DJ Sol Rising began his career in the cornfields of Iowa, saving up just enough to buy a pair of turntables at the age of 16. Influenced by artists such as KRS One and De La Soul, his initial focus was primarily hip-hop. While DJ Sol Rising’s career holds milestones such as turntablist DJ Championships, winning Scribble Jam and prestigious DMC regionals in Washington D.C., he is now on a spiritual journey towards the conscious/ecstatic dance scene. This Saturday, he officially becomes a resident of Non Stop Bhangra. We get a chance to speak to him about his upcoming album, his scratching days, and why he is more focused on conscious dance music now. Catch him at Non Stop Bhangra this Saturday 3/10 at Public Works.
How did you get into DJing at 16 being from the cornfields of Iowa?
I started DJing around 15 or 16 years old because I wanted to be involved in the hip-hop culture and not just a fan of it. A friend told me about turntables. I was like, “wow that sounds really cool!”. I used to go to his house and scratch records on his parents crappy turntable. I got a job working in a cafeteria making $5.50 an hour and saved up for my first DJ setup. Being in Iowa I had no one to teach me so I bought a DMC video of the 1998 World Finals where DJ Craze won his first title. I was hooked and would watch Battle DJ videos all day and copy what I saw. I actually didn’t even know what mixing or beat matching was. I thought DJing was all about scratching. I remember going to my first party where a house DJ was using turntables and wondering why he wasn’t scratching.
What instigated the change from DJ Skwint to Sol Rising?
I was doing a personal growth workshop and one of my friends asked me, “When are you going to change your DJ name?” That made me realize that I really wasn’t comfortable with the name “Skwint.” It was a nickname that was given to me as a joke in High School because of my Asian eyes. It really did not represent who I was as an artist. I wanted a name that embodied where I was and where I saw my music going. Music is a powerful tool for transformation. Sol is the latin word for sun and I thought it was catchy to combine the Sol “sun” and Rising.
How does your new moniker better embody your DJ styles?
I’ve been playing a lot of conscious dance events in the Bay Area such as Ecstatic Dance and Mass Transit. I view these events as a journey where I take the dancers through all styles of music, moods etc. The goal is to raise the vibration/frequency and have everyone’s cells bubbling with bliss by the end. I believe movement & music can be a great vehicle for spiritual transformation. It is a totally different experience than playing in a club.
You’re also a well-known scratch battle DJ. Share with us one of your most memorable experiences.
My most memorable experience was winning the Washington, DC DMC regional. I always looked up to the DJs I saw in the DMC videos I watched when I first began. This event was one of my first major victories. I remember flying out to DC thinking I had no chance of winning. An extremely talented local hero named DJ Enferno was heavily favored and most of the judges were from the area. So I thought I had no chance of winning. But somehow I won and it was really cool to win in front of Roc Raida and Total Eclipse from the legendary X-Ecutioners crew. I even got a photo with World DMC Champion Roc Raida (RIP) and a nice writeup in the Washington Post. It was one of those magical evenings which really put me in the spotlight on a national level.
A close second would be my first major victory winning Scribble Jam in 2002. That is when I knew that things could really take off.
Do you miss your scratch battle days?
As far as battling is concerned, I don’t miss spending 6 hours a day locked up in my room practicing to perform a 6 minute routine once or twice a year.
It was extremely stressful and I’m much more into producing music and expressing myself in a less competitive format.
However, I would say that I miss using the turntable as a musical instrument. I miss the days where people saw DJing as an art form and using the turntable to make new music on the fly. This style of DJing has really died with all of the digital technology. These days I rarely even bring my turntables out when I perform. I use a DJ controller as it is more convenient and I’ve found that people aren’t really interested in scratching especially during a dance journey. That being said, I do find creative outlets for scratching. For example, I’m working with Bill Ortiz, Santana’s trumpet player doing a Jazz/Scratch instrumental track for his upcoming album.
What’s the spiritual philosophy that reflects your DJ career?
My goal is to create music that helps us to remember our true nature, strength and potential. We must access our inner knowing and power to create a peaceful world. I remember working the sound board at a workshop in Australia with 700 people for Sai Maa Lakshmi Devi a great spiritual master. We had done a full weekend of meditation and other spiritual practices and Sai Maa asked me to DJ a dance party at the end. I remember people going absolutely wild, screaming, jumping, smiling, in total ecstasy. Sai Maa looked at me and said something to the effect of “This is the entire work right here.” I became present to the power of music for spiritual growth and transformation. Here was a room full of people, free and unified in Light, Joy, Love, Bliss – none of us were thinking. We were joyously in the present moment. This type of event is where I’m moving into in my DJ career. I feel that DJing can be used for so much more than just partying and getting drunk. The music is helping people to raise their vibration so that they feel energized after an event, not tired and depleted.
Tell us a little about your new album in the works.
I’m putting out an album titled “I AM Soul” this summer. The title is inspired by a great Saint Satuwa Baba whom I spent time with in India. We were on the Ganges River in Varanasi and he kept repeating the phrase “I AM Soul.” The album is a hybrid of many styles of music (Hip-Hop, Bass Music, Glitch, Breaks, World etc.) with the goal of raising the vibration of humanity. Much of it has a heavy influence from India.
How did you choose who to work with?
I was fortunate enough to bring together a great mix of vocalists and instrumentalists on the record. I’m thrilled to have Zumbi of Zion I and Rasco of the Cali Agents as they were artists I used to listen to when I was in High School. I also enjoyed working with artists such as Wisdom who carries a similar vision as I do and who has been a huge mentor for me in the last few years. I’m happy to have artists such as Seasunz and Aima the Dreamer whom I’ve met through the local communities and have done many shows with on the album. I even was lucky enough to have a accomplished Flute player, Marco Leinhardt on the record. My goal was to work with a diverse group of artists who bring a unique story and vision. I asked the vocalists to keep the content positive and uplifting so as to support my vision of uplifting humanity and they all delivered. I also had John Dahl Honoré of Master Fade Music do the mixing and mastering and he did a phenomenal job.
What interested you about in Non-Stop Bhangra, which in you will become a resident DJ of starting this month?
When I first moved to the Bay Area a few years ago, a friend took me to Non-Stop Bhangra at the Rickshaw Stop. I kid you not it was the most fun I’d ever had dancing at the club. I had never seen so many smiling faces in a club environment and I remember the place being packed with very high energy. From there I knew I wanted to learn more about Bhangra music and possibly play at NSB one day.
I saw playing at NSB like climbing Mount Everest. I didn’t know many people in the Bay Area at the time and I had no idea how to get in. A well-known DJ told me it is one of the most difficult gigs to get as it’s super popular and it only happens once a month.
When I first got to play NSB and was later asked to become a resident, I felt incredibly blessed. I’m still not sure how it happened but the universe works in mysterious ways!
What do you enjoy most about DJing this party?
I enjoy the people who run the event. Jimmy is one of the most down to earth people to work with and is incredibly generous with his time and resources. I’ve only heard people say good things about the NSB crew and it’s quite refreshing to work with kind and professional people. And of course the event itself is amazing. There is something about Bhangra that raises the human spirit. It is a very joyful dance form and I’m grateful to be a part of it.