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Ex-Dope Jams duo Slow to Speak on mother nature, love and LIFE itself

Ex-Dope Jams duo Slow to Speak on mother nature, love and LIFE itself
Photograph: Alberto Caputo

In early 2013, after seven years in business, insanely-knowledgable-yet-insanely-crusty record-store proprietors Paul Nickerson and Francis Englehardt shuttered their beloved Brooklyn shop Dope Jams after being priced out by a threefold rent hike. The outspoken duo left town amid cheers and jeers, taking their epic instore LIFE parties with them and leaving a big, black, waxy hole much larger than 12 inches in the city’s music scene. But now, two years later, they return, to celebrate LIFE and love in Brooklyn yet again. In an unexpected twist, their storefront (and parties) reappeared on highway NY-81—rechristened Preserved Instincts— in the small upstate town of Oak Hill (population 376). Like two High Fidelity clerks raised on Mills and Van Helden instead of Stereolab and Royal Trux, the duo, who deejay as Slow to Speak, became as famous for the dopeness of their jams as they did for the ruthlessness of their takedowns, both in-store and online, just ask Jus-Ed who produced his very own diss track for them. In a world of too-safe critics and techno-back-patting, they’re unafraid to speak their minds but at heart are just a couple of characters with an outspoken true love for music.

How is the new location upstate working out? Is it tough being out of the city or do you guys love it?
Life up here is great. There is something about being in the woods and away from the city that really opens things up. Living in the city is a trap whereas up here there is so much space. Complete freedom. I think one of the most interesting things I learned once I moved up here was that the entire reason a city exists is to fight mother nature. The sidewalks, the air conditioning, the transportation—it's all working against mother nature in the name of commerce. Here you have to learn to coexist with mother nature or things will go bad fast. It really gives you a totally different perspective on life and what the point of being here is.

What made you revive LIFE now?
We have been doing monthly parties at the shop in Oak Hill since we moved to the “Kaatskills” and those are amazing; so amazing that we really haven't had any desire to do parties anywhere else. At the shop we have complete control of the entire experience. When you go to a club to do a one-off party you don't usually get that kind of control and we don't particularly play well with others so unless we found the perfect spot we had no real intention of doing a party in the city again.

What is it about Good Room that makes it “the perfect spot?”
Good Room has that old NYC pre-Giuliani club feeling. The space is a dark room with a wood dance floor and a good sound system, no frills, its reminiscent of a smaller club (like) Vinyl. It was perfect for us because the parties in the shop in both Brooklyn and now Oak Hill are always rammed because the spaces are smaller so all you can really do is two-step. At Good Room the dancefloor is huge, so people will really have a chance to stretch out and move their bodies, which is something that's always been very important to us. The space also has a stage so we can do live performances. We are extremely excited about the surprise live performance we will be doing for the Valentine's Day party!

Did you stock the Jus-Ed diss track? Did people come in looking for it?
Yes, we always keep it in stock, we sell it for 69 cents. We did a special screenprinted jacket for it as well. I don't think anyone ever came in for it but we definitely rickrolled a lot of orders with it. Before Edward committed his mind-numbing wit to wax, he made a short film expressing his intentions. We were really inspired by this and wanted to help give back to him for all the amusement he had given us, so we were going to create a Kickstarter in order to get Merry Maids to go clean his studio. We wanted to raise $69 to make this happen. We made a campaign video and had a custom airbrushed Dum Jamz shirt made to give to the top contributor. Unfortunately we were in the middle of moving the shop Upstate so we didn't have the energy to fully commit to the project. However, something tells me Ed still hasn't cleaned his room so we could move forward with the project if there is enough interest, feel free to send your thoughts to cleanedsroom@dopejams.net.

Was that fun for you guys? What was your take on the whole thing?
Yeah it was funny, it felt like when we were growing up and there would be diss battles back and forth between hip-hop artists. It was all in good fun from our perspective. Unfortunately those “Worst Of” lists we used to create were born out of a real frustration with how fucking hard it is to find good music these days. We grew up in a time before the internet and everyone blowing smoke up each others asses. A time when there was actual critics of music whose opinion had weight and consumers of music who actually wanted to feel something. Both those things are long gone these days...

Were there other people who responded for you guys calling them out?
Yeah, you name them and they have responded. Believe it or not I think the only one smart enough to have fun with it was Phillip Sherburne—we said, “He should be decapitated by Ethiopian Emperors,” and he tweeted something like he wanted that written on his gravestone. Everyone else just takes it personal, which is pretty funny because it means they doubted the music they released in the first place. If you are gonna release something out into the world you should make damn well sure its as dope as it can be and that its contributing something to the world, not just a half-assed regurgitation of the something that has been done before 100 times better.

I think competition is healthy. Hip-hop was based on that. Who can dance better, who can rap better, who can make the dopest beat? When you know you work harder at something you love than someone else and they act like they are doing what you're doing, it's really hard to just keep your mouth shut. You have to pick your spots and be smart about it—but sometimes you gotta call that shit out. If you are confident you put something special out there, who gives a fuck what some guys in Brooklyn at a record shop say? I guess that's the problem with the internet and everything now though—there is no substance, it's all smoke and mirrors.

RECOMMENDED: Ex-Dope Jams duo Slow to Speak presents a [dope] Valentine's playlist

Celebrate Life: Dope Jams Valentine's Day Ball is Fri 13 at Good Room.