Every DJ who spins seriously on KCSB — who doesn’t just play songs, but mixes them live to create a fresh new collage of music each and every week — has a different way of making the station’s control room her or his own personal DJ booth.
Vikas Malhotra brings in a laptop, but he connects it to the trusty old studio turntables. Placing a couple of fake vinyl albums onto them, he then proceeds to cue, scratch, and spin purely digital tracks just as if they’d been recorded onto the vinyl in the first place. When I dropped by to sit in on his show, Interplanetary Musik, I immediately asked how this setup worked. “Magic,” he replied.
For the night’s first set, Malhotra spent 70 solid minutes bringing the sounds of Chicago and Detroit to Santa Barbara. He’s a PhD student in UCSB’s Religious Studies Department who got here by way of New York City and his small, small hometown of Lima, Ohio. You don’t necessarily hear about anywhere in Ohio being much of an outpost of electronic dance music, but it’s where he came to love the genres he works with on the air today. “House and techno music started in Detroit and Chicago,” he said. “Ohio was kind of between them, so DJs from both cities would go there and play parties. They were my influences.”
Picking up the turntables in the late 1990s, Malhotra went from big underground parties in Ohio to bigger underground parties in New York, where he continued to push his favorite Detroit and Chicago sounds. “The Detroit sounds come from P-funk” — i.e., the particular style of funk developed in the 1970s by the likes of George Clinton and Parliament — “and the Chicago sounds come from disco,” he explained. “There’s been a deadening all over the United States — Detroit and Chicago aren’t so big anymore — but in Europe and Japan, it’s still going. I spin techno, Detroit techno, Detroit house, Chicago house, minimal, electro funk, and jackbeat, which is a new reformulation of acid house. But every night’s different.”
Unable to deny his musical interests and needing an outlet apart from his crushing grad school workload, Malhotra started up Interplanetary Musik just last year. “The name comes from a Sun Ra recording,” he said, dropping the name of the jazz visionary beloved of several different types of DJ at KCSB. “He’s one of my great, great heroes. He influenced so many electronic artists. He called sound a bridge to a higher reality, and that’s what I’m going for. I like to experiment and have fun.” Combine the ideals of Sun Ra, the musical inventiveness of Detroit and Chicago at their electronic height, and a healthy dose of 1950s sci-fi aesthetics, and you’ve got a good idea of the show’s style.
No matter their subgenre of choice, fans of electronic music have always had a hard time in Santa Barbara. “There’s not much,” Malhotra admits when I ask about what sort of electronic venues have been available to him here. But it’s part of his mission to change that sad fact. He wants to expand the local horizons of electronic music well beyond the standard club tracks with which it has grown complacent. “A lot of club music I would consider un-musical,” he said. “People are getting dumber as they listen to it. I’m trying to get more guest DJs on. I’m trying to provide a platform for alternative electronic music in Santa Barbara. Not club stuff. I’ve played live at places like Muddy Waters and put out mixtapes, but it’s not normal electronic music, and I’m not willing to change!”
Malhotra has been one of the main forces behind the long process of reviving KCSB’s DJ booth, which has fallen into disuse in recent years and now requires several new components to get up and running again. He sees the potential not only for creating more complex, extended sets (such as he and his co-host Tono “Fuze” Serrano put together on the fly) but the potential for teaching aspiring DJs how to do the same. “We’re fighting for this booth,” Malhotra said. “Without things like this, this are form will die out. We want to set up DJ training, so people new to the station can learn.” With DJs like him doing the teaching, how long can bland club music’s local dominance last?