The New Orleans-based producer had to figure out what to do with himself onstage after years of playing the blues.
It’s easy to get caught up in Boogie T’s energy. In the little living room of his house near UNO, Brock Thornton talks as if he’s got to get everything said before it’s time to go, and it was time to go five minutes ago. The interview takes place in the days-long window between tours, and he literally was going to be off in hours on a new tour—Grand Rapids, Michigan, Chicago—before he realizes he doesn’t can’t remember the rest. “After that, I read them,” he laughs. “I’m super stoked.” He’ll share a bill on some of those shows with Ganja White Night, and both acts play Buku Saturday. Boogie T will perform in the Back Alley at 5 p.m. as part of a run of DJs from the area—Klinik from Baton Rouge (3:30), sfam from New Orleans (4) and AF the Naysayer (6:15).
When he describes his musical life, it sounds like a relentless pursuit of the path of least resistance. Thornton’s musical career started as a guitarist playing the blues when he was 8. Before he says it, you know he was a shredder, but he gave it up around 17. “None of my friends listened to the blues, and that was all I was listening to,” he says. “Every weekend, I’d be like Come to the show, come to the show and they’d be, like, We’re going out.” Thornton wanted to go where his people were, so he started rapping, then realized that DJs had it easier because they didn’t have to write all those words.
“Every rap I wrote felt personal because I wanted to make it good,” he says. He watched a DJ play a snippet of a vocal and a drop and realized, “I can do that!” He was already working up his own beats, and he saw that when he put together those beats with a vocal pre-drop, he had something going on.
At no point while talking does Boogie T build up the mystique of his process or his music. He describes learning to beat match as a simple process he picked up while playing one night in New Iberia. The sound man mashed up a hip-hop track and “Voodoo Chile,” which blew Thornton’s mind. The guy explained the process and after that it was simple, he says. “All you’ve got to know is the tempo and the downbeat because everything’s usually recorded to a metronome. If you know that and you know that, you press Boom! at the same time and they both go flawlessly. It was easy after that.”
In fact, he found the physical act of DJ’ing so simple that he got bored and didn’t know what to do with himself onstage. He took a mini-keyboard and programmed in a few vocals—“since the places don’t always have mics”—as well as air horns, eagle screeches, and even 808 drums so that he could access these quickly and spontaneously while performing. “I get bored,” he says. “One note versus a million notes. Big difference.”
Dubstep producers Datsik and Rusko shaped how Boogie T thought about electric music. He immersed himself in electronic music by listening to Pandora while painting houses for his dad. He loved the “dark wub kind of attitude,” and he got into grime because he loved how integral individual syllables could be to the groove and vibe of a track. Through grime, he got into dubstep, which began as beats for grime tracks. “The purest form of dubstep has to go back to the roots with the original emcee vocals over top of it,” he says, and when he thinks of those vocals, he thinks of British rappers with dancehall-influenced flows. Because of that, there’s actual dub in Boogie T’s dubstep. His most recent release, “Open Up This Pit,” matches the usual face-melting textures and dynamic shifts to a slow, weighty skank. He works to make sure that there’s something in each track to reinforce its reggae roots. “It’s always an up-beat piano or up-beat guitar,” he says. “uh-KINK uh-KINK uh-KINK. That gives it a really good feel.”
These days, he’s also on a lot of tracks that he didn’t record. Thornton’s background as a rapper and his affection for vocal stings as pre-drops has prompted him to feature his own voice on his pieces, and other DJs who’ve heard them now ask him for random vocals.
“All my dubstep buddies will hit me up for samples because I’ll go record a bunch of stupid shit,” he says, laughing. “I put out a couple of free vocal packs that are like Hey! Yah! C’mon! and now I’ll hear dubstep tracks and go There I am. There I am. There I am.” He didn’t charge for those because those things are too easy to do—“Blah! There, I did it again. Blah!”—but he hopes they will lead others to pay for custom vocals.
Boogie T laughs a lot while talking about his music as if he can’t believe he’s getting away with it. As much as he acts as if everything’s easy, it’s not hard to imagine that his years learning and playing guitar made him a quick study, and that he processed dubstep as music because of that background. He understood the connection between grime and the cultures in collision in South London, and he can’t hear imagine his dubstep without a hint of patois. Because he makes performances seem easy, it often sounds when he talks as if the gig is over in his mind before it begins, and it’s not clear where the fun is. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he hangs on to the moment of daring—the moment that came in his solos when he still played guitar.
“The best part is leaving the studio with a fresh track that I’ve never played out and being able to test it for everybody and see what they think,” he says. “If it’s good, it’s good, and I go back in the studio and twerk it, make it work more.”
As tempting as it is to trace much of his music back to his guitar, Boogie T clearly doesn’t miss parts of his blues band days. “I used to have amps and guitars,” Boogie says. “Now I have a USB and headphones and I’m good to go.”