The unpredictable life of Flosstradamus

by John Dugan

Spend a night with the young DJ duo whose name will soon be on everyone's lips-and everyone's playlists. By John Dugan

Photos by Marzena Abrahamik

Photos by Marzena Abrahamik

Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus (Josh Young/J2K and Curt Cameruci/Autobot) has only been around since Fall of 2005, but the stars (or perhaps the beats) have aligned to make 2007 the group’s national breakout year. With three turntables and the skills to blend a club tempo playlist that treats everything from indie to crunk as fair game, Floss has gone from creating chaos at a non-descript Boystown bar to banging the hippest parties nationwide. Flosstradamus is at the center of the city’s emergent underground dance-party scene, where the covers are low; the beats are fast; and the rappers, DJs and partiers are particularly chummy. We tagged along for a night out with Floss and entourage when the boys made their triumphant return to a monthly residency in Wicker Park. We were not, at any point, disappointed.

7pm, St. Ben’s 
We knock on the door at Flosstradamus HQ, a compact single-family home in St. Ben’s. Inside, J2K sits around with New York–based Fader editor and DJ Nick (Catchdubs) Barat trading music files from laptops while MTV Jams screens a Swizz Beatz video. The conversation revolves around music and fashion. “Whoa, he’s still got ski goggles; he’s still keeping it alive,” says J2K about Swizz’s “uncle” style.

7:30pm, Floss studios (upstairs)
A narrow wood-paneled stairway leads upstairs to Autobot’s bedroom, which is filled with piles of clothes and a neatly arranged ball-cap collection. A remix session is in progress, and Autobot shows us how he puts the Floss touch on a familiar tune, the Who’s anthem “Baba O’Riley”: He throws a steady bass drum, hand claps and some tambourine underneath, then winds it up to a bumpin’ tempo. He wants to use the mutated track as an intro to tonight’s set, the duo’s monthly residency at Subterranean. He spends the next ten minutes tinkering while J2K hunts for his laptop’s power cord. We chat about Floss and where the duo is headed. Indisputably, the star-making moment for the local DJ outfit is right now. The group built its name at loft parties, a monthly session at the Town Hall Pub in Boystown called Get Outta the Hood and eventually regular slots at forward-thinking clubs like Sonotheque.

In March, Floss turned up the volume at numerous gigs at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. “We seriously made a noise,” Autobot says. An URB cover story and a DJ mix they crafted for Vice Records further amped up the Floss buzz well beyond Chicago.

The duo has largely set aside remixing and producing to hit the road. “We’re striking while the iron is hot and getting our tour on,” Autobot says. The boys recently went to Europe, supporting Craze and A-Trak, though taking an opening slot was “weird” for a duo accustomed to bringing down the house with its three-turntable sets. “We had to learn a bit. It was kind of humbling,” Autobot says. A few minutes later, with turntables packed in the trunk, the group heads for Wicker Park.

9pm, Subterranean, upstairs
J2K’s sister Melissa arrives. Together, they make up the rap duo Kid Sister: quick rhymes with a South Side drawl from the lady, who J2K eggs on. Melissa, radiating star quality, tells us she’s recording one-offs to build hype for her debut album, due this summer. She recently sang on a U.K. house track “about beepers” and joined Floss at the Coachella festival in late April.

9:30pm, backstage
Clubbers start to show up as Autobot spins a warm-up detour into soul and reggae before he turns over the tables to Catchdubs. Kid Sister talks about Tarantino’s flick Grindhouseand graphic designer Dust La Rock. It’s decided that J2K’s tee “is just too crazy” so he turns it inside out, while Melissa’s put-together ensemble (neutrals, jewelry) is a winner. “I’m tired of this hipster stuff, I wanna look like a woman,” she says.

J2K also explains why Floss aren’t the mash-up artists they’re often made out to be: He says  they simply create traditional hip-hop “blends” that “involve putting two tracks on top of each other,” and they usually work live.  Some of those blends include Floss-created samples they dial up with additional beats and rhythms before dropping them into their sets. Some of the tunes they’ve reworked like this include the Beatles’ “Twist & Shout” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

The band area is filling. Chicago rappers the Cool Kids take the stage—or a slice of it, as there’s a growing entourage around the decks.

12:15am, onstage
Just as Autobot is about to step up to the mixer, he’s accosted by a lady who sounds like a feisty ex. He evades her, hits the turntables and works in OutKast’s “B.O.B.” and Green Velvet’s “Shake and Pop” as spazzy local MC Hollywood Holt commands the crowd to “juke,” then get their “hands up.” Melissa tells the crowd it’s her “first sober show” as she takes the microphone and bangs out a set of her animated odes to fabulous living (including “Pro Nails” and “Telephone”) with J2K chiming in.

12:45am, upstairs
After dramatic dead air, Floss comes on, with Autobot’s “Baba” intro working. The stage is crazy, the joint is sticky and a few tracks into the set, folks are asked to make some space just before the duo launches into an updated version of hip-hop staple “Apache,” complete with a blistering synth bass line. A kid in a fedora and white tie boogies a few feet from a girl at the edge of the stage in a classy charcoal frock. Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” comes on at 1am, as bits of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch” weave in and out.

Floss crams in more crowd-pleasers, including versions of “This Is Why I’m Hot” and the group’s ravey “Act a Fool” remix. Peter Björn and John’s “Young Folks” closes out the set as the room lights turn on and security kicks everyone out. The guys have gigs in Orlando the next night, Chicago on Friday, Atlanta on Sunday and New York on Wednesday. They’re running ragged and seem eager for June to come around, so they can hunker down, do remixes and start working on something to call their own, something that lasts longer than a damn good party.