April 21, 2005
by BOB DORAN
PETER AGOSTON, BETTER KNOWN AS DJ THANKSGIVING BROWN [photo at right], is moving on after five years in Humboldt County, a relatively short period of time that saw him spin records at numerous clubs, produce dozens of hip-hop shows along with six video collections in his Culturama series while founding the indie label, Female Fun Records. The Journal sat down with the 25-year-old music entrepreneur the weekend before his departure for Brooklyn, N.Y., to talk about his life in hip-hop and his plans for the future.
Where did it all start? "I think I got my first turntables when I was in middle school, maybe 1992. I was living at home with my folks in Blacksburg, Va., where I was born and raised," he recalled.
"I loved TV, watched a lot of TV when I was a kid, like many youngsters of that era, especially MTV. I was watching Yo! MTV Raps every single day, taping it every day. I [was] fascinated with the DJs in the videos, [guys] like Jam Master Jay or Terminator-X from Public Enemy who had this larger-than-life image. They were like characters from comic books.
"Eventually I discovered the college radio station in Blacksburg, WUBT 90.7, and started DJing there while I was in high school. I was 15 and totally lying about my age. My mom had to drive me to the station. I DJed there for about four years; that was really the springboard for everything I'm doing now. Not only did I have access to tons of records and a place to hone my skills and learn about all kinds of music, but I also slowly grasped the politics of the music industry, how you got records to the radio station, reporting to trade magazines, how to chart a record. I was so into it that I became the hip-hop music director."
After finishing high school in 1996, Agoston attended community college briefly before heading for New York City. "I moved there to work at an online record store called Sandboxautomatic.com, probably the first online record store ever. It was this guy Edward Wong who lived in an NYU dorm. You would give him a list of stuff you wanted but couldn't find in your neck of the woods. He would go around to record stores in New York City, find it and mark it up slightly. That coincided with this whole little indie hip-hop boom and he went from being a used record store to selling new indie hip-hop.
"I basically did the legwork. I got $200 a week under the table to go around the city to distributors picking up orders, then I would box up records and take them to the post office. It was fun, exciting. I was 17, getting paid to do something cool. The radio station had taught me the basics of the record industry. Working in New York helped me put more pieces of the puzzle together."
Next stop, Oregon for film school, where he began gathering material for what would eventually become the Culturama series: collections of hip-hop videos interspersed with live performances and artist interviews.
"I formed an allegiance with the local promoter for hip-hop shows in Portland. I filmed every show he put on with a High-8 video camera I'd bought. I collected a lot of raw footage of performances, then I'd try to interview all of the performers, whether it be at the venue or the next day at the hotel or whatever. These were artists I was familiar with -- from back to my earlier years watching videos, to my college radio years, to my time in New York -- groups like Hieroglyphics, The Coup, Blackalicious, all these groups that were still at the raw underground stages of their careers. That's where the Culturama stuff came from, doing all the interviews back then."
His DJ/rap moniker was created when he started spinning records at art openings and house parties. "Thanksgiving Brown was a character I thought up back then. He was supposed to be this kooky next-door-neighbor in an apartment building like in some sitcom. It's funny, a funny name. It stuck.
"It wasn't until moving to Arcata [in 2000] that I started pursuing performing at venues. I moved down with a gang of records, and not just hip-hop, all types of shit: old country, old jazz, old rock `n' roll, old reggae -- the whole gamut, which is hip-hop essentially, it's all music put together with someone proclaiming their declaration over the top of it. My first show was a rock thing at Marino's with Relapse and The Foster Kids, then I started doing shows at the Vista with Michelle Cable of Panache fame. For the first year I was here I don't think I did any hip-hop shows."
The Female Fun record label began its life here in Arcata. "The first thing we did was MF Doom's Special Herbs Vol. 1. I got a hold of Doom and asked him if he wanted to do an instrumental record. I said, `I can give you $1,000 up front. We'll do 1,000 records and if they sell, we'll press another thousand and I'll give you more money,' yada yada yada. We bounced the idea around and came up with the idea of doing a 10-part instrumental series, vinyl-only. We did the first one and it was great, sold well. Then all of a sudden all these people approached him wanting to do the same thing. He moved on to another label, essentially taking the concept I brought to him and running with it. I learned a lot from doing it, the trickery of the record industry. It's a tough game."
Tough or not, Agoston stuck with it. Female Fun is now a thriving concern and he's ready to take it to the next stage, back in New York City.
"I'm moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn. New York is where it all started for me and where it all started for hip-hop. I'm ready, excited for the challenge. I have a distribution deal, a really good one with Studio Distribution, which is based in New York. I have this Prince Paul album coming out in May, a huge thing, the biggest record I've ever put out. I'm thinking I can make a real global impact with my record label and make a living off of it, and that's what I want to do. Hip-hop is all I really know -- and it's all I'm going to do if I have a say in it."
After a major hip-hop send-off at Rumours Wednesday, April 20, with a dozen rappers, Thanksgiving Brown performs his last local show ever at The Placebo Saturday, April 23, showing off his own rap skills alongside DJ Spencer, the eccentric performance artist Pleaseeasaur and local indie rockers The Ian Fays. Showtime is at 8 p.m. To follow Peter's future activities, tune into www.culturama.org.
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