Mike Simpson and John King, a.k.a. The Dust Brothers, comprise one of the most sought-after production teams of the 1990s. By the time the decade had begun, they had developed their cut-and-paste sampling method to a high degree of refinement. Their work with the Beastie Boys and Beck was a mixed aesthetic of hip-hop and rock, and brought their work to a mass audience. They have managed to retain their independence within the fickle and avaricious recording industry, forming, in the mid-1990s, their own record label to whom they proceeded to sign a stable of rock and pop acts that they found edgy, innovative, or just plain fun. By the end of the decade they were focusing much of their energies on music for films, most notably, Fight Club. Their fans meanwhile await the Dust Brothers’ first album of their own, a work that has been in the making for nearly a decade.
Both Simpson and King were born and raised on the East Coast of the United States. Simpson grew up hearing the popular music of the day—the Beatles and Bette Midler—that his single mother played around the house. At an early age, he was introduced to the music on New York City radio. He soon fell in love with groups such as the Ohio Players, Parliament-Funkadelic, and, in particular, the Jackson 5. King was born in Florida but moved frequently with his family, first to New York and later to Maryland. His father was interested in blues—Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny TerrY and Brownie McGhee, as well as various Dixieland bands—and those were the first records that made an impression. King began learning to play trumpet when he was in the second grade. “Basically, music has always been the most important thing in my life,” he told Bud Scoppaof Addicted to Noise. ”I got away from the classical training that I had in college, and got just more heavily into deejaying, and trying out production ideas and stuff like that.”
Significantly, considering his later pioneering use of samples in music, King cited the Mr. Jaws records, in which recognizable snatches of the top singles of the day were played in response to questions asked by an interviewer. At the same time, Simpson entertained himself making what he described to MTV’s John Norris as low-tech “pre-samplers.” “I would take my favorite part of a record and I would just extend it on a cassette I would play the section and I would hit pause at the end and then cue the record up again, and release the pause right on beat, so I would sort of make tape loops by using the pause button.”
The duo didn’t meet until they moved independently to California in 1978 where they eventually entered Cla-remont College in Pomona and began working at the college radio station. In a school where most students listened to punk or gothic rock, King and Simpson were rap fans. “We were probably the only two kids at our college of about five or six thousand that liked rap music,” Simpson told MTV’s Norris. Around 1983, they started hosting a rap show which was, according to the Dust Brothers official website, the first rap show in southern California. They also began working parties as DJs. They made little money from the work, however, as most of their earnings were spent on records to supplement their collection.
They hosted their show about five years and played only East Coast hip-hop, until a young man brought them a 12-inch of a song called “Cheeba-Cheeba.” They thought it was great and were astounded to learn that it had been produced in California. Not long afterwards, they had an opportunity to interview the singer on the record, Tone-Loc. The three hit it off. Loc was impressed by some instrumental tracks the pair, by then known as the Dust Brothers, had put together for station public service announcements and said he wanted to rap to it. Within days, the Dust Brothers had met two men who were putting together a new West Coast rap label, Delicious Vinyl. The label partners had a line of credit, a studio, and artists, but no production experience. They asked the Dust Brothers to take over that work. Those Delicious Vinyl recordings like Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing” and “Loc’ ed After Dark,” Def Jef’s Just A Poet With Soul, and G Love E’s Eat To The Beat— were the first records the Dust Brothers worked on. And they made the duo’s name known among hip-hop connoisseurs.
Part of the arrangement with Delicious Vinyl was that the Dust Brothers would be able to use the label’s studios to produce their own music. They had already
Members include John King (born in 1965 in Florida); Mike Simpson (born in 1965 in New York).
King and Simpson met at Claremont College radio station in Pomona, California, early 1980s; hosted Southern California’s first all-rap radio show, 1983-89; regularly worked as DJs at parties in and around Los Angeles, 1983-88; began working at Delicious Vinyl label with Tone Loc and other West Coast rappers, 1988; produced Beastie Boy’s Paul’s Boutique, 1989; produced Beck’s Odelay, 1997; sued Chemical Brothers over their unauthorized use of Dust Brothers’ name, mid-1990s; produced three songs on Rolling Stones’ Bridges to Babylon, 1997; Hanson’s “MMM Bop” became the Dust Brothers’ first number one single, 1997; formed Nickel Bag Records label, 1997; formed Ideal Records label, 1998; produced soundtrack to film Fight Club, 1999.
put some instrumental tracks on tape when the Beastie Boys became interested in working with the Brothers. “It was just fate,” Mike Simpson told Bud Scoppa. “They just happened to walk into the studio and heard the tracks and got really excited. They weren’t even looking to make a record at the time. They were embroiled in legal disputes with Def Jam then.” It was the music intended for the Dust Brothers’ CD that impressed the Beasties. They put lyrics to it and it wound up on Paul’s Boutique, one of the most influential rock-rap albums ever made. It was the Brothers’ first experience with a state-of-the-art studio set-up. However, they tended to rely on their DJ turntable and the Mac computer on which they had loaded all their samples, a situation that made the older studio hands, who were unfamiliar with sampling techniques, a bit nervous. Paul’s Boutique changed their lives—gradually. “Pretty much nobody really knew that we existed until the Beastie Boys record came out,” Simpson told MTV. “All of a sudden ’Wild Thing’ just came out, and then almost over night, it was just, like, huge. We were still broke, we were just like these poor college graduate guys and we had the number one record in the country and we don’t even have $3 to buy a Billboard.”
The Dust Brothers had built their reputation as craftsmen of cutting edge rap. By the early 1990s, however, the genre had begun to change. It was losing its edge, becoming corporatized, a formula. They started moving on to other artists whose vision was further from the mainstream. One afternoon, Mike Simpson had lunch with the Dust Brothers’ partner Mitchell Frank. “He asked, ’Have you heard of this guy Beck?’” Simpson told Scoppa. “I said, ’Jeff Beck. Of course I’ve heard of him.’ He said, ’No, not Jeff Beck. It’s this other guy Beck.’ He was just telling me how he recorded this song called ‘Loser’ that was like this rap song, and it was going to come out soon, and it was going to be huge, blah, blah, blah. And of course a few months later, the song came out and was a huge hit.” Beck let the Dust Brothers know that he was very interested in doing something with them. In 1996, they started working together. The result was 1997’s monster hit, Odelay. The album was the product of three people, the Dust Brothers and Beck, sitting around the studio, bouncing ideas around, and waiting for inspiration and the happy accidents that the Dust Brothers value so much. “We really just got in there and mixed it up, and, you know, played things for each other,” Simpson told MTV. “We’d screw around with ideas and some songs we’d start with something and it wouldn’t work so we’d move on to something else and, you know, it really was like our baby. It was like the three of us had this baby.”
Between the time Paul’s Boutique and Odelay were recorded, sampling had changed music forever. For one thing, it had made it much more litigious, with one artist suing another for using excerpts of a previously recorded work. Musicians and their representatives began asking for hefty fees, or a piece of publishing rights, for the privilege of sampling a few seconds of music. As a result, there were very few “traditional” samples on Odelay. Instead, Beck himself played figures on various instruments, which the Dust Brothers subsequently pasted together the same way they would samples of other artists work.
“We were never really big fans of just taking a very recognizable riff and making a whole song out of it,” Mike Simpson writes on the Dust Brothers website. “We were into maybe letting that happen once or twice within a song as a point of reference.” That doesn’t mean they have abandoned their mammoth collection of records as a tool. Now, however, they use older material primarily as a reference source for sounds and moods. One tack is to try to get those moods reproduced by musicians on instruments “to copy the sound as opposed to copying the actual notes,” as Simpson told MTV. Another is to simply disguise the original sample until it is unrecognizable.
In the mid-1990s the Dust Brothers got involved in a legal dispute when they discovered that an English duo who were fans of the Beastie Boys had recorded and adopted the name “Dust Brothers” for themselves. The real Dust Brothers sued and a cease-and-desist order was issued. The pretenders subsequently changed their name to the Chemical Brothers and went on to make a reputation of their own in electronica. In early 1997 the two duos reconciled. In August 1997 the Dust Brothers produced a track for a Chemical Brothers EP.
Around the same time, Mick Jagger contacted the Brothers about working with the Rolling Stones on their next album. He brought them to New York for a meeting, listened to some of their music, and played some new Stones demos. “It sounded really great. It sounded like we had already been working on it,” King wrote on the Dust Brothers’ website. “We talked about music and about what he wanted to do and we seemed really in sync and so we just started working together really after that.” King and Simpson produced three tracks on the Stone’s 1997 CD Bridges to Babylon. After work on the record was completed, however, the Dust Brothers learned that they were not as in sync with the Stones as they had believed. In September 1997, Stones guitarist Keith Richards blasted their work on MTV. “I’ve got better versions of those songs in my drawer,” he complained. “They took six months to ruin two good songs as far as I’m concerned. I think what’s there is all right. It’s just knowing that you have better (versions) round the back, but I knew I had to do a trade-off to make this album.” The Dust Brothers could only say they were sorry the Stones felt that way. The Stones problems didn’t end there, however.
In May 2000 the Dust Brothers became defendants in a plagiarism suit brought against the Stones by two songwriters who claimed that the Stones’ “Saint To Me”—which the Dust Brothers had produced—was actually their song, written and copyrighted years earlier.
As the 1990s ended, the Dust Brothers had musicians lining up to work with them: members of the Stone Temple Pilots, the Fugees, Coolio, and Smash Mouth. They got their first number one single, “MMM Bop,” by a teenaged band from Oklahoma called Hanson. Simpson said the Hanson demo just arrived one day. He was immediately taken by the group’s spirit which reminded him so much of the Jackson 5. “It just took me right back to when I was seven or eight years old,” he wrote on their website, “and I was like ‘wow this is a great song.’” The Brothers had a roster of musicians on their own labels as well. They formed Nickel Bag Records in 1998. The label’s first release was a single by the band Creeper Lagoon, “Wonderful Love.” The second artist signed to Nickel Bag was 100, a girl group—“They’re the world’s cutest band,” Simpson told Addicted to Noise. In September 1998, they put together a new label they called Ideal Records.
As the 1990s ended, the Dust Brothers were devoting increasingly more time to film projects. They signed on to produce the soundtrack for Orgazmo, a movie being done by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which King described on MTV as “Spinal Tap porn meets kung fu.” They were using bands such as Crystal Method, Smash Mouth, Atari Teenage Riot, KRS-One, and Ideal Records recording group, Sukia. They also produced the soundtrack for the X-Files movie, and in January of 1999, they signed on to do the music for David Fincher’s film Fight Club. Rather than work with other groups, the Dusts did all the Fight Club music themselves. Both the film and the soundtrack were critically well received. David English of the Daily Texan called it “inventive electrónica… Fans looking for the Dust Brothers’ signature dense swirl of old record-breaks will not find it here. Instead, the soundtrack leans toward a more DJ Shadow-styled aesthetic of moods and atmosphere.”
The Dust Brothers continue to work in virtually every area of the music business: production, composition, remixes, A&R, soundtrack work, commercials. They continue to work on a CD all their own. Their so-called Greatest Hits CD was announced in early 1997, but as 2001 was beginning it had not yet seen the light of day. What do the Dust Brothers themselves see in their future? “Just new songs,” John King told Addicted to Noise. ”I think that it’s so wide open the way we approach things already, that there aren’t any rules to grow on. It’s basically that there are no rules, so a new thing happens every day when we’re working.” Mike Simpson added, “We want to stay focused on the music, because that’s really what it’s all about for us. It has always just been our theory that if you start out with good music, it will sell.”
(Tone-Loc) Loc’ ed After Dark (includes “Wild Thing,” “Loc’ ed After Dark,” “Cheebah-Cheebah,” “On Fire,” “Cutting Rhythms,” “Next Episode,” and “Don’t Get Close”), Delicious Vinyl, 1989.
(G Love E) Eat To The Beat (includes “Nosy Neighbors” and “Suck On This”), Delicious Vinyl, 1989.
(Def Jef) Just A Poet With Soul (includes “Give It Here,” “Do It Baby,” “Just A Poet,” and “God Made Me Funky”), Delicious Vinyl, 1989.
(Beastie Boys) Paul’s Boutique, Capitol, 1989.
(Beck) Odelay, Geffen, 1997.
(Sugartooth) Sounds of Solid, Geffen, 1997.
(Rolling Stones) Bridges to Babylon, (includes “Anybody Seen My Baby,” “Saint of Me,” and “Might As Well Get Juiced”), Virgin, 1997.
(Sukia) Contacio Espacial con el Tercer Saxo (includes “The Dream Machine” and “Touching Me Touching You”), Nickel Bag Records, 1996.
Dead Man on Campus, UNI/Dreamworks Records, 1998.
The X-Files, WEA/Elektra Records, 1998.
Fight Club, BMG/Restless, 1999.
Daily Texan, November 1, 1999.
Interview, August 1997.
“Dust Brothers Are Where It’s At,” Addicted to Noise, http://www.addict.eom/issues/2.09/ (March 4, 2001).
“Dust Brothers Interview,” MTV, http://www.mtv.com/nav/intro_news.html (March 4, 2001).
Dust Brothers Official Website, http://www.dustbrothers.com (March 3, 2001).
—Gerald E. Brennan
More From encyclopedia.com
Ronald Isley , Isley, Ronald 1941– Singer, composer Singer\composer Ronald Isley has enjoyed a successful career in popular music for more than 40 years. As lead si… The Chemical Brothers , Electronica group Though electronic music has long been a staple commodity to overseas fans, its beat-heavy cadences and sometimes sans-guitar sound… Ralph Stanley , Stanley, Ralph Bluegrass singer, songwriter, and banjo player Ralph Stanley is one of the patriarchs of bluegrass, a banjo player, singer, and songwr… Aaron Neville , Neville, Aaron Singer Aaron Neville is one of the most gifted members of New Orleans’s talented Neville clan. With his pure, sweet voice—an unlikely… Hanson , Hanson Pop group Who is Hanson? Hanson is three brothers, Isaac, Jordan, and Zachary. The trio is multi-talented—writing and playing their own music.… The Meters , The Meters The Meters Funk/R&B band Although the Meters polished their skills as a backing band, their original work as a recording act—particularly…
About this article
Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article
You Might Also Like