Mix Master Mike: How the Beastie Boys Turntablist Finds Unexpected Inspiration in His Huge Vinyl Collection

Mix Master Mike has been the Beastie Boys’ resident DJ and turntablist since 1998’s “Hello Nasty.” These days the musical pioneer bounces between a variety of projects, from spinning for Cypress Hill to working on a solo virtual reality album. He’s also been live-scoring the emotionally charged Live & Direct tour for the Beastie Boys Book. We caught up with Mix Master Mike on the road in Paris to learn more about his listening habits, the most prized gems in his collection of 80,000 records, and why he finds inspiration in Dirty Harry.

You’ve been live-scoring the Beastie Boys Book: Live & Direct tour, which must be an emotional experience. What have those shows been like?
Man, you’re talking about scoring the life story of one of the greatest hip-hop groups to ever live. It’s an amazing thing. With Adam [Yauch] not being there, it’s like there’s a missing link, but I think he’d want us to do this. It’s a fun time, especially being with Adam [Horovitz] and Mike [Diamond]. Being together and getting ready in the dressing room brings back so many memories. Those guys are like family.

In the Beastie Boys Book you write about first meeting Adam Yauch, but it’s in the form of a sci-fi story called “The Draco Report.” What was the inspiration behind that?
I’ve told the same story for years about how we met so I decided to put a twist on it. If you hear the audiobook, I start it out with the vocoder voice and then go in and tell the story. I wanted to come from a left-field angle. I’m always trying to make something that will withstand the test of time, that people will talk about. They’ll go, Oh shit, did you hear Mike’s fucking sci-fi story on how he met the Beastie Boys? Rather than Oh yeah, I met Adam at a Rock Steady anniversary night and left these messages on his answering machine.

How have you developed as a live performer over the years?
I’m more of a risk-taker. Everything is second nature. When I’m up there, I’ll grab the mic and go, “Okay, get your cameras ready.” I’ll make sure everybody has their cameras ready, and then I’ll start. It’s not that I didn’t have belief in myself, but the belief is stronger now.

How do you listen to music offstage these days? Are you as big of a vinyl junkie as we might assume?  
When I’m at home I’ll play vinyl. I have over 80,000 records. I have two studios full of records, and I took 5000 of my favorite records and put them into the studio that I’m working in right now.

I’ve done a lot of record shopping over the years on tour with the guys. Still to this day I have an iPod Classic that’s 160 gigabytes, so I converted a lot of my vinyl and threw it on there. I don’t really stream music.

I’m sorry. Did you say 80,000 records?
Yeah. What’s awesome is when I’m going through my records I’ll find a lot that are unopened because there will have been times that I would go record shopping, bring home a shitload of vinyl, put it away, and then go out on the road, so I kind of forget what I have. It’s kind of like a discovery when I go, Where did this Dick Hyman record come from? Holy shit.

If you had to purge your collection, could you narrow that down to a handful of absolute favorites?
Wow. Well, first it would be my Jimi Hendrix early instrumentals album. It’s called “The Summer of Love Sessions.” That’s my favourite record of all time. It’s really rare. There’s also a Kojak cartoon record where you drop the needle and then you go through the booklet and it tells a story. It’s got some funky ass breaks on it!

Then there’s this Star Trek sound effects record which is awesome. It has so many sounds on it, it’s nuts. If you were stranded on a desert island and you had a turntable and you could only have one record to scratch with, it would probably be that record.

What else? Probably “Hello Nasty.” I’m pretty proud of that work. All the Beasties records withstand the test of time, but that one is really special to me because that’s when I joined them and it was just a beautiful project. I remember every moment of making that record.

What are your biggest creative inspirations?
I grew up watching the Dirty Harry movies, so a lot of soundtrack music. For me it would be John Carpenter, Lalo Schifrin, and Quincy Jones. Of course, there’s also John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix, and Miles Davis. That’s what I grew up with and those are the people I’m trying to mimic. They are my heroes, except my instrument is the turntable.

How has your creative approach evolved since you first started working with Beastie Boys 20 years ago?
My creative approach has definitely changed. There’s a lot of ideas and thoughts of bending and shaping records and sounds. It’s amazing. The way I’m wired today is much more complex than it was when I was in my 20s. I’m having more fun because there’s so many more options. Now I have a filter sweep on my mixer and sample pads. The technology is crazy.

How has that evolution in technology changed the way you make music?
I used to carry crates of vinyl everywhere, from gigs to studio sessions. The selection was limited to those records that I had. Now I’m creating my own sounds. Anything I can think of I’ll have. Just let me open up Pro Tools and create my own little mash-ups of sounds, bounce it out, put it into my computer, put it into Serato, and re-manipulate it. You can punch up custom sounds right on the spot.

What does the future hold for you?
I’ve been in the studio making my own record. I haven’t put it out yet. I’m doing a lot of virtual reality stuff. I have a single called “Moonbase Invasion” and one called “Magma Chamber.” These are five-minute pieces of my original compositions, and I have a motion graphics artist and we’ve created these thought-provoking environments which are just insane.

We can keep pushing things further as technology advances. We’re coming into 2020. I remember in the 90s wondering what things would be like in 2020. There’s going to be flying cars! You know, there are drone cars now. It’s crazy, and I think music should project that.

For more insights from Mix Master Mike, check out the new Beastie Boys Book in print or audiobook or follow him on Instagram at @mixmastermike. The Sonos Play:5 Beastie Boys Edition is available on December 12, 2018. Proceeds will help support Peace Sisters and Little Kids Rock on behalf of the Adam Yauch Foundation.