“Letting the Music Speak for Itself”: Unpacking DJ Platurn’s ‘Breaking The Ice’
The Bay Area native talks about trimming down his record collection, his philosophy towards mixtape composition, and the odyssey of musical obscurity that led to his latest release.
DJ Platurn has always managed to keep his Icelandic roots strong leaving the country 35 years ago. Growing up in the tiny fishing village of Stykkishólmur during the late 70s and early 80s, he was heavily influenced at an early age by his father Magnus Thordarson’s love of music. A revered and influential radio DJ with a personal collection of over 1000 albums, Thordarson exposed his son to an incredible collection of music from Iceland and all over the world. When his family relocated to California in 1983, he demonstrated a true music aficionado's passion by bringing all 1000 of his records with him.
A mere 7 years old when his family moved to the United States, Platurn’s fascination with music only intensified once his family was settled. And as he grew older, his interests started to expand outside of his father’s massive cache of wax. When cousin Sveimhugi introduced him to De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising during a return trip to Iceland in 1988, it helped solidify a lifelong love of offbeat, unconventional, and groundbreaking music that continues to stay with him today. “Pretty sure the first song I heard from them was ‘The Magic Number’,” Platurn told me in a 2016 Micro-Chop interview. “Turned my whole music world upside down man.”
By the mid-90s Platurn was an avid crate digger and an active part of the Bay Area DJ scene. As a founding member of the Oakland Faders, he has navigated the highs and lows of a career DJ while staying active and inspired amidst the ever-intensifying changes in technology, competition, and oversaturation. His De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest tribute mixtapes have earned high praise with DJ peers and hip-hop connoisseurs. And his all-genre, all-45, vinyl-only 45 Sessions events became one of the premier events in the Bay Area after he founded the event in 2010.
“They were simply producing the best rock and roll that they could come up with.”
Now, with well over two decades of DJing, digging, and mixtape experience tucked under his belt, Platurn still has a special connection with his vinyl. But like many veteran crate diggers, Platurn decided to trim the fat from his crates in recent years. “When you get to the 20-plus year mark, and obviously with the advent of digital, it makes a lot of sense to take the all killer no filler approach,” he says. “No more need for basic 12 inches and dollar bin breaks.”
Though his record collection has shrunk a bit in terms of quantity, that doesn’t mean Platurn isn’t getting his fingers dusty on a semi-regular basis. After whittling away excess wax and refocusing his efforts on new areas of digging, Platurn developed a growing obsession with Icelandic music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. “Not only is the Iceland angle a personal thing, but I’m genuinely intrigued by the scene and what they were attempting to accomplish with groove-based music — consciously or more likely unconsciously,” he says.
When asked to expand a bit on a particular era of Icelandic music that captured his ears more than anything else, Platurn nods to the sounds coming out of the country during the 70s. “Sonically and recording wise I’ve always been more interested in the music of the 70s, no matter where it’s from,” he says. “Not just the equipment and the sound it produced but the vibe of the players — much more experimentation with the groove during that era than most others.”
“I’m genuinely intrigued by the scene and what they were attempting to accomplish with groove-based music — consciously or more likely unconsciously.”
Platurn was finally able to turn his deep reverence for Icelandic music into a project of his own with the recent double mix CD Breaking The Ice. Released in early February of 2018, the nonstop mix of long-forgotten rock meshed with elements of disco, funk, and soul, makes for a gorgeous, unforgettable journey through musical obscurity. Though there are brief moments of fun hokiness included, the focus here was clearly picking and choosing the best of the best from Platurn and his cousin Sveimhugi’s vast collection of Icelandic wax. Described by Prince Paul as “a rare music 101,” the CD quickly earned praise from esteemed publications and peers alike upon its release.
DJ Platurn - Breaking The Ice Pt. 1
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Breaking The Ice may have officially dropped in 2018, but Platurn recalls wanting to tackle a themed mix as early as 2006 — back when he and his cousin first started going down the Icelandic record rabbit hole. After having the initial idea, he gave himself permission to spend several years tinkering with the mix and fleshing it out without rushing the process. “I worked on it until I felt like I had just under 90 minutes of music, or the longest length that a physical tape can be,” he says. “That was all there was to it — I didn’t put any pressure on completing anything within a certain time.”
Though a great deal of thought and care went into the selection and sequencing of Breaking The Ice, Platurn kept his showcasing of DJ skills to a tasteful minimum. “This is about letting the music speak for itself,” he says. “All the cutting and doubles are live, there’s just a little bit of finesse going on during the transitions, but that’s it. The main piece of personality I instilled into this mix on my behalf was purely selection.” Modesty aside, there are some choice moments of subtle scratching and doubled up breakbeats.
“Me personally, I’d prefer this stuff stays obscure and next to impossible to find.”
As Platurn walks me through the interesting musical qualities heard throughout Breaking The Ice, he notes that some of the lush texture is likely due to the limited recording resources available in Iceland at the time — which makes the music all the more perfect for an extended mix like this. “The low-end punch of the bass and drums was likely not something that was done intentionally on the tracks that had a straight up breakbeat vibe,” he says. “They were simply producing the best rock and roll that they could come up with.” The best they could come up with is quite good — the work of these long-lost artists is unlike anything else you’ve listened to this year.
With seemingly endless access to music from all over the world, Platurn is happy he could provide listeners with a tiny sliver of music history that likely evaded even seasoned crate diggers until now. The fact the incredibly funky and soulful selections on his mix were all created in his tiny homeland only made the joy of sharing the music that much sweeter. “There’s still so much music to be found in the world,” he says. “I think the point is really how truly unexpected it is to hear anything funky from a place like Iceland, a tiny little remote island in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean.”
After spending a decade-plus digging in Iceland and scouring the internet for his prized albums that we hear on Breaking The Ice, Platurn is unsure how much more Icelandic gold is out there awaiting his and Sveimhugi’s discovery. “Honestly, there’s a part of me that feels like we’re just getting started with this, but I can’t say for sure,” he says. “We are still finding things that could entail a Volume 2 at some point, but then we might hit a wall at some point too.”
Whether this is the end or just the beginning of Breaking The Ice-style mixes for Platurn, he would prefer that the music used on the mix remains unavailable through streaming services and vinyl reissues. There’s a certain magic in it being out of reach for most people — save the scant original pressings. “I’m sure the folks who own the stuff think differently and I’m sure there’s something in the works,” he says. “But me personally, I’d prefer this stuff stays obscure and next to impossible to find.”
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