Music Q&A: DJ Format & Abdominal

For 14 years, DJ Format and rapper Abdominal have been entertaining crowds from Toronto to the UK. The hip-hop stars are back at it with their new album Still Hungry

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What informs your music?
Format: Most of the music I make is heavily influenced by the hip-hop records I grew up listening to in the 1980s and early 1990s, plus the records that I listen to nowadays – mostly late 1960s soul, funk, jazz, rock and blues. There’s plenty of current artists whose music I love but they don’t necessarily inform the music that I make.
Abs: Life.

How have you evolved as a duo over the years?
Format: Funnily enough, we have tried to retain the same values that we started out with at the beginning of our partnership. We like to make music for ourselves first and foremost, and hope that other people enjoy it too. We like to keep our live shows energetic, entertaining and interactive, and make sure the audience go home feeling like they got their money’s worth.
Abs: As far as our working relationship, this is actually our first official album together, as previously we only ever featured on each other’s projects. That changed the dynamic significantly, as it put us both on equal footing when it came to artistic decisions, which inevitably led to some passionate debates and ultimately a need to be willing to compromise. As far as the content of our music goes, I’d say it’s become a little more well-rounded compared to some of our earlier collaborations. There are still the uptempo, funky offerings that we’re known for, but there’s also some more introspective, serious material mixed in now, which I think is reflective of the fact that we’re both older and have experienced a bit more life at this point.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?

Format: Right now we are caught up with all the promotion commitments for the new album so there’s no time for anything artistic! I wish I could say there’s a whole new album in the pipeline but in reality there’s way more work that needs to be done after the music is created – that’s only a piece of the puzzle.
Abs: As Matt said, mostly just attending to the “less artistic” components of our trade at the moment, like doing interviews, booking flights and trains, rehearsing for our upcoming tour, etc. I don’t think the average listener truly realises how much work goes into putting out an album – and the majority of that work actually begins after the album’s finally in the can and off being manufactured!

What’s on your rider?
Format: Our rider is really simple and boring: water, maybe a couple of sandwiches, maybe a couple of beers. Real big time rock ‘n’ roll stuff, eh? I think maybe Abdominal requests a couple of towels because he jumps around a lot and gets sweaty while I’m standing calmly behind the turntables sipping my water.
Abs: I always man our merch tables before shows, as I find it much more interesting being out front, chatting with fans, than being stuck by myself in a green room in the back. That said, I only ever ask for a few bottles of water (and possibly a beer or two for after the show). Exciting stuff, I know!

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience!

Format: I think the most surreal experience was at a show in Oxford about 12 years ago. Some local young rappers had performed before us and one of them was called Chris Martin. It’s unusual for a rapper to use his plain and boring name as his stage name but this was especially strange considering that Coldplay were at the height of their fame at that time. D-sisive (another rapper who was performing live shows with Abdominal and I at that time) had a rhyme routine where he made fun of a few major pop artists of that time and he mentioned people like Madonna and Chris Martin. These young local kids took offence to D-sisive’s rhymes because they thought he was insulting their crew member, rather than having the intelligence to figure out he was talking about Coldplay’s famous lead singer. It went from surreal to awkward and embarrassing as these kids were only about 16 or 17 at the time and were trying to intimidate us and we were just laughing in disbelief the whole time!
Abs: I was opening for Blackalicious one time in Toronto, in front of thousands of people, and got kneecapped by a monitor in front of the DJ table mid-song. I epically fell on my ass (mic fully flying in the air, record skipping, aforementioned thousands of people erupting into laughter, etc.). Good times!

What song do you wish you’d written?
Format: Work by RJD2
Abs: Possibly not the answer you’re looking for, but I’m happy with my own catalogue. And I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way, but more in the sense that I feel music (and artistic expression in general) is an intensely personal thing, so it would be weird to me to want to write someone else’s experience.

What’s your worst lyric?

Format: I’ll leave that one to Abdominal as he writes the lyrics:)
Abs: Less a specific lyric, and more an overall song: way back in 1993, when I was first starting out, I composed an insightful masterpiece entitled Droppin’ Logs, which, as you may be able to surmise based on the title alone, was an opus devoted entirely to the oft artistically neglected act of the lowly bowel movement. It seemed genius at the time, but in retrospect I think the world may have been better off without it.

DJ Format & Abdominal play the Wardrobe, Leeds, 3 May; Gorilla, Manchester, 10 May; and O2 Academy Sheffield, 13 May

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