Since he came onto the scene in the early 90s, DJ and producer Stretch Armstrong (born Adrian Bartos) has been a bellwether tastemaker in the world of music. Whatever the arena, whatever the medium, Stretch has been an influential cultural voice with an eye for the underrated, and a knack for exposing audiences to the hidden gems they need to hear. We caught up with him during his visit to NeueHouse Madison Square and asked some tough questions, hoping to learn a bit more about the man behind the mic.
NeueJournal: What song best describes your work ethic?
DJ Stretch Armstrong: “Get Into It” by Big Daddy Kane, but that is so not my work ethic. My work ethic is more like “Slow Ride” by Foghat, but not a lot of people know that. Maybe ”Behind The Bush” by the Jungle Brothers.
NJ: If you could get rid of one state in the US which would it be and why?
DJ SA: Oh, Texas. They gotta go. They’re fucking it all up for everybody else. I don’t even think Mexico wants them. I mean, there are plenty of states we can get rid of but Texas, it would be easier to get rid of it because they are where they are, and a lot of those nuts want to be their own country. Other than Austin, it’s just a state that’s produced nothing but horrible presidents, horrible policies, from guns to really xenophobic immigration ideas, and the list goes on.
NJ: What do you think about when you are alone in your car?
DJ SA: I don’t have a car. I think about all the music I never get a chance to listen to.
NJ: Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?
DJ SA: Gatherer, all day. First of all, I’m Vegan, so I would say that I’m a forager, which is more akin to being a gatherer. Hunting, in the literal sense, is something I think is completely asinine. Of course, when it comes to music, I am a hunter and I’ve always been a hunter. In my career as a DJ and as a tastemaker, I’ve been known for exposing people to things that they perhaps wouldn’t have been exposed to if they weren’t listening to me. And to do that really meant going to great lengths to find music, whether it was traveling up and down the eastern seaboard in the early 90s, looking for old funk, soul and jazz records, or finding gems to play on the radio and as a club DJ. It was about finding music that would both resonate with people that had never heard it but was also new and challenging. I never really like to just play familiar music.
NJ: What are you scared of?
DJ SA: Dying. When I hit 40, on vacations when I had a lot of time to think and relax, I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would dawn on me that I’m not going to exist one day. Of course when you don’t exist you’re not aware that you’re not existing, so that’s the one thing that I sort of comfort myself with, that I won’t even know the difference. A lot of people don’t like to admit that they are afraid of dying. I’m definitely afraid of dying. It’s comforting to think that there is something after death, if you can get yourself to a place where you believe it. I mean people have had near-death experiences and have spoken about these incredible euphoric levels of consciousness, but I don’t think they were actually dead. I think they were near-dead. This is getting so morbid…I should have said spiders, mushrooms… I’m not afraid of them; I just find them grotesque.
NJ: Describe the color yellow to someone who is blind.
DJ SA: Ha. Don’t listen to Coldplay. I guess I would think of mild warmth. Not too hot, just a pleasant level of warmth.
NJ: What is your favorite Disney princess?
DJ SA: I know nothing about Disney. Was Snow White a princess? Yes! Got one! Snow White. She seems like an incredibly boring and not fun goody-goody. She might be kind of an undercover freak though…
NJ: Who would you let punch you directly in the face?
DJ SA: My dog does actually hit me in the face. He can’t make a fist, but he paws me straight in the face. When I’m lying in bed and he wants to go out, he comes up and he just, “boom,” right in the face. He is a mix: half chow. He’s a street dog from Thailand — they call them “soi dogs” because soi means street in Thai. When we rescued him, he had a broken leg but now he’s an incredible, confident and demanding dog who can’t stop smacking me in the face.
NJ: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do?
DJ SA: I used to know the answer to this. I think I would be doing something in the vegan, animal rights realm — some sort of educational or philanthropic thing, which I plan on doing anyway using my position in music and entertainment.
NJ: Who was your favorite spice girl?
DJ SA: I couldn’t stand the spice girls. Maybe scary spice. Is that an actual girl? Or is that just what you would call someone who is scary? Oh, and Beckham’s wife was a Spice Girl. Yeah, they fucking sucked. They are horrible people…the whole thing was horrible. It was just bad music. I guess they were like the first wave of the horrible pop shit that continues to this day.
NJ: What did you care the most about when you were 10 years old?
DJ SA: The Beatles. So, we went from the Spice Girls to the Beatles which is a big improvement. I was a Beatles maniac as a kid. When I was 5, I was already like 5 years into playing the drums so it was all about Ringo and The Beatles.
NJ: How does the internet work?
DJ SA: Ha! It works off of machine spirits. I’m convinced of that because my devices frequently don’t work at the most inopportune times and I’m convinced that they know what’s going on. That sort of contradicts my after-death belief…maybe we become machine spirits?
Photography: Chris Luttrell for NeueJournal
Find Chris on Instagram here.