Out of all the dope DJs in Orlando, Florida, MarsRadio has been keeping it underground and bringing the funk like no other.
His “Uptown Suite: Deep & Chilled Out Sessions” Friday and Saturday nights at Kush Ultra Lounge & Hookah Bar are one of our must-visit destinations any time we’re in central Florida, and his YouTube channel is overloaded with exceptional mixes of the dopest genres.
We caught up with MarsRadio (@marsradiodj), aka Will Castro, for an interview and you should hear it from the man himself…
CHiEF: Who is MarsRadio?
MarsRadio: I’m MarsRadio — that’s my DJ name. My real name is Will Castro. I’m a professional DJ, turntablist, crate digger, and underground music culture advocate in Orlando, Florida.
I DJ and host the Basement Groove Collective (BGC) old school show and also the Underground Rhythm District (URD) after-hours mix show on WPRK 91.5 FM in Winter Park, Florida. We broadcast to most of Orlando and some of its surrounding areas. We also stream live on the Internet through wprk.org. I feature music and mixing that other broadcast radio stations in Orlando wont play — the underground.
Why do I go by MarsRadio?
Well, I’m into really weird music and sounds — stuff that’s way in the left field. The more bizarre, the better.
“I like thinking that whoever is listening to my mixing will feel like they are hearing alien music coming through strange radio signals from outer space, maybe from the planet Mars.”
That’s what’s up with the name. I like it; that plus I find and use audio samples that say ‘mars’ or ‘radio’ to drop or scratch into my mixes.
What is it that I do, exactly?
I call it improv freeform trick-mixing. In other words, I mix records together of almost any music genre — any possible sound or music that exists as a recording — all while manipulating it with scratching, backspins, juggling, and other elements of turntablism — the hip-hop approach, and it is all unplanned and unrehearsed — very random with the song selections and improvised in how it’s done.
If you’ve heard cats like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, Mike Relm, DJ Craze, Z-Trip, 2 Many DJs (Radio Soulwax), or Jazzy Jeff mixing, then you know that’s more or less the approach I’m talking about.
I spin whatever sounds incredible to me. It can be new, old, rare or familiar, almost any genre, from any part of the world, just whatever sounds interesting to me. Shit that will make me say, “Oh man, now that’s different; I have to play this.”
I’m a crate digger too. I’m a fiend for dope records that I haven’t heard and discovered yet. That’s what drives me in this DJ thing — finding amazing music and sounds that most folks don’t know about or that they may have overlooked, then I re-contextualize it all, and share that with people who want to hear something different done in an unusual way.
How did you get into DJing?
I grew up listening to a lot of badass DJs — I do what I do because of them. DJ culture was always around me. I became a product of my environment, is what it is.
I’m a 70s baby. I grew up in Southern California during the 80s and 90s. I lived in the hood when I was a kid. First it was Los Angeles in the Echo Park area for a little while, and after that it was Santa Ana, East Orange County for a longer while.
With hip hop developing in some of its relatively early and second-generation stages back then, and my neighborhood’s fervent Funk (boogie) scene, and later its underground rave scene, the music and DJs I’d see and hear influenced me a lot.
The more underground-music-minded mobile DJs in Santa Ana (there were many) were playing music that would be considered forward-thinking even today. They were spinning stuff by acts like Kraftwerk, Egyptian Lover, George Clinton, Pretty Tony, and 2 Live Crew. Instantly, I became obsessed. I had to find out what it was they were playing. That was the spark for me with being a record junky and eventually a DJ.
What ultimately drove me towards getting really deep in the DJing, the trick-mixing, were the mixed tapes and radio shows I was listening to.
There were three live mix shows on the radio that played underground music, music from the hood, music from more street culture-friendly clubs. These shows also had highly skilled DJs/turntablists:
• The Mix Masters on KDAY 1580 AM.
• The Mix Masters on The Ruthless Radio Show with EAZY E on KBBT 92.3 The Beat during the 90s.
• Power Tools on KPWR 105.9 FM (Power 106) with Richard Humpty Vission.
I would tune in to these shows and listen to all the crazy stuff they would do live on the air on just a simple pair of turntables and one audio mixer. It was bold — it was exciting and unpredictable. These DJs had balls. No one else on commercial broadcast radio came even close to doing this back then in Los Angeles.
These DJs I’m talking about were and still are highly talented and masterful on the turntables. I’m talking about Joe Cooley, Julio G, Tony G — cats like that. Hell, you can hear some tape recordings of some of their shows that a few people have uploaded to Youtube. I’m glad someone did.
I also listened to mixed tapes of rap, electro funk, and Miami bass. Back then, where I lived, you could only hear this from local DJs playing at backyard parties, BBQs, lowrider events, or underground and pirate radio stations.
I came across one particular mixed tape I bought at an L.A. swap meet; it was titled “Funk Mix 8”. This one was a game changer for me as far as what shaped my perspective as to what I thought a DJ should sound like, or better said — what I thought I should sound like.
The closest thing I can compare it to are some of the wildly creative mixes you may hear from DJs like DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, Mike Relm, Radio Soulwax/2 Many DJs, and others like them.
What’s interesting is that that Funk Mix 8 tape barely had a few hints of funk music on it; it was mostly rap, electro funk, and Miami bass, all with intermingled blends of children’s story-book records, TV commercials, oldies, soul, rare groove, and disco.
It was something so unexpectedly eclectic at times that you probably would have thought Afrika Bambaataa was digging through crates on this one. It was a sonic work of art — priceless to me — it was probably the best example of music re-contextualization I’ve ever heard in my life. Sadly, I lost the tape. All I have now is the memory of it.
To this day, no matter what genre of music I may be playing overall in a set, I still try to create mixes that emulate what I heard on that Funk Mix 8 tape. The tape didn’t indicate who mixed it but I suspect it may have been either Dr. Dre or DJ Tony A — I’ve heard other mixes by them and they resemble that style somewhat.
Those two guys were also selling mixed tapes at L.A. swapmeets during the late 80s, when I bought that tape, so that supports my suspicion.
You play a range of music dropping classic gems from any number of genres. How would you characterize your choice of music?
How would I characterize my choice of music? I would describe it as left field and underground — or overall just good music.
Funny thing is that a couple of people I work with at Kush Lounge, a place I DJ at every week, were telling me that some patrons there were asking them what the music I mix is called. Mind you, I play a lot of genres there; it’s a gumbo — I go all over the place with it. The staff struggled to find a name for what I was playing — they ended up saying just good music. I’m happy that they feel that way. I think that’s the best way I can describe it.
“I wont play anything that I personally don’t like or feel good about. I’m not really too concerned with being popular in Orlando’s club scene; collecting music I have no love for just for the sake of pleasing the EDM and Top40 crowd so I can be popular isn’t something I’m interested in. I don’t spin to be popular; I spin because I sincerely love the music I have and I hope that some other folks will enjoy it.”
That plus I’m happy when I pull off something cool and unexpected on the turntables. It’s also how I make my living.
These days, the term “Electro” is often used and misused in the context of today’s popular EDM movement. What does Electro mean to you?
I grew up listening to electro funk. When I would go to a record store and look in the electro funk section, I’d find music by artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Egyptian Lover, DJ Unknown, Twilight 22, and Kraftwerk.
And during the 90s, when the rave scene started to migrate from the UK to over here in the states, more music you’d likely hear at those raves started emerging with their sections in some record stores. One of those sections was labeled Electro, and it would usually sit right next to the Breaks section, which made sense because of the similar Planet Rock style beat pattern you would often hear used in most of the records under those more modern genres for that time period.
Electro, from what I was noticing while digging through that section at the record store, was more or less a more modern, more new school continuation of the electro funk sound: Funky and mechanical music with robotic-sounding voices and futuristic sci-fi techno-influenced instrumentation — music for the b-boys and b-girls. That Electro sound carried on quite commonly for many years, well into the 2000s, in most record shops you’d fancy walking into.
I know what you mean by the misuse of the Electro term. Today the term Electro, from the point of view of the general public, means something else. Today Electro is more commonly misrepresented. In recent years the term has been hijacked by the mainstream music industry, in this case, the EDM explosion. When hearing that term, most folks that haven’t been exposed to the real Electro sound will likely think of music that is highly cheesy dance pop stuff, laden with swells and snores of electronic sounds and a tsunami of synth stabs, including the formulaic dramatic drop and build-up we commonly hear in the EDM sound.
There is a reason for this recent confusion as to what is Electro. A genre called electroclash surfaced, as best as I can remember, sometime during the early 2000s. It was another section to be found at record stores. Electroclash was characteristically a sound blending techno, 80s dark wave/new wave,acid, punk, indie rock, and overall a very gritty and dirt-beneath-the-finger-nails type of vibe. It was artists like Peaches, Felix Da Housecat, Soulwax, Miss Kitten, so on and so forth.
Shortly after electroclash came a somewhat house music version of it, which was called electro house; that sound was mostly house, a four-to-floor beat and steady high-hat beat, but with 80s new wave instrumentation. Eventually some people in the club scene began shortening the name electro house to just simply electro.
From then on, sometime when Pitbull, David Guetta, and LMFAO and other acts like that started receiving play on mainstream radio, that same mainstream industry started calling the music they were playing electro, and the mainstream public began recognizing that sound as what it was being marketed as: Electro.
So that’s why there’s all this confusion now, between the old school and new school generations, as to what Electro really is.
What do listeners hear on your radio show? Tell us about Underground Rhythm District, Basement Groove Collective, and your show on Open Source Radio Wprk.
Underground Rhythm District features varieties of underground house music and techno — no EDM, just the underground.
It’s always a live show. Nothing is pre-recorded. The mixing I do there is entirely improvised on two turntables. Nothing is planned. Nothing is rehearsed. I’m just picking out songs at random and I try to make them work together live on the air. I mix house and techno music often at a quick pace and all while including hip hop turntablism elements into it like scratching and back spinning.
A cat named Ron Hardy, based on what I’ve read about him, used to do similar type of mixing in Chicago. Bad Boy Bill is also known for doing a little bit of this mixing style, same thing with Carl Cox, but on the techno side.
Underground Rhythm District airs every Friday after-hours, 3AM-5AM EST into Saturday mornings. I started this show back in February of 2013 and I’ve had a lot of great local underground guest DJs featured here, which I’m very happy and proud of.
I try to show support through Underground Rhythm District for Orlando’s underground electronic music scene. I try to spread the word on local events in that scene. You can find out more about it at www.undergroundrhythmdistrict.com
Basement Groove Collective airs occasionally on WPRK 91.5 FM. It’s a show I’ve created to fill in for other shows at the station that need substituting every now and then.
This show features old school music like soul, funk, rare groove, b-boy breaks, disco, garage, electro funk, Miami Bass, and classic hip hop. Like my other show at the station, the mixing here is always live and improvised.
I’m currently working on a Basement Groove Collective website to showcase some of the history and culture of the old school in terms of that music that I play on this show. It’s a work in progress. It’s something I do out of love for the roots of DJ culture and hip hop.
Open Source Radio isn’t my show — I was just a guest DJ there once. This show was actually Jonathan Santino’s (DJ Spreadsheets) on WPRK. He is a former member of Orlando’s Lazy Afternoon — big local supporters of hip hop culture, vinyl culture, and the old school.
He and Brooklyn Dusty Fingers own and run a new record shop in Orlando called Uncle Tony’s Donut Shop. They’ve got a lot of rare gems in their record bins. I’d like to do some mixing and turntablism sessions there sometime. Cool place. They have a fantastic collection of rare gems in vinyl there.
Right now I’m a resident DJ at Kush Ultra Lounge & Hookah Bar in downtown Orlando. I DJ a Friday and Saturday night show there called Upstairs Suite: Deep & Chilled Out Sessions. It’s an incredible little place. It’s very much a somewhat hidden speakeasy room/loft located upstairs from a hookah shop called Kathmandu.
From 10PM-2AM I just improvise a wildly eclectic mix and turntablism session of music that’s deep, soulful, jazzy, funky, psychedelic, and left field — so pretty much lounge vibes. I play there everything from trip hop, downtempo, global soul, reggae, rare groove, acid jazz, neo soul, U.S. garage, Balearic, afro beat, liquid jungle, ambient, psychedelic rock, and anything else that’s just out of the ordinary.
I think it’s the only place in downtown Orlando where you can hear music like this and all while fused with turntablism. I’m looking to starting a mix series on Soundcloud based on this weekly gig. I’m starting to bring in guest DJs to spin with me every so often.
I’m also working on a breaks, drum & bass, and jungle mix series. So far I have four mixes available for that.
If you want to learn more, you can visit my site. www.marsradiodj.com
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened on any of your shows?
The funniest thing I’ve had happen to me while hosting URD was when I received a drunken call on the station’s phone from a dude telling me he loved me — that he really loved me and wanted to come over to give me money.
He just kind of kept saying that over and over again. I get some pretty strange calls at the station at that time of the night sometimes.
What do you listen to for fun?
What do I listen to for fun? Aw man, almost anything really. It would be easier to say what I don’t listen to for fun. I listen to almost anything except top 40, turn-up stuff, EDM, Mexican banda music, reggaeton, pop, or bachata.
I listen to almost anything else. I could be listening to metal one moment and then jump to classical, or from salsa to blues, or punk to bluegrass. I love variety. I want it all, Chico! lol
What is your message for the bboys and bgirls?
My message to the b-boys and b-girls: Yo, because I enjoy watching ya’ll dance and do the crazy-creative moves you do, almost all the DJ mixing I do is done so I can see you express yourselves to the rhythm of the music. I love what you do, and a lot of the music I collect and select is with you in mind.
“Keep doing what you do and keep pushing the limits. It makes me really happy to see how far b-boy and b-girl culture has come since its beginning. Cheers and don’t stop the rock.”
Thanks to the funky brother MarsRadio for taking the time to tell us the real deal!