Teeko, San Francisco-based turntablist, composer and producer, returns to SF with his buddy, B. Bravo. The duo performs as Starship Connection. Teeko’s original style is a refreshing mashup of hip-hop, jazz and everything in between. He has received recognition and championship awards in worldwide DJ competitions including DMC, ITF and Guitar Center Championships, which has resulted in a coast to coast tour. Find them at Modern Funk Fest on September 17 at the Elbo Room.
We talked to Teeko about his biggest achievements this year, including discovered a new music platform. As well as performing in collaboration with other artists and his favorite night spots in San Francisco. While this been a great year for Teeko, not everything has been positive. In August he lost his homie DJ Swift Rock. To commemorate his passing, he created a dedicated track in his honor.
When did you decide to pursue making music professionally?
I think I knew my whole life, but as everybody navigates through, we all explore different things. For me, [music] was always there in the back of my mind. Whether I was into sports, science or any other aspect, I would always come back and it would just be me and my music. Piano, guitar, and then later in my life, I jumped on turntables.
It turned professional right after the release of my first album in 2006, called My Soundstation. It released three years after I had won the Untied States ITF (International Turtnablist Federation) scratch category and advanced to the world finals. I came back and had a switch where I was more focused on producing and doing more recorded work. At the time, I was working at an after school program through the YMCA. Working around kids also gave me a perspective to really make the effort to do what you love, because that’s what they were doing the whole time.
After the release of the first album, I got positive reviews and even an award for innovative production from Berklee College of Music. Whenever I saw the Universe giving me signals and blessing me, it would confirm that I was on the right track.
I remember the actual day I committed to music full-time. It was the night before I stopped working my day job. After working at the YMCA I started working at an audio-visual company. The night before I went to sleep, I told myself, if I wake up early in the morning…(as I’m putting stuff out there and sending messages to people about opportunities to do music), if I check to see if there’s something for me, an opportunity or a show, I’m going to go with that I’m not going to work. I woke up that morning and had two messages about some gigs. I called my supervisor and told him I was not going to be coming in anymore. [laughs]
Thus far, I’ve been mostly self managed. I had some management that placed me in positions down the line working with major label artists [Mark Ronson, D’Angelo, Heavy D (RIP), Q-Tip etc.] and things like that, but I’ve been predominantly self-managed and have been able to travel the world doing what I love.
What has been your biggest achievement so far in 2015?
It has been a wild year so far, but I’m still very excited. I got a a record coming out on DJ Craze’s label. He’s one of the greatest DJs on the planet without a doubt. I’ve always looked up to him as being one of the best in the game. He’s still very relevant and I really respect how he’s sustained his career and made his mark in production and in the club world. He’s been contacting me for a while, we’re doing a record coming out in October on Slow Roast records.
The record will be a five or six track EP. There’s definitely a lot of people might know me for heavy funk styles, or might know me from the Starship Connection, and associated with that style and sound. With this record, it’s definitely a harder and more aggressive, it will hit in the club. I tried to make it more interesting sonically. His label is a club label but when he approached me about putting out music I wanted to offer something unique but could also play in that space. So I tried to use different sounds and lean in more unique areas. Sometimes more tribal, sometimes just really aggressive. There’s hip hop elements too. The record features a couple collabs with my homies B.Lewis, Mr. Carmack and more. Looking forward to dropping that!!
Even more recently this year, I discovered a new platform and first-ever free music ecosystem for verified artists, Explore.fm. There’s a lot of amazing artists [on the website], all verified, that way fans/listeners are able to support the artists directly while all the music is free. Right now, if you really want to win on the internet you just have to put out your stuff freely. I never felt comfortable with the SoundCloud platform. First, I didn’t like they didn’t have verified artists. Secondly, I never felt comfortable with the statistics being put in front of people, very cluttered and disrespectful to the art. And then you make the whole game about numbers. I never felt comfortable with that.
With Explore.fm, it reminds me more of a record store where all dope artists have their stuff there and it’s actually them putting the tracks there but it’s all free and every time a song is downloaded it circulates to the persons feed so you can get your music moving and users can donate money directly to the artist. There’s a heart button that allows you to donate and “send love” to your favorite artist, doing so also removes the ads for 30 days. When Spotify tells you to pay $10 to month, we know that money isn’t going to the artists we listen to. Here it gives you the ability to download the music from the source and have the opportunity to send love to your favorite artists and engage with them. There’s also no statistics in the front. It gives you a chance to listen the music and act honestly in a clean environment that focuses on the music. You’re really grabbing it because it struck you. I think that’s really important to keep the listening experience respectful. At least giving people the opportunity to make honest decisions and empower the artist!
So far, it has worked amazingly for me. It’s only been live for two weeks. During the first four days, I received 100 bucks on free downloads. I have nine or 10 tracks up there that are all free. There’s genuinely people out there who took all my tracks and threw me 10, threw me 20. Its beautiful! I can still always release music on labels and collaborate creatively, but to keep my flow, I now have a place where I can put them up and keep my flow going. Check more info here:
How did the Starship Connection come together?[Starship Connection is] me and B.Bravo. We’ve been floating around doing music in San Francisco for a while before we met and have overlapping circles of friends. Our mutual friends knew both of us we weer making funk and doing music in a similar line. We kept hearing from our mutual friends that we should link it. We just connected one day, hung out, made some music, it was a great experience and we became really good friends. Kept doing it. We released our first album under Salva’s first label Frite Nite records. We did a Starship Connection record in 2012 and we dropped Tempo Dreams on Bastard Jazz from Brooklyn, New York last year. We have a whole new EP that will be coming up this year as well with solo stuff from both of us.
Do you see yourself creating pseudonyms for future collaborations?
I think I really appreciate that the artist has the right to switch up their name, switch up their brand, because there’s different types. It’s like you’re going to the store to buy a bag of chips. If you want a certain flavor you know you’re gonna want a certain name. If I’m gonna release a style, I might want to give it its own name and own lane. I think the artist has the right to do that so it’s OK to recognize that. Sometimes it can give people an easier way to sort through their stuff. I might have to exercise that so you might have to pay attention. I might switch it up.
Sometimes it’s a wise choice. I make a lot of styles of music. I’m making styles that are new to me. I might have to throw it under a different name and I think that’s fine. I don’t want to try to necessarily be the guy that does everything.
Where are your favorite clubs or night spots in SF?
For a bigger club, I definitely appreciate what 1015 Folsom has been bringing to the scene. My buddy DJ Dials has been bringing in a lot of great heavy music scene stuff. Its just good tasteful acts. Nice big venue with a fat system. Not as big as a scale, but I like F8. And Monarch is cool on on that smaller side but still a good sound system because that’s what counts. There’s a couple that I like. Shot out to the Elbo Room. I’m going to miss them when they’re gone. I did a party there for the last five years called the 41 Function. Shout out to the Elbo Room. We had some great times there. It was pretty legendary. Lot of stuff happened over there.
We read in a previous interview that you want to see a higher bar set for the electronic/live performance community. What does your live set up currently entail and can you give us a sneak preview for what to expect at your upcoming Starship show?
Absolutely. Right now, oh man, Native Instruments just came out with a new audio file format that’s upping the levels. It’s the stem format. I’m gonna be incorporating that with my Traktor setup. I perform live with Traktor Z2 mixer. I use analog synthesizers. The rare Controller One Turntable that I co-developed with Vestax and add a Talkbox if I’m feeling funky.
We’re just doing what we do. When I make these tracks I’m playing out there, I was on the keyboard. I was on the turntable. We’re just bringing it live and trying to push the boundaries in hopes to inspire the future!
Get his music and support him here: explore.fm/teeko (mobile coming soon)