From the time he was a boy, Travis Ward was a seeker, on a quest to find his place in the world of music. He tried the piano, trumpet, bass, tuba, and drums. He sang in the choir, played in the jazz band, and trudged along in the marching band. But it wasn’t until he was a sophomore at N.C. State that he stumbled upon the instrument which fit him perfectly.
“None of those instruments really sparked my interest as much as the turntables did and what I can do with them, altering other people’s music,” says the 32-year-old Ward, better known as DJ Kurfu. “I was doing it as a hobby, but it pretty much turned into a career right off the bat, right when I started playing. I got invited to open up for the hip-hop legend Bobbito Garcia [a.k.a. DJ Cucumber Slice]. He’s got a long-running hip-hop radio show in NYC.”
Kurfu has since established himself as one of Charleston’s premier turntablists, and his reputation reaches far beyond the Holy City. He typically plays around 150 shows a year, from clubs and house parties to gigs all over the world.
“Every different situation will call for a different style of music,” he says. “A lot of preparation goes into specific events, just kinda tailoring the sound for that certain event.”
Kurfu’s signature sound is eclectic, drawing from classic soul, reggae, hip-hop, world music, and more. Some of the stuff he’s been spinning lately includes Shuggie Otis, Yarborough and Peoples, Quantic, Slick Rick, and Antibalis Afrobeat Orchestra. One thing you probably won’t hear him playing? Anything Top-40.
“[People] want to hear what’s on the radio,” Kurfu says. “I don’t want to play it. I’m definitely trying to keep things fresh and palatable for the mass audience.”
His biggest goal, and sometimes frustration, is “getting people to open up to different kinds of music than what they’re used to.”
When he’s not spinning alone, he’s working on side projects with other artists. He teams up with DJ Fred Krugrrr for the Unfadeable Fader Operators (UFO). He’s also the touring DJ and sound engineer for Laura Reed and Deep Pocket, and he’s currently working on remixing their album Soul:Music, set to drop in October. He’s also DJ, producer, and sound engineer for local electronic combo The Key of Q, with an album set for release in Spring 2009.
Over the years he’s performed with big names like Common, The Wailers, and Dubconcious. Though he’s often out of town, Charleston is his home turf, and he favors spinning at places like the Pour House and the Kickin’ Chicken downtown.
“I think it’s a really good scene. It’s really taken off in the last two or three years,” Kurfu says. “I’ve been in Charleston for 12 years, so I’ve seen a lot of people come and a lot of people go and definitely a lot of changes. In 2003, right around when they imposed the 2 a.m. curfew, that kind of did it for a lot of DJs around here because there was a really tight-knit electronic scene, and a lot of that goes on after 2 a.m. We’ve started to see a rebound and a lot more interest in DJs, and a lot more DJs in town. A lot of venues have warmed up to the fact that DJs can really be an asset to your club.”
While it’s easy to think that someone whose job is to spin records two or three nights a week would be living a pretty relaxed life, for Kurfu at least, it’s quite the opposite. He keeps busy with his live webcam company Charleston Crystal Ball from week to week.
“I’m always doing stuff,” Kurfu laughs. “If it’s not working on an album or a song in the studio or rehearsing with a band or making adjustments, there’s a problem with a webcam somewhere. There’s not a lot of time, but I like that. I like to be busy.
“I feel very blessed to be able to live and breathe music day in and day out,” he adds. “I think it’s probably the most addictive drug on the planet.” —Erica Jackson