“There’s old school, there’s new school and then there’s PreSkool,” Larry Weissman, aka DJ Preskool, told us slyly. It was the afternoon of the August’s eclipse, and PreSkool, at 67 years old, was coming off a little mushroom trip. He’d dropped in the exact same place he dropped for the eclipse in…1969. In the five decades between, PreSkool led rowdy political protests, took the first ever Apple Computer repair class, raised a family, worked in the straight world, ditched the straight world and listened to more music than you knew existed.
PreSkool’s life reads like a novel, and the man himself embodies some of America’s best traits: he’s got a revolutionary flexibility, a deep sense of adventure, that feverish wisdom of the sixties and most importantly, a deep commitment to sowing good in the world. PreSkool is there to bring the party and bring it loud. The middle finger he’s thrown at age and convention is a low-key inspiration to us all.
So tell us where it all started Larry?
Basically, I was born in Massachusetts, grew up there, and then when I was sixteen, ran away from home, traveled around the country a bunch, then moved around the Bay Area. I had my son, so I lived in Berkeley, Contra Costa County, Marin, and ended up in the Haight itself. So I was up in the Bay Area until about ‘95. At that point I wanted to move back to the East Coast, so I moved to New York and found my way through Williamsburg. I started living here about ‘98 and I’ve been here ever since.
Tell us about San Francisco in the late Sixties. What were you up to?
I was involved in producing outdoor music events, free ones. We had a whole production and stage and sound crew that did things for community based groups. We did the very first Earth Day celebration in San Francisco, built the stage had the security, did all the sound and everything. I was the coordinator, or the producer I guess you could say.
Where have you been since then?
I was a Senior Vice President of Technology at Wells Fargo Bank. 70 people working for me, billion dollar budget, all that type of stuff. While I did that, I also started DJing on the side, playing parties and different bars and different places. Mostly rock, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, stuff like that. Then four or five years ago I started to get deeply into house music and dance music. At the same time I decided I didn’t really want to do straight work anymore, I didn’t want to work for capitalists, so I retired from the bank in 2014 and devoted myself to DJing and music production.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
Well I had been in the Bay Area for a long time and had seen the birth of a big revolutionary movement, and then it getting crushed. My son was finally getting older, I was born in Massachusetts and my brother and my mom live up there. I just felt like I had been in one place for a long time. I had gotten kind of worn down over the years, just from the strain of living in America and having to deal with Reagan and all these other things. Punk rock got me through a lot of that, hip-hop got me through a lot of it, reggae. But in terms of my personal life, I found an incredibly welcoming community here of kids who were a lot younger than me who were super into what I knew and were very encouraging. I came here to kind of restart things and it really worked for me.
I had been very deeply involved in the production of live music for events for years and occasionally, I would put together the soundtracks that we were playing. The cassette tapes in between bands, and stuff like that, but I never considered DJing. When I moved to Brooklyn and started hanging out here, I was very lucky to fall in with a lot of artists and musicians, and over time, over late night sessions of playing music, and talking about music, more and more of my friends said ‘you know Larry, you should DJ. You’ve got this incredible breadth of knowledge about music.’ I’ve been through it all, punk, and original hip-hop and reggae, all these different genres, and luckily I’m the kind of person who’s always been open to new things. So my friends convinced me. I really only started when I was like 50. There were a number of parties that were going on – like Larry Tee’s electro-clash party – that showed me you could really combine that feeling you get out of loud rock n’roll with this incredible rhythmic thing that you get with house. As the technology got better it got easier for me to kind of do these things and I got deeper and deeper into it. But that’s all pretty much my second life, I never would have done that unless I moved here to Brooklyn.
What are the advantages of age?
I was very lucky and always kind of involved in things. I saw The Ramones when they first came out and I saw The Clash. I was able to work with a lot of reggae people, I saw Grand Master Flash when he came out. Music is my life, and I’m very lucky that I live in a community where people allow me to express myself through music that I love. I couldn’t be luckier.
You have such a strong vision of music. It must have been really wild playing these passionate sets at night while working a day job?
I’d be on meeting calls and they’d be like ‘What the hell is that sound, dude?’ And I’d be like, ‘I’m knocking it out here at the bar calm down.’ I.T. is one of those industries where, if you’re really good at it, they cut you quite a bit of slack and they cut me a lot of slack. It was intense but I’ve learned that if you wanna live your life, you’ve gotta live your life.
Tell us about the fuck it moment when you decided to drop the bank job and pursue music full time?
I was nervous about it but I realized if I wanted to realize my vision of being the DJ I really wanted to be, I needed to put the same energy that I was having to put into working at the bank into the music. Secondly, after the crash in 2008, it was clear to me that the government and the country was in a very bad place. I no longer wanted to be part of the bad part of the country. Don’t get me wrong: 90 percent of people that work for banks are just like you and me, people who are just trying to get through the day. The other 10 percent are sick, perverted, lying, messed up people and I no longer wanted to be involved in that.
What do you think about straight edge DJs?
I’m a hippie, I’ve always thought that there are life culture drugs and death culture drugs. A lot of guys suddenly decide that they’re gonna be all straight edge, but they don’t have any problem that the people listening to them are taking drugs. I’m not that way. I’m not gonna be hypocritical about it, hell, when I’m on stage I’m high. If you come to see me you’re gonna be high too. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I think it’s a good thing. Once again it’s no accident that pigs are running this country right now. What’s the first thing that Session says when he becomes Attorney General? He attacks pot. That’s not a mistake. They’re against that kind of stuff because that stuff makes people feel good. It makes them open to each other and not be haters, so to me, it’s not just a nice thing on the side, it’s a critical part of what I’m doing and what I’m trying to express to people.
What role does technology play in music right now?
One of the great things about technology and music is that a lot of people who maybe twenty or thirty years ago would have formed bands are able to produce incredible music in their bedrooms or in their home studios and get it out there.
What do you think of the state of technology in the world?
There are two sides – as with anything. Technology from the musical standpoint is absolutely amazing. Honestly and truthfully, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without the technology. I’m never gonna be some incredibly great DJ technically speaking. I’m not trying to do that, I’m trying to present music that’s important. It’s possible for me to research and grab music, not just from the present, but to go back and take acid house tracks from 90s or dance rock tracks from the 80s. At the same time, technology has led to a lot of people not joining together as much in real life. One of the things about the sixties that was good was the counterculture. The idea that we had to create communities and create culture against these earth hating, women hating, gay hating, sick rich people who don’t care about anything but themselves and are prepared to let the entire planet go down. I’m not against technology, but I think it’s gotta be used correctly. Right now, we’ve got all these people who believe in things that aren’t real or who are taking the word of people who don’t have their best interest at heart and it’s getting the whole planet in trouble. We’ve gotta use technology to fight back against the evil parts of the world that technology is pushing.
Does your music have a political angle?
Particularly in the situation that we’re in, it’s politically important for DJ’s to be extremely positive with their music. I try to take advantage of who I am and how I came to all of this to show people that you don’t have to do what people think you should do, you can come up with it yourself. You don’t have to just follow the rules, or go along. Dance music provides a real positive energy for people.
Do you mix your own light shows?
I do. I use projections and a lot of 60’s stuff. The last time I was at Union Pool I used something from Sympathy for the Devil, the classic film by Jean Luc-Godard about The Rolling Stones. Part of the reason I do that, is that I want people to understand who I am and where I’m coming from. My projections are tied into the music because I’m trying to show people a connection. I also think there’s a tremendous amount of images and film that looks better when big, so I play a lot of Godard, Antonioni, Andy Warhol’s screen tests, things from the 60’s that are classics, that a lot of these kids haven’t seen. It’s not so much the storyline, it’s more so the images.
What does the multimedia angle add to your sets?
When your mind is opened by drugs, it’s important that the images and sounds that you expose yourself to are thoughtful. Any old acid head would agree, sound and setting are critical for a good trip. We can’t just drop acid and jump on an airplane and have a good time. It’s not gonna happen. What I’m trying to do is provide images and sounds that will link together, particularly if people are opening up their consciousnesses by dropping some molly or acid or even mushrooms.
So how do we keep fighting the good fight?
It’s all about vocal community stuff. People need to work with each other. Artists in particular have a huge responsibility to expose what’s going on. People need to realize that none of this has to be the way it is. We can make our reality better, we just have to work together and do it. And it’s happening, there are marches for science and marches for the Earth. That’s amazing, and it’s great, and it’s what needs to happen more. We need to stay focused on doing it within our communities and backing each other up. Being ready to help people if they try this divide and conquer stuff. The most important thing is not doing what people tell you but doing what you know in your heart is the right thing to do with other people.
Alright, so someone told us we gotta ask you about dropping acid during a thunderstorm?
Like I said, I’m a serious hippie. I really love LSD, and I do believe that you have to take it seriously and put yourself in the right setting. At one point in my life, I was living in Illinois – this would have been about 1970 – with a rock band called The Seeds of Doubt. A great midwestern psych-rock band. We all lived in a big giant house that was kind of in the middle of a field, a big old Victorian house. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the midwest for a big storm but it’s pretty amazing. One night there was a storm coming, so I took of all my clothes, had my friends tie me to the chimney of the house and dropped some acid. I stayed up there all night. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life. At one point, as I was peaking – you could smell the ozone in the air – there would be a flash of lightning right over my head that seemed to go on for like 100 years. It was just this oneness with the universe. That’s the thing with LSD: it opens you up to these experiences. There was no room to be scared or nervous. People might say, well that was crazy. Well yeah, it was crazy, but it was the right thing to do at that moment.
Tell us about what went down in Boston in ‘68 with the Chicago Conspiracy Trial?
When the Chicago Conspiracy Trial happened they charged eight people from the Black Panthers – basically the political leadership of the anti-war movement at the time – with multiple conspiracy counts. There was a long trial and it was very controversial. All the charges were thrown out eventually but on the day that they were convicted there was a huge call for protests all over the country. I was organizing in Boston and there was a huge group of people, of which of 20,000 were the most anti-war radicals of the 60s. So there was a huge march and we ended up burning down a bank in Cambridge. That night, the Jefferson Airplane was scheduled to play at a big hall, they had been playing all over the country at incredible scenes, we all marched down there and basically took the place over, it was a place that had a big orchestra pit on the floor. Jefferson Airplane came out and said ‘This is for everyone who burned the bank down this afternoon.’ Everybody was throwing joints on the stage, we all dropped acid, everybody was naked, my two best friends were making love on the floor next to me, people were hanging from the balconies, the cops shut the power off but they just wouldn’t stop. To me that’s the 60s right there: we didn’t take any shit and we did what was right.
Larry, can’t tell you how much of a pleasure it’s been. Thanks for the chat man.