Exploring Infinity with DJ Drez

The truest art—that which stands the test of time—arises from the deepest suffering.

DJ Drez is just one of the musicians who will be performing at a Wanderlust event this year. For tickets, schedules, line-ups, and more, click here. Drez’s newest album, Explorers of Infinity, is out now! Check it out here.

For more great Wanderlust music, check out Wanderlust Music on Wanderlust TV

Drez is in pain when he picks up the phone. He has just gotten off the other line with his doctor, trying to determine what exactly is happening in his lumbar spine. Thanks to a life-long skateboarding habit, back injuries are nothing new to Drez, but this is something different.

For the first time in his career, the prolific music-maker and Spectacular producer was incapacitated enough to prevent him performing at a major event (which happened to be Wanderlust O’ahu). Nonetheless, Drez summons the strength to remain cheerful, admitting he is “living the beautiful life, with all the crazy and unpleasant things that go with that.”

As is typical of Drez’s style as a human and musician, we drop right in. I ask about the new album and 30 seconds later he’s asking questions like, “Am I living the best I can? Am I eating right? Do I stress about it? And does that make it worse? Is knowledge and being sensitive really the best thing? Or is enlightenment really just lightening up about all these things?”

There is nothing like suffering to bring existential questions to the fore. It is a paradoxical truth—beautiful and sad—that the most profound sweetness life offers is often intertwined with the pain of unbearable loss. This dichotomy is expressed throughout Explorers of Infinity, the new album about which I called to ask.

DJ Drez performs at a Wanderlust Festival in 2014. Credit: Eric Ward

Paradoxical Truths in Music

“This album goes from simple moving-and-grooving-and-chanting, to maybe you’re shedding a tear and going deep… It goes into a lot of things that happened personally in 2016, with loss of human beings, loved ones, and reflects upon life and leaving the body.”

On the most basic level, these are devotional hymns directed to a variety of divine archetypes. And yet, it’s jazzy; funky; full of old school soul and hiphop influences. The music is equally likely to evoke a state of elation and the endless melancholy that accompanies awareness of everything from which we keep ourselves separate. The experiential impact of such contradictory states is profound.

This effect is most pronounced as the title track transitions into “Ganapati.” The song “Explorers of Infinity” features Marti Nikko singing the mahamantra sweetly, mournfully over a classical jazz piano progression perfect in its simplicity. Drez relates a story about the significance of this particular mantra:

Marti and I have lived in Venice Beach, together, for about 20 years. I always remember, back in the day, seeing the Krsna devotees on the boardwalk chanting. There’s been a Krsna temple in this area since the 70’s and it’s intertwined to these surroundings and I think the earth and the trees have soaked up these mantras. There’s levels to why this is so sweet, so touching for us, which is why I think it came out the way it did.

Just as the listener is seduced by somber sweetness, the thunderous “Ganapati” roars in. Chants of “Hey!” are a call to awaken from the slumber of mourning. As the bass line drops into nimble bija mantras, the choice is clear. There is no time now for sullen self-pity; the only noble option is to carry on with greater fervor than ever before.

Influencers of Infinity

Drez ties the obvious hip-hop influences present in “Ganapati” back to those Krsna devotees on the boardwalk. If you think about the shared call-and-response style, the link between kirtan and hiphop becomes obvious, “especially when we’re talking about when the kirtan comes out of the temples and into the streets, when they’re really banging on their mridungas, and it’s this louder [announcement] of ‘Hey, we’re here,’ and ‘God is here,’ and ‘Join in.’”

Explorers of Infinity, on one level, alludes to those individuals no longer embodied, who are now exploring the infinite unknown. It also refers to the artistic process, where, for example, there are only 88 keys on a piano, and yet an infinite number of variations are available depending upon the artist’s choices. Finally, it serves as an invitation for us all to become explorers of the infinite within.

“There’s so many ways to do it, whether it’s through the body, through chanting, through prayer, through meditation, it’s all of that… Chanting is a way of exploring the non-physical us… The divine floats in every which way and frequency. There’s a rastafarian saying: ‘Who feels it, knows it.’ That’s where the yoga and the music intertwine.”

The truest art—that which stands the test of time—arises from the deepest suffering. Right now we are living through a transformative moment in human history, ripe with scary peril and overwhelming potential. For Drez, “everything is a piece of art, whether it’s beautiful, ugly, sad or happy.”

With that in mind, stay cheerful. We are here. Peace is here. Join in.

David McConaghay is a Colorado-based student & teacher. His mission is to share with the world information, attitudes and techniques of proven benefit to his experience as an individual Earthling. His work and play is available at SatsangEtc.com.