Radio Interview: Noah of Coffee Break For Heroes & Villians!

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Noah is the one in the Maiden shirt…Rock on!

This little interview is a big deal for me since is with an old and very good friend of mine, Noah Uman aka Negative Noah nka Noah Zark. We spend many good times in the waning years of the late 1980’s going to CBGB’s and hanging out. After he stopped hanging out on a regular basis, I would see him from time to time at a show and it would be an event. Over the past 10 years or so, Noah has worked in the music industry and has seen first hand the bullshit that goes on. He started Coffee Break for Heroes and Villains as a voice for the underground hip hop community. I used to really be into this genre in the late 1980’s but got discouraged when the major labels got their hands in the cookie jar. Noah’s show has sparked a re-interest in the genre with me and I try to listen as often as I can. I love this guy’s on air delivery, it’s just like he talks in real life. Check it out…it’s very punk –Dave K.

How, why and when did this show start? What is this “Noah Zark” thing? You were famously known as “Negative Noah”??

Coffee Break For Heroes & Villains first aired on June 14th, 2004 (all
shows are archived at http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/NU). However I got my first taste of DJing on WFMU on two separate occasions. The first was part of a one off show called “Incorrect Hip Hop” in Sept 26, 2000 that was aired on Small Change’s weekly spot. It was a few hours of the most stupid and ignorant rap records ever recorded. Producer and rapper J-Zone & writer Chris Nieratko were also part of this show. My second time was curating a tribute radio show to punk legend Billy Childish (that archive can be found at: http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/10205). He even recorded a song specifically for the show! I contacted Brian Turner who is the Program Director at WFMU and pitched the idea of an independent Hip-Hop show, consisting of mostly small label released rap and some beat oriented sounds as well. I figured that current major label released rap music gets plenty of support already but aside from college radio, one can’t really hear the independent records. That was pretty much it, he gave me the green light and here we are! As for the name, I’ve called myself Noah’s Ark since I was around 15. However, when Brian Turner heard my demo tape he said “Noah Zark, that’s so funny!” I didn’t argue and it stuck. I can still be crabby about pop culture and the junk that people hear about everyday, so I guess I’ll always be Negative Noah!

When you were younger you were very active in the NYC punk and hardcore
scene. How did you end up in an underground music scene so vastly different from it? What similarities is there if any with punk and underground rap?

I still love hardcore music, I just don’t know any contemporary groups. The last show I went to was Los Crudos when they were still a new band, I was already very much out of the “scene” at that point too. When I was discovering punk rock in the early 1980’s I was also getting schooled to hip-hop through my brother Michael who worked for Rush Management (Russell Simmons company). He took me to see the Beastie Boys, where I met Dave Scilkin (The Young & The Useless), Rick Rubin, and Russell, that’s where that pretty much started as well. He would bring me all the records they were working and played me all the greats; Grandmaster Melle Mel, Mantronix, Run DMC etc… Rap music and punk are much closer than most think. If you look at the early rap scene in NYC and the hardcore scene you will notice that a lot of the shows were put together by the people involved, the flyers were crudely drawn and xeroxed, alot of rap records came out on small labels like the punk ones, ie: Touch & Go, Dischord, Ratcage etc. Many rap
records also have a similar urgency and organic appeal as the punk groups. Both genres are very street and self motivated, however, major label rap is the sound that became a household name and is now nothing more than pop music.

How do you decide what to play?

I try to not play too many things twice but there are favorites (JVC Force’s Strong Island is a good example). I just go through the records and pull out cuts that are good or very different from anything one would hear normally, like a rap record from Japan, Australia or something with a sound that isn’t normally heard.

One thing I like about your show is that you generally have a guest in the studio, you get an interview going and sometimes they play live. How do you convince these guys to come in at odd hours to talk to some guy from Maplewood, NJ?

One of the things I like about some of the hip-hop groups is that they’re on a serious mission to get their word out and my hours (11pm - 2am)are prime hip-hop radio hours. The other factor that’s good is that they either already know about the show and when they meet me they realize I know my hip-hop history almost better than anyone.

As your show has become more popular, do the major labels want you to play their releases?

The major labels will either send me tons of crap or will have people in their radio departments that know absolutely nothing about radio promotions and the importance of a station like WFMU. I used to be a radio promoter so I know the game and how it should be played. As for playing their releases, I stray so far away from the Hot97/MTV sound there’s no point in them sending me anything. However, I did play the new releases by Ghostface Killah (Def Jam), Nas (2004 on Sony) and Rev Run (Island).

What media do you prefer on your show (vinyl, CD, mp3, etc)?

Cds are the easiest, I’m not a purest when it comes to vinyl and anyone who says they only use wax is just getting into the world of DJing. I really use everything, even cassettes if that’s the other format a song is on.

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What kind of reaction are you getting from broadcasting on-line? Any weird requests?

Being online as well as on the dial is the greatest thing! How else are you going to get a rapper from Sweden checking out your show and sending you their demo, so incredible!

Where do you think the future of internet radio and podcasting is heading?

Internet radio is here to stay, it’s awesome and also overwhelming. You can check out old John Peel shows or some weird noise show from Brazil based out of someone’s kitchen, so much music out there! Podcasting I think is still going to take some time to develop, there’s so many boring talk shows out there and the fact that you can’t really play published music makes it tough. I have a podcast show of all unsigned hip-hop demos and it’s actually doing really well.

What are your favorite internet radio shows/podcasts that you listen to regularly?

That’s a tough one, Tom Scharpling on WFMU, Pat Duncan (the king), The Cherry Blossom Clinic with Terre T.

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Any advice for the up and coming internet radio DJ?

Be creative, throw your listeners for a curve once in a while. Always check out non single tracks, like the b-sides to records. Do research on your topics or selections. Most importantly, think of it as if you were listening to the radio. Thanks!

Coffee Break For Heroes & Villains
Mondays 11pm - 2am
WFMU 91.1 fm & 90.1 fm
http://www.coffeebreakradio.com

One Response to “Radio Interview: Noah of Coffee Break For Heroes & Villians!”

  1. roberto healoza Says:

    Noah Uman is probably the most innovative and emotionally sensational DJs in the western world. Other pseudo-selectors should take heed.

    Fine taste in undergarments as well.

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