Pick of the litter
Litterthugz DJ Doug Surreal headlines eclectic Off Limits mash-up
Doug Surreal began the way many great DJs did, by making pause tapes in his bedroom. He would find his favorite part of a song, record it onto a cassette deck, press pause, then repeat the process to make analog loops. The tedious yet rewarding process provided the teen a glimpse into the beauty of juxtaposed sounds.
Several years later Surreal moved from Detroit to St. Louis, where he became a more serious beatmaker and began DJing at dive bars. It was also in St. Louis that he met up with Ryan B, a fellow DJ who was living in his building. Ryan B introduced him to a graphic artist known as DJ Mike the 2600 King, and together with a couple of other likeminded souls they formed a crew called the Litterthugz.
The Litterthugz aesthetic developed akin to that of the surrealists from which Doug borrowed his surname. Pop artists such as Billy Joel were recontextualized within the màlange of classic hip-hop and undiscovered funk that the crew spun in St. Louis’ hip-hop and rave venues. Shocking segues became part of the Litterthugz sound.
Performing together weekly, the Litterthugz developed their skills and gained a modest local following. They became known for innovative performances in which Doug Surreal would play turntables and a digital sampler through a laptop and guitar effects pedals, while the others contributed to the diverse mixing and scratching.
One of the major Midwestern hip-hop gatherings at the time was Paint Louis. It was a legal graffiti exposition that took place across a one-mile segment of the Mississippi River floodwall. The event was a celebration of aerosol, breakdancing and hip-hop music.
At one of the events Doug Surreal picked up a tape by a rap group called Mangina. DJ Mike the 2600 King was doing work with Mangina’s rapper Jack Spaar (who lives another life as the graphic artist Aaron Horkey) at Life Sucks Die magazine and encouraged the two to work together.
Together they created the twisted backwoods masterwork simply titled Jack Spaar. Schizophrenic drums, analog keyboard rumbling, feedback, backmasked vocals and Jack Spaar’s distorted double-time rhymes about bathtub meth and stuffed pheasants dominate the nightmarish tribute to living in rural Minnesota. Real hip-hop was placed on the stump, and its head was chopped off.
Around the same time he finished the Jack Spaar project, Doug Surreal released the album Infinite Damage with partner Ryan B. The CD is a representation of his live show. It’s a 46-minute crash-course introduction into the art of the DJ. The mix bounces back and forth seamlessly between Freddie Hubbard, Bob Marley, the Wu-Tang Clan, 7A3 and the like without missing a beat.
It’s a tapestry bound with self-produced beats, dirty drums, dub echoes, Cookie Monster vocals (courtesy of a pitched down Ice Cube) and an occasional disco bassline.
Since his two official releases Doug Surreal has moved out of St. Louis to a small town near Kansas City. Most of the other Litterthugz have also since moved in search of job opportunities. Despite geographic distance they still connect from time to time. As for Doug Surreal, he continues to sew a bigger and bigger umbrella. He has recently completed a top 40 (surely completely skewed) mixed CD and is rumored to be working on collaboration with Chico’s favorite underground rapper Z-man as well as a new Jack Spaar LP. It’s enough to warrant a vacation, and based on the advice of local artist Aye-Jay (whose Web site was designed by Mike the 2600 King), Doug Surreal has decided to pack his turntables and laptop and bring his weekly DJ gig in KC on a field trip to Off Limits.