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Spinning 4 Greatness

Big Basha, a.k.a Robert Matthews, shares a beer - and an upcoming gig - at DBGB with a rival, DJ Medison, a.k.a. Steve Rittner. (photo by Ben Gardner)

Rival DJ crews come together at DBGB next week to raise money for culturals

The budget cuts to regional art institutions could have divided the community, but instead, with the help of the Give for Greatness campaign, it is bringing people together. On Thursday, April 28, two of the city’s biggest DJ crews—Frosty Tone and the Queen City Cartel —will come together to support the arts at DBGB for an event called Spinning 4 Greatness. I sat down with Big Basha, leader of Frosty Tone, and DJ Medison, one of the QCC’s co-founders, to discuss Buffalo’s competitive DJ culture.

I met Big Basha, real name Robert Matthews, at DBGB on a Tuesday night. As the founder of local DJ crew Frosty Tone—a group of like-minded, mostly dubstep DJs—Matthews is a busy guy. When we met, he was preparing to do an interview with local filmmakers Don Burns and James Alfiere of the Bohemian Groove Experiment—the latter is also the entertainment director at DBGB—but both interviews had to wait because Matthews’ weekly internet radio show, Cold Exposure, was about to begin on the stage at the bar.

We met again three days later to sit in the dark, noisy bar and talk about the business of dubstep. Matthews is an entrepreneur of dubstep, cutting-edge music that has developed a reputation as hard, electronic, and bassy in the decade or so that it has been growing in popularity. He is constantly searching for new sounds, up-and-coming producers, and fresh talent for his crew, which he started in 2005. That year he started booking DJ events and networking with fellow DJs at weekly parties, only a few years after he started mixing tracks in his bedroom.

“I think this scene thrives in kid’s bedrooms,” Matthews said, his demeanor restless as we sat at a small cocktail table in the bar.

He has come a long way since those early days when even the meaning of dubstep was still up in the air.

“He’s very modest,” Alfiere said about Big Basha, a DJ that he considers one of the biggest names in the city. “He’s constantly telling me to tone it down a little, but if it were up to me I’d put his name on a billboard with sparklers on it.”

Basha’s DJs make regular appearances at Alfiere’s spot in Allentown, formerly known as Staples, which has morphed into one of the hottest venues to hear electronic music in Buffalo.

Frosty Tone is one of the rulers of the scene partly due to their relationship with DBGB, and if Matthews is throwing the show, it is under his rules. Even competing DJs like Medison respect Matthews enough to alter their sound to fit one of his mostly dubstep shows.

Medison is part of a rival crew of DJs, the Queen City Cartel, a group with a more diverse sound than the dubstep purists of Frosty Tone. Alfiere started booking both Frosty Tone and their competition in QCC when the bar changed ownership in July 2010.

DJ Medison’s story is a little different than Basha’s. The 28-year-old, actual name Steve Rittner, recalled interacting with his first vinyl at the age of 10, scratching the record back and forth, mimicking the hip-hop DJs he saw on TV. Originally from Albany, Rittner honed his DJ chops in Orlando, Florida, before moving to Buffalo and getting involved in the local scene.

“I landed my first kick-flip in Buffalo, it seemed to be a magical place,” Rittner told me as we sat in an empty corner of DBGB. The place was closed down on this Sunday because of the abundance of empty beer bottles and concert fliers strewn about from Big Basha’s show the night before with RootsCollider, a huge name in the Rochester dub scene. Medison has had his fair share of huge shows as well, having spun with Dutch DJ Tiësto at Pure Nightclub on Chippewa just nights ago. In September 2009 Rittner scored his first “residency” at a different Chippewa nightclub, Social, but it only lasted a handful of weeks before he was nudged out by a couple of local veteran DJs.

“I was only getting about 20 bucks each week but I was really stoked on it because I had never been paid to DJ before,” Rittner explained, his voice as deep as some of the basslines he spins. “I found out I didn’t have it anymore through a Facebook post. I was like ‘What the hell happened?’”

This was a tipping point for him. He met up with Rick Vallone and the other founders of Queen City Cartel at the DJ booth at his last Social show. Sick of being pushed around by other DJs, they decided to start throwing some parties on their own.

“We threw our first party in November of 2009. It was an incredible party. It was golden,” Rittner said.

Since then the QCC has been throwing a monthly party that they call Friction. This is where Medison cuts his style loose, playing music from a variety of genres.

“What I spin now, I guess you could categorize as party rock,” he said. Party rock is an ambiguous term in the DJ world. What it means is that Rittner is very flexible. Depending on the type of party, he’ll bounce around from drum ’n’ bass and electro-house to some hip-hop and dubstep. This broad approach to DJing has helped him land a lot of bookings. “I just try to keep it fresh,” he said.

To Medison, the QCC and Frosty Tone are all about music and community. Rittner said that if this Give for Greatness party had happened last year, he might be a little nervous about it since at that time he hadn’t shared the stage with very many of the Frosty Tone DJs, but now he thinks it is a great idea.

“Having people see that the two biggest crews are working together, that will trickle down into the camps. It brings together fans too,” he said.

Matthews agrees that friendly competition is only good for business.

“There is a lot of competition,” he said, as the bartender at DBGB turned up the music for a few patrons who walked in the door for happy hour. “I’m all for getting more people involved in the city though. I’ve always said the more parties in one night, the better for the city. It shows we’re healthy.”

Big Basha will bring fellow Frosty Toners Stuntman, the Verdict, Potent J, and Drop D to DBGB on April 28, while DJ Medison and the Queen City Cartel bring DJ Mario Bee and Arehouse to spin all genres, all night at what should be a packed house.

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