plus, it had a huge influence on what I’m doing musically.
Sash: You both seem to have extensive experience in music. What music projects do you have outside of Soul Circle?
Mza: EBO and I, EBO moreso than I am, he’s a producer, and a musician. And me, I’m just starting to get into production, so I do that on the side. I’ve got a little one that I take care of as well, little man here (author sidenote: the little one is adorable), but that’s pretty much it. I’m either ballin’ on the courts, or I’m in the studio trying to make beats, or I’m here.
EBO: I’m in a band called Balance & the Traveling Sounds and I’ve been doing that since 2009, so it’s been an interesting battle. We’ve got two EPs out and an album, and we’re working on another album coming out soon, so that’s pretty much been my main focus for music. And then we’re also doing stuff with MED and J Rocc, so that’s gonna be coming out soon. I’m also making beats. I’ve been doing instrumental stuff and then also working with some other singers and artists, a lot of different musicians, and just doin’ my own thing outside of the band. The band is pretty much, for the past four years, my focus.
At this point, the interview is almost over, and I’ve saved one of the most important questions for last, which is, “What advice would you give to anyone planning on starting their own radio show?” The answer is obvious, and Mza’s face says it all.
EBO: Get some records. Get some real records.
It’s clear where both of these guys stand in the analog vs. digital debate.
EBO: Wait until you have enough of a collection—until you know what you want to play and get some vinyl. Get some vinyl.
Mza nods emphatically and agrees. Wiser words were never spoken. Get some vinyl, and whether you’re a beginning or advanced collector, get it at The Artform, and tell them that the 5th Element Mag sent you. The fam will be happy that you stopped by.
Soul Circle radio broadcasts live from the Artform Studio in downtown LA on Saturdays from 12pm-2pm PST. Tune in live at http://www.soulcircleradio.com