Can you tell our readers a little bit about who you are, and what you do?
I’m Cosmo Baker and there’s a lot of things that I do but primarily I’m a DJ and music guy who’s based in Philadelphia. I mean I do a lot of things haha, from being involved with education, entrepreneurship, activism and so on – but every road in my life has come from me being a DJ and from being involved with music. I’m extremely grateful for that!
You’ve been in the game for a while now – what inspired you to get into DJing? what was your initial set-up, and where did you play your earliest sets?
Well I think my original inspiration to become a DJ stemmed from just growing up surrounded by music and diverse cultures. My mom exposed me to all sorts of different music in our household of course, and just growing up in a big city and everything that you get from being in that environment. I think the desire for me to share is something that’s pretty natural to me, and also being curious by nature. Plus you have all this early hip-hop stuff that’s just floating around as a kid, and you’re seeing it all kind of unfold in real time, and when you’re young that feels like it’s this secret club that you have a membership for. That’s probably the closest thing as to what inspired me to really do it, because I got started very young. Now my first sets were DJing for house parties and basement parties while in school, but it wasn’t too long before I was spinning in proper nightclubs – I was playing in really big, popular clubs in Philly by the time I was like 17 years old. When it comes to my original setup, initially I had two really crappy turntables, like direct-drive joints, and one didn’t even have pitch control. I would have to just speed up or slow down every other record in order to blend haha. And my mixer I think was a Realistic mixer from Radio Shack – I’m sure a bunch of DJs know exactly which one I’m talking about!
You’re from Philadelphia – a city known for a great tradition in DJing. How has that influenced your approach to DJing?
That’s a good question and to touch on the Philly thing, everyone pretty much acknowledges Philly’s position in the tradition of DJs as being top notch and many people always say something like “It’s something in the water” but that’s not really the case. Philly is a tough, working-class city and people do not take any shit, and they have good taste. To me, if you learn to DJ in Philly, if you are not good the people are going to let you know immediately. With that being the case, one would have to get really good, really quick, or you just won’t cut it. Also, with Philly’s close proximity to New York, there was always this “little sibling” rivalry that was prevalent so Philadelphians, with the constant chip on their shoulders, always had to try and “one up” every development that was happening in NYC.
How would you describe your DJ style? What are your favourite things to play, and why?
I love so many different genres of music and I always want to try and make that somewhat clear whenever I play a set. Traditionally growing up in Philly when you would go out to parties or clubs the DJ would be playing all sorts of stuff across the board, so I’ve always liked to be able to take a left turn in a set by playing something out of the ordinary and just making it work. I mean I got into all of this because of Hip-Hop but also if you think about it that ‘left-turn” mentality is written into the DNA of the music. And as to my favorite thing to play that’s an easy question – I love playing disco. Cause I love the music, I love the energy and feeling, and I love to dance!
How did your time in New York impact you musically?
I lived in NY twice actually! Philly and NY are pretty close, like about 140 kilometers and I would always go up and hang out when I was a teen. But when I first moved up it was 1994 and so if you could imagine what the city was like then. I was already playing in downtown nightclubs and you have to really try and imagine how cool it was when you’re playing a record that’s BRAND NEW – and it just happens to be a song by Notorious B.I.G., Or hey I’m gonna play this new song it’s called “Shook Ones Pt. 2” – a real magic time for sure where a lot of the songs that are now considered canon were fresh at that moment.
In addition to that, at that time I really got into house music just because I would be out and be able to see DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Louie Vega, David Morales and Junior Vasquez. An amazing time for sure. When I moved back up in the early 2000s it was right after we had launched The Rub so us as a crew and also as individual DJs were really in the mix with everything that was happening in the mash-up wave. Until that wave came crashing down haha.
You wrote a great thread on Twitter in reply to a snarky Snickers advert – you clearly take the role of DJ seriously. What do you think are the main responsibilities of DJs, and why do you think these are so important?
I’m glad that you liked that. I really wasn’t trying to get too into it with the company but to me it was disrespectful to people who actually are DJs for the occupation. And it goes way beyond a guy like me, who’s marginally well known, and also really reframes the definition of success. There are thousands upon thousands of working-class DJs out there who feed their families and pay their bills by entertaining people, doing something that they love. I think there’s a nobility in that. The responsibility of entertaining people, educating people, and providing a place of solace and escape are truly important things to be providing to a community.
With over 25 years behind the decks, you are something of an elder statesman in the DJ world – how do you see your role in the DJ community, and the wider community?
Haha I don’t know about “elder statesman” although that’s very kind of you to say, but I do appreciate the fact that I have been able to have a pretty sustainable career and at the same time give back to a culture that has given me so much and allowed me to thrive. And if I have a position that allows me to highlight or put on people who may deserve shine and aren’t getting it, or to impart some sort of guidance to my fellow DJs, or to youth in general, I am happy to be there.
How has technology changed the DJ world – both in the booth, and elsewhere? For instance, I first encountered you on the Hollerboard, which was a huge influence on my approach to DJing, and my network of contacts around the world!
The technology – both the actual DJ tech itself, and the internet that has allowed us to get and share data and to me more interconnected – has been a great thing in the way that it’s given so much to the culture. The technology of digital DJing has truly allowed a vast wave of creativity with DJs that never seems to stop growing and has really allowed people to push the creativity to the limits. And with the internet we’ve been able to market ourselves on a global scale, which has led to building relationships where we are able to operate in a micro gig-economy. But most of all it’s been great because through the internet I have been able to meet so many great friends all across this planet!
What are your hopes for the post-lockdown world – both in the world of music, and more widely?
Well between COVID and the great awakening that is this revolution I truly believe that we are going to come out victorious on the other side. We have to be optimistic about that, because we have no other choice. Starting with the pandemic we started to see this thing like the old children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” situation play out in real time. All these systems that we’ve been beholden to are now being exposed for how bad they really are.
Governments – they’re inept. This economic system – broken. This healthcare system – broken. And people are fed up and they are tired and they are weary. Then you throw this new great depression in the mix and you have millions upon millions of people who are vulnerable and they now feel as though they’ve been rightly fucked up, and they are correct in that. Add to that the brutality of having to live in quarantine for months on end and all you see is some sort of trauma or another daily, and then you have something like the George Floyd murder and that was just the spark that landed in an already exposed powder keg. So now it’s exploding, as it should. It’s way overdue.
So I have to remain optimistic that through the power of the people and the movement that is happening now that we will be able to enact true and lasting change that will be able to reshape and reframe our global societies and how we see ourselves both in them and interacting with others.
It’s a fucked up time but also on the same note it’s oddly a very exciting time as well. I can truly feel this as maybe being “The One” and there are many people who are older who I’ve talked to and they feel the same. Now of course like I said we must stay optimistic, but at the same time we can’t sit this one out. Everyone is in this fight.
Now for the music I would bet that we are going to see some amazing stuff in a few months. Don’t forget that traditionally in times of great strife, great art has been produced. Look at the 60s, or during the Reagan era. Huge stuff happened during those times.
Lockdown has been a pretty huge challenge for most djs – on multiple levels. How have you adapted to stay active as a dj, and also to stay healthy – physically, and mentally?
I got into the streaming thing pretty early, like early March in perhaps the first week. I have had some experience in streaming before but when I did it my reason was because I needed the catharsis and the release in playing music for people. When I saw the initial response, I was floored and immediately it hit me that this is going to be a good thing. So that’s really been helpful in keeping sane and also staying connected to my fan base. Also it has been helpful to me to approach the whole streaming thing as it were an actual gig. So setting up consistent scheduling, formats, have the branding and the promotions for it all, and really try to define the identity of what it is that I’m doing. I think that when everyone is feeling weird and nothing is certain, having something that is consistent and reliable for people to hold onto is key. And that sense of “consistency” goes beyond DJ streaming – you have to have that in your regular life. Set your alarm, make your bed in the morning, have breakfast – all the little things that keep you rooted in normalcy. That’s been super helpful and key for me to staying healthy!
How have you found the experience of livestreaming? I’ve had a bit of a love/hate thing with it – when it goes well, it can be the best thing that happens that week, but if I have a bad one for whatever reason (technical issues, streams being taken down mid set, low numbers etc) I can take it far harder than I really should.
I mean it’s fun and it’s great and it’s also exciting in the sense that we are all collectively creating something from scratch. The tech stuff is annoying but the copyright stuff is really the biggest bummer of them all. That’s why I like that Mixcloud does video streaming and I think they may come out on top after all this is done. And also it’s definitely allowed me to go into my own zone creatively, specifically how I want to format and produce my shows. So it’s cool… But nothing beats playing live for people. Nothing ever will. I hope that we can get back to that one of these days.
With the terrible killing of George Floyd, there have been huge protests in the USA, and worldwide, in support of the Black Lives Matter cause. What roles and responsibilities do you see the dj community having at moments like this?
I think it’s been pretty well noted where I stand on the issues of both system racism in our country (and globally) as well as my desire to finally see true Black Liberation. But speaking about it from the perspective of a DJ… As DJs we serve the role as entertainers, educators, healers, voice for the voiceless. So it is imperative for us to use our voices to speak up for those who need it. People who are silent – everyone sees you. Trust me, people are not going to forget. And lest I have to say that those who decide to remain silent might as well be complicit in the actions of the oppressor. I don’t care about your brand – in fact fuck your brand. You stand on the sidelines for this, you’re playing for the other team. And this goes SPECIFICALLY to white DJs who are in this game. Never forget that you are a guest in a house that was built by black folk. You should be grateful to even have a space in this. So earn your keep.