Walk into Shadyside's Highlander Pub on a Monday, and DJ Spaed will be on the turntables goin' off. A true DJ's DJ, Spaed accompanies the pounding hip-hop beats with fast but rhythmic cuts and scratches that show off his highly developed skills. He might follow such a technical showcase with a connoisseur's blend of classic hip-hop songs by artists like Big Pun, Big L, Nas and Gangstarr.
Spaed's just kicked off a new Monday-night series at the Highlander called "Hideaway Hustle," described by his event partner DJ Assassin as "a night where you won't hear that shit they play on the radio."
Apart from the Highlander, Spaed's DJed at numerous parties in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, D.C., New York, Philly, Cleveland, Cincinnati -- even North Carolina. Here his stylistic virtuosity comes into play, whether he's spinning hip hop or drum-and-bass, alongside local favorites or celebs such as Trace, Tiesto and, most recently, DJ Rohan of Ireland's BassBin Records. He was recently featured in the CP-sponsored Sound Kitchen independent-music showcase. "I've been in this DJ game for years," he exclaims. "The underground is what it is, and we're all up in it."
Spaed's also well-known for his nutty sense of humor. "You can be a meathead, a stripper, or a farmer who's out standing in his field -- come face to face with underground hip-hop and electronic music and realize yinz been wrong all along!"
While he's probably never fit in any of those categories, Spaed's reinvented himself more than a few times along the way. Hailing from eastside neighborhoods including Edgewood and Squirrel Hill, Spaed began in the late '80s, not as a DJ, but as a musician. While a student at CAPA and Allderdice, he studied guitar and drums, as well as classical music theory, and soaked in diverse influences including classic rock, jazz, blues and heavy metal, as well as indie rock, punk and hip hop.
Spaed kept up with the emerging indie-rock movement, witnessing shows from trendsetters like Government Issue, Fugazi, Bad Brains and Naked Raygun, to name a few -- and collecting records. You might say Spaed caught the vinyl bug from hanging around indie-music maverick Damon Che, of Don Caballero, and then-owner of the Sonic Temple, Manny Theiner.
Spaed's broad taste in music led him to the cusp of the rave movement and the many forms of electronic music being showcased in the early'90s. He chose to focus on drum-and-bass. During the music's early development, Spaed kept company with nationally known pioneers Deadly Buda and Dieselboy. Along with some of his close friends, Spaed helped create a style of mixing DnB that Dieselboy and others, like DJ Sine, are still known for around the world.
Respected by fellow DJs and admired by critical audiences with esoteric tastes, Spaed has solidified his reputation as an aficionado's DJ through years of persistence -- and keeping up-to-date. A true fanatic, Spaed's kept his ear to the cutting edge of many vinyl-inspired movements; in the late '90s, he reinvented himself as an underground hip-hop DJ. Soon he was regularly DJing with the Radio Hip-Hop crew and doing his own weekly spots at Pub I.G. and ZLounge (then known as Zythos).
Though he doesn't cater to a mainstream crowd, DJ Spaed has immersed himself in the music and gigged regularly throughout his career. He still keeps up on the music that drew him to the turntables.
"The electronic-music scene here is bananas!" he says with pride. "One of my best friends, Rob Diatri, has the world-famous DJ Adam F playing his tunes. There's also a lot of solid DnB DJs around. Sometimes I'll bump into a small unknown night outta nowhere with DJs that'll rival anything I've heard in a big East Coast city lately."
DJ Spaed spins Monday nights at "Hideway Hustle." Highlander Pub, 22 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside. 412-361-2747.