DJ, graphic artist, and co-owner of a record label are a lot for one person to handle- but Berk Gibbs does all three. As Raw Russ, he has toured the country, playing with co-worker Paper Diamond, Break Science, Method Man, and more, while simultaneously putting on art shows and doing art of his own at the recently opened Elm & Oak store in Boulder by the name of Berk Visual. As co-owner of Elm and Oak, Berk has seen enormous success this past year along with Alex B,- the store in Boulder will turn one year-old next month, selling clothes and art, while the record label side of Elm & Oak was recently named Best Record Label by Westword.
Most recently Berk has been working with Elm & Oak in presenting Levitate Festival featuring Rusko, DJ Shadow, Paper Diamond, and Pictureplane tonight for 4/20. Buy tickets here and head over there after the free Wyclef concert at CU! Here’s our exclusive interview with Raw Russ discussing his life and the upcoming concert:
The Dankles: Thank you so much for meeting with us today! First tell us a little about yourself- what is your real name and where are you from?
Raw Russ: My name is Wallace Berkeley Gibbs III. I’m from Virginia- basically this place called Chesapeake, Virginia. It’s real close to Virginia Beach and Norfolk. I spent a lot of time in Norfolk and then I went to college in Tennessee so I spent like seven years right outside of Nashville. So yeah, I’m kinda from all those places.
The Dankles: Where did the name Raw Russ come from?
Raw Russ: It’s a play on my first name, Wallace. Alex (Paper Diamond) was like “yo, you should go by Walrus cause it’s kinda like if a Korean lady said ‘Wallace.’” So I played a few shows and my homies were like “Rawruss!” I just think that shit’s funny. The best is when people come up to me and they’re like “yo, what up Russ,” and I’m just like… “my name’s Berk.”
The Dankles: How has growing up on the East Coast affected your music and art?
Raw Russ: It’s definitely a huge influence – if you had to break down my influences it would be equal parts East Coast and Memphis. Virginia was hella cool growing up- it kinda sucks now, it’s super closed-minded now. I got ticketed for DJing without a license when I went back there.
The Dankles: Wow, really? I didn’t even know that could happen.
Raw Russ: Neither did I until it happened (laughs). They’re real assholes about everything out there. But growing up, I basically grew up on the beach and there was always lots of visual and audio stimulation from that environment. Virginia had a cool scene back in the day, a big hardcore scene.
The Dankles: Did you get into that scene while you were living there?
Raw Russ: Yeah, I mean I used to listen to all kinds of stuff. I was into punk for a long time, and I played in a bunch of different bands – I was originally a drummer and my uncle was a DJ too.
The Dankles: It sounds like making music was in your blood.
Raw Russ: Yeah he was definitely a different type of DJ- I saw how cool it was and how much fun you could have doing it. He was playing disco and shit, ya know? And I got the hook on getting turntables from him so I had that shit before a lot of my friends.
The Dankles: So is that how you made the switch from drumming to turntabling and DJing?
Raw Russ: Yeah I actually sold my drumset to get a turntable, but I continued to play drums all through college and was in the fuckin’ marching band my freshman year of college and I was studying drums.
The Dankles: Have you found that studying drums as influenced your work now as a DJ?
Raw Russ: I think like all the best DJs are drummers- or were drummers first. There are a lot of really good ones that I know- it just makes sense. I always looked at the turntables as an instrument. I’m more of a disc jockey at this point than I was back in the day- I used to be more of a turntablist. When I was in college, and this was like pre-Serato, it was all about scratching and I played in a scratch band. So with that, you’re basically like drumming with a record, you like take a kick and a snare sound, and break it down and play each piece. With scratching, it’s very rhythmic. I would transfer drumline rhythms to scratching. So super closely related if you ask me.
The Dankles: Who has been the biggest influence to you?
Raw Russ: Damn, that’s a tough question. I guess maybe just people in general that have done exactly what they wanted to do and have figured out how to make a living out of it. There’s lots of artists and DJ’s and stuff that have done that. They just own their shit and not even made it crazy big, just where they can support themselves comfortably. I couldn’t put just one person as my biggest influence.
The Dankles: So you’ve been touring around the country, what’s your favorite venue that you’ve played at?
Raw Russ: Belly Up is super dope, in Aspen. That place is super cool- it sounds good, it looks amazing. I think they have like seven house DJ-mixers so you can try out whatever you want. And then they feed you hella good when you’re there.
The Dankles: (laughs) That’s always a plus. What’s the one thing you can’t leave behind while you’re on tour?
Raw Russ: My sketchbook.
The Dankles: Is that what you find yourself doing when you’re not making music or working?
Raw Russ: Yeah, that’s my escape. It’s like my Xanax or something- when I doodle, everything is solved. So I need that to be able to chill for a minute.
The Dankles: On top of Raw Russ there is Berk Visual. How did it feel to be chosen for the cover of the March issue of The Rooster?
Raw Russ: That shit was awesome, I mean they gave out like 10,000 copies in Boulder and a bunch more in Fort Collins- it was pretty sweet. It was one of those things where I just didn’t necessarily have time to do it and they were like do it, do it.
The Dankles: Are you happy they made you?
Raw Russ: Oh definitely, it looks great and that’s one of those things that I sent to my mom so that she thinks I’m killin’ it. It’s been super good to me too, I’ve been meeting a bunch of people because of it. The Rooster is sweet period, we’ve been doing a ton of stuff with them, and they’re sponsoring Levitate. We have a Cinco de Mayo party with Minnesota- it’s actually the Elm & Oak one-year anniversary of the store, and they’re sponsoring that too.
The Dankles: That sounds like a lot of fun, we’ll definitely be there. What would you say your biggest accomplishment as Berk Visual has been?
Raw Russ: Visual art wise, I was part of a museum show in Virginia at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. It was a career introspective on this dude DavMo (David Morris) and he’s this awesome kind of “outsider” artist. I really dig his art and he and I had met a few years prior when I was kinda spearheading-, where we would take over a bar and just set up a bunch of art and have DJ’s. So when the museum asked him to do the show he was like “I’ll do it, but you have to include all these young cats.”
The Dankles: So he picked you as one of the people to be featured?
Raw Russ: Yeah, it was called like “DavMo & the Young Guns” and just getting to show in a museum, that whole experience was epic, not to mention having someone you look up to really shout you out.
The Dankles: Very cool, a little different than being behind the turntables, huh?
Raw Russ: I actually DJ’ed at the opening too (laughs) that’s pretty weird when I think about that.
The Dankles: And if art and music weren’t already enough, you also are on the business side of things, being co-owner of Elm & Oak label & clothing store. What has been the biggest challenge in starting up and maintaining the company?
Raw Russ: Because of the idea of the company we intend to stay up with what’s going on, so we’re constantly rethinking things. But it’s great, everything is doing super well- the shop has been having these super successful art shows with great turnouts, selling art to people our age, which is awesome.
The Dankles: This time last year you were playing the Levitate Festival with Paper Diamond, Michal Menert, and Break Science and now this year’s features Rusko and DJ Shadow at the 7,000-person 1st Bank Center. How does it feel to blow up this much in a year?
Raw Russ: Right? We just have a good team and everybody’s doing their part which is working out. Alex’s manager, Keith just kills it for us. Levitate is really Alex’s thing but he’s let Elm & Oak take a role and we’re presenting it and all that stuff. It’s good for the brand, the record label, for everything. Paper Diamond just announced his new EP is being released on Mad Decent and Rusko’s on that too.
The Dankles: Sounds like it’s going to be an awesome concert.
Raw Russ: Yeah and DJ Shadow is playing! That’s some super personal shit for me, that in a lot of ways was my introduction to electronic music. Before that I was definitely more of a hip-hop head. That shit’s kinda hip-hop too though, and it was just like “oh shit, you can just make music like this to make music?” and that was like ’98. I’m really excited to see how his set and all that turns out, it’s gonna be really fun.
The Dankles: We here at The Dankles look forward to seeing you there. Thank you so much for taking this time to talk with us, any last words before we let you get back to your busy schedule?
Raw Russ: Shit, I don’t know- come to Levitate! Thank you guys and I’m looking forward to seeing more stuff from Elm & Oak on The Dankles.
And there you have it folks, make sure to get your tickets to Levitate tonight and we looking forward to seeing you there, happy 4/20 everybody! If you need a ride to Levitate at 1st Bank Center make sure to reserve your seat on Bus to Show from Denver, Boulder, or Fort Collins.