- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Describing how 29-year-old San Francisco native Mike Relm makes a living is relatively easy: He puts on a swanky black suit and matching thick-rimmed glasses and performs live vinyl- and video-scratching feats that use cutting-edge DJ technology.

Pieced together from songs, movie snippets, pop-culture references and music videos, his world-traveled act is an audio-visual assault that adds new dimension to the sometimes jarring and inaccessible world of turntablism, where turntables are used to create new sounds from existing ones.

Putting a label on Mr. Relm’s complex musical craft is much, much harder. Is it visual turntablism? DVD manipulation? A/V DJing?

“I still don’t know what to call it to this day,” says Mr. Relm, speaking to us before a recent show in Missoula, Mont. “I’ve been trying to think of weird combinations of words, but it’s hard. I’m scared I’m going to come up with something that’s terrible, and it’ll follow me around forever.”

Some things are more obvious — in particular, the fact that Mr. Relm represents the latest evolution of DJing, a term that has seldom remained static. At one time, it simply meant playing records one after another. With the advent of hip-hop, it came to connote mixing and scratching records. More recently, it has been used to refer to any number of athletic exploits using both vinyl and non-vinyl music formats.

Mr. Relm’s twist on the DJing craft is that in addition to showcasing his skills on “the one’s and two’s,” as they say, his act also incorporates a remarkable invention called the DVJ. Introduced in 2004, the device allows DJs to scratch DVDs as if they were vinyl — meaning that audio and visuals track together and therefore can stay in sync throughout the performance, hiccuping at the same time when scratched, zipping back to the same cue when back-spun, and so forth.

Some DVJ users rely on pre-existing music videos, but Mr. Relm often carefully assembles his own DVDs using disparate elements. One of his staple bits lays a live version of Bjork’s “Human Behavior” over the uber-trippy “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”-inspired music video. Snipping and splicing together the audio and visual elements so they would match up was a time-consuming process, but it pays off each time Mr. Relm makes Bjork stutter both on-screen and in the speakers — a dazzling effect that causes the crowd to erupt in cheers.

Of course, Mr. Relm builds other layers on top of his DVJ artistry, making his show the DJing equivalent of walking a tightrope while juggling chain saws and Hula-Hooping.

The former battle DJ has parlayed his skills into headlining gigs as well as tours with underground hip-hop and DJ talents such as Gift of Gab (of Blackalicious) and Money Mark. About a year ago, clips of Mr. Relm’s act on YouTube caught the eye of the Blue Man Group and earned him an opening slot on the group’s How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.0 as well as its current, slightly revamped 2.1 version.

With appearances in cities such as Wheeling, W.Va., and Youngstown, Ohio, and audiences that skew both older and younger than Mr. Relm’s typical following, the Blue Man gig has some critics suggesting that the DJ is “single-handedly introducing turntablism to a wide swath of Middle America.”

“I never thought of it that way,” says Mr. Relm, who ponders the idea for a moment before deciding he’ll accept the mantle. “I like what I do and trust myself. … I talk to a lot of people after the show, and one thing I get consistently is, ‘I’ll be honest. I don’t like hip-hop or scratching or the DJ thing, but I love what you do.’ So to me, that’s a mission accomplished.”

While being a “Megastar” has kept the artist busy, he has been careful not to neglect his longtime fans. He fits in headlining gigs when he can, sometimes right after he gets off Blue Man’s clock. “It’s amazing getting warmed up for my own shows in front of 7,000 people,” Mr. Relm says. “I become totally loose, totally ready.”

The DJ also has spent countless hours putting together “Clown Alley,” a DVD due out April 1 that includes live concert footage plus skits and 3-D shorts (evidence of his film-school training). The delivery date falls shortly after his 30th birthday — a milestone that Mr. Relm says is making him a little “nervous.” He says that having been on the road for the better part of the past three years hasn’t left him with much time to take stock of his life but that hitting 30 “is a big year for most people.” Overall, the artist says, “I’m not where I thought I’d be, but I’m definitely happy where I am.”

Mr. Relm performs with the Blue Man Group’s How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1 tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. at George Mason University’s Patriot Center (www.patriotcenter.com) and Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. at Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Area (www.baltimorearena.com).

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